Finally Departing

11 05 2010

The day had finally come. After twice delaying our departure we were actually fit enough to make it out of town. We were going to catch the last bus out to Guayaquil at 5pm so that we could hook up with a night bus to the town of Baños. This is not named after a toilet but because there are thermal baths there. They also have countless outdoor activities available there so it promised to be an exciting destination.

In the morning I saw Jenifer walking past the hostel so I went and had a coffee with her. Considering that she’d been ill the previous night and it was still quite early she looked remarkably fresh. A bit later on I saw Michelle walking past the hostel too and I arranged to meet her for a few drinks after we’d checked out. Ironically she sat in exactly the same seat in the same restaurant that Jenifer had been in. Eventually Andy and the Dutch girls joined us and we grabbed a few beers and headed down to the beach for the afternoon.

It was actually sunny for a change so I was able to get some sunbathing in before we headed inland. Andy went off for a last spot of surfing and, after her yoga class, Jenifer also came and joined us. Finally it was time for us to leave and the girls decided to join us at the bus station. This was allegedly so that they could buy their bus tickets for the next day but I’m sure it’s just because they were so upset to see us go that they wanted to wave us off. Either that or they wanted to make sure that we really left town.

Andy surfing

Whilst walking to the bus station I bumped into Allie and Hat from my time in Huacachina and chatted to them briefly before I had to dash off or miss the bus. Hopefully I’ll run into them again in Quito. We got to Guayaquil around 8pm and immediately went to McDonalds: it had been a long time for both of us to eat some proper junk food. After our fast food fix we found a company selling tickets to Baños and got a ticket for the 10pm bus. It cost us $16 but I’d only got a 20 dollar bill. The bus company didn’t have any change so the guy took my money; went and bought 2 small Cokes; and then gave us the remaining change back. At first I thought that they were giving us a Coke to say thank you for travelling with them or something bizarre until I realised that I had less change than I expected.

Considering it wasn’t a semi-cama or anything the bus was actually quite comfortable and I managed to get some shut-eye before we arrived at Baños at around 4am.

The Vortex of Montañita

10 05 2010

After the excesses of the previous evening the chances of us checking out on time were non-existent so we once again stayed an additional night in Montañita: we’d been sucked into a town that we were destined not to escape from!

Dylan, the crazy Canuck from the previous evening, apparently didn’t go to bed all day — although he assured me that he did keep going to the hostel to check on his wife and baby. This in between going home to “cook up some ketamine”. In the early evening we once again had dinner with the Dutch girls; Michelle, one of the Americans; and Tommy, the Swiss guy, joined us too. We were enjoying telling Tommy and the Dutch what a good night they’d missed out on the previous evening.

Tonight there actually was a reggae party on the beach, so we made a few quite a lot of gags (I’m sure it got tired) to the Dutch girls about whether they wanted to come and see a party on the beach tonight. Michelle wasn’t feeling too good so she headed back to her hostel after dinner. I agreed to come find them when we went over their way to the party.

The beach at Montañita

After a few drinks at various bars we once again headed to Pedrito’s bar and supped some cocktails. I think we were all feeling a bit subdued, so the atmosphere wasn’t that spectacular. I chatted to the American/Ecuadoran guy for a bit too and then it was time to head on up to the reggae party.

It’s quite a walk along the beach to the point and it took us about 10 minutes to get to the party. The atmosphere there was very chilled, with a big bonfire on the beach. Personally I’d probably have preferred a livelier scene with some electronic music playing instead of reggae but it was nice enough. I went and knocked on Michelle and Jen’s door but they were both feeling sick and were in bed — so me arriving a bit drunk at midnight and knocking on their door was probably not the most welcome intrusion!

At around 2:30 Heleen and Marina wanted to head back to town so we walked them back along the beach. The party was still going quite strong but I wasn’t really in a mingling mood and couldn’t be bothered to walk back again after we’d dropped them  off, so after Andy had eaten a rather unappetising looking burrito from a street vendor, we headed home.

The Mother Of All Days

9 05 2010

Today was the day we were going to leave Montañita but Andy was still very sick and couldn’t face being stuck in buses for 10 hours without immediate access to a bathroom; so we decided to postpone our day of departure. The town was deserted; if I’d seen tumble-weed rolling nonchalantly down the high street towards me I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. The reason for this desolation was twofold: the weekend revellers had packed their things and moved on; and Mother’s Day meant that many local businesses closed their doors and went off to spend time with their mums.

In the morning I ran into the Dutch again — Marina and Heleen — and they were telling me about their exploits the previous evening. Most of which I can’t repeat here; both with regard to their personal privacy and in order to maintain my Parental Guidance blog rating. One story that came up quite a lot was how Marina had twice been enticed to go to the beach to see “a party” or go to “a great cocktail bar”: of course, once there it was clear that the party was intended to be private and there wasn’t likely to be much “tail” in the “cocktail”. This would be the source of quite a lot of jokes for the next few days as we’d ask the girls if they wanted to see a party on the beach.

They went back to bed for the day; leaving me to update my blog in an Internet café and read for a bit. Considering I’d already been a bit bored of this town the previous day, it seemed harsh to be stuck there yet another day. In the evening, Andy was able to leave his bed and walk away from 1 minute access to a toilet so we headed out for some dinner in Tiki Lombo just down from our hostel. We once again ran into the Dutch girls and had dinner with them but they had to be up early the next day for a tour of the national park to the North of Montañita so they went off early.

We decided to head off and play some pool in the local pool bar but as we got there he was just shutting up shop. It was around 8pm: it looks like he’d given up on the lack of the people in town or perhaps he had a dinner appointment with his mother. On the way there we found Tommy, a Swiss guy we’d been chatting to on Friday, so he wandered around with us as we searched in vain for another place to play pool.

In the end we gave up looking at all the closed bars and headed back down to Pedrito’s on Cocktail Alley. Pedrito was one of the few guys who’d bothered to set up shop that evening and he’d actually drawn quite a crowd. We met a Canadian guy, Dylan, who was there with his wife and newborn baby. Since it was Mother’s Day she had some time off from the baby and he was walking around with the baby strapped to him all the time. At this stage in the evening he was already quite intense and I think Andy formed an instant dislike to him but he was not yet as zany as he would be later.

Pedritos - the venue for most of our evenings

As well as the father of a newborn baby, Dylan was a singer-songwriter (he wrote songs for a living: he was working on his “first album” and later on played us a song from his “second album”); a linguistics expert; a master of knowledge of ancient civilizations; an energy healer (or “wizard” as Andy remarked facetiously); a drug dealer and no doubt an inveterate liar too. It looked like his son was going to have a wonderful upbringing.

Also present were two girls from California, Michelle and Jenifer. They were really good fun;  had political and ethical opinions more in-line with Europeans; and were extremely well-travelled: although this was their first trip to South America and they only had 10 days to see as much of Ecuador as possible before returning to work. They both mentioned their boyfriends quite early on in the conversation so if Andy or I had any amorous intents they were quickly crushed.

Also at the bar was a German girl with her Argentinian boyfriend and, later on, an American/Ecuadorian with his local cousins. The American was apparently a male-stripper. We stayed at Pedritos for hours sampling some of his cocktails but also occasionally going down the street to buy a beer (after days of cocktail consumption, a beer was most welcome). After Dylan dropped his wife and baby off back at their hostel he came back somewhat more lively than before (possibly chemically induced) and then picked an argument with Andy when he asked him what he was hiding by wearing camouflage shorts; coming from somebody that was wearing the most kooky stripy socks imaginable this seemed a bit rich. Tommy headed off at some point back down the beach but the rest of us carried on drinking and at one point we merged with the bar next to us and had a huge circle of people. Elsewhere on the street there was not a soul to be seen.

At around 2 or 3 am (time seemed to dilate that evening and people have differing accounts), Pedrito shut the stall but we all still wanted to carry on drinking so we headed back towards the somnolent town in search of some beer. The bar in our hostel (having never previously seen a single patron) was suddenly busy and they had $1 beer in the fridge so we encamped there. At one point Michelle decided to teach some of the locals Blackjack (I forgot to pick up my Peru souvenir cards when we left and they’re now another casualty to my long list of misplaced items) and we also danced on the dance floor there.

Eventually we all drank the beer fridge completely dry and had to go off in search of more booze. Even the self-entitled “25 hours” shop was shut. Michelle and I wandered towards the main square and bumped into Pedrito. We asked him if he knew where we could get beer but at 7am he thought it unlikely that we’d find any anywhere. He offered me some of his half-drunk beer; I thought it was just a swig but then he told me to keep the bottle and just as we were about to return having failed to fulfil our mission he shouted us over: one of the shops was open after all.

We decided to take our beers down to the beach with us and lay there in the sun (for the first time ever in town it actually peeked around the clouds for a bit) before finally heading off on our respective routes to bed.

Surfing for bald-faced guys

8 05 2010

I completely missed the morning. I woke up at almost noon and thought that the party was still going on down the road but it turned out to just be music from one of the cafes. The day was once more overcast (it seems that the sun never shines in Montañita) and for wont of something else to do I finally booked the long-awaited surfing lesson.

Having paid my $15 for a 2 hour lesson he took me down to the beach where he drew a board on the ground and then promptly ran off to get some stuff — he didn’t come back in different clothes and didn’t appear to be carrying anything new so what it was I have no idea — leaving me to stand there looking like a complete numpty doing stretching exercises.

He then gave me a brief introduction in how to get on the board. I think even on the sand, far from the crashing waves, I was pretty bad. I just didn’t seem to get my back foot flat on the “board” after jumping up, or I was leaning back, or my arms weren’t in the right place. After getting one or two stands approximately right it was time to enter the ocean itself.

After countless attempts, I did end up standing on the board, although it rarely lasted that long: I was about as balanced as a schizophrenic slinky.  Nor was my surfing prowess helped by the fact that most times I got on the board my swimming shorts decided they didn’t really want to get on too — leaving my buttocks exposed to the world; another peril of my recent weight loss. At one point he told me to wait a second and went to chat to a friend on the beach. He left me there for maybe ten minutes, wondering if I should perhaps be practising what he just taught me or really just standing there looking completely aimless with my surfboard in hand.

When he finally returned we did a few more practice runs and then one hour before the lesson was due to end he left me “at liberty” to practise for half an hour. I don’t know if he thought there was only half an hour left of our lesson left or whether he was so disheartened by my lack of progress that he just gave up.

I spent the next hour being pummelled by the Pacific Ocean and barely managing to get on the board (without the counting off and someone holding the board straight I really sucked) but at least I did my bit to mitigate rising sea levels by swallowing a few gallons. Finally: bruised, battered, dishevelled and slightly dispirited; I headed back to the surf shop. My stubborn nature means I’ll probably give it another try at a new location further on my travels and hopefully I’ll get a more patient and attentive teacher there. I think I might buy some smaller swimming shorts first though.

After my surfing experience and a much-needed shower, I decided that I’d had enough of fishing food and beer out of my month-old beard and decided to trim it with a small pair of scissors. Unfortunately the end result looked incredibly patchy and uneven so I decided to shave most of it off. The wild backpacker look is gone — no doubt to reappear later on in my travels — and just my traditional goatee remains.

In the early evening we went to Insomnia, an American-owned pizzeria near the square where I had some sizable fajitas. The owner was really friendly and very chatty in a typically-American way. We bumped into Marina and Heleen there too and chatted away to them. After dinner we headed back to the hostel, I wanted a disco nap but it was already quite late so I didn’t really have time: but as it was I didn’t need one anyway. Andy was too ill to go out so I headed down the strip on my own.

I spent some time talking to some French and I was about to go off and see the Miss Montañita beauty pageant with them but they got distracted by a pizza stand halfway down the street so I chatted to the Welsh girls before rejoining the Dutch later on. The Swedish guys had left that day but I still expected to see Henry somewhere about but perhaps he’d also shot town because I didn’t see him anywhere around.

Heleen and Marina on the town

Having learned my lesson from the previous night, I drank at a much more moderate pace all evening and I’m not sure I ever really felt drunk. I stayed on the cocktail street until nearly half four but in the end my sobriety proved to be my undoing and, whilst watching everyone hooking up around me and any potential opportunities no doubt long since in bed, I decided to head off home.

A Heady Cocktail

7 05 2010

After leaving the clear blue skies of Mancora behind my first impressions of Montañita weren’t great: we arrived in the midst of a tropical deluge. The skies never really cleared up all day but at least the rain stopped pretty shortly afterwards.

The main street of Montañita

It wasn’t obvious which muddy track we should take from the bus station but we wandered along in what seemed to be the right direction and came across of plethora of hostels. Matt had recommended La Casa Blanca back in Máncora so we gave that a go.

They initially said they hadn’t got any rooms available until checkout but after a phone call to his boss he seemed to find some. We were there with some Welsh girls (Annabel and Beth) and they were also looking for a room but when theirs turned out to be a matrimonial we offered them our room (it was a double and a bunk) and headed off across the road to another hostel. As it was, it looks like they didn’t take that either. We eventually we found a place at the Papaya hostel across the road for a cheaper price of $7; although that didn’t include breakfast or a free cocktail.

After snoozing for the rest of the morning: woken up when a power cut caused the noisy generator over the road to create a stentorian ruckus; only drowned out when the bandsaw it was powering kicked into life. It was apparently time to head on out for some lunch. Showers weren’t possible because the power cut also seemed to have stopped the water supply. We had an almuerzo menu down the road for $3.50 and then wondered what else there was to do in town on a grey, overcast day with no power. The answer seemed to be nothing. The wind blowing towards to ocean meant that the surf was not good for Andy (and I still put off my lesson!); the bars which lined Calle de Cócteles remained in hibernation: hopefully ready to wake at the first signs of darkness; and the Internet wasn’t working that well despite the generators so we wandered along the beach. I bumped into Henry from Cusco; it seemed the weather hadn’t been much better the last few days either but the nightlife was apparently very lively. A bit later I also bumped into Phil from my time in Huacachina and chatted to him for a bit too.

In the evening we headed out for a stir fry from a local chifa and then had a few beers in the local bars before heading down to cocktail alley. Here we found a myriad of little stalls lining the street with small chairs and tables set out in front of them and chalk boards detailing their dazzling selection of cocktails ($2 for a small or $2.50 for a large one). It was just before 10pm so the street hadn’t completely roused itself but as we sat there supping our caipirinha exoticas the masses slowly converged on the street.

We sampled diverse cocktails and went to a few different stands as we mingled with the different people who we knew and met lots of new people too. We were chatting to two Amsterdam girls (Marina and Heleen) for quite a while and were going to go to a club with them but I was already heading for my infamous slump mode and my head was starting to spin from the cornucopia of cocktails that I’d consumed so I had to pass on that and crawl off to bed.