Bob Esponja, Speed Bumps and Faucet Ass: Kayak Surfing the Ecuador Coast – Part 4

Meet the author, Drew Hayes. Here he sits with his precious journal.

Drew and I figure it is best to go ahead and finish posting all the rest of his journal to this blog being we are about to leave for another Ecuador surf kayaking mission next week. I do thank Drew very much for writing 15,000 words, basically a book about our trip. There is no way I could remember all the details of this for the rest of my life, but thankfully it is now archived. So, when we’re old and stupid (All we have to do is get old. We’re already stupid. Sorry Drew I guess I should just speak for my own stupidity…Nah, you’re stupid too) all we have to do is bring up this page and reminisce of our absolute imbecilic past. Without any further hesitation, I give you the rest of our surf kayaking mission to Ecuador in February of 2005. Please wipe after you’re finished. Later, Spencer

Sunday, February 13th

We wake up around 6:30am. There is a nice puddle outside the door due to Spencer’s poor aim during the night. A quick face wash with the foul smelling water, a trip to the composting toilet and we’ve started our day. Apparently pillows and toilet paper are considered some sort of eco-hazard on this side of the eco-lodge because we sure did not have any last night or this morning. We wander down to the office/restaurant at the lodge for some breakfast and watch the tiny waves. The extra high tides comes pretty close to this little bit of heaven and in light of recent evens you can’t help but wonder what a tsunami would do to it or the rest of the country for that matter given the current goings on in Indonesia. Judith, the lodge owner tells us that she has been wondering the same thing and also tells us of a massive off shore earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit around in the very early 1900’s. It was supposed to have killed thousands of Ecuadorians. We say goodbye to the staff and take a few digital photos because words don’t do this place justice. Next we head over to Mompiche, making great time now that we know all of the speed bump hiding places. It is strange when driving along these roads, at times you feel like you are speeding through the 1800’s only everyone has Direct TV and cell phones. While cell phones are seen here and there in the villages almost every house, home or shack has a TV going. Indoor plumbing, nah, hey, what’s on Cartoon Network?

We arrive at Mompiche to find small waves again, rideable but small.
At low tide you can drive right up to the break.

Out there where you can see no waves is where the waves are when there is swell.

A few local board surfers are out scavenging for the few small set waves that roll through. We meet an American Peace Corp Volunteer named Sean who fills us in on the local goings on. He was just starting off on a 3 hour walk back to his home on a near by island. The island is cut off by a river so he gets to it by wading or swimming across a river. We offer to give him a ride cutting an hour off his walk and he tells us the locations and details of the local breaks.
This is road we were driving. Looks suprisingly reminiscent of US east coast cattle farming land. Except this is right by the ocean.

Here is an overlook of the beach we are on the way to right along side the farm land.

Sean, our Peace Corps companion, seems to be a great guy who is really into his work and proud to be helping the locals. We gear up and get ready to paddle. We park at the end of the road by the river, put in, and literally float right into the surf zone.
This was the river float down into the break, which has to be one of the most unique surf kayak putins we’ve ever been to.

The waves are breaking shallow and we get beat down a bit. I shoot video of Spencer for about an hour and then paddle for a little bit. I’m not that into this kind of body and boat busting surf. The tide is about dead low exposing a thousand feet or more of pristine beach. This expansive beach has no trash, zillions of shells, cliffs, caves and land bridges in the rocks. At the end of this beach is a high rock point with grass on it. A home is built upon this bluff connected to the main land by a bridge. The house belongs to a governor or something and must have one of the best views of any home in the world. There are the armed guards and big gate that go along with any wealthy person’s home here but the scene still seems idyllic despite the security. The tide has changed now and we literally float back up the river to the car.

We head back to the lodge, take a quick peek at tiny Mompiche and go to the cabin. The place we are staying consists of six or eight bamboo cabins with a big deck, a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom for $15 per night per person. It also includes breakfast. The ocean is only 50 paces from our door step. As if that wasn’t enough it looks right out at the Monmiche point break.
Our front yard at Mompiche

We cook up some pasta and sauce for a cheap dinner and head into town for a look around. The town or pueblo of Mompiche consists of about 50 buildings or so. Many of the buildings, maybe one quarter, are shops of eateries catering to the newfound tourist trade. We go to a store for some sodas, sit down on a bench outside and blend in. By blend in I mean blend in about as well as two white men can in a town like this; in other words, not at all. While sipping our sodas and discussing the strangely high ratio of young to old in the town we get to witness a serious breach of poultry etiquette. Near us on the street is a huge cock or male chicken, or rooster, take your pick. He is about 20’ in front of us and his women folk are 10’ or so behind us. Out of nowhere (actually across the road) comes this younger upstart pretty boy of a rooster to check out this guy’s women. Well when old Fog Horn Leg Horn got a load of this he blew a gasket. This big old boy comes running with his wings flapping and his mouth hollering, plenty to scare the tar out of anyone with any sense. As it turns out old pretty boy had some sense because he took off for the other side of the street like a kid going after a piece of candy. The old many crowed and flapped his wings for a while and even cut loose with a cockle doodle doo. Once back on his side of the street, pretty boy did some crowing but the whole pueblo knew what a little chicken he was. He must have sensed this because he quickly went behind some houses to hide his shame. Spencer and I decided to walk back to the cabin for some rest after such a drama filled evening. Too bad we don’t have a photo of this. It was truly priceless. The mental picture is hilarious.

One thing I forget to say about the lodge was that it is cut off from the main part of town by a small stream. Since the tide had come way in this small stream was now a big stream complete with crashing ocean waves. Not wanting to get our clothes soaking wet with sandy and salty water we strip to our birthday suits in the dark, hold our clothes over out heads and wade across the stream to the comforts of the cabin. I start to cover the day’s events when Agustin the night watchman shows up. We communicate as best we can. After a while of broken English we call it
a night.

Monday, February 14th

I wake up at 5am to use the bano since I’m up I grab the binoculars and head outside for a peak at the waves. It is as black as night outside, go figure, and I can’t see anything. The only thing I got to see were stars circling my head after I clocked it on a low beam. This wonderful moment sent me back to bed cursing and rubbing my head. The next open eye moment comes at about 7am when I again grab the binoculars, walk outside and preemptively curse at the beam that got me earlier. I take a look-see through the binoculars at the point and see what we have waited for, waves! I scurry back into the cabin wake Spencer with” Get your ass up there are waves!” We quickly get dressed and head out in the rain for the point. Since it is raining hard we leave the cameras at home. Sorry no photos of the morning session. As we paddle out you can see the bend of the swell as it heads into the crescent shaped bay. The bay or shoreline of this part of the coast is almost a half circle and you can see the shoreline mirrored in each the seemingly endless swell lines. The southern end of the bay has a rocky reef and pint break. This is the break widely known as Mompiche. We get to the point break and are blown away by the swell and wave patterns. The swell comes to the point and turns or wraps around the rocks what has got to be a 70-degree angle. It is a wild experience. You sit eight feet the rocks and simply look over your left shoulder to see the swells coming. You don’t have to look behind you at all, strange. It might be the swell direction and its extreme bend but no point break or reef that I have surfed compares to this place. You get on the wave and ride the wrap around the corner like a giant banked corner on a racetrack and then head straight into the bay.
This is a drawing from the journal to give you a better idea of what the break looked like. It was truly bizarre.

The swells looked small, maybe 4 feet or so but they jacked up quickly on the reef to 6 or 8-foot faces. You had a high-speed steep drop right next to the rocks and then were rewarded with a perfect shoulder and wall on which to carve, do cut backs, and hit the lip. The rides were about 400 feet at high tide and got much loner as the tide went out. At high tide you could literally surf back to your cabina. We surfed a ton of waves being the only two in the water and then headed back for some breakfast after a few hours. Our place had their seating for the restaurant built on a deck that looked right out at the break. We ate and watched the swell grow. Next we grabbed the camera equipment since it stopped raining and headed back to the point. Since it was just the two of us earlier Spencer joked that the whole town would show up around noon since we already knew that we were the only people in Ecuador up before 10am.
A couple local fishermen (kids) passing by the break.

No one was at the break when we got there and Spencer started to set up to film so I went first. I rode a few waves very tentatively since coral heads and rocks were now popping up all over the place with the receding tide as the waves sucked the water off them.
Notice the protruding rocks in the bottom right corner of the photo.

You start next to the rocks and then dodge rocks until you get out on the shoulder and can begin to relax and do some moves. About now three locals show up. They were cool and we all kept surfing. Then three more showed up and things got tougher. These guys went so far inside, it was nuts. If you went in there in a kayak you would need to have a perfect ride or get up close and personal with Mr. Rock. The waves were smaller now than this morning but you could feel it in your bones that they would grow as the tide went out.

I stayed out too long and screwed Spencer (not literally mind you), the surfers were now showing up like ants to a picnic. He was right after all, it was now after 11 and they were coming back to life. With every wave more and more people entered the water screwing Spencer out of wave after wave. He only got to ride a few and was rightfully frustrated. We packed up and left this place since we would not be able to surf until early the ext day. We blasted down the road and made it back to Canoa in less than three hours. We checked into our hotel and went to the beach.
Canoa hotel.

The waves at Conoa were bumpy with onshore winds but were big and fun. We surfed until dark and had a blast; the local kids were out and were real friendly. Hotel Bambu on the beach was the place to eat that night. We met a really nice German guy named Gerhardt and he was really stoked about our boats. We spoke to him in broken Spanish and he returned the favor. His English was worse than our Spanish and our German was way worse than our Spanish. When you consider that our dinner requests in Spanish translate to “please put fresh tree bark on your head, hold the cheese” that is saying something.
Spencer brought a deck of cards and the only other person in the place, Hannah, asked to join us for cards. By some strange twist of fate she was German and spoke English, Spanish, and German. We went over the last hour’s conversation and it turns out that we basically understood each other the first time. I guess he likes tree bark on his head without cheese too. Gerhardt bought us some drinks and then went back to his room. We spent the next few hours playing cards and no doubt annoying the hell out of Hannah with our juvenile humor, endless sarcasm, and stupid jackass comments. Needless to say Spencer and I loved it. She was spending a year traveling around trying to figure out what she wants to do when she grows up. I think she was 21 or 22. We met quite a few young aimless wanderers like her. She said that she was in Canoa the past three days because she was unable to get up before 11 to get an early start on her long trip. We volunteered to wake her up and then said goodnight. The whole “volunteering” thing in Ecuador is strange; these places charge foreigners to work on their farms resorts or estates. One place charged $8 for room and board if you worked 6 hours. We were wondering if they would be so kind as to let you pay $16 for the privilege of working 12 hours on their property. I told Hannah I would only charge her $5 each day to paint my house in the states. She laughed but I’m sure she thought, “Americans really are annoying and stupid”. We were in such a state of jackassness that we continued to make fun of people and each other for almost an hour back at the room.

Tuesday, February 15

I’m going to start this entry by stating that this is a true story and all of the day’s events actually happened. What a day! Here it comes. We woke up at up around 8 am and went to the beach. The waves were smoother than the previous night and we surfed and filmed for almost three hours. The Canoa Beach is really nice, relatively clean, and lined with the boats of the local fisherman, while not the dug out canoes of Mompiche the motorized boats of Conoa were still pretty cool. They launched them as do most Ecuadorian fisherman.
Fishing boat launch.

They would use logs to roll them to the water and would then have a man in the front with a bamboo pole and another in the water at the stern to steady it. The third guy who was in the boat would madly try to get the engine to fire up while waves crashed into them. Once the engine coughed and sputtered to life they would blast through the waves occasionally going airborne much to our am
usement. Since the waves were so good this morning there was a heavy local presence. In many parts of the world this would be a problem for kayakers but not here. The locals are all too happy to share the waves and their enthusiasm is infectious. We leaned that a couple of the locals are kids we gave a ride to in Mompiche and we strike up some sort of conversation. They are really nice and tolerant of our caveman Spanish. “Me good waves how you?” The waves are good sized here, say 7’ to 10’ faces and paddling back through giant set wave foam piles soon wears us out. By soon I mean two and a half hours of rotating between filming and paddling. Hotel bamboo has a restaurant right on the beach so we go there to eat. For about $3.50 each we get a basket filled with about six fresh baked flaky rolls, two scrambled eggs each., a big bowl of fresh cut fruit, granola for the fruit, fresh squeezed juice, and tea or coffee. A couple of kids follow us back from the beach and we show them footage of their rides that slipped in among our rides. They are super excited to see themselves on film and we tell them that we will film more of them in the late afternoon session, say around 4pm, we finish stuffing ourselves and then head back to the hotel to change out of our paddling clothes. We noticed a lot of tents on the beach this morning and come to find out from our hotel owner that the producers of the Miss Ecuador pageant are in town with all of the girls film the beach and bathing suit shots. As if that wasn’t enough they will be doing the photos at our hotel this afternoon. We change and then head off to use the Internet. We check email and find out the happenings at home and check the surf report, fading swell through the week. And weekend. The lady at the hotel had asked if we were paddling this afternoon and seemed to want us out of there for the photo shoot. We go back to the hotel to change back into our paddling gear and find that the photo shoot has begun. We prop the door to our hotel room open as we get ready since the girls, excuse me, the contestants are changing on our floor and then walking past our room on their way down stairs for the photo session. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how hot the hottest girls in Ecuador are. So we change and go down to the courtyard to get the boats and the rest of our stuff. They have started the doing still photos of the girls in their florescent of sequined covered bathing suits. The police and security guards are so fixated on the girls that a high school marching band could easily sneak up on them and slowly beat them to death with a big salami and they would never notice. We head down to the beach for another surf session. In a stroke of promotional genius and in an effort to keep the girls from being slathered in testosterone the production staff spread the word that they want to film the local surfers for back ground footage. Every young male who can do anything even slightly resembling surfing is in the water. The light is terrible for filming so we tell guys that we will film in the morning and Spencer takes the camera stuff back to the hotel. We spend a few hours surfing the evening waves, which have built some due to daytime onshore winds. Although bumpy these waves are great with the set waves having nice big faces and walls to play on. While brutal to paddle out through they are so much fun to surf on. Spencer, the locals and myself have a great time. Spencer and I both agree that tonight was one of our all time best sessions. Some of the local guys are great, two cousins in particular Leo and Jorge are stand outs. These guys ripped up the waves busting all sorts of lip moves and aerials. After surfing it is off to the hotel and then another dinner at Hotel Bambu. After dinner we head up the street to Leo’s Pizza Place for some drinks and yet another disjointed conversation in Spanish or something resembling Spanish. We learn that Leo and his cousin have a pile of surfing trophies between them. You can’t help but wonder how well these guys might do in the states with just a little local sponsorship. The guys here in Canoa have really been friendly and welcoming. If you make it to Ecuador put Canoa on you r list of beach destinations.
A lone pero in the street outside our hotel. That’s looking away from the ocean from the hotel.

Looking toward the ocean from the hotel.

Wednesday, February 16th

Today we awoke to yet another morning of great waves and offshore winds. We got to the beach around 8am and the local boys showed up around 10am. The fisherman were there launching their boats from the beach and then launching their boats into the air off of the waves. The offshore winds were pretty strong and getting on some of the waves was tough. Once on it was a fun steep ride. Not only were these things fun for us but the local boys absolutely went off on these things. They were killing it and we loved it. We surfed and filmed for a few hours and then headed back to the Hotel Bambu for a review of the video. Since we had a bunch of kids around watching the video it also attracted most of the passersby, some of the staff and even the owner stopped by briefly. The kids got a big kick out of it and made us rewind a bunch of parts for a second look, laugh or “oh my god”. Spencer told the kids he would make a DVD for them and they were blown away by the offer. We all decided that the easiest thing to do was to mail it to the Hotel Bambu since mail to individual homes for that matter is practically non-existent outside of larger cities. Next, Jorge, one of the local rappers showed us some of the jewelry he makes. He showed it to us earlier and we asked him to bring some stuff to the hotel for us to buy. It is really cool stuff made from local materials. If you’re in Canoa, ask for Jorge the surfer and support the local economy. Don’t forget Leo’s Pizza and Hotel Bambu either. After saying our goodbyes to the locals we split for Ayampe. We were hell bent to make it back for some seafood burritos and drove like mad to get there. Since we skipped the three trips around Manta this time, avoided the dead end road, mother of all mud pits, and actually caught the ferry before it closed for the night, we made it in time for dinner and with time to spare. After a short conversation with the staff and a delicious burrito we crashed for the night.

Thursday, February 17th

I awoke earlier than Spencer, just early enough to wake him with some truly unpleasant sounds from the bathroom. It was still dark so I went back to bed for a bit longer. The next time we awoke we geared up and headed out to Las Tunas. The waves were clean, the beach was disserted, and the wind was still. Most of the waves were closing out so you had to pick carefully and be patient to avoid any unnecessary beat downs.
Illustration of Las Tunas wave shape in comparison to other places we surfed.

I had a few decent waves interspersed with a lot of waiting. Spencer is up next so I slather on some of the sun block that only seems to make me less red, and fire up some Bob Marley on the I pod. Spencer is up to the same antics that I was, a little riding and a lot of watching the closeout sets roll in. The scenery is great, an empty beach, turquoise blue water, two cool islands offshore, bright sunshine, and pelicans surfing the draft on the wave faces. It is a good morning and I don’t mind watching Spencer surf. Being an Olympic quality jackass I do what any good jackass would do and start to ruin perfectly good video shots with voice-overs and stupid camera angles. The voice-overs are mostly a combination of the guys or recordings blaring from those truck mounted loud speakers with our now purposefully and fluently jackass Spanish. We have perfected the construction of sent
ences that say absolutely nothing in the most annoying manner possible. I continue to ruin shots until Spencer tires, I’m sunburned again, and we are both hungry. Las Tunas was fun but not quite up to the previous day’s surf so we decided to pack up and head south for a visit to the southern beaches. Spence and I discuss the intestinal trauma that I had this morning and agree that it does not appear to be at a sick level yet. I pay the bill with a $50 travelers check. Now I had always thought that these things were called traveler’s checks because they offered some sort of security for the traveler. I have now realized that their name derives from the fact that you get to take them wherever you may travel because almost no one wants to accept them. Just about all of my travelers checks have really enjoyed the trip thus far. The staff does not have change for a $50 check so I have to wait for some change to show up. I’m feeling really tired so I settle into a hammock for a nap. The sound of the ocean just lulls you to sleep here at Aldo’s open-air lodge. Just as the lulling was doing its thing the crew destroying the concrete deck returned from lunch to continue with their pounding, scraping and shoveling. I’m not sure if the change man, pelican, fairy or monkey showed up but my change was now here and we were off to leave this now noisy slice of paradise. We were now happily speeding our way south toward all of the southern surf breaks listed in our internet surf guide. We passed Montanita and joked about how crappy this one little part of the coast was. It turns out that we began to pass ugly areas one after another now, not the cheesy ugly of Montanita but ugly towns with nasty or just plain unattractive beaches. We stop to fill up the filth-mobile that we are riding in and I head off to use the bathroom. You folks at home can imagine this one. Think rural American gas station bathroom and then adjust it downward for developing country filth. Yeah, you pretty much have it. I walk out and begin a slow pitiful walk back to the car. I sit down and begin the first phase of intestinal poisoning. Intestinal poisoning abroad is similar to having it at home except without any of the comforts of home. The first phase as with many conditions is admitting and recognizing that you have a problem. This phase ended with one quick sentence “Spencer, something got me, I’m sick.” I have now entered phase two, analysis. In this phase you go over everything that you have done and eaten to put yourself in this dreaded condition. Bad water, bad ice, bad food, or what? We have narrowed it down to bad water, ocean water. The following description of the cause was not only quite plausible but probable. There is one part of Canoa that I have not written about. I left it out so as to not taint beautiful Canoa. This town as with many other towns has a small stream running through it. I’m not sure what idea you might have of the plumbing and sewer situations is in Ecuador but it is non-existent in much of the small towns in rural areas. This small steam like many others carries much of the town’s filth away. Unfortunately away means the north end of this great beach, next to Hotel Bambu. And yes, very close to the best peak in the break. As with most beaches in Ecuador, strong currents run along the beach. So long as you get beyond the first breakers you are beyond most of the filth. The true horror water can also be identified by the yellow or orange foam it produces. We affectionately call it the “raft”. Of course we insert all kinds of unpleasant words before and after the word “raft”. The “raft” takes on its maximum size during the morning peak “flushing” time. Evenings aren’t great either. On Tuesday evening, the best session of our trip, I rode a wave all the way to the beach and began to paddle back out when I saw Spencer drop in on a beautiful wave, he made a big right bottom turn and accelerated down a steep wall to a perfect peak where I think he did a great off the lip. I say I think because while stopping to watch him I got crushed by a giant foam pile. Totally unprepared I ate a bunch of water and flopped around like a rag doll. Too close to shore I most likely ate my little intestinal friends here. We made it to a beach called Punta Canero about 2:30pm, got a hotel room, and I went to bed while lapsing into stage three, pain and suffering. I went to sleep around 3 or so and wandered in and out of sleep until Spencer came back from dinner at which time I was in stage 4, the contemplation of death.

A note from Spencer: “If I may at this time interject I would like to share some beautiful images of Drew in the midst of his delirious state. Notice the miserable, sunburned face and greasy hair. True signs of a sick, unbaithed man.

Second, notice the cowering, withdrawn Drew hiding under the blanket as I prod for an incoherent comment for the video camera. No luck on that one. Zombies don’t usually respond to normal human questions.

Next, notice the oddest of sleeping positions that no man has ever witnessed until now. Seems like some sort of barbaric, tribal, yoga stance while in the deepest of meditation. I imagine that the diarrhea got so bad that he was literally trying to tie his legs in a knot to shut it off.

Thank you for this opportunity!” – Spencer

Back to the journal.
In this stage of sickness you could be lying in the street being attacked by wild dogs and you would be glad to finally have your mind off of your ailing stomach. You promise all of the things you won’t do next time but will do just as soon as you get better.

Friday, February 18th

Stage five baby, recovery! Recovery is starting to arrive as the ciproflaxin does its thing and kicks some bacteria butt. We look at the dismal surf, the crummy beach, and yet another nasty creek flowing right into the break. Neither of us found it appealing in the least and we decide to split. Were off to a beach town called Playas. We hit the usual thousands of potholes, many speed bumps, and make many a wrong turn on the unmarked roads. We find our way to Playas and see a very built up town by the sea with fishing boats, and seafood eateries everywhere. We don’t see any waves so we head down the road for the small pueblo of Engabaou. The waves are small here to so it is back to Playas for a hotel room. We drive south through the town and stop to read the guidebook for a hotel recommendation. At this point a guy stops and asks us if we need help. We ask if he speaks English and he seamlessly switches to perfect English. It turns out that he is a salesman from the states here on business and yet another super helpful person. Everyone has been very helpful as we have traveled and this guy is no exception. He recommends a hotel around the corner and helps us get a great ocean front room. He shows us a local place to eat where the owner is a surfer so we can get some local advice on the waves. The surfer tells us that we were not in the right spot at Engabaou, a town for which we already assigned the smart-ass name “In-your-bowel”. We go back to Engabaou and head 5 minutes north past the town to the point break. The break is not happening but you can see that it is a good right with the proper swell.
Behold Engabaou

This microscopic town has a whole fleet of brightly painted fishing boats each with the name of a loved one or saint fancifully painted on it. Most have a painting of Jesus or some fish to go along with the name.

The workers for these boats arrive
by the pick up truckload. I’ve never been in a country where pick up trucks better live up to their name. All over the country these things are loaded up with people they have picked up along the way. We were never quite sure if the small out board engines for these things were communal, rented or joint owned but one boat would come in through the surf, turn around, be rolled on the beach via two logs and its engine taken to another boat that would launch through the waves and go shrimping or fishing.
Traditional fishing boat/raft on the way back in.

The place is littered with small fish, mostly Halibut that have been cast aside. Birds munch on some of them but there is a carpet of the small fish in places. I’m guessing they are not to o concerned about the population of these fishes or more likely unaware of the impacts these actions may have on the larger fish stocks. Coming from a country with relatively tight fishing regulations it is difficult to see the roads paved with fish in places. As the fishing stock decline and. the fish are further from shore the guys are going to really need every saint painted on their boats to get back to shore alive and to avoid starvation. You can imagine the crew a mile or so off shore in a big swell or with a leak and the guys on board go “oh crap, say, what the hell is that name on the side of this thing? I need someone to pray to!” Heck, now that I think of it that is probably what they are for, If you don’t have a compass, lifejackets foam floatation or any other safety feature, someone’s name to pray to is a cheap alternative. The scene really would have been picturesque had it not een for the beach littered with dead fish., dog and pig feces and the omnipresent trash.

Even the bluff at the point next to t the lighthouse was beautified with a rotting house, and more dead fish and lots of human feces for an extra special touch. We left. I took a shower at the hotel and got the living tar shocked out of me by the suicide shower. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it but there is a heating coil in the showerhead and it kind of works like running the water over a toaster to warm it up.
The electricution shower.

Next we slept at the hotel, went out to dinner with the American guy, and then back to the hotel again. The food was pretty good. but there is not much to see in this town. The salesman had some great stories to tell at dinner. Earlier in the day he had stopped to fix a leaky hose on his truck. He was under the hood cutting a hose with a pair of wire cutter when an upset woman ran up to him. Her daughter was in a doctor’s office getting some surgery, yes in the doctor’s office, and the doctor did not have anything to cut a ring off of a swollen finger. Always bring tools to the doctor’s office when in Ecuador.
Sunset at Playas from our hotel balcony.

Saturday, February 19th
We awoke early to checkout the break above Engabau before the wid got on it. Since the waves were still kind of small and all of the feces were still in full effect we agreed that the surf trip was over and it was time to get out of here. After a terrible breakfast we left the hotel in a hurry. We left so fast that I forgot to get my photocopies of my passport, some travelers checks, and a bit of cash out of my hiding place in the hotel room. Merry Christmas to the staff member who finds th cash. Don’t bother cashing the checks. I cancelled them. The hotel bill was $45 until I asked for a receipt at which point it jumped up $7 to cover the cost of honestly reporting your income to the government. The lady is definitely not happy with recording this sale giving us just one more reason to leave. The happenings of the morning have soured our moods a bit but we soon raise them again by ridiculing everything around us. The road signs, buses, and roadside food vendors are a rich source of material and we are soon feeling better again. We are riding behind a couple in a pickup truck and see the woman passenger lean over towards the male driver. Naturally we put a sexual connotation to this and begin to make up some dialogue. And then it happened, she went down in his lap. Jackass jackpot! You just don’t do stuff like that in front of people like us. The ridicule and laughing now have take a quantum leap. As we prepare to pass them. The road is flat so we pass on a turn. Naturally we have the window down to make hand gestures and yell things. No surf, no problem. This is great stuff! We then break out the video camera for some more nonsense and jackassery.
We arrive in Guayaquil and head sown town for lunch and a video and photo session at the Iguana park. This is a really cool park. Don’t miss it if you are ever in Guayaquil. You can actually pet these giant Iguanas, it turns out they like to be scratched. After finishing up we pick a hotel and head out. Of course we have picked a hotel so small and so well concealed in a suburb that not even taxi drivers know where it is. The hell if we can find it so we head off to the airport to ask the car rental agency for help. One of their guys offers to drive out in his car and let us follow him. He says it will be much easier than giving us directions. Famous last words. He joins us in hell because he can’t find it either. Here is a tip for you, always ask for directions from more than one person. This guy does not and we weave a spider web all over the suburbs of Guayaquil. Direction number 1,252 pays off as the says “You’re here it is right there next to your car.” Like most any place here is walled off and heavily fortified. The owner is on a balcony, says hi and lets us in. Dreamscape Hostel is a cool place. The outside area has a tiny pool, a tiny turtle pond, parrots, monkeys and marmosets. The marmosets are apparently the world’s smallest monkey. These characters are truly tiny , they remind me of what squirrels might be if they had a brain. These things scurry about with lightning speed and are generally entertaining to watch. The rooms are nice and the place is really clean. Our next adventure is to return the filth mobile to the rental agency. Close to the airport what seems like 700 people beep at Spencer when he makes a major Ecuadorian traffic faux pas and actually checks for traffic before tuning. This pisses him off so he takes off only to find some woman, now wide eyed and very concerned for the huge ball of mud hurdling toward her. She jumps out of the way; he breaks and then speeds off again as his level of irritation increases. As we approach the airport entrance it is cut off by a bus, Spencer swerves a bit in front of a bus in an attempt to get in but quickly abandons it when it is certain that we will get squished if we try it. Unfortunately for us a cop was standing right there in the path of any would be squishing. He looks at us and flaps his arms and hollers. We speed off for another attempt at the airport. The cop is waiting for us and motions for the curb. Both of us take a big gulp. He basically asks us what our problem is, if we are drunk, and where we are going. We act like we don’t understand any Spanish, which fortunately is not hard for us, and start talking in broken Spanglish. “We mistoed the the entranceo , need to returneo the caro.” He says that we would have hit him in the accident that almost was and makes hand signs resembling hand cuffs. This Spanish we understand perfectly. This guy is really pissed but I think the extra bad Spanish and proximity to the airport helped because he said the magic word ”infraction”. That means ticket but really it means bribe. If you are confronted with police in much of Central or South America and you hear the words ticket, infractio
n, or fine you should be in good shape. We stumbled over the amount but our get out of jail free card was $50. Paying an angry cop $50 is much better than visiting a South American jail. The rental car people process the paperwork and we go out to inspect the car. The guy’s jaw drops open when he sees our formerly blue and now brown vehicle. He half-heartedly tries to inspect for damage but it would take x-rays to penetrate the mud. He says “Dios mio” looks for crumpled body panels and then gives up with an “OK”. The mud does a great job of hiding the spot on the roof where the paint was rubbed off by the boats and the scratches on the sides from some brush we blazed through. A wash should fix the outside but I think a new interior will be required to get the paddling clothes smell, blackberry juice, peanut butter, (yes we found some), AND SIX TONS OF SAND. Paddling clothes stink, get them wet or keep them wet as we have done each day and then bake them or more correctly incubate them in a closed car in the tropical sun and you really have something. They should bottle this stench and use it for personal protection devices in place of pepper spray. It sticks better, casts longer, and often grows into a traceable fungus. We catch a cab and go on a spiraling ride around the hotel finally landing on it after much cursing and arm flapping by the cab driver. He takes his $3 and speeds off. Next time some one says “Dreamscape Hotel Please” this guy will surely take off in a cloud of dust. Back at the hotel we goof off (go figure}, for a while. We go out to eat around 10pm and eat at a little family place that grills out front. Two sodas, two broiled chicken fillets, two piles of rice and two heaps of mashed potatoes total $4. The food is damn good too. We go back to the hotel, err excuse me, hostel and watch TV. Ironically enough we get to watch the Alamo while sitting in our walled fortress of a house. I’m pretty sure we could fend off a couple of thousand angry cab drivers from here.

Sunday, February 20th
This is our final full day in Ecuador. After the free breakfast we are off to use the Internet for one last round of e-mails the back to pack up all of our stuff. After packing we catch a taxi downtown to the Malecon 2000, a riverfront; a plaza, mall, garden and promenade stretching along Guayaquil’s waterfront. This city has really surpassed my expectations. While I found the whole southwestern coast from Montanita South totally unappealing this city is pretty cool. We get a great lunch and walk around for a bit. While in Guayaquil the past few days we have received some strange looks, even stranger than the normal one’s we always get. It is either the shorts or the flip-flops. Most everyone is well-dressed here and almost n one besides foreigners wear shorts. We also saw no men wearing flip-flops down town but plenty of women with them. Basically I think we were dressed too informally and were walking around wearing women’s shoes. Lucky for us we enjoy freaking people out and run with it making sure most get to see our feet. It is pretty damn amusing to freak out so many people at once, it’s not like we have any other clothes or anything. We even had time to watch the IMAX movie T-Rex, a three-story tall adventure movie where the audience fights a desperate struggle against boredom and the urge to kill themselves while trying to watch a dinosaur movie. As it turns out most of the audience survives. After the movie we head back out along the riverfront to terrorize the local population with our flip-flops. While walking the pathway we watched the rafts of plants float by on the Rio Guayas. Twice a day the ocean refuses to take the muddy water and debris of the river and sends it back up stream again. It was heading upstream again and the big rafts of what appeared to be water hyacinths were racing north at an amazing rate. They were moving along a pace roughly equal to a very brisk walk. Some were flowering and had birds but most were simply full of tastefully arranged trash. Snack food wrappers soda bottles, and yogurt cups were arranged in highly introspective patterns on the plants. Spencer cleared up the meaning of one I was having trouble with. I have not mentioned yet that I was traveling with Professor Spencer on a class trip. He finished two books before the end of the trip and I’m sure his dedicated study of literature at home. Anyway this one raft floated by with two large Pepsi bottles on it. The bottles were a bit inclined with their necks in the plants. Spencer wisely concluded that this raft was meant to symbolize the general shyness of the native Ecuadorian people by having the necks of the bottles in the plants much as the ostrich does in the sand when feeling shy. This modern art stuff can be hard to figure out and I’m glad Spencer is here to describe the artist’s vision. He has a head cold that is raging and he has entered the world of intestinal distress so we head back to the hotel for some rest. We are really getting good at finding the hotel and guiding the cab drivers. Our paths to the hotel have evolved from the initial spider web approach to the spiral, and on to our current zigzag pattern. I’ll bet if we stayed here another two weeks we could get all the way down to a squiggly line. I settle down to watch the finale of the Alamo that I fell asleep during last night and catch up in the journal. Yes I don’t continually write all day in my journal. The irony of watching this movie while staying in this walled fortress of a hotel is still with me. The girl working at the place asks me to pay for the room because we are getting up so early and she would like to go out to a movie. The owner is there and he helps us out by arranging to get us a cab at 5 am for our ride to the airport. Just as she is about to leave three new guests show up and delay her. She quickly shows them the room, gives them a key, and splits. The girls are new to Guayaquil and I give them what little advice I can since the hostel is now un-staffed and they go off to find dinner. Spencer wakes up and is still feeling rough so we go out to get some ice cream and popsicles to sooth his throat and cool us off. It is really muggy tonight. Like most any big city some place is always asking and after asking a few people we find an ice cream shop a few blocks away. My nephews should get a kick out of the “Bob Esponga” Popsicle wrapper. The popsicles bring Spencer back to life and he beats me at a couple of hands of the car game Hannah taught us in Canoa.

Monday February 21st

Today awake to two things rarely found in Guayaquil during our stay; rain and no taxis. We wait 15 minutes and then go and get our own taxi. We flag down a white taxi that is such a rambling wreck that it could be right out of a cartoon. We stuff our boats inside and tie down the hatchback. Just then our pre arranged taxi shows up and I tell him” you not here at 5, much late, we go white taxi, I’m sorry”. He leaves and we are off to the airport. I’m not sure if it is a clever way to get us to pass out and get robbed or Ecuador’s last desperate attempt to kill us but the exhaust from this car fills the inside. Spencer rides with his head out the window for air, something I would do if either the window or my door functioned in any meaningful way. The taxis of Ecuador are a miracle of sophisticated duct tape and coat hanger technology. Rarely do any gages work including the gas gage but especially the speedometer. At check in Continental Airlines gets things off to a great start by trying to charge us $180.00 for our “surfboards”. Some weasel of a desk agent with a Napoleonic complex figures that since we connect in the states we should be charged for each leg of the flight. We told him that we only paid $100 on the way down. Since weasels are deaf to the sound waves of reason he stands his ground. We try to comfort ourselves by making fun of the airline until the head agent straightens him out by saying, “one far
e one fee”. It is great to finally understand so much Spanish as I get to listen to old ferret boy loose his argument. We smugly revel in our victory as he scurries over to tell us the charge will only be $100. A short wait at the gate and we’re on the plane. Spencer was remarking about the people who travel with babies and about how bothersome it can be. We escape sitting near any babies but sit directly in front of this oriental couple. I’m not sure what country they are from but apparently their non-Latin based language was formed in an attempt to make deaf people hear it. I guess there is no way to say “what” or “can you please repeat that” so they have to talk loud enough the first time to keep any conversation moving. They certainly are fluent speakers because we hear each word they yell at each other. We survive this situation by doing what comes naturally, making fun of them. Spencer breaks out the video camera and I mouth the guys responses to his wife’s screams. Spencer gets his fill and moves to get away from them. I settle in for some journal writing until we reach Panama City, Panama for our connection to Houston. We were late taking off in Guayaquil and arrive in Panama ten minutes before our next flight. Continental Airlines continues their excellent service by sending that plane off without us. They put us back on the plane we started on and send us to Newark, NJ to get some more connections and thank us for choosing Continental Airlines. I think that they are always thanking us because they are so amazed that people still choose their airline. Back on the plane I get seated next to the family with the kids and the mind a girl traveling to the states to work as a nanny. She is nice and we chat off and on through the flight between the mind numbing in flight “entertainment “. The kids are great the whole flight. The in flight movie was “Tomb Raider” and although repulsed by the practically entire movie I find myself strangely attracted by Angelina Jolie’s upper torso’s performance as the lead character. Upon landing in Newark the would-be nanny sitting next to me sees snow for the first time in her life. It is pretty cool to see her reaction and to describe the science to her. We land, go through customs and then hand the bags back in. Spencer heads off to his gate after saying goodbye. The guys who take my bags send me up stairs to the agents. I walk up to the Continental re-check in desk and am met by a wonderful, “what”, “what do you need.” It is astounding how an organization this big can maintain such a high level of customer service throughout their worldwide network. I tell them I’m here because the luggage guy downstairs, who was actually very nice, told me to come up here. “Oh”, she says, “your flight must be cancelled. Let me check, yes it is cancelled.” At that point she says I can fly out tomorrow and they pay for a hotel tonight. I’m loving this and go off to use my cell phone. My wife is out of town and I can’t find a ride. In a stroke of business genius my traveler’s insurance provider says that they will not cover the $80 car rental for me to drive the two hours home but will gladly reimburse me, maybe, for an $800 flight on another airline. With such brilliant leadership and such a solid business plan I’m sure they will be in business for another10 or 20 minutes. I decide to get my bags back from Continental and to try to make alternative arrangements. They give me some paperwork and tell me that it could be awhile. 31/2 hours later I’m back at their desk asking for a check up on my bags. Surely they will want to send in reinforcements for that guy so gallantly checking for my bags. I picture a skeleton in a Continental uniform just a few feet from my bag. Poor guy, he almost made it but died from thirst and hunger just before achieving his goal. The guy at the counter tells me that he is not surprised that no one found my bags since the forms were filled out all wrong. Wow, boy was I stupid to wait so long with poorly filled out paperwork. I’m sorry Continental Airlines. The look on my face pretty much says it all and this guy offers to personally go find my bags. That poor guy who died trying the first time must have left a trail of breadcrumbs because this guy found them in 15 minutes. So four hours later I have my bags. Since it is so late there are no other flights to Philly. I will take Continental up on their flight tomorrow night. I would try for a flight with another airline in the morning but since my travel insurance carrier will soon be out of business I decide to just wait and go tomorrow (Tuesday) night. I’m sure with the rest of the problems I’m bound to have that I will at least make it home by the weekend. They give me a hotel voucher for the Newark Sheraton, a great hotel with really nice rooms. After Ecuador it is like staying in a palace. I enjoy a night of sleeping in air conditioning, on a box spring and mattress, and cable TV with HBO. My $10 dinner voucher covers the cost of my $9 spring roll appetizer that will now be my main course. I could have fully fed four people for that in Ecuador. Oh well, at least for the first time in a while I have a pillow that does not resemble a sack of rocks. I awake in the middle of the night to the TV on with some god-awful movie on HBO. While fumbling to turn the volume down I only succeed in turning it up. Once I get it loud enough to sake the glasses on the table next to it I give up and turn it off. In the morning when I turn it on CNN starts hollering at me at the top of their lungs about the president’s visit to Europe. I imagine him wandering Europe saying “ hey, they speak funny in this country too!” I shut them up and headed down for another shockingly expensive meal. Back at the airport it is time to do some people watching and rest before Continental sends me off on my next miserable adventure. I sit next to a guy who asks me if I’m writing a novel because “you’ve been writing for hours.” I tell him it’s a journal and that we’ve been to Ecuador. He grew up on Brazil, lived briefly in Honduras, and has lived in Miami for quite some time now. He highly recommends Brazil for its culture, beautiful beaches and attractive women. In our discussions about Miami, he confirms the guys in Playas description of the town as a Spanish-speaking melting pot of Latin America. It slowly gets to 4pm and I can now check in for my 8pm flight. I get the usual “what’s that a dead body?” or just a plain “what’s that?” from people in line and the typical looks of contempt from the staff. Sure bring your screaming baby on board, your cats, dogs, etc., but a surfboard, how dare you! The guy starts talking about charging for the surfboard and I promptly tell him that I paid for it to go to Philly in Ecuador and I expect Continental to do that. He checks my receipt and gives up after typing on the computer. I’m sure he typed in “difficult passenger. Screw over at will.” After grabbing some food, I called Spencer to tell him that I was still in Newark, NJ. He was apologetic but knew that it was providing further Journal material. My gate was down a long hall somewhere around the end of the world. It was at the end of the terminal where they cluster gates in an attempt to save on airport expansion dollars and to break the will of those last few hopeful travelers. At gate 114 they have one podium with a screen listing two flights, Charlotte and Ashville. It actually might have been faster to just get on the plane to Ashville and drive back up to Delaware from Spencer’s house. By listing two cities they just made one podium and one seating area into two gates. You might have noticed that neither of those cities was Philadelphia, my final destination. Those are true words; I can honestly say that I expect Philly to be my final destination with Continental Airlines. Both of the listed flights are delayed and then my 8:05 flight becomes 8:20 pm. I call my wife and tell her not to leave
to pick me up until I call her from the Philly Airport. It is going to be a long night. I think the airlines employ teams of psychologists and retired NASA scientists to calculate perfect increments of delay. They must have banks of super computers crunching the data and telling them what delay or cancellation tactic will work best. My departure time goes to 8:35 and then to 8:55. Damn, if it had been 8:56pm I really would have been pissed. Those scientists really know their stuff. We board the microscopic jet at 9:00 pm and actually take off at 9:25pm. As we make the turn to speed down the runway I can see the long line of Continental jets waiting to take off. Huh, who would have guessed, people who have been delayed had flights cancelled, waited in long lines, stacked like firewood at the gate, and left for dead having to wait in their planes on the runway. Strange. Once in the air I’m greeted with the comfort of flying through a heavy snowstorm. Nice touch NASA guys. I know full well how small this plane is and that my surfboard is still buried in a pile of bags at Newark. Either that or it got on an earlier flight that I could not. On board they are sure to welcome the One Pass travelers. That is their frequent flier program. The program now has three full members each long time fliers who have now logged three full Continental flights on their cards. Each now has enough sky miles for that deck of playing cards they have always wanted. I’m sure the flight crew will soldier through putting up with the rest of us on this flight. Once bellow the snowstorm you get to marvel at the civil engineering achievements that mark the landscape. You also have to wonder why in the world do they spend all of that money to light all of those empty parking lots.

A full account of our kayak surfing exploration in Ecuador is documented in the DVD, Enter The Donkey.  See the trailer below.

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