Traveling educates, they say. In Mompiche I learned a lot, especially handling resources. But let’s start at the beginning:
To hibernate outside of cold Germany, we searched the internet for a house-sitting 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 is needed. This was a nice experiment to us and it worked out perfectly. After applying to people around the world, we made the decision to go to 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 overall lives in a natural and eco-friendly way.
We flew via Madrid to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city with about 2.4 million inhabitants. To get to our final destination on the Pacific coast, we had to spent another 14 hours in different buses. Because of our lack of Spanish, we were relatively helpless when changing buses or buying tickets, but the locals were always helpful and showed us the directions or any processes. Before our departure, countless acquaintances had mentioned Ecuador was far too dangerous. They would only rob us or do worse. In retrospect, exactly nothing but the opposite happened: We met only 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!
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.
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 small nest does not have much to offer. There is only relaxation, away from the usual hectic of the country. In the village, everyone knows each other and the atmosphere is very friendly. Even as a stranger, walking down the only concrete road by the shops you are being greeted from all sides – as if the whole village is welcoming you. Otherwise, the urban image bribes by rundown, sunken or patched houses, sandy roads, free-roaming chickens and (supposedly) stray dogs. The buildings remind 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.
Almost exclusively all tourists we met planed to spend only one night in the village, most of them spent three days at last, 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.
There is plenty of room on the beautiful beach in front of the village, at least at low tide. At high tide, the sea partly 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 relatively long wave ride. Mainly 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 relatively little going on and the beach is very suitable for a nice little hike.
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” – because the pain lasts for about that long. Supposedly it feels as if you´re burning alive, but for 24 hours. I have been told that when you are stung, there are only two thoughts circling your mind: suicide or cutting off the affected limb – so unbearable is the pain. 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 on gloves with incorporated, anesthetized ants. The gloves must then be worn for up to 30 minutes.
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 some 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.
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 a 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 filters to the taps and can be consumed safely. The house has a large garden where bananas, pineapples, papayas and passion fruit grow. 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.
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.
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 is served with potatoes, lettuce and tomato 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.
We knew what to expect, adapted well and it was fun. The daily life in the seven weeks Mompiche was an unusual but beautiful experience: Getting fresh fish from the fishermen daily, cutting banana plants with a machete, saving nervous crabs from the pool and chilling in a hammock all day – this was easy living at its best. We freshly cooked our meals daily, ate lots of fresh fruit from a fruit truck – that passes by the house weekly and we enjoyed the countless animals passing by. It was awesome and the best for last: By choosing this particular housesitting, we kind of 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 went out, 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.
I can strongly recommend everyone to do something like this once in a lifetime – the experience lasts forever. If you fancy the village or want to check the house out, it´s called “Secret Gardens Mompiche“, has a Facebook page and is also an AirBnb.
Following 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.