Ecuador Road Trip: Stepping into the unknown

The road map; From Llayzhatan Bajo in the heart of Andes Mountains Cuenca, Guayaquil, to Montanita, and Ayangue.

After hibernating in Canada for more than a year, my travel skills start to become rusty. I started to develop some Gringa genes, and my idea of a perfect vacation was an all-inclusive week somewhere in a beach resort. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with it, this pampering vacations, are great every now and then, but this was a new notion in traveling for, a nomad, traveling on a shoestring, and backpacker like me. What this told me, is that my comfort zone had grown so much that it became a cocoon, and it was time to come to light.

For me, this wasn’t healthy. When I booked my trip to Ecuador in a sacred plant retreat that was enough adventure in itself. In my opinion, it is THE adventure of a lifetime. If the sacred plant did their work, or that was my biggest and deep most anticipation of my heart, I would be face to face with my biggest fears, my deepest pains, buried in the hollow of my soul, and I would be connected to the core of humanity, feeling the pains, and the joy of Mother Earth. Unfortunately, my holy path ended me up in unholy place. So I was forced by a deep voice inside my being to leave. Preparing for this trip, I harnessed the skill of listening to my inner voice, which I should have trusted in the first place when it didn’t feel good to go to this particular retreat in the first place. I didn’t lose faith in the sacred plants, still have hope that my next encounter with Mother Ayahuasca, and Grandpa San Pedro, would be better next time. I’ll leave HER to choose the time and the proper setting. My only excuse was my soul’s deep, and hungry yearning for full awakening of COUNCUISNESS.

In the light of this incident, I found myself out of my comfort zone, planning a week from scratch, with extra money to spend, since I left in the middle of the retreat, and of course, I knew since it was my choice to leave, there will not be refund. So I didn’t have time to research and had to trust my instincts and the word of mouth of what some of the people I met in my retreat suggested.

First Station, Cuenca:
It took me almost an hour in a taxi from the heart of the Andes, where I was to the heart of Cuenca. A friend whose Spanish is better than mine helped me book a room in a hostel, before arriving. So a place to stay at least for the first night, yay. Events in my trip were starting to unfold smoothly, which gave me the confidence to go on and have a bit more adventure. My plan was to go to Montanita via Guayaquil. My bedroom was so nice and cheap, with a great view overlooking one of the most historical streets in Cuenca. I jumped on the double bed, happy with the decision I made, and for the first time in a week starting to really relax. I spent a great day in Cuenca was tempted almost not to leave and spent the rest of the days in this beautiful city, know more here…

Second Station, Guayaquil:
The plan was to stay in Cuenca one night, take the bus the next morning to Guayaquil, decide whether to spend the day there and then take a night bus to Montanita or not. This city has a notorious reputation for being unsafe for tourists. So although if I want to go to Montanita, which is my final destination, I have to pass by it, I decided to skip checking it out. So as I’m regaining my solo traveler skills back bit by bit, I started by installing, HostelsWorld app on my tablet. I checked the buses’ schedule and accordingly booked my hostel in Montanita. I took a taxi to the station the next morning, packed a small backpack, and left my big luggage at the hostel since I’m coming back to catch my flight back to Canada.

The Road ahead; Cuenca to Guayaquil:
I booked with Allianz company, I think that was the only option -or that what I was told- to go to Guayaquil. The chairs were not comfortable, and the buses were in a mediocre shape. They didn’t look scary to travel in or may be because I experienced worse. My biggest surprise was the unwinding, narrow roads, with an elevation more than 3000 meters above sea level, and fog, nothing prepared me for this one. Have I ever traveled on a public vehicle where roads are narrow, and twirling before? YES. With more than 3000 meter elevation, and fog? NO. The trip from Cuenca to Guayaquil took around five hours, with almost two hours of driving in oblivious fog. Not only that I was praying all the prayers that I know from all sacred books, but I also felt nausea, headache, and great discomfort from motion sickness. It was as if I signed up to go one of Lord of The Rings movie sets, where I don’t know when the shooting is going to be over. Nothing from the road ahead was clear. The weather outside my window was all foggy, damp, cold, and rainy. I tried to sleep to pass the time. I opened my eyes as we were transitioning to a less elevation, where the fog started to dissipate, and the green mountains started to show bit by bit. The transition wasn’t only in the vision but also in the temperature, from being covered with a blanket, to stripping off most of the layers and coming down to one layer. As we were approaching Guayaquil it was getting really hot.

The station was nice, I ate there. Then took the bus to Montanita. The ride to Montanita was two hours and a half ride and the bus was much more comfortable, and the route was much more scenic. As I reached Montanita, it was almost sunset, and I was dead tired. It took me a while to find the hostel, as the bus dropped me off in the middle of the street and I wasn’t quite sure where the hostel is based on the directions they gave me. Finally, I found it, it was a building in a nice street, kind of tucked away from the bustle of the night life, however, still five min walk from everything. Let me explain this, Montanita is all and all two parallel streets and a beach with a promenade. So there is not actually anywhere that you can’t walk too, and everything you would need is in these two parallel streets. In the morning there are small booths dotting the sides of these streets offering crepes and sandwiches, on the other side, shops selling souvenirs. Same food stalls turn into cocktail bars at night offering drinks and cocktails. So seriously not a lot going on. Having said that, I loved the cozy atmosphere and the fact that everything is a walking distance.
Montanita became famous as a surfing town, then it acquired its reputation later as a partying destination in the summer, like the Ibiza of Ecuador. However, don’t get your hopes up so high, as there is no fancy parties or clubs in this place like the ones you could see in Ibiza. After being eight hours in a bus bored stiff, I was longing to stretch my body on a bed. I had rented a bed in a -4-bed dorm, since I thought it might be a good idea to meet people in such a short period, sharing a dorm room is a nice idea. I was right my dorm mates were cool, and after resting a couple of hours I joined them to party the night away. Since I’m a Latin dancing wizard, the music oozing from all around, made my soul soar. I have to say it was quite an uplifting night. I don’t remember when the last time was, I danced in a ramshackle bamboo booth, barefoot, and the sand caressing my toes, as we all sway to the Latin mellow bachata tunes. It felt liberating and uplifting. People in Montanita party hard, so it was around 4.30 am when we decided to head back to the hostel.

I think I was traveling lately in my comfort zone, except for my China trip, which was one of my Everest. So this trip was sort of me shedding the trappings of predictability and stepping into the unknown, and I loved it. It kind of restored my confidence as a wanderer Nomad. I loved the spontaneity of it, less planning, more going with the flow. I think it is quintessential to the soul to take these kinds of trips from time to time.

When I went to the dorm, I hit the bed immediately, I was beat, but happy. Next morning I have worked up some appetite so, I decided to go for a yummy breakfast, which was also cheating on my sugar-free, gluten-free diet, and eat one of these yummy double layered crepes with Nutella and fruits. My other roommate who didn’t party joined me, and we went navigating the different booths in the same street that was brimming with party animals and dotted with an array of cocktail booths the night before. We were checking people’s plates, (not very polite), I know, but we needed a reference point, and we picked one, where we liked what we saw. My dorm mate went for a crepe with caramel, and I went for the strawberry and chocolate, always a winning combination. We took our time, and we enjoyed our breakfast, and only one mantra, came to my mind, La Dolce Vita. Why can’t we enjoy life, why can’t all our days revolve around activities that we like, topics that we like to talk about, or really taking our time, and not feeling that we have to rush doing everything? I was so grateful for this quality time. My last exploring stop was to Ayangue beach. This was the closest beach according to my Dutch friend whom I met in the ecolodge that has an azure blue calm sea. We went to the dorm, got ready, packed our beach snacks, looked at the map, one more time, and asked the receptionist with a clue on which bus to take, and we headed back to wait for the bus. It was less than 10 minutes when the bus arrived, and I asked the attendant to give us a shout out when we reach our destination since there is no way you can know about your stop if you are going somewhere for the first time. It was a 30.min comfortable bus ride that took us to Ayangue. The place is basically a small fishing village, and there were hardly any tourists. There were small side streets leading to the beach, and only two main streets dotted with an array of small restaurants, and markets selling local products. The beach was breathtaking, and I was so happy that we made it, and I didn’t settle for the gray, beach in Montanita, with the high waves, that can break your neck. The beach in Ayangue was a protected bay, with fishing boats mooring on the shore, and I swear I could have thought that we were somewhere in Greece. The sun was hot, the water was azure blue, and I was so happy that I felt I could fly.

We did everything, swam, basked in the sun, laughed, played, ate, and walked on the beach. It was a day worth all this trip of flying 39 hours from Vancouver to Ecuador. Since we were almost the only tourists on the beach, we got bombarded a bit with beach vendors, but you have to master saying thank you in Spanish, with a dismissive smile. Deep in my heart, I envied these simple villagers, for having easy access to this piece of heaven, and how they enjoy the simple things in life. Packing their lunch from home, coming to the beach dressed up in simple nonfancy bikinis, enjoying the company of their family and friends. I wish I didn’t have to leave. I wish I could stay, and trade places with somebody who wants to live in a fancy Metropolis like Vancouver.
At 5 pm we started to feel hungry, and we decided to head back. We packed our picnic gear, with a big smile on our faces, I kneeled down to bid the sand, goodbye and take a final look on the gorgeous beach that hosted us for the day. Thank you. We took the same bus back and started fishing for a restaurant with good food. We weren’t as lucky as in the breakfast, but at least we didn’t sleep hungry. I ordered what “I thought” was a seafood soup Ceviche, but the problem is they served it in cold water. So after two spoons, I couldn’t really stand the fish smell in cold water, and I ordered vegetarian pasta. My friend opted for fried shrimps, and she was luckier. We walked back to our hostel and went straight to bed. I had an intention to party that night too since it was my last night in Montanita. However, When I went out the partying scene was much more subdued than the night before, so I grabbed something to drink and went for a walk in the labyrinth of Montanita. It was a nice night, with a cool breeze, so it was really enjoyable. I ran into some of the co-mates in my hostel, and we decided to go and sit by the beach. The sound of the waves was soothing and it kinda of lulled me to sleep.
Unfortunately, the next day was cloudy, and a bit cold, so not exactly enticing. I accepted that I can only go to the beach once on this trip, and spent the rest of that day mellowing out on the roof of the hostel, lazing on one of the hammocks. I also used the day shopping for some souvenirs, which were quite pricey compared to Cuenca but went for simple stuff. After spending the day shopping, I was satisfied and somehow convinced myself that I have got a good taste of Montanita, so I headed back to the hostel to pack, and catch my bus back to Cuenca.
My trip back to Cuenca was the same route but reversed. I took a bus to Guayaquil then another to Cuenca. It was a hectic, exhausting trip, that took a toll on me, and by the time I reached Cuenca, all I wanted is a nice hot meal and a warm place to sleep. I went to the same hostel where I left my luggage. This time they gave me a hole in the wall kinda of a room. It was all walls, no windows, and my neighbors were very noisy. I put my stuff, stayed in the room for a bit to regroup, and I had an impression that I got sick from this long ride on the bus. So I felt like having soup with a lot of lemon juice. I dragged my legs out of bed and went down in search for a decent place to eat. I found a small, and nice Italian food eatery beside my hotel. I went in ordered lentil soup and Lasagna. Both were very good, but I was very exhausted to finish either. I walked back to the hostel desperate for some rest. Unfortunately, my noisy neighbors made this mission almost impossible, as they kept talking, screaming, laughing hysterically, and playing till really late at night. I was too tired to go out of my room and scream my lungs out at them. So I slept anyway. I wake up at 5.30 on their noises again waking each other up, dragging their bags, calling each other in the hall. I was still in a haze between sleep and wakefulness. I decided to go to the washroom, and on my way maybe give them a piece of my mind. I couldn’t find any of them in the hall, so I went to the reception to complain, then back to my room.

I slept again, and when I woke up, I felt better, but I was famished, and I wanted to have nice breakfast. My plane to Vancouver was leaving at 8 pm that night. So I have another whole day in Cuenca. I went rummaging around for some nice omelet, croissant, and cappuccino. I found my target, sat by a window nibbling on my breakfast, and practicing the art of watching people go by. My last activity was set on talking a two-hour walking tour in Cuenca with an English speaking guide, the weather was great, and the guide took us- a group of travelers- in the colorful, historic streets of Cuenca. It was the perfect way to get more acquainted with Cuenca, I know that we still don’t each other well enough, but at least I broke the ice.

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