Are You Up for Montañita?

Thursday, March 6

This morning my companions, Brian and Aysha, helped me carry my luggage to a dusty spot in the road which was the bus stop. They bid me farewell as I boarded the $0.25 bus to Bahia. From there, I transferred to a bus bound for Jipijapa, and then to a third bus toward Puerto Lopez. The journey took all day.

As I waited aboard a bus at one of the many stations, I made friends with the large family across the aisle. A grandma was shepherding all eight grandchildren to their parents in Guayaquil; the kids spread out across her lap and the seats in front and back. She literally had her hands full.

When it was snack time, Grandma pulled out a two-liter bottle of coke and poured me a cup. I accepted, not wanting to offend her. The children all watched me intently as I sipped the soda. Were they waiting for me to hurry up and finish, or was I supposed to take one sip and pass along the cup? I had no idea what the social custom might be. I drank half the soda, then passed the cup back to the matriarch with a smile. She nodded and smiled back, filled the cup, and passed it to the children who all took turns sipping the soda. Whew, situation survived.

Then, one of the younger girls tugged on Grandma’s shirt. She needed to use the restroom. “That’s a good idea,” I said to no one in particular. “I think I’ll visit the bathroom too.”

“Perfect!” said Grandma. “Here, you can go with this lady,” she told the girl. Suddenly, I was in charge of a five-year-old in a bustling Ecuadorian bus station. I led the girl to the bathroom and aimed her toward a stall, praying she could take care of herself. Then I rushed to the bathroom, hoping she wouldn’t wander off. When I got back to the sink, there she was, patiently waiting for a boost so she could wash her hands. I helped her soap and rinse her hands, and brought her back to the bus, where her Grandma offered me a cookie for my help. I was just thankful we both made it back to the bus alive.

The bus dropped me and my bags on a sunny, dusty street corner in Puerto López. Half an hour later, I was rescued by Barbara, my friend from ultimate frisbee in Seattle. Although we had been only acquaintances in high school, we ran to greet each other with a hug. It's awesome to see someone you know when you're so far from home!

Barbara helped me get my bags to a four-room "hostel" which was actually the house of two Argentine dive instructors, a couple of her friends. She introduced me to all her the turtle volunteers and showed me around the volunteers’ house, which I would soon name Casa Tortuga. It was wonderful to feel like I had a community, a home, and a friend.

“We’re going to Montañita tonight,” Barbara said. “Are you up for it?”

Sure, I thought, why not? Another coastal town would be nice.

It wasn’t until I got to Montañita that I realized why a person might not be “up for it.” Montañita is the Panama City Beach of Ecuador, the sleepy town which turns into a mosh pit of drunken, partying tourists every night. My group flitted from club to bar to club, taking advantage of open bars and ladies’ nights and flirtatious Latino men. Someone discovered a body artist with a free face-painting booth, and I ended up with a glittery rose garden on my face.

Face paint from a night in Montañita.

We finally left for home at 4:30am. I showered the paint off my face and hit my new mosquito-netted bed, exhausted, just as the first light of dawn appeared. I don’t think I’ll ever be “up for Montañita” again!