A couple of years ago my cousin Andrew did a teaching English/learning Spanish course in a little beach town in Ecuador called Montanita and since it has been a while since our last beach day (well, only a couple of weeks, but that's a long time on this trip!) we decided we would head to the coast to check it out. Now in my mind; and as proved by our visit to Mitad Del Mundo
- Ecuador is on the equator, at the middle of the Earth. Which if I remember my schooling correctly is the part of the Earth which is consistently rotating closest to the sun, so in my brain this means in theory there should be sun at the beach in Ecuador all year round right? Wrong. Montanita greeted us with gloomy grey clouds more reminiscent of our autumn days in London than the tropical blue sky's we had become accustomed to throughout our beach days in Central America.
After a long and rather sleepless overnight bus from Banos to Santa Elena, we transferred to a local bus up the coast with the help of a lovely local man on board, arriving in Montanita about 6am. We had googled a hostel we wanted to stay in, but unfortunately no-one was awake when we arrived so while Ty sat at the beach with our bags I trudged around town trying to find somewhere that was (a) open and (b) not a shithole. When we were looking at places online nothing had rated over 70% on hostelworld which was not a good sign. We found somewhere and managed to get a private room at a budget hotel for the same price that the dorm would have been at the hostel and crashed out for a couple of hours.
Montanita has a bit of a reputation as a party town, and since I was still not feeling 100% I was glad we had arrived on a Sunday, although I could see plenty of evidence of last nights party still lying in the streets waiting for the rubbish collectors to start their work for the day.
Drinks in cocktail alley with Lisa and Willington
The fluffiest baby bird i've ever seen!
Puffy red chests!
We spent our first day wandering around town, checking out the beach and organising a trip for the next day to Isla Del Plata - known locally as the Poor Man's Galapagos - before we met up with Andrew's friend Willington and his fiance, Lisa for some quiet drinks in the appropriately named Cocktail Alley. This one road leading to the beach is full of street vendor bars selling cheap, strong, but yummy cocktails. Seeing them lined up next to each other on a quiet night it was hard to comprehend how they do enough business to survive but Willington said that from Thursday to Saturday the street is absolutely packed and you can't move for people.
The next morning we were up early for our trip to Isla Del Plata. We were pretty excited as we had read that you can see 90% of the animals from the Galapagos at the Island, and since it's June, its also whale watching season so our trip would include that too. We had really wanted to visit the Galapagos but a side trip was well out of our budget. Unfortuantely the trip didn't go quite as planned and we were left a bit disappointed by it. It started with some of the rest of the group being about half an hour late to turn up so we were sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting to go. They probably should have just left them behind but I geuss they felt bad since you had to prepay the trip. After a 45 min drive to nearby Puerto Lopez we hopped onto the boat. I noticed that one of the crew kept fiddling with the engine whenever the captain said something to him but didnt think too much of it. The plan was that we were supposed to do some whale watching, head to the island to walk around, have lunch, go snorkelling, more whale watching and then back to shore. Everyone was pretty excited when someone shouted out that they had seen a whale but as I stood up to have a look, our guide started ordering everyone to sit back down as we were carrying on but going to see some more by the island. Frustrating but ok, will wait for them at the island. Except we didn't stop for any. Arriving at the island we were a bit annoyed to realise that both of the guides with us only spoke Spanish. This was our bad however, as when we had talked to the other 2 agencies in town they had both said there would be an English guide with us and when we spoke to the company we ended up going with the man spoke English and we didn't think to double check. It was pretty frustrating though as our 3 hour guided walk around the island was pretty uninformative as we don't have the vocabulary we needed to learn about medicinal plants and animal species. There were also a few other people on the tour who didn't speak Spanish either so it would have been good to have one guide at least who could speak some English but never mind.
Taking photos of the rugged coastline
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While I don't doubt that you potentially can see upto 90% of the animal species that are on the Galapagos, in reality they have rather over hyped it. We did see a turtle, a flying sting ray and about 5 different species of birds (although a couple of them were pretty cool - one with puffy red chests and some blue footed boobies) and a couple of destructive rats before heading back to the boat for lunch. I had told them that I am gluten free and they had assured me that it wasn't a problem and I didn't need to bring anything with me, with a guy even coming to find out who I was before we left the office however as the sandwiches were being handed around and I asked where my 'salad' was it was clear from their glances at each other that nothing had been prepared. Next minute I'm handed a plate with some lettuce and a piece of tomatoe and cucumber out of the remaining sandwiches mmmm so filling! Ty hopped in for a swim and a snorkel but since he said the water was pretty murky I gave it a miss. I noticed the crew fiddling with the engine again while everyone was swimming and it soon became clear that one of them was no longer working, meaning the whale watching was scratched and our 1 hour 15 minute ride turned into a 2 hour 45 minute white knuckle rollercoaster ride back to shore through the increasingly large swell. While we all had life jackets on which (mostly) fit, the fact that the boat seemed to have no radio and its lights not working as dusk was approaching did not fill us with much confidence. Finally arriving back in Montanita 3 hours later than expected we went to the tour agent to have a bit of a chat with the manager. Fortunately he was able to see that things hadn't quite lived up to the promises and offered for us to go on another whale watching trip the next day (on a different boat!); an offer we decided to accept as we really wanted to see the whales. The boat seemed a lot more sturdy and although we only managed to see 2 whales I'm still glad we got to see them. It was pretty cool too because they would swim up pretty close to the boat and kind of circle it like they were playing with us.
Next stop: Cuenca
Looking for whales
Showing us a baby whale vertabrae