Tag Archives: relax

Losing my way in Mompiche

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.


Filed under beaches, ecuador, nature, south america

Tranquilo Otavalo

Hostal Chasqui in Otavalo, proved to be another lucky find on this journey, with Roberto (who can only be described as the world’s most likeable guy) running the place. A building of mass proportions, it appeared to be largely empty and for $9 I got my own room with balcony and bathroom. It wasn’t the cheapest option in Otavalo, and it didn’t include breakfast, but I was happy to have my individual space for the same price as sharing. Taking us up to the roof terrace, Roberto pointed out the town’s orientation, gave us advice on walks and markets and places to eat. Lunch, therefore, was in Taco Bell (not the Taco Bell, but a replica) for burritos, homemade guacamole and freshly squeezed pineapple juice, made in speedy time by cheerful Carlos.

Otavalo’s pavements are colourfully tiled and smell of freshly baked bread, thanks to there being a panadería on every corner. Plain bread and bread filled with cheese, dried fruit or gooey sweet stuff easily tempt you to part with $0.20 and provide great snacks for hikes out of the town.

Markets of various sorts occur on a daily basis but the famous ones – the ones that people travel to from far afield – are on a Saturday. The animal market is for early birds (sorry), finishing at 10am, but the textiles and main markets run until 5pm (although stallholders do start to pack up a bit earlier). With such a vast range of crafts and clothing available, I found it to be a bit disorientating and, not wanting to buy for the sake of buying, I nearly left empty handed. At the last moment, I spotted it: a stripy, gringa cardigan. I stayed away from the alpaca pattern but it has to be acknowledged that the top I purchased is distinctively gringo (and very cosy). Finally I felt initiated into the world of travelling.

Evenings in Otavalo were spent playing cards and smoking shisha (or nargila, as the Israelis insisted) in two laidback bars, Bohemios and Red Bar ( the latter didn’t have plastic mouth pieces so you shared spit with all the previous smokers – should I have had my Hep B jab after all?!). Both disgusting and curiously moreish (I’m craving it as a write) was the chocolate pizza at Bohemios – a typical base with mozzarella, drizzled in chocolate liquid and topped with a dusting of cocoa. The best part? The waitress finally cracked a smile when we ordered. Moving on and trying to win over the young, reggaeton dancing clientele of a truly local bar proved impossible, but the bartenders quickly had a smile for us, although one beer later was a good time to move on.

My memories of Otavalo, aside from the markets and an epic hike around Cuicocha Laguna, will be focused around the tranquillity of the place, and the rain that drizzled in a comforting manner and then pelted with such force that it drenched one in seconds. The hostel was an interesting, relaxed social hub and the random chats and beers shared with travellers from Holland, Australia, Austria, England and Israel (of course Israel… nearly every traveller I meet seems to be Israeli!) helped me to form some further ideas for the next step. Good times.

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Filed under culture, ecuador, food & drink, places to stay, south america