Synagogues and Boobies: Montañita to Puerto Lopez

I went to Guayaquil for a day, the expression on this iguana’s face sums up my experience there.

Synagogues and boobies. I’m aware that these two things don’t usually go together but Montañita was about to change all of that – what more could you expect from Ecuador’s most notorious surfer-packed party town. I’ll get to all that in just a minute.

But before reaching Montañita I had to make a brief overnight stop in Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil. To quote a travelling friend Ben on the subject:

“Avoid Guayquil, it’s an ugly, boring **** hole.”

Yeowch. I’m not usually one to turn people away from places – everyone is entitled to their own experience – but Ben’s words rang true in my head from arrival to departure. Paying $10USD to sleep outside on the floor of a hostel isn’t my idea of good fun (but it did produce one of my most popular posts to date!). The city is difficult to move around, noisy and quite unattractive. Other than providing a jumping off point for Galapagos cruises it doesn’t have much more to offer. If you have to go through Guayaquil – and you probably will at some stage if you are travelling by bus through Ecuador – I recommend trying your hand at Couchsurfing.

So how about the synagogue? And those boobies? I’ll start with my transcendence into the Jewish faith.

I chose a laid back hostel after the damage done in Mancora and settled in upstairs among the mosquiteros. Occasionally, the hostal stars just seem to align and one group of people gather in one place who get on at once. This is exactly what happened over the next couple of days with the arrival of two bubbly Irish girls, Naoise and Ava, some Germans, French, Argentinians and one Aussie. Me. It was with these people that I was sipping a cold beer when I was introduced to my first Rabbi.

It turns out that Montañita is home to more than just horny teenage Ecuadorians and international backpackers behaving like horny teenagers. A few years ago a Jewish man decided that he would like to build a place of worship in the remote beach town – and that’s exactly what he did. The very next night, at the Rabbi’s kind invitation, we found ourselves marking the end of the Sabbath with prayer, followed by a delicious meal of kosher chicken, fish, home-baked bread and sauces. Forbidden to use electronic devices on the sabbath, the other Jewish guys whipped out their mobile phones as soon as prayers were finished, making it feel like the synagogue had just landed and the seatbelt signs had been switched off. We then drank some beer and listened to the Rabbi, a twenty-something Brooklyn man who had decided only recently to fully devote his life to religion. I balanced my kippah on my head and listened, amazed by the depth and breadth of the associations with the Jewish religion that I’d previously been totally ignorant to.

Another day in Montañita was sufficient, with ordinary weather clouding any desire to stay longer. Besides, with the promise of hundreds of boobies further north I’d be crazy not to go, right?

Okay, I’m sorry, not those boobies. I’m talking about the Blue Footed Boobies, a species of birds that are part of the unique wildlife inhabiting the Isla de la Plata, 40km off the coast of Puerto Lopez, an hour long local bus ride from Montañita. The island itself is often referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos, due to it being a habitat for part of the diverse ecosystem residing on the real thing – albeit much more accessible and a few thousand dollars cheaper.

The evening in the town itself was a peaceful break from Montañita, with the town and plenty of its restaurants fronting directly onto the quiet beach and fishing port.

The next day we were able to secure a tour to the islands including an hour of whale watching, the island trek itself and snorkeling afterwards for $32USD (including the national park entrance fee). Considering we were outside the regular whale watching season, we were treated to an awesome display and my first close-up experience with the gigantic creatures who glided just metres from our comparitively tiny boat. The island tour itself was impressive, boasting varied wildlife from snakes and lizards to the Boobies themselves. I can only imagine how beautiful the ocean would have been had the weather been slightly kinder to us. My highlight of the day came after we clambered back on board the boat and sailed to the far side of the island, where we spent just under an hour snorkeling among tropical fish of every colour imaginable – something that has me thinking about the diving opportunities north in Colombia.

Enjoy the remaining photos from the island in the small gallery below, and keep an eye out for the next post via the Facebook Page, perhaps containing less synagogues and more volcanoes?

Nos vemos,


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