Beach-Bummin’ La Ruta Del Sol
For those who love salt, sand and humidity, there’s nothing like a beach vacation. And for those who don’t know me, I LOVE beach vacations. There’s just something about the tranquility of low tides and long beach walks that releases all my tensions and worries. I love soaking up the warmth of the sun on a bed of sand. I love fresh fruit drinks during the midday heat. I love imagining the world that’s thriving behind the waves. I love my salty, sticky skin that I take to bed.
Ecuador owns a relatively small bit of the South American Pacific coastline, but it is apparently some of the best beach-bum life below the Equator. We were following la Ruta del Sol, the highway that runs along the coast, north from Guayaquil.
Our first stop: the famous Montañita. Montañita is known as the ultimate party place in Ecuador. It’s where surfers, stoners, scuba divers, spanish-studiers, and sunbathers alike come together to reap the benefits of endless coastline, decent waves, and more ceviche and rum than humanly conceivable. For tourists, it’s an excellent place to eat, drink and party. For locals, it’s a great place to make money or waste away into oblivion.
On our first day, I had the misfortune of encountering one of these wasted locals harassing his ex-girlfriend and two young children. I watched the dispute until he started grabbing at the woman’s hair and pulling the screaming two-year-old boy from her arms before I got someone to call the police. Jeremy was still surfing, so I was on my own (broken Spanish and all) to explain the situation that had unfolded. As the woman and children were taken away to safety, the guy turned to me. He came up close to me and with a piercing glare shouted something in Spanish while slicing a line across this throat with his finger. I spattered back at him in English before hurrying inside the gates of my own safety. Tip: If you are a smart traveler, you know the first rule when you’re on someone else’s turf is “do not make enemies with the locals.” Nice job, Julie. Day one and making enemies with a popular drunk.
We stayed in Montañita for 3 full days more. The proceeding days we were only slightly less uneventful. On a beach walk, we helped a newly hatched turtle make it past the break and watched live sand-dollars crawl beneath the sand. We smoked quite a bit of delicious hookah (a bad habit we’ve been developing recently) and partied with a boy from Canada and a bunch of pretend-basketball-playing/dancing Colombians. We ate ceviche from the beach carts and drank mango-passionfruit-rum smoothies once a day, and used half a bottle of tanning oil between the sunbathing and swimming. Just as the clouds were rolling in, we hopped on the green bus that would continue our journey north, to the more tranquillo beach towns.
Our next stop was a city called Manta. I only mention it here to advise people not to stop in Manta. The best thing about Manta was the opportunity to try Casuela, a enticingly thick, boiling soup of plantains, seafood and cilantro. Delicious. (Note to self: Get the recipe for that one).
Our one night Manta also happened to be the night of the Ecuadorian soccer championship. I don’t know what else to say except: their team won. The streets that night made me think of the Boston riots of 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series. There were definitely moments, as we searched for a place to have dinner, when we felt the instinct to run.
The next morning, thankfully surviving the night, we continued on our northern route. The small beach town of Canoa was our final coastal destination. Arriving to Canoa was like finding the diamond in the ruff. Canoa is a humble paradise hidden among the tacky, over-developed towns that dot the coast of southern Ecuador. The beach is wide and stretches for miles, and the basic assortment of accommodation and restaurants attract more local than foreign tourists. The main street lines the beach with fruit and ceviche stands, doubling as the main trading route for the farmers and fishermen.
We only got one day of good sun in Canoa (the result being an unevenly tanned backside), but we got two days of good times. It wasn’t hard passing the time in this mellow town of 6,000. Jeremy got to bring in some fish with local ceviche guy and I got to catch up on a lot of reading. We spent most of our time with our feet in the sand, sitting and enjoying the changing horizon above the sea.
It was the week we had hoped for. A perfect beach vacation. Nothing but rolling waves and warm ocean breezes with a few lively characters thrown in to spice up the mix. Leaving the coast, Jeremy and I were coated in a layer of salt and sand, the clothes in our backpacks were damp from the humidity, and we felt amazing. Relaxed, refreshed, and ready for anything.