Going troppo

Ayampe is a place where people disappear.

Just a few dusty streets tucked into tropical greenery between the main north-south coast road and the beach, this tiny village on Ecuador’s southern coast is famed for its surf break. 

That’s what attracts most folk. That, and the wide, grey sand beach. The bath-temperature water. The balmy weather. And the flaming pink-orange sunsets over the ocean.

Ayampe is a bohemian Bermuda Triangle, luring in backpackers, surf bums and other feckless wanderers. The place croons a siren song, seduces with its sultry charm and easy flow, and doesn’t let go. It’s the kind of place where you arrive for a couple of days and wake up one morning, years later, realising you’ve never left. A sneaky, steamy Hostal California.

There are a handful of restaurants, a couple of cafes, a French bakery and a general store. Two or three surf shops, of course. In the centre of town, just a hundred metres from the beach, a general store carries groceries and other general merchandise. The fruit and veg there isn’t much chop, but the beer’s cheap and icy cold. There’s an opener screwed to the doorframe, so you can crack your longnecks as you walk outside.

Challwa House is one of the cafes, strategically situated between the general store and the beach.  The coffee’s good and the shrimp omelettes are delicious. The passing traffic is entertaining. 

Tanned, surfboard-toting gringos strut with practiced purpose to the beach and back, one eye fixed on the break, the other roving for admirers. 

Local lads, lean and sinewy, pass too but their gait is more relaxed and their boards are more beat-up. They stop frequently to greet friends, throwing shakas and fist bumps, and nearly always have a girl in tow.  

Newbies with hire boards tentatively pick their way to the water, faces filled with hope and expectation. Depending on how their session went, they return either elated or deflated, boosted or bedraggled. The sea can be an unforgiving master.

Linen-skinned backpacker hippie chicks saunter by, all Eastern prints and woven shoulder bags and self-satisfied smiles. 

Outside the cafe, there’s not a lot to do if you don’t surf. I don’t. Not here, not now. 

So I swim, eat, sleep, read. Do some maintenance on the bike. Buy beer from the general store and drink it on the beach. Eat some more. Drink coffee. People-watch.

My two nights in Ayampe glide effortlessly into five. Well, almost.

I’m camped at Cabanas La Iguana. It’s more a hostal, but you can pitch a tent under a bamboo and thatch awning for $10 a night. The French boys were there first, but I convinced them to shift their skinny one-man tents a bit to fit mine under the roof. It later proves to be a wise move.

Frank says he’s happy to set up his tent nearby in the garden. It later proves to be not such a wise move.

The first three days are spent in lazy bliss. Day four and I’m feeling a little off-colour. As the day wears on, it gets worse. Stomach bug – the first of this journey. No chills or sweats, no nausea, but the guts aren’t good. 

The next two days are still lazy, but less blissful. Storms hit and a couple of nights it absolutely hammers down. The French Fries and I are dry under the roof. Frank is swimming.

By the time I gather up the will to drag myself away from Ayampe’s vortex of torpor, I am feeling better, if not quite back to match fitness.

The four of us vacate on the same day. Frank and I ride together, with the French Fries – masters of the slow getaway – a half hour or so behind. They catch us and overtake up the road in Puerto Lopez, where Frank spends 45 minutes trying to get cash at the bank.

We catch them an hour or so later, about 2km outside of a small town, when Paul gets a flat tyre. Mr Fixit Frank offers to change his tube but, incredibly, Paul lacks a spanner to remove the rear wheel axle from his stricken Transalp. 

There’s a tyre repair shop in town, so Paul throws a politician’s speech worth of air into the deflated tyre and we lead him slowly there. Meanwhile Baudoin, who went in earlier to get help, has opted to get his bike washed. The bike wash guy also repairs tyres, so we leave the French Fries there in safe and wet hands and continue north up the coast.

After the fishy city of Manta, the road heads inland for a while. We’re aiming for Canoa, another surf town on this tropi-coolian Ecuadorian coast. The road returns to the sea at San Jacinto then veers away again until Bahia de Caraquez. A busy bridge traverses the beautiful Rio Chone estuary and links Caraquez and San Vicente.

The heat, the miles and the lingering bug all have me feeling a bit shit again. We pull into Canoa and I’m happy to down tools at the Eco Hostal Rutamar – the very first place we hit. It’s probably a little more than Frank wants to pay, but he knows I’m not at my best and graciously agrees to stay. We end up there for three nights as I try to shake off the gastro.

Of Canoa, I can’t say much. I lay low most of the time. It is bigger than Ayampe and not quite as green. The Eco-Hostal Rutamar is a comfortable place to stay, though. Decent rooms for the money and a kitchen available for guests to use.

Also staying at the hostal are Mark and Zoe and their daughter Flo. From Cornwall in the UK, they are on a surfing safari through Central and South America. 

We hit it off with them instantly and become firm friends. There’s a common thread in that Frank owns a place in Cornwall and lived there before he went wandering. We talk travel, surfing, motorcycles, work, hobbies – whatever comes up. They are a lovely pair and easy to converse with. Flo (aka Flossy) is a whip-sharp 12-year-old with a keen sense of humour and all the attitude of a pre-teen, but without the sharp edges.

We fill them in on Ayampe (their next destination) and try to convince them of the benefits of overlanding with your own vehicle. So far, they have been catching buses from one place to another, which is a major hassle with three surfboards.

By day three, I’m back to throwing toilet shapes of normal frequency and consistency. Food is desirable again. It is time to move on.

Mark and Zoe have decided to buy a vehicle to continue their journey. After Ayampe, they will head to Chile to scout one out. There’s a fond farewell, with many handshakes and hugs, then Frank and I hit the road once more, first north to Pedernales and then east in the general direction of Quito.

A few weeks later, I get a touching WhatsApp message from Mark:
“So we have the van and Flossy spent hours cutting out stencils to name the van after the two guys that inspired us. What do you think?”

Stoked. Just stoked.


Sign up to be notified whenever a new story is published.

I promise – no spam! Read the Ride Far & Wide privacy policy for more info.






One response to “Going troppo”

  1. Ann Avatar

    Great post Pete, one of your best. It really took me to the place and atmosphere that you were enjoying. Keep it up. It brightens our lives and give us access to far away lands and cultures that are beyond our reach.