Bob Esponja, Speed Bumps and Faucet Ass: Kayak Surfing the Ecuador Coast – Part 2

Surfing Las Tunas, finding Canoa and the search for Mompiche. – words by Drew Hayes

Tuesday, February 8th

We awoke at about 6am and got our act together to go surfing. We went to check out some different spots and stopped to look at Las Tunas.
Las Tunas from afar

Las Tunas was yet another sleepy village. The break was not unlike Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, fast barreling waves in shallow water with most closing out in explosions of sand and foam. After looking for a bit we went back to the lodge for some Desayunos. Breakfast and dinners are great at this place. Breakfast or desayunos consists of a big bowl of fresh fruit followed by a plate of scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables and a side of 3 pieces of bread. Combine that with one or two of their fresh squeezed juices and you’re loving it.
After breakfast we head south to the famous break of Montanita. Upon arriving in the town you are struck with this feeling of “oh my god what a craphole of a town”. The young surfer crowd has ruined this place. While the break was barely working today I’m sure it is awesome with some swell. But the town itself…. yuck! The town is a combination of shabby pizza places, street vendors, unfriendly looking surfers, and poor locals. We used an Internet place to check in with the northern hemisphere. After finishing up on the pleasantly fast high-speed connection we hit the cashier guy with some of our refined Spanish. “How hairbrush for the Internet tomato”. Like pretty much everyone else he looked at us like we were nuts or just stupid and said 50 cents please. In another “universal face gesture moment” he scrunched up his face when I only had a five-dollar bill and took a heavy toll on his change stash. I did give a bit back to him when I paid for Spencer’s time but it was little consolation to him since he only got one of his precious fifty-cent pieces back. Spencer haggled a street vendor down about 50% on his prices and got some trinkets for the women folk. On the way back we visited La Rinconada, a small fishing village built on the steep walls of a small ravine. This town is all but cut off from the world but has a cool point break. The swell was too small to surf today, maybe later.
the view from above La Rinconada

This town was way down a long jeep trail of a road and was full of smelling (Can be used in substitution for smiling in some cases. They were smiling too.) kids who immediately hopped on the SUV for a short ride through town.
Rinconada kids who hitched a ride with us

There was a soccer game going on in the center of town. These guys were good and would go all out to keep the ball from going out of bounds since it would bounce down the ravine toward the ocean every time it went out of bounds. You come to a place like this without running water and with intermittent electricity, see the smiles on all of the local faces, and realize how little people really need to be happy. Everyone we saw in this town was friendly and was having a great time.
the proud SUV riders

Back at Ayampe we spent the rest of the day surfing the 4’ to 6’ waves of the outgoing tide. We surfed for 3 hours or more and then headed back for a massive seafood burrito and a quiet evening.
What an unevenly tanned caveman may have looked like.

another awesome sunset at Ayampe

Wednesday February 9th

Today we were out of the lodge and on our way to surf and shoot video at Las Tunas by 6:30am. At this hour the whole coast is still asleep. In Las Tunas we drive right up on the beach, parked at the high tide line, and set up shop for a morning of video and stills.
The surf is clean, fast, steep, and intimidating.

The closeouts look brutal but there are a few rideable waves forming off to either side of an angry rip.
Drew paddles out for his spanking.

As you can see here Drew narrowly missed being devoured by an oversized, pelican-eating iguana only to catch his first ever floater onto the back an unsuspecting cow. Yes, Las Tunas was quite a break.

Once again we are the only two people in the ocean for as far as the eye can see. With these waves we get some great bottom turns, a few good lip moves, and a whole lot of beat downs. It can be hard to explain why these super short rides are fun but the adrenaline rush of the drop and bottom turn make the beating all worth it.
This wave almost scared the breakfast out of Drew so he made it his last ride of the session.

A few of Spence’s rides.

With the good lighting provided by the tropical sun and the size of the drops, there should be some keepers in the footage.

the music on the Las Tunas video is by Hellbender

We go back to the lodge to refuel and rest and then finish up the day with a great evening session at Ayampe in the incomming tide. The waves were really nice and the sun setting over the pacific was awe-inspiring. We tend to over use the word awesome. This is one of those moments and one of those places for which the word fits.

Thursday, February 10th

We had an early session with W.O.U.L.S otherwise known as waves of unusually large size. It rained last night and I guess there were some big lingering swells left over from the storm or something. In any case the typical 6’ waves were interrupted by three or four wave sets of much bigger swells. Each of these had probably 7’ swells with 14’+ faces or in river talk they had 25’ swells with a 50’ faces. They were almost as big as the “wave on the Ottawa.” We only drop on a few. For how steep they were, one wave was definitely near the top of my list for big drops I’ve taken. I got a brief freefall on the face followed by a screaming bottom turn before the weight of the world came down on my head. It was a boat-flexing, cartwheel and loop festival. I got beat soundly enough to undo my Velcro watchband. For people who have not spent a lot of time in the ocean it can be hard to explain how a drop can be bigger on a 10’ wave than a 20’ wave. It is all about the wave, how steep, how heavy, how fast, and how shallow. These were steep and heavy.
We go back to the lodge, eat, shower, and pack up. We are heading north to meet a north swell due to arrive this weekend. To give you an idea of how frequently we change or how much time we spend in our paddling gear it is only now that I have found the “I miss you cards” cards from my wife, five days after arriving. It is a nice touch and very much appreciated.
We head out and go to the city of Manta to refill our food stocks. That means we buy a loaf of bread, peanut butter, and water. W
e can’t find the real peanut butter that we bought in Guayaquil and set an underlying theme for a good part of our trip, the great peanut butter hunt. We ask many roadside markets for mantequilla de mani and get the same response. “No but we have some of these”. At which point they show us butter, cheese, or something else they are hoping we will buy. We go through this routine over an over. By now I’m sure half of Ecuador thinks Americans need peanut butter to get through the day.
A couple interesting sites from somewhere along the drive.
Here are two things you don’t often see next to one another.

At least Spidey believes in protection.

Spencer described our experience in Manta well by describing it as similar to the movie Ground Hog Day. No matter which way we went we ended up in the same traffic circle. After three trips around this big city and one dead end ride to a slum we finally took the road less traveled (by us) and escaped to the desert flatlands north of Manta. Free of Manta’s grip we quickly make our way north checking out the breaks from the SUV along the way. As the sun sets we slow down a bit as the potholes and speed bumps now sneak up on you with alarming and tire crunching speed. We get to a small resort town called Bahia De Caraquez only to watch the last ferry pull away and the workers quit for the night. Bummer, now we have to drive around the whole bay to head up to Canoa, our destination for the night. This is all Manta’s fault.

Crammed between our boats here is a very unfortunate fowl of some kind who accidentally hitched a ride somewhere along the line. No doubt during one of our 90 mile an hour, pre speed bump episodes. Funny thing was that he was so content riding there. He slept for what seemed like a day, then fell off when we unloaded the boats. Silly guy.

Naptime. Tuckered out from the long ride.

Shortly after we passed Bahia De Caraquez the weather gets bad. We had already made the transition from dry dessert low land to wet forested areas. Now the rain came down heavier and our progress further slowed as we headed into more jungle like terrain. We tried to take one road and it quickly became a wrong turn. This road is a significant road on a map, route 9 or something. It began paved and then turned into a rutted mud hole. After about 100’ of mud it was back to paving. OK, strange but it’s back to paving so we keep going. A short distance later we had the same thing again, still strange but we keep going. And then the road disappeared. When I say disappeared, I mean it completely vanished. Live trees and brush covered the road, not debris. Kind of like the road that ends in a rock wall on the Roadrunner cartoons, where is the Coyote to paint a tunnel when you need him. To the right there was a dirt road of sorts; it kind of looked like a temporary by pass for the obstructed section of road. It is not unusual to have one of these in Ecuador, it is easier to drive around a bad section of road instead of repairing it. The only problem here besides the fact that it was 10pm and pouring rain was that there were only hoof prints in the road, no tire tracks at all, just hoof prints. Cars drive on every conceivable sort of terrible roads here so one with no tire tracks is a very bad sign. It is wide and flat so we decide to shift into four-wheel drive and go for it. It is a slippery mud slinging truck-sliding ride until the “road” drops down a seemingly vertical hill and out of view. At this point we stop, say a great many dirty words and begin to think we might be stuck. The though of driving down that hill and getting stuck in a rain soaked, jungle ravine is not appealing at all. I can almost picture my shrunken head on the end of some stick at a witchdoctor’s house now. The only thing worse than stopping in deep mud is having to back up in that mud in the dark and pouring rain. We have no real choice but to put it in reverse and floor it. With the headlights full of flying mud we slowly gain momentum and begin moving backwards, bouncing, and sliding back to the pavement. We pause for one of those ‘I can’t believe we made it” moments and then go back in search for firmer ground. After going through two mudslides and a small landslide eventually arrive in Canoa. As it turns out the rental SUV goes right through mudslides when cranked up to about 60 km/hr before impact. In the dark you can’t tell one town from the next so we find an open hotel with good secure parking and crash for the night.

Friday, February 11th.

It turns out that our hotel room looks right out at the surf.

Click here for video of Canoa view from the room.
Motivated by what we see we head out for a fun morning surf session. What a great place for beginner surfers. After the previous day’s pounding it is great to surf some three to five foot, “fun” waves. The beach has a very gentle slope so you get nice long rides. It is actually very relaxing to paddle in these little waves. After packing up and checking out we get some food and go check our e-mail and laugh at the people back home. Shortly there after we are back on the road heading through lush jungle forests, cleared cropland, and some areas of horrible clear-cut forest.

Timber must be cheap here because even the poorest of homes is built of tropical hardwood, stuff that would cost a fortune back home. We make great time today speeding down the roads at 100 km /hr so. We slow only for photos and speed bumps. Speed bumps here are really interesting, they are generally hand made from bamboo and dirt but occasionally are giant concrete car killers. They sneak up on you too. Some have warning signs but many are hiding around the next corner. Don’t like cars speeding past your house? Build a speed bump or two.

We slowed down enough for one speed bump that we saw this critter walking along and had to take a picture.

Around 9 or 10pm we arrive in Tonchigue (ton-chi-way). We’re arriving on a beautiful Friday night (the rain finally stopped) and almost the whole town is on the main street milling around. There is a big crowd around the back of a box truck. Like a hawker of old this guy with a microphone touted everything he had as a cure all, fix all, or hide all for any ailment. “Use this mouthwash and your measles will clear right up while your hair grows back and your roof stops leaking!” People were buying his goods as fast as he could spit out the lies about them. It is now that we go through our usual travel planning. We decide on a town to go to, drive to it, stop in the middle of it for a while, read our tour books and only then decide where we will be staying. We asked a local guy for directions and headed for the Playa Escondido Eco Reserve described in our tour book. It is pitch black outside when we arrive but we can hear the waves crashing in the distance. The Playa Escondido Lodge is similar to the place we stayed in Ayampe, it is not up on a cliff, but has a great view as it is set right on the water in a secluded cove. The lodge is a series of open-air multi level cabins built out of native materials, native hardwoods, bamboo and palm leaves. Most of the wood used at the place was salvaged off of the beaches. The beds are great and with the help of the mosquito nets we sleep like the dead.
The lodge at Escondida.

Saturday, February

We awake this morning to find that the waves we heard were not big ones crashing in the distance but were only about 200’ from where we stood and were really small. Instead of seeing big waves in the distance we ate breakfast watching tiny waves up close. Despite the lack of waves this place is great and littered with cool finds on the beach. You can walk around and pick up all types of shells while hermit crabs scurry away with every footstep. Hermit crabs are a contradiction, they hide the second you get near them and go back into their shells. The contradiction is that they have no patience at all, so after about 10 more seconds they come back out and begin to scurry around. I guess they have evolved to only have slightly more patience than the predators that hunting them. The sky must be full of birds saying, “ what was that? Did you just see a crab under that shell? Where did it go? Hey look over there, fish!” After catching up in the journal, we set off for a scouting trip to Mompiche, rumored to be the best break in all of Ecuador. After getting gas we turn off the main road and head down the dirt “road” to Mompiche. The town is another little fishing village. This village is just on the verge of starting to go bad as the locals begin to cater to the increasingly popular surf break. It is incredible how a popular surf break can ruin the town around it. The tides go way out here and the sand is really hard so you can drive around without any or at least much of a fear of getting stuck. The point break was not working but we drove down the beach and through a river to check it out.

Us standing in front of where Mompiche waves usually end at low tide, when it’s breaking.

Some beaches in Ecuador are so wide and firm that there are bus and taxi lines that run between towns on the beach at low tide as a short cut from the roads that wander all over the hills. We took some photos and checked out a cool looking lodge right on the beach looking at the Mompiche point. The cabins have a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms with enough space for about 6 people. It only costs $15/person and includes breakfast. Needless to say we’ll be staying here tomorrow night. We find another dirt road leading up off the beach so we go exploring. The road winds up through a farm and there are tons of horses and cattle on the road. We wave to a few passing surfers who are on foot. We thought they were traveling to the beach from a nearby town but would soon learn differently. We get to what we thought would be the other end of the road but it stops at a big river and mud flat. Wrong way. We double back and turn down yet another mud pit of a road to slip and slide our way to a “road” under heavy construction. We try to ask the foreman for the way out. “Where is the car hair of the tooth paste, there?” We get the same look of utter confusion and disgust we’ve become accustomed to when speaking Spanish and then he says, “no salida aqui, mucho trabajo,” (No exit here, too much work). We head back the way we came and see some surfers walking on a road to our left. We head down this small road through the hill pastures and get to see a potentially great point break.

A few of the jillion cattle we saw in these country roads.

We now begin to see larger groups of surfers. It only now dawns on us that since Mompiche was not working, these guys were surfing another beach that was working. Tons of surfers started coming over the hill. Spencer hit it on the head by saying that it was like night of the living dead. They just kept coming and coming. Since nothing ruins a day like crowds we turned around and headed back to Mompiche. Along the way we put the tailgate down and gave a ride to a bunch of kids who were boogie boarding. It turns out that they were from Canoa. We told them that we had just been there and liked it. They also told us that there was a surfing contest going on and that was why so many surfers were in town. Hopefully things will chill out on Sunday night and Monday. It is time to head back to Playa Escondida for the night. We stop by another tiny fishing village, Enero De Platino, to check out it’s point break but nothing is happening there either so we head hack for dinner. The sky is clear tonight and the stars are incredible. Everyone must go somewhere truly dark in your life to a place free of light pollution and see the true carpet of twinkling stars and light streaks of the Milky Way. The stars twinkle and the planets glow, and shooting stars streak across the sky as we hang out playing cards at our new cabin. We had to switch to a cabin further away to make room for a group of Habitat for Humanity volunteers that arrived that day. There is a crazy looking gecko lizard on the wall of the lodge that I catch and harass for a while. We finish up the day with another hour of smart-ass comments and card games.

Basically we’ve been getting skunked on surf for the past couple days due to our desire to find new spots, and that there is no decent swell where we are now. A time period longer than a day without surfing on a trip like this can make you pretty antsy. Here’s what happens to a 37 year old man when he can’t get his surfing in.

The next couple days we will finally get to surf Mompiche and another break close by, Boca Portete. Coming next journal entry. Then a couple awesome days at Canoa to finish out the trip. Until then.

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