I asked for it, a long time ago.
I knew it was what I wanted, what I needed. But it somehow felt unattainable.
The right place at the right time, somewhere I could find beautiful people, in a good environment where there is no active conflicts around (I still love you to death my Middle Eastern friends, and I will be back!), no deadline that’s forcing me to leave, a clement weather, the opportunity to lead a healthy lifestyle, and the tranquillity and space necessary for me to read, write, reflect, study.
A place that would make me want to stay.
A community, where one can be accepted and loved for who they are, without having to play a role, without having to pretend to be something they’re not.
I had already known that feeling in the past, and loved every second of it. Even the most heart-wrenching ones, because where there is so much love, there is inevitably some kind of pain, or fear. You get attached. Someone could get hurt. People leave. Shit happens.
That feeling though! That feeling is worth fighting for. That feeling is worth all the confusion and the seeking and the loneliness. There’s going to be loneliness. We are all inherently born alone, desperately alone in our existences from the very first second until the last breath. However, the magic of all of it is that at the same time, we are not. There’s a whole bunch of other people out there trying to figure out the strange universe we’re evolving in too. I know I speak a lot about my friends and the importance of relationships, but you have to understand that being the social creatures that we are, other people really are everything. Maybe part of the reason I keep writing it is that I never want to stop being reminded of it, treasuring it.
And here I am, after what feels like an eternity searching, I’ve arrived at a place where I don’t feel like leaving, where I don’t have to. I can for now simply build my existence day by day, without (almost) any big date, any big commitment looming over me. I can finally let go and let myself be carefree for a while, for what seems like the first time in forever. It’s so refreshing!
In the past few months, in order to write my book, I’ve been immersing myself in that old part of me that left Switzerland one day, started this blog and embarked on an adventure that she only initially knew would lead her to reaching Mongolia via the Transsiberian. The Transsiberian, Mongolia… My eyes light up just thinking about it. I was so free, so deeply happy when I was there. I was carefree. You know how little carefree I have been during the last three years?
Yeah, I guess that if you’ve been reading me, you know. There’s been a few exceptions of course. Almost two years ago (seriously time, you have to slow down!), the Camino de Santiago planted the seeds for a new approach to my life, one where I would allow my inner child to again take over at times and allow myself to be entirely present, in a joyful and playful way, despite the pains of the world. I knew it back then, though, that the Camino was only the beginning of a new journey, that I still had a long way to walk before seeing its fruits, with the baggage of my past on my shoulders and the pain of my old wounds slowing me down, but also the support provided by others and the guidance of something bigger than me, that many others have followed before.
It’s not the end, of course. But I am really enjoying the temporary destination I have reached for now, after asking the universe for it and following the confusing and at times twisted arrows it put on my path. It may not be at all where I expected to arrive, but it’s exactly where I needed to be.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been having a blast. I’m surrounded by good, funny, intelligent and hard-working people. The kind of people who make you want to be the best version of yourself, while at the same time knowing we’re all humans with our own limitations, and not judging each other for that.
I am happy to wake up everyday and work, if “work” means I’m going to give a hand to my friends for a few hours a day. They’re onto a reaaaaaaaally cool project. Like, extra cool. I can’t stress it enough. They found this little jewel in a tiny village off the coast of Ecuador, a big house where you feel good the second you enter. Actually, I felt an overwhelming sense of well-being as I entered Las Tunas and walked down the tiny street that led me to my future home. Instantly I thought: “Wow! I really like this vibe”. It was much quieter than Puerto Lopez, fifteen minutes away from there, where I had previously spent a terrible month. When I entered ‘Onda Hostel’, I knew instantly that it was my kind of place.
Let’s go back a bit. Are you still with me? Okay, so I need to give you a bit more context about the way I met Maribel and Mathieu, the recent owners of Onda, which for readability purposes (and because it looks cool), I am going to call M&M.
If you have read my last post, you know that when I arrive in Ecuador, the country is in a state of emergency. Some protests have erupted all over the country, mostly within Indigenous communities, after the president issued a decree announcing an imminent raise of the price of gas, among other cutbacks that would have hurt a population already struggling with poverty and inequality. They also blocked most of the main roads of the country, keeping people apart and stuck wherever they were when it happened. Personally, I land in Guayaquil, and one of the first things I am told is that I could not take a bus to Puerto Lopez, my initial destination, for at least another couple of days. I am also told that the president is heading towards this city, and that Guayaquil isn’t exactly known for its safety; needless to say I am not exactly excited about staying there for too long.
That’s where I have my first encounter with M&M. They’re staying at the same hostel as me, a very nice place called Nunca Pacha. I am still emerging from quite a rough few weeks at that point, and I am feeling excited to be in South America for the first time after dreaming about it for years, and for the chance of a fresh start. I am also quite sad and lonely, and trying to pretend it doesn’t bother me too much. There’s a couple of strangers who are sitting at the table next to me on the terrace. I look at them from the corner of my eyes and try to guess where they are from. They could be French because I thought I heard them speak that language, but I am not so sure. It didn’t really sound like French from afar. They always seem very busy in front of their computer, and I wonder what they’re doing in this country. I conclude that they are probably ‘digital nomads’ of some kind, but I also didn’t give it that much more thought. I am busy enjoying the hammock and my newfound and well-needed solitude.
After three nights, the roads are still closed, and I am really hoping I won’t need to spend another night here. I wake up early and walk to the front porch of the hostel, half asleep. There is a guy smoking. He tells me he owns a hostel in Montañita (which is only an hour drive away from Puerto Lopez), and he is trying to get there that day. He says he is a lawyer and that he has a lot of contacts, so it wouldn’t be a problem for him to have them let him through with a taxi. He offers me to join, to which I immediately say yes. I really want to reach the coast as soon as possible. We then have a chat where he tells me more about himself. He is in Guayaquil to go the hospital, he just had a hearing in Quito the day before, he represents the people so even though he doesn’t look like a lawyer, he is really aware of what is going on. He rants a lot about that, while I am still kind of waking up, not paying attention to everything. He is a bit weird.
I later hear M&M mention at the reception that they need to get to Puerto Lopez too. I tell them I am going to try to take a taxi there and that they are welcome to join. They say they were first going to try take the bus, because it is still unsure whether they are going to start running again or not. I don’t want to go to the bus station with my big suitcase with the risk of having to come back. Yeah, I have a suitcase, I betrayed my backpacking soul. To be fair though, I have just gotten surgery a few weeks earlier, and didn’t want to risk opening the sutures by carrying something heavy. So instead, I brought this huge suitcase because I guess I didn’t realize how much I was going to need for ten months. (I had planned to go the Caribbean for ten months at first, remember?)
Anyway, M&M take quite some time to get back from the bus station, with no success. Since then, that guy’s taxi has arrived, and my things are in it, but we have been just standing there for a while. He is waiting for a friend to send him some money so that he can pay the cab ride. I am so relieved to see M&M arrive, because I was not happy at all about going alone with this weird dude. I like their vibe, and I feel like I can trust them. I quickly tell them my concerns about this guy (let’s name him Luis) . Oh, did I mention that since I first spoke to him, he has most probably gotten high on speed? Yep, his eyes are literally shaking as he speaks to us. We all recognize that we have the same intuition and decide to call it off. We will wait to be sure that the roads are open again, and make a move. No problem, Luis tells us that he can warn us whenever he manages to cross the big blocking.
In the meantime, M&M and I have realized we all speak the same language and stop speaking English to one another. They’re from the French part of Canada, Québec! That’s always fun, to be reunited minorities amongst the French speaking community. We all chill in the common area and chat while we are waiting for the situation to change. I thus discover that they are in Ecuador because they are about to take over a hostel in a small village close to Puerto Lopez. They are going to spend a week there before moving into their new home for at least the next five years. They are going to take in some volunteers for a couple of months to help them restore the place and prepare it for future guests. It sounds like a lovely idea, a great one, one I’d been dreaming of doing one day. I am genuinely curious and excited about their project and ask them loads of questions. I have my own workaway planned for myself, and we jokingly laugh about me going to stay with them if things don’t work out for me in Puerto Lopez. Oh, life.
Eventually, Luis calls the reception and announces that the road has opened and that they have reached Santa Elena, at the coast. That gives us a green light to leave, and ten minutes later, a taxi is picking us up. We drive over an hour and get to about midway to Santa Elena, where we are stopped by a massive blockade. That’s weird, we thought they had opened it. The taxi driver stops at a gas station, where another taxi car is already there. I think I recognize the driver, he’s the one who left with Luis that morning! Wait, does that mean…? Yep, weird dude shows up at our window a couple of minutes later. He’s all smiley and friendly when he greets us. We don’t really understand what he’s doing here, since he was supposed to already be far away. What does this guy want, why make us drive all the way out here if the road was closed?
We’re not happy. We’re really not happy about this situation. We wait a long time, looking at the indigenous people forming a line on the road, and the army trying to come close. There are tires burning and people say that those who try to cross the bridge get stoned. Uh, what exactly are we doing here? This feels like the road is never opening that night, but we’re being told that they have to go to bed at some point so there’s a chance they’ll open. In the meantime, our crazy friend has been chatting with some guys on motorcycles, and they are offering us to guide us through a dirt path that would enable us to go around the bridge. The taxi driver, who is feeling a bit impatient, doesn’t even ask us before he gets into the car and starts following those men. By that point, the three of us are freaking out. We start heading towards a tiny road with absolutely no lights, and that’s our limit. We demand from that man that he stops and goes back, because we don’t want to end up robbed or killed in the middle of nowhere in freaking Ecuador. Noooo way this is how we end. At least, we all agree on that.
The driver doesn’t insist, and luckily, a few minutes later, the bridge opens. Well, I’ve rarely been in a taxi that is driving that fast… I guess he doesn’t want to get his car stoned. The atmosphere at that moment is dark and cold, the roads are almost empty which gives them a very grim impression. On the sides, we can still see a few fires and feel the tension in the air.
Unfortunately, we aren’t able to drive very long before encountering another blockade. This time, the inhabitants of a local village built a structure with branches in order to keep the cars from passing. Everybody is just waiting there, chatting, and nothing seems to be happening. Luis is still here, his eyes have started shaking again. He’s talking to everybody, pretending he holds some kind of superior knowledge about what’s happening, even though he is as much stuck as we are. As if the situation wasn’t already bad enough, Maribel, who hasn’t been feeling well for some time, starts being really sick. Not exactly the best circumstances for a food poisoning… After waiting for another hour or so, we decide to give up and drive back to the last village, Ayangue, and find a hostel for the night. Luis decides to come with us, and we all end up sleeping in cheap rooms, with the sound of a very loud TV until late at night, followed by the sound of two parents… loving each other very hard.
We leave early the next day, hoping we will reach Puerto Lopez without too many problems. Luis is already gone, he only left a couple of empty beers behind him. Finally! Ayangue looks lovely during the day, but it also appears like a ghost town, with no tourists being able to access it at the moment. Our plan is to get a car to the blockade and go around it on foot. We’re told that the road opened the previous night shortly after we left… nevermind. An old man graciously accepts to drive us, and it is quite funny to have to walk through the blockade with my huge suitcase. Stupid suitcase! Everybody here is friendly though, and once on the other side, some young guys offer to drive us for some of the way on their motorbikes, so that we can go through the beach and avoid the next blockades. Mathieu is on a bike, our luggage on another and Maribel and I on a third one. The drive along the Pacific Ocean is not very comfortable but super fun; the wind in my hair makes me feel alive again. What an adventure we have been on since yesterday! I can feel all the familiar sensations that travelling in the unknown has provided me over the years. It feels right, for the first time in a long time. I wish this moment would last forever.
I am also happy to arrive in Montañita after the first excitement has worn off, as my bottom is really starting to hurt. It’s not over yet, there is still one final blockade to go around, but we are really close to our destination at this point. We nonetheless stop for breakfast, and continue our conversations. I really like M&M. They are fun, kind, intelligent and interesting people, and I am so glad to be sharing this adventure with them. Two cars and a final obstacle to overcome later, we finally arrive in Puerto Lopez. Yahoo! My new friends will be staying here for a week to buy and take care of things for the hostel before they can move into their new home in Las Tunas. We will meet up once or twice during that time. For my part, I ask to be dropped off in front of the diving center that I will be working for during my stay here, for an indefinite amount of time.
You know the rest of the story, things didn’t go so well for me there (cf. my previous post). Over a month later, I am more than ready to leave Puerto Lopez and never look back again. There’s just one thing I really want to do before: I have to pay a visit to my friends’ hostel. Once I see it, I like it so much I decide to come back and stay for a few days before moving on to my next planned volunteering experience in Cuenca. And so I do… except that I stay for three weeks, go to Cuenca for a week and come straight back here in order to stay another few months. Why leave a place where you feel so good?
Yep, this is my home for now! And I learned a new valuable lesson on my way here: to trust my guts to tell me when a place feels right or not. I might have made the mistake of staying in Puerto Lopez way too long, but I am not going to repeat it and prematurely leave a place where it feels so right, after looking for it for so long.
You know what, I am going to tell you more about my reasons for loving this place so much, but I feel like that’s enough adventures to take in for one post. Besides, one of my resolutions for 2020 is to start posting more regular articles on here again. I quite enjoyed writing the tale of how I ended up in Onda Hostel, it felt like old times, when this blog was less about my mental peregrinations and more about my actual travel stories. I might do more of that this year…
I wish you all a very Happy New Year (better late than never)!