Sweet Digs: Our Olón Casa Catastrophe
Since I moved away from home I’ve lived in some pretty sweet digs. From a totally off the grid jungle hut generating solar power and catching rain water, to a camper van and road map, to an old nun’s convent converted hostel—I’m trying it all. These are real-life examples of the different dwellings you can find world-wide, if you don’t mind straying out of your comfort zone.
Do you ever dream of waking up to the sound of waves crashing? Bursting out of bed to the sight of blue skies, stepping out onto your balcony overlooking the ocean and breathing in a big gulp of sea-misted air thinking, “Wow… I live here.“?
Maybe I was expecting too much when we decided to move to Ecuador. I mean, it is a developing country after all…
We arrived in Olón with the hope of finding ourselves an apartment to settle into and embrace coastal Ecuadorian living. We had this big, if not naive, image of showing up straight off the plane, taking a little stroll, asking a few people, and moving into our own little casa on the coast within a few hours, no fuss.
That happens… right?
So on our first day there we walked around in the sweltering midday equatorial heat, exhausted, dehydrated, and completely clueless as to where to start. Let’s just say the town wasn’t bursting with beachside bungalows waiting to be rented. It wasn’t going to be as easy as anticipated.
We spent the next week or so wandering around, looking for signs, asking locals, and literally viewing every available house in the hood.
Let’s have a look at what we found…
The Pigeon Hole
We found a sign posted on a shop advertising a house for rent. We called them up and a guy came to meet us and showed us to a big house in the centre of Olón. In theory, it was pretty good; two floors, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a full kitchen, a living room with a balcony off of it, and even a little backyard. All for $700/month (which is actually quite pricey by Ecuadorian standards).
But something stopped us from jumping on it. We weren’t sure we wanted a three bedroom house to take care of. We didn’t want to buy dishes and kitchen appliances and bedsheets and furniture. We just got rid of all that stuff. This house was too big.
Plus, there was a gap between the walls and the roof that wasn’t covered up with screen and there were pigeons literally in the house. No thanks, I don’t want a pigeon nest in my bedroom. It’s okay though, it was the first day and this place showed promise. There had to be something better.
Mickey Mouse’s House
We found a sign for a little beach cabana posted on the side of a house. We inquired within but the sign wasn’t theirs, so we called the phone number. Obviously the person on the other end didn’t speak English, and our grasp of Spanish was very limited, so the conversation was pretty difficult. We got one of the people standing nearby to help explain that we were looking at their sign and tell them to come meet us.
But they never came.
Then, one of the onlookers said he had a house to rent he could take us to. Everyone seems to have a house they can rent you, so if you do speak Spanish, just ask around. We followed him down the long dirt road leading out of town until we got to a small house on the fringe of Olón.
It had Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse plastered all over the walls, not that that is a problem. But it was a bit far and didn’t seem very secure. We passed.
Small and Soulless
Walking down the Malecon, we noticed a hosteria with a sign for an apartment. It was occupied, so we went back later with the hopes of moving in that evening. We got pretty stoked because it had everything; kitchen, air conditioning, internet, and it was directly facing the beach. Perfect.
So imagine our disappointment when it was, well… filthy. It just had that dingy, dark feeling to it with nowhere to really sit and relax while we worked. We wanted our home to have some sort of charm to it, somewhere we can get comfortable and hang out. It was also too small. We didn’t want to settle, so we decided to keep looking.
Another Characterless Cube
We looked around at other hosterias, it seemed like that was a good way to go. A little apartment above the cyber cafe was for rent and it wasn’t bad. It had everything we needed, but you know… nothing was great. The kitchen table was made out of tile with a matching uncomfortable bench built-in. There was no other table to sit at, no outdoor area, one small window, and the internet connection was slow because it was being picked up from downstairs.
We put it on the options list, but it was cramped, cold, and characterless. The search continued…
A Cement Shrine
A local house had a sign for a hosteria on it, so we knocked on their door to ask them. The man brought us to a building around the corner that was in the process of being made into a hostel. Basically, they had a few big rooms with a bunch of bunk beds. We asked where the kitchen was and he pointed outside where there was a cement floor and some men building what I’m assuming was going to be the kitchen.
When we said we needed a kitchen he brought us back to his house and said we could rent the upstairs floor and use their kitchen. Cool.
But it was one of those concrete rooms with cutouts for windows, which they must use for prayers because it had religious paraphernalia set up in the corner.
We were pretty quick to turn that one down.
The Big Gringo Cash Grab
Then there’s the gringo-owned digs — nice, but way, way overpriced. We saw one apartment (not house) renting for $1400/week! That’s more than what our monthly rent was in Vancouver. And I’m sorry, but it wasn’t that nice.
These places are popping up all over town and the sad part is, some of the retirees coming down looking to relocate actually fall for it. Stop letting English-speaking property managers rip you off!
When we were about ready to give up, we met Will and Eliza at a barbecue at Hostal Surf Olón. They told us about this 3-bedroom Ecuadorian-owned house they were renting close by and offered for us to move in with them since they had so much extra space. We went to check it out and were enamoured by it’s superiority to what we’d seen so far. We moved in the next day and dubbed it the Casa Canadiense since we were all Canadian (except for Rory who only pretends to be Canadian).
The house had a front porch with hammocks and a mini barbecue surrounded by a beautiful garden. We spent our afternoons hanging (pun intended) out on the porch, people watching and waiting for sunset — the best time to surf.
They grew roses and these little yellow flowers where butterflies lived. There was a palm tree, an avocado tree, and a plentiful carambola (starfruit) tree.
The starfruit tree hung over the fence and the local kids would come by and grab as many as they could. We didn’t mind because there was more fruit than we could possibly eat. Although, sometimes the fruit trucks would come by with their ladders and hack off branches then try to sell us the fruit later as they drove by. Not cool.
The house slept six, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a giant living room (with really uncomfortable wooden chairs), and a spacious, well-equipped kitchen. It had screened off windows and doors so the bugs didn’t get in, bars on the windows for security, and that old-school Ecuadorian charm.
It was perfect…
… except one thing…
We thought we could make work. Or we convinced ourselves to think that way. But in reality, it was never going to pan out.
We need to be able to check our emails, have Skype meetings, and work at ridiculous hours of the day when the cyber cafes are closed. We need to be able to upload files, photos and websites for clients. We need to be connected, whether we like it or not.
So when the owners were coming back for Easter holidays, we moved out. And rather than continuing our incessant hunt for something that wasn’t there, we decided to move on. Things just didn’t fall into place.
We went with our gut and hailed a bus up North to Canoa. We’d found an apartment that had everything we needed. We could finally settle in somewhere and catch up on all the lost working hours we spent bumming around at the Casa Canadiense.
All was not lost, we really do love Olón and plan to go back one day. We found a few houses for rent around the web, which unfortunately weren’t available at the time we were there, and would rent one of them in the future to save us the hassle of house hunting.
Until then, it’s on to the next.
Have you ever shown up in a town and found a place to live straight away? Tell me your secrets.