I am on a quest. A quest to find the most beautiful, authentic places Mother Earth has to offer us. For the past year I’ve been roaming around Central- & South America, together with my three beautiful daughters. By now I thought I knew beauty. We’d seen primary forests with the most extraordinary wildlife. We’d waken up by the sound of howler monkey’s, crossed paths with sloth’s. We’d seen dry and deserted lands with equally impressive sights. We marked the most pristine and exotic beaches with our footprints. We thought we knew beauty. Until there was Ecuador.
There’s something special about Ecuador, something you won’t easily come across anywhere else on the continent. It’s a certain gentleness, a softness of heart, a kindness that goes straight through your heart. Genuine smiles. Eyes that look at you with pure, and childlike wonder. These out of the ordinary people of this out of the ordinary republic of Ecuador, is why you need Ecuador.
We settled in Olon, a small and lovely fisherman’s village on the western coastal area of Ecuador. Olon is known for its quiet and peaceful vibes. However, be warned. Who sets foot here is highly likely to never want to leave again. It’s the kind of place that sweeps you off your feet in a sole glance. There’s a nice mixture of locals, expats and travelers. Bohemians and surfers smoothly blending in like locals. Tourism has not yet washed away the charm of this piece of authentic Ecuador. You won’t find a souvenir shop here, nor big and expensive supermarkets. There’re local tiendas, small family owned shops that sell fruits and vegetables and sometimes cook you a home made meal too. Olon is still cheap. For $ 2,50 you can eat your heart out on a huge plate of rice, seafood and salad for lunch. Pay a dollar extra and you’ll be set for dinner. Needless to say it is cooked to perfection and served with a smile.
Apart from a gorgeous stretch of (sometimes deserted) beach and a range of locally owned beach restaurants there seems not much reason to hang around for long. However, don’t let yourselves be fooled. Take your time to rewind. Sit down and have a ceviche, enjoy happy and easy conversation making. Have a drink at sunset, when de locals come out to play soccer at the beach. Watch talented surfers do their magic tricks in the water. Have a stroll around the central park in the evening. Locals will set up their barbecues and street food stands while kids play outside until late. Often there’s music coming from the outdoor speakers. It’s when the town of Olon comes to life.
Whether you’re a novice in surfing or a more experienced surfer, Olon is known for its nice and smooth waves that please both. It’s a perfectly soft, not too crowded beach break. Most days there are life-guards to help you out with any questions you might have. They are all locals, professionally schooled and do a good job watching over you when you might be crashing and burning trying to surf. Don’t be surprised when the line-up welcomes you with genuine enthusiasm. There’s no fighting over waves here, they’ll encourage you to paddle and catch them all. ‘Dale, dale, chica!’ is something I hear daily, while surfing here. In Olon surfing is social.
If you decide to take a lesson, just ask for Jorge. He’s the best surf-instructor in town, and everyone knows who he is. He’s local and speaks multiple languages. He’s an experienced teacher ànd surfer. Apart from that he’s just a charm and exceptional human being. He’ll make sure your surfing-experience will be a positive one.
Need more of a surfing challenge? The town of Montañita is just around the corner, a 5 minutes and 50 cent busride away. They’ll take you and your board to town. There’s a more powerful pointbreak, all rights. If you like to go solo, make sure you’ll be there early. Remember, Montañita is not Olon, they will fight you for waves here.
Worth a trip
If you feel the urge escaping the paradisal life of Olon there are quite a few daytrip options.
Dos Mangas is conveniently located, just a 5 dollar taxi-ride away. The taxi will take you up to Manglaralto, into the forest. You can either hike or do a guided horseride tour. They’ll take you through the jungle up to the waterfalls, where you can swim in clean mountain waters. There’s lots of birds, wild horses and monkeys to see. It’s a lovely ride and absolutely worth a day trip. Guided tours costs about $25 a person, including horse and boot rental.
Isla Salango is a small but lovely island along the coast of Ecuador. You can take the bus directly to Salango and walk over to the beach. You’ll find small (fishing)boats who’ll take you to Salango. It’s just a few minute boatride, but they’ll cruise along the island to spot the famous Blue footed boobies. You can go snorkeling, and swimming in the crystal clear (but cold) water. Afterwards you can explore and hang out at the deserted beach for an hour or two. Make sure you bring enough sunscreen as there is not the tiniest bit of shade to be found! Tours cost about $15 a person.
Valdivia is a small community also located along the coast. A 75 cents busride will take you there. Upon entering Valdivia you’ll see a grand sculpture of Venus, the naked female from representing the fertility of women and the earth. Valdivia is one of the oldest cultures found in the Americas, dated 3500 and 1800 BC. There’s a museum and an aquarium. De museum displays all kind of remains and ceramic artifacts. The aquarium is actually a rescue center for all kind of sea-life. You’ll find blue footed boobies, octopuses, seastars, fish and a crocodile or sea lion, depending on what has been rescued and rehabilitated. We were guided by the most precious 10 year old boy who could easily answer all of our questions. If you’d like to visit the aquarium make sure you go to the ‘old’ aquarium right at the beach. The new building, on the hill, has been closed for quite some time. Entrance fees vary between 1 or 3 dollar a person.
Montañita is just a 50 cent busride away, and exactly where you need to be if looking for a night out. There are beachclubs, lots of restaurants and bars to get your groove on. Don’t forget to check out the ‘Calle de los Cocteles’, which is located upon entry to the beach. During high season this is quite a popular hangout. Although Montañita has been cleared up quite a bit, it is still known for its drugabuse. Dance your brains out but be aware.
I could easily spend hours passionately talking about why you should visit Ecuador. It’s my favorite place to be, and I’m sure once you’ll set foot in Ecuador, once you’ll set foot in Olon, you’ll never want to leave again. I wish you a happy journey. And if you see me dancing in the sun, running into the ocean. If you see me barefoot, meditating, my hair wavering in the wind. Will you smile at me?