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Mad about Mompiche


It was a drizzly, early morning when I scrambled around trying to get my stuff together to catch the bus to the village of Mompiche. I spent much of that morning wishing the rain away and trying to recover from my lack of sleep. Little did I know that 5 hours later, all the stress and worrying about being late for the bus or forgetting something important would be behind me and that I would find my secret paradise.

It was all a blur getting to the bus but once I was on the bus I knew I was doing the right thing. Leaving the town of San Vicente was always a relief. It’s one of those hub type places that you always have to go through in order to get anywhere but never have any desire to stay. 

The beginning of the bus ride was familiar to me, having done it various times to Canoa and back. Looking out the window on one side of the bus, there were endless kilometres of gorgeous blue surf, sandy beaches and palm trees. On the other side, there were thin bamboo huts in the middle of lush leafy green forests. Even though it was not the first time I had seen it, the landscape took my breath away. As usual the scenery was a welcome distraction from the typical Ecuadorian bus ride nuisances such as too many people, screeching brakes, uncomfortable seats and blaring music.

My first destination was Chamanga, a city that borders the provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas. Without actually entering the city I got off the bus at the fork in the road. Although I was still in Ecuador, I felt that I had entered a whole new country. The tropical forest suddenly appeared florescent green against the newly paved road. (Esmeraldas is an oil rich province). The thin grass was so tall that it blocked any view past the road. The heat was more intense than just 3 hours south and the sounds were completely different. I remember being distracted by very shiny, metallic looking insects buzzing around my head. Luckily, they were not the biting kind.

From the fork in the road, I caught a ride with a middle-aged Esmeraldan man that drove a red truck about the same age. For the same amount as the bus, he would take me to my next destination: the entrance to Mompiche. He arrived just in time, as the rain had started up again. The drive was much smoother than any I had ever experienced in Ecuador. We passed over many little bridges each one presenting another roadside community. The houses were all carbon copies of each other made up of their normal mismatch of bricks covered in cement or thin bamboo and stilts, all with antennas and colourful clotheslines. Forty-five minutes later the ride was over and I would have to walk the rest of the way.
 
The very humble entrance could easily be missed but for the few signs advertising accommodation in Mompiche. Other than the signs there was only a man with his cooler of ice for sale waiting for a car and a one lane road that disappeared around a bend about 50 feet in. Thanking the weather gods for the break in the rain, I adjusted my backpack, put on my bug spray, got my water bottle ready and started off on my journey.

The road was a combination of gravel and mud leading the way up and down rolling hills and around tight turns. The thick green forest and ferns that surrounded the path gave me a sense of isolation, yet it was very peaceful and comfortable. The only sounds were the calls of the tropical birds and the occasional animal rustling around in the bushes. I remember thinking that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I had imagined less of a road, something less accessible. Little did I know, I was only a few steps away from discovering why I would later call Mompiche my secret paradise.

The thickness of the forest surrounding me started to diminish and suddenly I saw that I was actually quite high up. The forest formed windows from which I got periodic sneak peaks of the sprawling green pastures below. I almost forgot I was on the coast until the bright blue waters of the Pacific Ocean became a part of the intricate scene.

Starting a small descent down towards Mompiche, I knew that I was entering an area unlike any I had ever seen before. My walk along a simple road surrounded by dense tropical forest gave way to a stunningly diverse backdrop made up of farmer’s fields and fisherman’s beach. I immediately forgot about my early morning, aching feet and dehydrated body. I continued to walk knowing I had made the right choice. 

It was not until the last half hour that I saw another person. The trees closed in around me again and became home to farmland. As a gringo, I stuck out amongst the farmhands that were returning to their village after a days work. I must admit that their large machetes did not make them seem like a welcome bunch, but I realized I was wrong once I asked one of them how much longer it would be to arrive. 

A half an hour later, an unforgettably gruesome, bright pink bridge marked the start of life in the village of Mompiche. The farm workers, kids playing and women washing clothes in the river were my first visions of the people in this small community. They were simple people that welcomed me as if I was their own. They lived their every day lives, likely never realizing that their village existed in a magical spot that somehow managed to stray away from the hustle and bustle of the other communities along the Trans-Esmeraldas Highway.

The majority of houses were bamboo, which was a welcome site compared to the usual bricks covered in grey cement. There were no antennas and in fact, unlike other coastal towns, I believe there was only one TV in the entire village. I gathered this when the entire town seemed to be parked in the living room of one guy’s house during an important national football match. 

There are only two real streets in Mompiche. They are lined with houses built for entire families except for the few hostels available for travellers. Cars can only travel down one of the streets because the other is made up mostly of loose sand. Luckily, this meant that cars were a rarity. Unlike cars, election propaganda, which one sees on houses and poles all over Ecuador, was seen no less in this tiny, out of the way village. 

I arrived in Mompiche in the middle of the afternoon allowing just enough time to explore the beach area before it got too dark. I had been looking forward to this moment ever since I caught sight of the Pacific Ocean earlier during my trek. Although I could see the water from pretty much anywhere in the town, actually getting my feet on to the sand was a whole new experience. 

Looking to my left, I felt as though I had my own private beach. The land jutted out in a small peninsula creating an alcove. Moreover, the lush green hill blocked any sight of what was around the bend, creating a sense of privacy. To my right, I could walk for kilometres enjoying the beach for myself until far in the distance where I would come upon the town of Muisne. The sand was grey and soft and a handful of thatched umbrellas were put up to create shade from the blistering sun.

There were a handful of houses that trickled out onto the beach. In front of the houses lay about twenty dug out canoes side by side. Beside each canoe there were two sticks placed into the sand in order to hold the ore parallel to the ground. The men then used the ore to hang the fishing net and remove anything caught in it. Not only was it work but also an opportunity for the men to teach their sons about the traditions of fishing.

The quietness of the day gave way to the darkness of the night lit up only by a few generators. There are only two restaurants open late, one of which blares music intermittently as their generator gives out from time to time. Sitting down to a delicious fish dinner, I noticed that the evening life never seems to stop. Villagers continued eating, drinking, talking and playing cuarenta (a local card game) until the late hours of the night.

A local friend was kind enough to direct me towards some lights that were flickering on the beach. As we walked closer I caught sight of about 10 fishing boats surrounded by people. They were families who had come to separate the catch from the nets of the illegal fishermen during a temporary coastal wide quarantine. Under the light of only the torches and the moon, I could see the faces of children and even grandparents working for some fish of their own. The boats were filled with flounder, hammerhead sharks, and the most gigantic shrimp I had ever seen.

I sat there watching, mesmerized by the energy of everyone so late at night. But eventually, I had to give in to my tiredness. Returning to my tent, I knew that I had found a very special way of life in Mompiche. Now it makes sense why this place doesn’t exist in any of the guidebooks. It is an Ecuadorian secret, one I feel lucky enough to have been able to share.

Practical Information:

Mompiche is located on the northern Ecuadorian Coast just south of Muisne. The entrance to Mompiche is on the Trans-Esmeraldas Highway. Just recently the road into the village was improved and a bus line from Atacames (even further north) to the village was introduced. This bus is infrequent and very unreliable. If you arrive on the weekend you do have the chance of being picked up by another car. If not, the trek is about one hour and half. Bring your own water, as there is nothing along the way.
Most people with cars on the Ecuadorian coast pick up hitchhikers as a way to make some extra money. It is generally safe.
There are about five different places to stay ranging from camping to membership resort ($2USD to $35USD per night).
There are three restaurants serving local food.
Do have a BBQ on the beach.
Try Encocado-a coconut based sauce that is usually served with seafood or fish.
Do bring repellent. Early morning and evening sand flies are a bitch.
Do bring a flashlight for the evenings.
I have heard that from Mompiche you can access another beautiful beach town. I can only imagine that, like the entire Ecuadorian coast, it is something very special to discover.

 

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