Germany: Cologne
6. February 2018
Ecuador: Otavalo
11. February 2018
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Ecuador: Mompiche

Why to Mompiche?

Travel educates and broadens the mind, they say. In Mompiche, I learned a lot, especially about handling resources. But let’s start at the beginning:

To hibernate outside of Germany, we searched for a house-sitting opportunity in a tropical country. The concept is, that a private person leaves his home to a sitter while traveling. In return for free accommodation, the sitter takes care of the plants and animals or whatever else is needed. To us, this was a nice experiment and it worked out perfectly. After applying to people around the world,  we decided to visit Ecuador and sit three cats for a Tasmanian author. She designed and built an eco-house, uses filtered rainwater as drinking and tap water, does not own a fridge and lives in a natural and eco-friendly way.

Tyke in a hammock

A nice mantra

The way to Mompiche

We flew via Madrid to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city with 2.4 million inhabitants. To get to our destination on the Pacific coast, we had to spent another 14 hours in different buses. As we didn’t speak Spanish back then, we were helpless when changing buses or buying tickets, but the locals were always helpful and showed us directions or processes. Before our departure, countless acquaintances had mentioned Ecuador was far too dangerous. They would rob us or do worse. In retrospect, exactly nothing but the opposite happened: We only met nice and courteous people, all over the country. There was always a feeling of security and honesty seems to be very important in the country! Of course, there are black sheep – there always are, but we haven´t met a single one!

The cats – Boss, Baby und Tyke

At a bus stop in the middle of nowhere we were finally expected by our hostess Roni and a taxi driver. The ride to the small village of 1000 people took another 20 minutes but finally, we had arrived. Incidentally, Mompiche has an unusual demography: About 400 adults and 600 children live in the small nest on the coast.

The red seeds are used for jewelry

Tyke

The village and his atmosphere…

It’s mainly backpackers and surfers visiting Mompiche, but, you also meet a lot of eco-tourists or Ecuadorians on beach holidays. Except for nature, the village does not have much to offer. There is only relaxation, secluded from any hectic. In the village, everyone knows each other and the atmosphere is very friendly. Even as a stranger, when walking down the only concrete road by the shops, you are greeted from all sides – as if the whole village is welcoming you.

On the lookout – outside the door were some chickens

Otherwise, the urban image bribes by rundown, sunken or patched houses, sandy roads, free-roaming chickens and (supposedly) stray dogs. The buildings are a reminder of the devastating April 2016 earthquake, which cost two lives in Mompiche and 659 in Ecuador. Nevertheless, the people are extremely lively. You get into conversation quickly and feel welcome. However, speaking Spanish is mandatory as hardly anyone can speak English.

That’s me

Almost exclusively all tourists we met planed to spend only one night in the village, most of them spent at least three days, others stayed more than a week. We also met a couple, that came back to the village a week after their departure – cause they liked Mompiche the most. A few foreign residents told me, they also only wanted to visit the village for one night, extended a few days and after some visits, they stayed.

Tes mit Baby

…the beaches

There is plenty of room on the beautiful beach in front of the village, at least at low tide. At high tide, the sea rises over the waterfront, but hardly reaches the houses. However, as the sea level rises steadily, in a few years, houses now in the third row will probably have a sea view. Incidentally, Ecuador’s best wave breaks as a pointbreak just a few minutes along the sandy beach, allowing a long wave ride. Mainly in the season between November and March, you meet surfers on site. A nice 20 minutes walk down the main road is the Playa Negra – the black beach. The sand is, as the name implies, black and supposedly possesses healing powers – at least that´s what they say. By the way, despite its beauty, there is little going on. I can recommend the beach for a nice little hike.

The Playa Negra – Black Beach

The dog simply walked with us to Playa Negra, where he found his master again – during a thunderstorm the animal had escaped and disappeared for days

Crabs on the beach

…the animals..

An iguana who often basked outside the kitchen window

Due to the large garden and the proximity to the jungle, we came in contact with various animals. In addition to Iguanas, hummingbirds and butterflies, there were also some bats, frogs and snakes roaming through the property. We also had some crabs in the garden, that feed on falling fruit and liked to sneak into the house. New to me was the encounter with a “bullet-ant”. Her prick is said to be the worst pain known to mankind. In German, the animal is called “24 Stunden Ameise” – the “24-hour-ant” – as the pain lasts for about that long. Supposedly it feels as if you´re burning alive, but for 24 hours.

A gecko waiting for its “all you can eat” buffet on a lamp

I have been told that when you are stung, there are only two thoughts circling your mind: suicide or cutting off the affected limb – the pain is unbearable. Usually, morphine is given to survive the first 12 hours. But on the other hand, the South American natives use the ants for ritual purposes, as only those who endure the pain can reach leadership positions. In the ritual, the boys / men put gloves with incorporated, anesthetized ants on and have to wear them for up to 30 minutes.

I waited for hours to take hummingbird pictures

A butterfly that imitates the eyes of an owl – imagine it unfolded

This snake chilled in the garden

The spider by the tools, with a sack full of offspring. One day it vanished

A crab that pulled a banana blossom into its house

This is what the garden crabs look like:

The spider that “hung around behind the house” – there is nothing better against insects

…and a caterpillar

What I also did not know was a species of insect (still unknown to me, according to the internet it could have been a wasp), which puts their eggs parasitically in caterpillars. Coincidentally, an infected caterpillar crawled along our staircase as the larvae started hatching. They drilled through the skin to the outside of the caterpillar, while it defended the larvae as a bodyguard against arriving ants. This was probably the parasite taking over control of the host, a really perfidious trick, but used by a lot of parasites. However, the freshly hatched larvae did not get to feed once, after the death of the bodyguard a small army of ants simply carried the newly hatched larvae away. Eat or be eaten, I guess.

The house

Roni’s house is a special feature. She designed and built her own dream house and does not need much luxury. There are hardly any power outlets and no fridge. As the water supply, the rainwater is collected in a 500 l tank and pumped to a second one on the first floor. From there, the water runs through homemade filters to the taps and can be consumed safely. The house has a large garden with bananas, pineapples, papayas and passion fruit growing. The oven works with gas and you only shop what you need the same day. The selection in the shops is limited, but offers everything for everyday use. The most necessary food like bread, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables are always available, but other things like ham or cheese are not.

The view from the living room

Me, writing

Although the house is open on two sides, it is difficult to identify anything from the outside. From the inside, however, you´ve got a wonderful view of the street and the surrounding area. This way, we were able to enjoy the fireworks on New Year’s Eve from the living room and experience yet another peculiarity of Ecuador: On New Year’s Eve, traditional human-like pinatas are stuffed with the old, used clothes of the past year and lit at midnight. A beautiful sight, when flames arise in the village and a weird feeling, when you´re watching from a hammock.

The Pinatas for New Year’s Eve

Ecuadorian food

On the coast of Ecuador they mainly eat encebollados for breakfast. This is a fish soup with yuca, onions and cilantro. There is also the hangover killer ceviche – raw fish or seafood, marinated with lemon, onions, tomatoes and herbs. As an side dish you get served popcorn or chifles (banana chips). But the national dish of Ecuador is undeniably Cuy. Served mainly in the Andes, this one sounds just wrong to a European: A grilled guinea pig served with potatoes, lettuce and tomatos in a peanut sauce. However, since a scandal shook the country, the specialty is barely available: Around half of the guinea pigs served are said to have been rats. The price for a Cuy is about 12 dollars. By contrast, a normal dish costs around $ 3-8, and usually comes with a drink.

So many bananas

Daily life – a little different

We knew what to expect, adapted well and it was fun. The daily life in the seven weeks in Mompiche was an unusual but beautiful experience: Getting fresh fish from the fishermen every morning, cutting banana plants with a machete, saving nervous crabs from the empty pool and chilling in a hammock all day – this was easy living at its best. We cooked our meals fresh every day, ate lots of fresh fruit from a fruit truck, that passes by the house weekly and enjoyed the countless animals passing by. It was awesome and the best for last: By choosing this particular housesitting, we forced ourselves to evolve, too. I have honestly never cared about how much water I use. It was always available and taken for granted, but after being dependent on rain for some time, this has changed and I´m glad it did. The water never ran dry, by far not, but only knowing it could, did the trick. Now I save a lot of time in the shower by cutting it short and in general try to use less water. I know it´s not much, but imagine everybody doing a little.

A hummingbird getting fed

Me on the swing

I can strongly recommend to do something like this once in a lifetime – the experience lasts forever. If you fancy the village or want to check out the house, it´s called “Secret Gardens Mompiche“, has a Facebook page and is also an AirBnb.

Cooking crabs for the first time

Cracking a coconut

After Mompiche, we went to Otavalo via Attacames. The town hosts the oldest market in South America, they got a bird show and lots of coca tea. All of it packed into my next post.

Our “Christmas tree”

C-L

 

 

 

 

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