It took us three flights and twelve hours, but we eventually landed in Manta on the Ecuadorian coast. Manta is a medium sized port town. It is the beginning of a nice seaside drive down the coast. It was fairly late at night, so we picked a hostel from the guide book and got a taxi there. Unfortunately, the guide book also recommended that we did not go outside at night. We got to the hotel (turned out it wasn’t a hostel at all) and we were thirsty for a drink, but we were scared to go outside.
Looking out the hotel window, we appeared to be on a rough looking street, with a few dodgy looking bars in the area. We decided to make a run for it to the closest and most well-lit bar and we were rewarded with a flat beer. The locals gave us funny looks as we sat there. When Ben went up to pay instead of finding a counter, he found a small room that you could rent out and watch porn. We basically ran back to our hotel and firmly locked the doors and windows.
The next morning we promptly got up and caught a bus south to Montanita. We had heard mixed reviews of this place. On the one hand it was supposed to be the surfy-tourist spot. However, a guy in an earlier hostel had warned us it can be quite dodgy at night (although I imagine it was people like him that made it dodgy). When we arrived we were greeted to a sea of tanned gringos with surfboards. The small town consisted only of hostels, restaurants and handicrafts. We walked towards the sea to find a beautiful set of rolling waves over golden sand. We had arrived in paradise. Most of the hostels in town had been booked out for the weekend, but we found a nice one just down the road that was right on the beach.
Our time in Montanita was like a holiday within our holiday. It was peaceful, relaxing and recharging. We slept until midday most days and then wandered aimlessly along the beach. We tried out a number of the restaurants and bars in town, which never seemed to cost more than a few dollars. We also rented surfboards on a couple of the days. One of our walks took us to a zip line and despite my disapproving noises, we harnessed up and flew along the forest canopy. I thought it would be scarier, but it was a peaceful ride. On the last one the guides bounced the rope, which was a little further out my comfort zone, but I managed to hold it together.
We extended our stay in Montanita by a day, as we weren’t quite ready to leave. We had another day of sun, surf and relaxing. The following day we returned to Manta and stayed at Santa Marianita beach, about 20 minutes out of Manta. Santa Marianita is famous for kite surfing, so Ben was quite excited. However, when we arrived only a gentle breeze flew through the sleepy town. We were hard pressed to find somewhere to have lunch and by dinner we were all out of luck. We walked a looooong dark street looking for any signs or smells of food. It was about 15 minutes into our dusty trail when we realised we were on a dark street in rural Ecuador. This was exactly where they warn you not to go. As there were only about ten residents at our end of the beach we weren’t too concerned, but we soon approached a dark looking boaty settlement. Feeling nervous and hungry we walked a fast pace looking for food. Eventually we found a small shop with a light on, covered in prison bars. A small kid opened a tiny peep hole and asked us what we wanted. We tried our best to point through the bars to get something edible and we ended up with a cup-a-soup each. It would do. So then we walked as fast as our little feet would take us back to our sleepy beach and sleepy hostel to match. Yet again we avoided imminent disaster.
The following morning we had breakfast with the hostel owner and guests. It turned out the other three guests all worked at the hostel, so we were actually the only visitors. The hostel owner was a lovely retired American woman who had a thing for collecting stray cats and dogs and feeding them into obesity. The animals waddled around us infecting us with fleas and nibbling at our toes. One day was quite enough for us in this quiet area and soon enough we headed on our way to fly back to Quito.