When mid-service ended on Saturday, Eileen and I decided to travel south a little with Jessie, who was placed in Montanita. Seeing her site was a true education in how different our experiences have been. Montanita is a very small vacation town, but when we entered it, we walked one block down its main perpendicular street (a street which heads straight to the ocean) and we turned left onto Jessie’s road. It was a dirt road lined with a mixture of cane huts and half-built cement block structures. It was not at all a quaint little Oceanside town. There were chickens strutting through the streets, dogs galore, and a donkey lying down and tied to a post. Jessie’s place was a one-room habitation, smaller than a dorm room. It had an attached bathroom, but the water would work only if she went down stairs and turned on a generator at the other end of a large, dirt-floor courtyard-slash-meeting room. Even then, the water was a little hit or miss. That afternoon, it was miss. Her room was really the only half-finished structure on the second floor of an otherwise just erected building. The rest of it was a mess of cement pylons with steel bars jutting out of them. We dropped our bags off in her room and then headed down the precarious steps to her “entryway,” which, she explained to us, had had bats; so she had to leave the light on at night so they wouldn’t come back there and leave their guano all over the floor.
We went down the street toward a hostel where Jessie had originally lived for the first few weeks back in October. As we walked through the mostly-dirt streets, every third or fourth kid shouted “Jessie!” more like a command than a greeting. Jessie waved back to them all. Since the town is so small, pretty much everyone knows her, a nice fact for a single gringa on her own in Ecuador. She says she feels pretty safe. Of course, you can never really take your safety for granted here, but from what we saw, she was probably in a safer place than we are just by virtue of her fame.
The hostel we ended up staying at wasn’t luxurious, but it was right on the ocean and they provided a mosquito net and a bed for $5 per person. We got the key for our room and then walked toward the tourist side of town. It was a completely different place, filled with pizza joints, seafood restaurants, bars, bikini-clad women, muscle-bound men, reggae music, people selling hand-made arts and crafts, and finished buildings. We were happy to be walking with Jessie, a quasi-native, though she got fewer “Jessies” on this side of town.
The beach was much more crowded than the beach at Alandaluz, but it was still not bad – nothing like your typical American hotspot beach. Jessie told us about how she ran pretty frequently on the beach and how she had been learning to surf. She’s considering getting her own board and doing it more often. She’s currently on a summer vacation for the next couple of months. Her classes ended last week; just recently, the town transformed into this ultra-touristy place to cater to the vacationers who come from other coastal cities like Guayaquil, which are also on summer vacation.
It was an odd mix of envy and gratefulness that we felt in Montanita; we were at times envious of the more rustic experience she was having, of the ocean, of the local fame, of the ability to escape easily from the cement world of Quito. But we were also grateful that when we need groceries, we don’t have to undertake a three-hour round trip excursion; that we have a real stove, running water, and a refrigerator; that we have easy access to copy machines, internet, movies, and travel hubs.
More to come . . . In the meantime, we´ve posted pictures in Coppermine.