On a visit a few years ago to Santorini, Greece, I sat at a sidewalk café contemplating – yet again – the meaning of life.
As I sipped a very strong cup of coffee on this beautiful island, its crystal blue Mediterranean waters shimmering in the early morning sunshine, I basked in the idea of someday dropping out of society and making my home in a small village such as this one on Santorini. The idea was made even more appealing given the fact this tiny village was on an island not easily accessed by the average traveler.
Yes, Santorini gets its minions of visitors, but the vast majority arrive on cruise ships, spend money but little time. To otherwise reach isle, you must fly to Athens and hop on a ferry, too much of a trek for some. Most people with limited vacation time –Americans – simply opt for other more accessible parts of Europe, thank goodness! For this island is so tranquil, especially on the other side away from the ships – it’s the perfect place to escape to read, write, watch the world go by and even contemplate the meaning of life.
So I said to myself, this is where I will come to drop out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I will simply show up one day on the island, not tell a soul of my destination, and never leave. To the villagers, I will simply come to be known as the oddball American who turned up one day and just spends his days at the beaches, cafe, walking about town, but mostly reading, writing who knows what, and relaxing. Santorini. Yep. That would someday be my exit. That was it. That is, until a few days ago I discovered another option: Montañita, Ecuador.
I first heard of Montañita during my two-month journey across Colombia. I was in Taganga, a fishing village in northern Colombia overrun with “gringos” – most of them American and Euro potheads and pseudo-hippies. One of my companions mentioned that Taganga had some similarities to Montañita, largely in the carefree people it attracted. At first, I had no interest in visiting Montañita. Seen one hippie commune, seen them all.
But once I made it to Ecuador, I began to hear more about the place. And once I arrived in Guayaquil, my host Veronica and mom Sara in Ecuador had sold me on the place. I decided I would go. Then behold the power of the universe: an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was from my Ecuadorian friend Kahyda, whom I met in Barranquilla, Colombia, and who was among those that first told me about magical Montañita. In her e-mail Kahyda said she and others had hired a driver with a van for a weekend trip to Montañita and it would be great if I came along. Oh, yeah! A few days later, six of us in the chauffeured van were off to the legendary beach town to have fun on its beaches, in its bars and clubs and streets teeming with street performers.
I had heard stories about Montañita, but didn’t know exactly quite what to expect. When we arrived, a smile that pretty much never left my face took over. I was very pleased.
First, Montañita is off the charts as far as laid-back, stress-free beach towns go. It was a three-day weekend in Ecuador, so it was jammed with people, a nice mix of Ecuadorians and foreigners. The foreigners were mostly surfers, hippies, partiers, misfits and dropouts. The don’t worry, be happy, live and let live crowd. My kind of people . Totally chilled. They set the mood and the tone of the town.
Second, the town was built for them, by man and nature, with its gazillion cheap hostels, lots of beaches with big waves for surfing, lots of sunshine and hot weather, plenty of places to eat, drink, party and have a good time.
On weekends, the incredibly loud music throughout Montañita is on full blast for 23 hours a day! Choose your hotel wisely. Choose a hotel or hostel next to a dance club and you better be prepared to stay up all night. The sound system from the dance clubs shake and rattle everything, and that may include you!
I didn’t choose my hotel. I point the finger at Kahyda To sleep, I stuck my earphones in my ears and cranked up my iPod. My music was preferable to the BOOM BOOM BOOM bass from the dance club next door that shook the bed and bounced off the walls.
On weekdays, Montañita tones down the partying a bit for a more very relaxed atmosphere, some might say even boring. The loud music, mostly Salsa and Reggaeton, that is piped across the town is gone. By Thursday it’s back and by Friday it is cranked up again and never really stops. Invest in earplugs.
But this is a place where you come for a good time or to escape something – or someone. There are a thousand stories here. People who left something or someone for this spot on the Ecuadorian coastline. This oasis. There are many places in the world where you can party all day and all night long. But Montañita is part party scene, part hippie commune, part surfer town, part circus, part sexual escapade, all rolled into one, nicely coexisting. I loved the place and found it hard to leave. So did the owner of Hotel Montañita, where I stayed. David, who is from Chicago, said he came to visit the town years ago and never left. He bought the hotel and the rest is history.
Someday I’ll be David, living in a town like Montañita, no rush, no fuss, hanging loose. But for now, I am off to perhaps discover other Santorinis and Montañitas.