I had craved Mompiche’s empty, tropical beaches since first reading a teeny snapshot about it online. ‘Montañita is… yeah…’ said my Spanish teacher, ‘but Mompiche is… well… my favourite in Ecuador’. ‘How do you get there?’ I asked, my appetite whetted by inside information. She didn’t know, other than to drive.
I tried to figure out my route but information was scarce and what I did find told me that it would be quite a mission. One site advised: catch a bus from Quito to Atacames but get off at a roadside junction – the bus driver will know which one – and wait for a bus to Mompiche. But there were only two buses per day, it added, and I envisaged myself standing alone on a random dirt road well into the night, looking hopefully into the distance for a bus to show.
In the end, the route I took (well we took, – my earlier travelling companions decided to come along which, on such an unknown route, suited me fine) was from Quito to Esmeraldas to Atacames to El Salto to Mompiche. It should have been simpler but it got us there.
So was it worth it? Did the dream translate?
Stocking up on some much needed vitamins with a fresh berry juice topped with slices of watermelon and banana was a good way to start the Mompiche experience, although the owner first needed to finish the card game that he was betting on. He won, the other guy disappeared and the juice arrived in a dramatic fashion to an Afro-Ecuadorian soundtrack. The music was, however, quickly switched to some unrecognisable Western schmaltz. Pity.
Mompiche is a village of dream catchers, and maybe it also hooks in those searching for the dream life. Serranos (people from the mountainous area of the country) have made their way here, and there’s a strong Argentinian and Colombian presence too (the DMCA Surf Hostal – the only publicised hostel – is run by a bunch of Columbian surfers).
Mompiche at low tide offers a vast stretch of sandy beach across which mini crabs scuttle in and out of their tiny holes, undisturbed by human presence. Whilst I was there, hardly a soul was in sight. Even on the high street (there are essentially only two main streets in the place) it could be an effort to find someone, and shops often remained without keeper until alerted.
What to do in Mompiche? Relax. I had grand ideas of getting up early and running the stretch of the beach (I’ve still not satisfied the restlessness of my legs), but beers, chats and giggles around the campfire at night meant that, come the morning, the craving for sleep won.
I imagined hiring a surf board and playing on the beach break but lethargy kicked in and even a walk to La Playa Negra was a mammoth effort (we hitched a ride back). Mompiche took my energy and character and melded them into something unconstructive yet perfectly content with swinging in a hammock and splashing in the sea. Days passed. I was happy. But I really didn’t do much.
Before I left, I swung by El Negrito Bar for a final drink. A kiss on the cheek and a cuddle later from the owner and I was ready to leave, batido de mora (berry milkshake) in hand. I had to get away from Mompiche before I stayed forever and did very little for the rest of my life.
P.S. Pablo, Tito and the crew at Gabeal, and all the guys at La Facha (great food) and DMCA, – thanks for the info, advice and the good times. Thanks also to the sand flies and mosquitos for your monstrous munching efforts. It will take some time to forget you.