The jungle is greener on the other side

Montañita wouldn’t have me over the Christmas holiday so I moved up the road to Ayampe.

Lingering

Christmas and New Years have been the biggest obstacles of this trip. Where will I spend those two holidays and will I find an adequate room for a decent price? My reservation with my hostel in Montañita ended on the 23rd, just before prices increase. This left me with the option of either finding another hostel in town, spending Christmas in a known area with bus loads of people, or trying my luck in another city. I heard the nearby village Ayampe, my next destination, is fairly empty which could make Christmas a lonely occasion. I visited five different hostels in Montañita looking for a room but they were all either booked or otherwise undesirable. Time to move on.

Leaving Montañita was much easier than I anticipated. I knew of the bus stop in town but had no idea of the schedule, nor which bus to take or where to purchase tickets. There is no bus terminal. The residents told me buses come every half hour and that I need to take the green bus, not the blue bus. I checked out of my hostel and within minutes on my walk into town I saw an aqua colored bus approaching. Hopefully this was the "green" bus. I hailed it down, it slowed and I hopped in (literally). I'm sure I received the gringo tax as I told the fare collector "Ayampe" and forked over my two dollars. The surf had been flat for the past week so catching the bus and riding up the coastline through bits of lush, green jungle was the most exiting thing I had done all week. Getting out of Montañita felt good. Change feels good.

Montañita Sunset

Up the road to Ayampe

Yet again, my bus stop was a dirt road off the side of the highway but I mostly expected that and shrugged it off as I set out to find Bungalows La Buena Vida; a hostel I read about on wannasurf. I saw a sign for it from the bus as we approached Ayampe. It was perched on a hill above the village but I was left off at the base so I decided to walk to the ocean and through the streets before heading up to the hostel.

The beach was mostly empty and covered in stones. This beach was not meant for sunbathers, volleyball players, kite-flyers, nor any recreationalists; the beach belongs to the fishermen, and to them it is simply a transition to the focal point of Ayampe, the sea. I passed one tiny minimart with caged-window service, one restaurant which looked abandoned at lunch time, and half a dozen hostels on my walk. How is it that hostels are the biggest business here? I assume Ayampe attracts people who want to escape. People who want to do their vacation justice by really vacating.

Ayampe

During my walk I ascended a dirt path that I hoped would lead to the hostel but it turned out being a residential driveway with no outlet. With my thirty pound pack and the unnecessary ascent, it didn't take long before I started sweating. It happened gradually enough that I could have stopped walking to control it but I thought "why not sweat?" and invited it along. Out it poured, making me feel nice and cool but I shocked the owner of the hostel upon arrival who was quick to offer me a drink and encouraged me to drop my pack.

The first thing I noticed when walking into La Buena Vida was a disparate set of young, muscular dudes eating breakfast at around noon, glued to the surf film playing on the television: surfers! It's not that I didn't see and meet plenty of surfers in Montañita, I did… but there was something different about this group. They were independents. Lone travelers like myself, some of them traveling through Central and South America for months, with no itinerary and no known return date, just looking for surf. These guys were real surfers and they were all concentrated at this one hostel, or so I thought. Actually, they were staying in different hostels throughout the area but came to La Buena Vida to indulge in the all-day breakfast menu, endless surf videos, and good company provided by business owners Keith and Marilyn Keller.

I was able to secure a room for three nights, Christmas tax included of course, but this place was worth it. La Buena Vida was a definite upgrade when compared to my last hostel. I was extremely happy to have consistent water pressure, dependable hot water, shelving for clothes, a quiet yet powerful, multi-variable speed fan, airtight screens over the windows, fast wifi, an all day snack bar with T.V. and owners who fully participate in the running of their business by cleaning up behind their employees when something was missed or serving drinks during the nightly sports game. In Montañita, I didn't spent much time in my hostel, but the environment created at La Buena Vida made you not want to leave, even better, people flocked here from other hostels just to hang out.

Bungalows La Buena Vida from the road

Although we were in the middle of a flat spell there was a small bump in the swell the day I arrived so I rented a board and went surfing with Keith for about two hours. I caught some fun lefts and had an epiphany: some waves are meant to be surfed, want to be surfed. It felt good to finally have sore shoulders.

The jungle really does look greener in Ayampe. Sure, there's more of it and it's closer - right on top of you even. When looking back from the ocean, it's all you see and it makes you wonder how you'll ever find your way back. Ayampe is greener both literally, and figuratively. Everything was much more to my liking here. It encapsulates what I envision a surf trip to be. Good, vigorous surfing, fresh fish, and lazy afternoons relaxing in hammocks watching the sun set. This place felt so "right" that I may visit it once more before going home.

La Buena Vida was an ideal place to spend Christmas. The small population in Ayampe means that anyone who hangs around for a short period automatically becomes family. You may not interact with everyone but even strangers are familiar. The owners prepared a wonderful, intimate Christmas dinner for their guests featuring a delicious turkey, Christmas carols and later, a walk into town to celebrate with the residents.


Photo of fellow guest Michael, owners Marilyn and Keith Keller, their son Tyler, and myself.

The surf is supposed to be small for another few days so I'm heading to the nearby city Puerto Lopez for a day of scuba diving.

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Sea in the foreground, mountainous jungle in the background