Monthly Musings 1, 2, & 3: Three Months on the Coast of Ecuador
Our first three months in Ecuador didn’t go exactly as planned. We thought we’d be spending three months in one location while we settled back into life abroad but I guess we stayed true to the Roamaholic name, traipsing halfway around this beautiful South American country instead.
The coast of Ecuador is a totally different world. While the rich and affluent come down from the mountain towns to enjoy the beaches, most villages remain poor and undeveloped. Many people don’t work and can’t bother (or can’t afford) to finish their houses and the coastline remains scattered with unfinished concrete shells. Some of them are habited even without doors or windows and sheets are often hung as walls.
Despite this, coastal Ecuadorians are often happy, friendly people willing to go out of there way to help you out or show you a good time. Their laid-back lifestyle is pretty contagious and without good self-discipline it is very easy to fall into the chilled out vibe we found while hopping the coast’s main surf towns.
Coastal Ecuador has some great surfing but a very small surfing scene. It’s great for beginner surfers because there are many forgiving breaks and little intimidation from the more advanced riders. But Ecuador isn’t just for beach-goers, there is plenty to do as you move from the arid, dry climate in the south to the tropical rainforests in the north.
Over the past three months we’ve been to…
Olón, Ecuador: 4 weeks
Canoa, Ecuador: 4 weeks
Mompiche, Ecuador: 2 weeks
Manta, Ecuador: 10 days
Quito, Ecuador: 5 days
What I loved…
Catching my first big wave. Oh, how I’ve missed warm water. We took a surf lesson our first week here and then rented boards and practised ourselves from then on. I now have a great appreciation for how hard surfing really is as I spent most of my time being demolished by waves. One morning we were out surfing in Olón with our surf instructor and he urged me to go out to the bigger waves and I actually caught one and rode it all the way in, it was an awesome feeling and although I’m still terrible, I really want to get better so I can ride those big waves.
Slowing it down a notch (or five). While we fell behind on work due to the lack of good (or any) internet connection, it was really nice to relax and spend our afternoons hammocking, beach bumming, and catching up on reading. We went from working 16 hours a day to sometimes not at all. Now we just need to work on having the best of both worlds, achieving that work-life balance is always a work in progress.
Eating seafood everyday. Having Newfie in my blood, I love some good seafood, and there’s certainly an abundance of it in coastal Ecuador. In Vancouver it was really expensive to eat seafood but here it’s dirt cheap and a staple in most peoples’ diet. Fishermen go out daily and walk around selling their catch so you can buy it really cheap and cook it yourself or eat at local restaurants for really reasonable prices.
Visiting the real Rio Muchacho. We made some great new friends, Edgar and Rachel, in Canoa and got to visit their farm a couple times in rural Rio Muchacho. Most people only go there on a tour to the ‘Rio Muchacho Organic Farm’ but it was great to see how people really live out there and spend some time feeding pigs, petting friendly dogs, taking care of horses and cows, and helping them plant seeds for their crops. Did I mention Edgar built their house with his own two hands?
Learning Spanish. I started learning French at such a young age that it seems like it just comes naturally. Everyone says that learning Spanish is easy if you know French, but despite understanding the conjugation of verbs, it’s been a real challenge for me. It’s been fun learning something new and if I can get my memory to start retaining all the vocabulary, hopefully I’ll be able to speak Spanish fluently with a few more months in Ecuador.
A (lot) few lessons I learned…
We’re slaves to the internet. After living in a house without internet for a month, then moving to an apartment where the internet might as well have not existed, I can admit that we absolutely need the internet and from now on have vowed to check internet speeds before we commit to staying anywhere. As much as I’d love to say we can live without it, and it’s great to disconnect, the internet is an essential tool in how we make a living and not having a good connection is just not an option for us. We’ve come to the harsh realization that digital nomads generally stay in cities for a reason: they need the infrastructure. So while we love being in remote locations, they will now be reserved for shorter visits rather than long-term stays.
Do your research. Rory came down with a bad toothache in Canoa and a trip to the dentist in Bahia de Caraquez revealed that his wisdom tooth was pushing all of his teeth forward, causing them to overlap and leaving him in a lot of pain. We had to make a two-hour trip to Manta to find a dental surgeon and get it removed. The dentist we found didn’t speak any English and his office looked like something from the 80’s. He developed the x-rays the old-school way, in a vat of chemicals, then went to put his hand in Rory’s mouth without changing his gloves—not exactly hygienic! Rory made me watch the whole procedure to make sure they took out the right tooth (it’s common in Ecuador for them to take out the third tooth from the back as it’s a simpler procedure) which was not for the faint at heart. We couldn’t get any T3s either, so poor Rory had to bear the pain with only ibuprofen, yikes. When he was still in pain two weeks later, we found another dentist that spoke English and had a very modern office, complete with a digital x-ray machine and proper hygiene standards. A simple search and he could have had his tooth out there, whoops!
Choose your friends wisely. We made the mistake of making friends with some local fishermen on the beach in Canoa while out with some people from Amalur one afternoon. It started out very innocently but when one of them kept knocking on our door and we learned that he was a known thief, we were left very on edge. We were extra careful to hide our things and locks our windows/doors but it definitely put a damper on the rest of our stay in Canoa. Locals taking advantage of tourists is pretty common on the coast, which is understandable given the poverty, but we were pretty paranoid after hearing many of horror stories. Hence one of the reasons why this town didn’t work out for us in the long run.
You get what you pay for. I desperately needed a haircut while we were in Canoa and the only hair dresser in town was a Colombian lady charging $3 for a trim. I figured it couldn’t be that bad… wrong! She cut these big, chunky, short layers framing my face that rival the ‘do I gave myself at the age of three with my blue Crayola scissors. My long layers left in the back are so thin I’m debating getting them chopped off to go with the bob I have at the front of my face. Worst. Haircut. Ever. But really, should I have expected much more for $3?
Patience. When the Ecuadorian immigration office tells you it takes 3 days to process a visa, they really mean 10. The most frustrating part is that they keep telling you to come back the next day, you wait, then they tell you it’s not ready but that it will definitely be ready tomorrow. I left that office on the verge of tears more than once. The ironic part is that they used to have an online system for processing visa requests but abolished the application so they could employ more people. Unfortunately, the new ‘hands on’ system is flawed and very frustrating to navigate. We nearly gave up, but stuck it out and got ourselves 6-month tourist visas so we can stay in Ecuador now that our initial 90 days has expired.
Dengue sucks the big one. Rory and I both contracted dengue fever while staying in Mompiche. Everyone said it was the dry season and the mosquitoes ‘weren’t that bad’, but I beg to differ. There was an apparent outbreak while we were there, with three other cases that we know of, and I landed myself in the hospital not once, but twice. Rory has superhuman healing abilities and literally slept it off in three days, while I’ve suffered horribly the past two weeks and am only now slowly regaining my health.
Living outside is not for me. I thought it might be fun to go back to my routes of how I started out traveling. You know… jungle huts, compost toilets, rainwater harvesting… but when we arrived back in Mompiche, sick with dengue, after getting our visas in Manta to find our clothes, electronics, and bed covered in mould we immediately packed up shop and checked into the nearest hotel. We hightailed it to Quito on the first bus out of there the next day so I could seek proper medical attention and we could scrub our things clean. We’ll be sticking to places with walls from now on.
My favourite foods I ate…
Encebollado. I tried the famed breakfast fish soup my first weeks in Ecuador and after my first taste I was seeking out this delicious concoction of Albacora, yucca and pickled onions in every town on the coast. Crunchy chifles (plantain chips) are crumbled overtop with a spritz of lime juice and some people even add mustard and ketchup, though it’s really not necessary. Many locals swear that encebollado is the best cure for a hangover and although I can’t attest to that, it’s certainly worth trying. The best one I ate goes to the little tent in Canoa beside the grocery store, only open on Sundays.
Ceviche mixta. All the beaches in Ecuador have food carts and cabañas serving up the famed seafood in lemon mixture, and for good reason — it’s the perfect, light seaside lunch. While in other countries ceviche is traditionally raw seafood that cooks in the acid of the lemon juice, in Ecuador the seafood is all pre-cooked for the most part so you don’t have to worry too much about food poisoning. There’s something about the freshness of lemon juice, tomato and onion with fish, shrimp, calamari, and oysters that is so addicting I could eat ceviche everyday (and often do).
Corvina en salsa de mariscos. A little bit of a splurge at $8 a plate, but realistically this mountain of seafood could be shared between two. When you get to the bottoms of the heap of king prawns, shrimp, calamari, and shell fish in a delicious creamy sauce, you’re met with two filets of corvina if you still have the room in your belly. Yum.
Camarones encocado. Encocado means “in coconut sauce”, so the deliciousness of this dish is probably self-explanatory. Dry, older coconuts are grated and the juice squeezed out for cooking the shrimp in with onion and green pepper for a creamy, mouth-watering meal served with rice and patacones. Most Ecuadorian restaurants serve encocado dishes, but they are not all created equal. Each chef has their own spin on it so it tends to taste different every time you try it, yet it always seems to be delicious.
Muchin. This leaf-wrapped banana dessert quickly became my favourite treat in Mompiche. A mixture of lady finger bananas blended with anise and cinnamon is wrapped around fresh farm cheese then cooked over hot coals in a bijao leaf and sold by local vendors on the street. At $1 a pop, I was eating Muchin whenever it was available.
My favourite photo…
I love this little workout spot on the beach in Canoa. It’s mostly used by the surfers to pump their guns before heading out to hit the waves but there is also a pull up bar and a volleyball net not featured. I never used any, preferring runs down the beach, but it made me giggle every time I walked by.
There have certainly been more lowlights than highlights over the past few months, but that doesn’t mean we’ve had a bad time. We really do love Ecuador, despite the horrible luck we’ve had, and adjusting our plans to the painful dips has brought on some unexpected rewards. When you’re traveling in a foreign country and nothing is going you’re way it’s easy to get frustrated but I’m staying positive and embracing going with the flow. We were never very good at sticking to plans anyway.
We’re switching up our travel style a bit. A slightly random opportunity has arisen for us to inspect some luxury hotels and I’m never one to turn down five-star digs. While I’m not going to start advertising high price-tag rooms on Roamaholic, it does give us the opportunity to travel to a few places we weren’t otherwise planning on going. More details to come.
We’re moving to the Galapagos Islands! Yes, you read that right. One of our friends from Vancouver just happens to have a good friend in the Galapagos who just happens to be vacating her home for a few months and we just happen to be renting it from her while she’s away!
It’s a small world and hopefully things will be looking up for us from here. I can’t wait to be hanging out on the islands for a few months, we didn’t even think we’d get the chance to go to the Galapagos during our stay in Ecuador, but this was an opportunity we simply could not refuse. I really am an island girl at heart and who knows, we might finally settle into that seaside vibe we’ve been aiming for the past three months.
Stay tuned for plenty of GoPro footage and a whole lot of boobies!