I arrived in Montanita on a Saturday afternoon, the busiest day of the week, in the little surf and hippie hangout on Ecuador's Pacific coast.
The streets were filled with a mix of vacationing Ecuadorians, dreadlocked South American hippies, and surfers from around the world.
My friend Kevin likened Montanita to a “backpacker vortex” because it sucks travelers into its laid-back, daily rhythm of life.
After spending two weeks, and three weekends there, I wholeheartedly agree. Montanita quickly grew to become one of my favorite places in the world.
And much like my visits to Indonesia's Gili Trawangan and Belize's Caye Caulker, my time in Montanita was defined not by a single amazing experience but rather by all the little ones that collectively made up the whole.
I met Kativa and Whitney that first Saturday night at Hola Ola, a Western-owned bar known for its weekly Ladies Night every Thursday and Saturday's “all-you-can-drink-for-$6” night.
(Note: both open bars are only about two hours, and the drinks they peddle are a heavily liquored vodka-juice combination that's intended to get you drunk before you realize how terrible it tastes.)
Montanita is a short two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Guayaquil, so it's common for the town to swell with partying Guayaquilenos on the weekends.
Kativa's outgoing personality (and cute looks) immediately caught my attention.
We ended up spending the following week together: drinking, dancing, speaking in Spanish, and walking in countless circles around town.
She had lived there for a few months previously and seemed to know everyone. And if she didn't know someone, she would change that quickly.
Montanita was originally a surf destination. If you talk to the local expats, it won't take long to meet some who talk of the days when they first visited years ago, before the paved roads and Wi-Fi-enabled hostels were constructed today.
I've already tried my hand at surfing around the world, so I spent my time taking reflective walks down the beach to The Point (a rocky outcropping at the North end) and back.
On one occasion, I walked with Kativa to The Point in the late morning at low tide.
We continued beyond the “danger” sign, walking past tidal pools until we had turned the corner of the cliff.
We were suddenly alone, with only the sound of the crashing surf against the jagged rocks. We were rewarded for our valor with a view of the neighboring pueblo further up the coast.
Other popular beach activities included soccer and volleyball, eating ceviche, and the typical tanning and people-watching.
A Room with a View
Arriving late on a Saturday afternoon, I walked into the first oceanside hostel I saw and ponied up for a private room.
The next day as I shopped around, I quickly found I was paying three times the typical rate.
I moved to Hostal Papaya in the center of town, where I proceeded to lose any ability to sleep due to the constant noise, a mix of cement mixers and construction on the hotel across the street, and music blaring until 3 AM from the local bars and discotecas.
If I was going to stay in Montanita another week until my birthday, I had to find a quieter room.
I gave up Wi-Fi access in favor of a room with an ocean view at Mochica Sumpa. I offered to pay a week upfront, and they slashed the room rate in half (to $10/night).
Despite the presence of a big discoteca 50 meters away, the loud music was softened by the sounds of the waves crashing on the rock retaining wall at high tide.
The ocean was so loud, I wondered at first if it would keep me awake as well, but I quickly got used to the new soundtrack playing outside my room.
Sunday Night Concerts
Every Sunday night, after the weekend party crowd goes home, Montanita becomes super-chill again.
Sunday nights were my favorite for this reason, as well as the concerts and performances held outside the Mochica Sumpa Hostal.
Around 10 PM, a singer from Guayaquil would perform a set with a group of local musicians. He sang slow enough that I was able to understand some of the songs in Spanish.
After the Guayaquileno sang, others would perform. And it wasn't just musicians.
Some very talented local jugglers would do their thing, and on my 2nd Sunday, there was a full-fledged visiting circus — clowns and all!
On my third and final Sunday in town, before the Guayaquileno singer performed, I introduced myself as a new fan.
I then recorded his entire 40-minute set that night, as I knew it would always be a way for me to return to those Sunday nights in Montanita.
Sampling the Street Food
While there are plenty of restaurants in Montanita, none featured food that really stood out to me. Instead, I became a fan of street food.
There are the regular vendors, mostly Ecuadorian though I met some Colombians from Cali selling Colombian-style empanadas.
And then there are the hippies walking the streets with platters of homemade pizza, empanadas, and sweet pastries.
The hippie food was my favorite. Most portions cost one US dollar, and you knew the money was helping them live their hippy lives.
“Happy” brownies (aka pot brownies) were also openly for sale on the weekends. Weed was certainly the most benign drug available for partiers in Montanita.
The police don't strictly enforce the drug laws there, which might explain all the hippies!
Feliz Cumpleanos a Mi
I enjoyed Montanita so much, I stayed a third weekend to celebrate my 35th birthday.
My friend Jodi of Legal Nomads likes to celebrate her birthdays by climbing mountains around the world.
I prefer to spend it dancing the night away in Latin clubs. Preferably salsa dancing.
To kick the night off, I had a mojito mixed by an Ecuadorian friend, Fatima, who I'd met through Kativa the week before.
Fatima had just moved Montanita from Guayaquil and was working for one of the cocktail vendors.
I don't think her new boss was too happy she took off work early on a Saturday night to help me celebrate, but I certainly appreciated it.
We went to my discoteca of choice, Nativa Bambu, which overlooks the ocean and features the biggest dance floor in town.
While there was a dire lack of salsa played that night, I still had a lot of fun dancing to the merengue and reggaeton.
As with my 34th birthday in Medellin, I couldn't have been happier to be celebrating my 35th in the friendly surfer/hippie enclave of Montanita, Ecuador.