I wake up to the sound of Spanish music, getting louder as it makes its way down the street beneath my window. It’s sometime in the afternoon, and I’ve just woken from my afternoon siesta. This must be one of my lazy days in Manglaralto. I do have my busy days, but not really so much as you’d notice. I do like the lazy days.
And the sound that’s woken me is the garbage truck. I know it’s the garbage truck because of the tune it’s playing – it’s always the same riff – which alerts everyone that if you haven’t put out your garbage yet, now’s the time.
The truck inches its way along, and by the time it’s past Tagua Lodge and headed off down the street, that riff has become an ear worm for the rest of the afternoon. (Thanks, Fred, for catching it all on video!)
I am not on garbage detail, so I can laze about just a little bit more.
If I were to have a top ten list of things to do in Manglaralto, lying in bed and listening to the street sounds would be near the top. It might be the sound of the shrimp man, calling out “camarones, camarones” as he travels down the street with his shrimp in a basket tied to the back of his bike. Or it might be “pinas,” “queso, rico queso,” “verde,” “mangos,” “agua,” “limones” – it’s whatever they’re selling today. And should I want some of that fresh produce that’s coming right by my door (talk about lazy), I head out to the street and buy it from the back of a truck. Life is good.
I’ve booked myself in to Tagua Lodge, a hostel and campground located on the southern end of town, one block from the highway and three blocks from the beach. We’ve got an upstairs corner room in the hostel, and with windows on three sides, the slight breezes drift through and make us forget that it’s over 90 degrees out there. It’s a spacious room, meant for three or four, and although I’ve got the room to myself for the first week, after that Bridget and Mary are joining me for 10 days, and then when Mary leaves, it’ll be just Bridget and me. Soaking up the sun.
Tagua Lodge has everything you’d want – beginning with Luis, our wonderful host, who takes great care to ensure that each of his guests get exactly what they want from their stay in Manglaralto. Often the best thing about staying at hostels is your fellow travelers, and Tagua is no different. Everyone has a different story to tell about what brings them to this point in their lives, and here at Tagua, the communal kitchen and open courtyard with its tables, chairs and hammocks invite us to stop and join in the conversation. It’s great having a kitchen (and what a fabulous kitchen it is – thanks in huge part to the cooking talents of Cati, Luis’ girlfriend), where we can whip up whatever’s on the menu today – whatever we got off the trucks or at the local tienda. It feels like home, and I get my first Ecuadorian cooking lesson from Mariou – how to make patacones from green plantain – the Ecuadorian version of french fries. Served with a bowl of guacamole, you can’t go wrong.
Manglaralto is the town just south of Montañita, a 30-minute walk along the beach. Montañita is everything Manglaralto isn’t – a party town that never sleeps, full of bars, restaurants, stores and hostels, and on weekends in high season, the streets are chock-a-block with the hordes of national and international visitors all come for a bit of revelry and surfing. It’s also the location of the closest bank and a wider selection of markets for the essentials, so a busy day for me includes a walk along the beach to Montañita.
And if we’re going as far as Montañita, we might as well go a further 10 minutes up the beach to La Punta, with what we’ve determined is the nicest beach in the area. My job in Ecuador this year, lest I forget it, is to find the perfect beach town. And in that effort, we took day trips to Olon – the town just north of Montañita – and farther north, Ayampe, with long, open beaches and a river north of the village that flows through the jungly bits – a nature lover’s paradise – but what we mostly saw the day we were there were surfers carving out the waves. We also took a day trip to Ayangue, south of Manglaralto – a cozy little harbor town, with boats anchored in the calm waters. The boats share the harbor with swimmers, and I get the feeling that in peak season the town comes to life, but it’s all pretty quiet the midweek day we’re there.
A month at the beach has one thing, and one thing only, written all over it: vacation! And that’s what we did. Days were all about suntanning, swimming, playing in the waves and reading – the quintessential beach vacation. And most nights were reserved for Playa de James – Manglaralto’s one and only gringo bar.
A few gringos have moved to Manglaralto; and then there are the rest of us, come to Manglaralto because we like the feel of the town, staying anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And we all find our way to Playa de James. The bar is owned by none other than James, who has meandered his way down the coast from northern British Columbia to Manglaralto and set up his dream life, fueled by whiskey, wine and beer, getting to channel his inner chef every night, and when it’s not movie night or karaoke night, there is always darts or kicking back on the beach around the fire pit. Or it might be Carnivale, Manglaralto style, with James leading the attack with his can of “Carnivale foam” as the Playa de James troops give it everything we can to fend off the army of town kids, who not only have us vastly outnumbered but also have more accurate shots with their foam. You had to be there.
Nighttime at Playa de James is all about good times – making and spending time with new friends. On any given night, there’s Shel behind the bar, with John, Woot, Marc, fellow Tagua lodgers Fred and Mitt, James, Henk, George, Debbie and Bill, Pat, Bruce, and Dylan filling up the seats. A great bunch of people, and when the road brings me back to Manglaralto, I’ll be glad to see all my new friends.
Manglaralto is one of Ecuador’s little secrets, and as far as I’m concerned, I hope it stays that way for as long as it can. Its charm is in its small-town ways, complete with its morning and evening aerobics classes on the square, bingo on the square on Friday night, the church bell ringing to gather folks for a service, and Saturday the street turned over to a children’s birthday party. Juxtaposed with that, the view of the street from our room’s balcony looked like something straight out of a Wild West movie – the only thing missing was a tumbleweed.
Ah, la buena vida en Manglaralto!