What’s that you say? Everyone else posted about Christmas over a month ago? I feel kind of proud of myself for getting this up in the first quarter of 2014. I’m just spreading out the holiday cheer, no? After crossing the border into Ecuador, we made a beeline for the coastal town Montañita.
We’d spent two weeks by the beach in Peru and weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the sea yet. Plus, this was my first Christmas away from my family, and I knew the salty ocean was the best place to hide my tears. I am not the kind of person who feels the need to “escape” the holidays and dreams of spending them hiding away on a beach somewhere from the horrors of family, fruitcake and consumerism. I love spending Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and any other excuse to celebrate stateside. But my first priority is to spend large chunks of my summers at home, and it isn’t always feasible to return again in the dead of winter. Hence, Montañita.
We spent the majority of our first day running around town looking for accommodation for the next two weeks, which would cover both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. After being laughed out of pretty much every place in town (and merely pitied by the rest), we seriously re-evaluated that plan and decided to stay in town for just five nights, at which time holiday pricing kicked in, and vacancy ran out.
We nabbed a room at Hostal Kundalini, which was on the pricey side for Ecuador at $40 a night — and soared up to just-plain-ridiculous level at $100 a night after Christmas. It was a splurge, but I loved being beachfront and slightly outside the noise of the bars and clubs and town.
Montañita is first and foremost a surf town (and secondly and significantly a party town), and Anders took advantage of that reputation to take a few lessons. I was put off by the cloudy weather and somewhat chilly water and elected myself surf photographer instead.
While I wouldn’t nominate Montañita as one of the world’s most stunning beaches, it certainly was lively. The water was busy with surfers, swimmers, and kids shrieking with joy. The sand was shared by beach bums, soccer players, dog walkers, and joggers. While I can certainly appreciate the joy of a deserted beach all to oneself, I loved the festive atmosphere and the people watching — especially when I went for evening runs along the water. Normally I can’t stand jogging on the sand, but this sand was solid; perfect for a run.
Montañita is beloved by both foreign backpackers and domestic tourists, and the resulting lively atmosphere on the beach is echoed as well in town. I felt hints of Southeast Asia in the thatch-roof construction, fruit shake stands and Full Moon Party-esque nightlife. But I also sensed hints of Myrtle Beach in the tacky souvenir stands and family-fun atmosphere. It was a successful colliding of two worlds.
I loved being back in a land of fruit shakes and pancake stands. Cheap, fresh juices and shakes are two of my favorite of life’s little luxuries. They were also just one of the many things that had us continually comparing this little beach town to our beloved Southeast Asia.
Montañita comes alive after dark. While New Year’s Eve is the really legendary celebration, I think we got a good taste of what the nightlife is like in Montañita. It’s quite the party, with makeshift bar-stands lining the streets, firedancers performing in the roads and big beachside clubs pumping out dance music.
Christmas itself was a fairly low-key affair. We woke up on December 24th to beautiful weather and ran off to rent the motorcycles we had scouted out the day before. When we arrived at the shop we found it totally dark, despite strong assurances the day before that they would be open. I was irrationally devastated by this turn of events, and I think my sobs were more a reflection of how much I was missing my family and our usual Christmas routine than how much I had wanted to scooter around the coast. Thankfully, Anders knows me well enough to know how to turn my frown upside down: dessert for lunch. One Christmas-themed waffle later, the world seemed a little brighter.
For dinner, we were invited to an expat gathering at Diablos, the Mexican restaurant we made ourselves immediate regulars at upon arrival in Montañita. It was a night of great food, flowing wine and delicious conversation.
Christmas day I shook off my slight hangover to Skype with my family. When I got a little weepy I reminded myself that next year, I’ll be back to the traditional — so for now, enjoy the moment. With that attitude in mind, I slapped on my most festive red-and-green getup (sadly sans Santa hat) and we went for a stroll along the beach. We wound down the day with a quiet night of watching Christmas movies in bed, and planning our next moves through Ecuador.
While nothing tops the holidays at home, I can’t complain about our low-key Christmas by the sea.
Do you prefer to travel over the holidays, or spend them at home?
Where I stayed: Hostal Kundalini
Where I ate: Diablos for amazing Mexican, Tiki Limbo for delicious waffles.
How I got there: We paid 90 soles ($32US) for an overnight bus from Mancora to Montanita. There was a stop at the border, and then again to switch buses in Guayaquil.
Bonus Tip: Bring cash with you! There is only one ATM in town and it has a $100 maximum withdrawal — with a $3 ATM fee. I have a card that refunds ATM fees so it wasn’t too tragic, but hitting the long line every few days was a pain.