The full moon shimmered through my balcony, gently waking me as she beckoned me. I stepped outside to greet the Southern Cross and Venus, my dear companions. This month’s full moon coincided with the vernal equinox, only too happy to celebrate spring, even in the equatorial region where it’s pleasant year round.
The moon shifted colors from tangerine to coral as she lured me to the sea. Only dogs and drunks are on the beach at this hour. I watched her slowly plunge into the sea and bid her adios.
The hauntingly beautiful sound of a Latina singer echoed through the streets, filling the dawn air. I was drawn to the voice and witnessed the tail end of an all night quinceñera fiesta. Folks slowly dance as the sky turns light. The fifteen year old young lady of honor is nowhere to be seen, however her parents, aunts, uncles and amigos are still going strong.
Their choice of beautiful Latin music restores my faith in Montañita’s musical tastes. This pueblo loves to party, as I discovered during fin de semana (the weekend). The most popular Ecuadorian discoteca is just a few streets down from my habitación (hotel room). I’ve nicknamed it Disco del Diablo, as on weekends, the unimaginative, repetitive, mind numbing beat reverberates through the village until “quiet hour” at four in the morning! However that doesn’t stop any local fiestas from going all night, they just play more enchanting musica. Fortunately my hotel is far enough up the hill to filter most of el ruido (noise).
Having long had the desire to plop myself in a village that speaks only Spanish, I researched language schools to help enhance my skills and advance from my mediocre “taxicab Spanish”.
I chose Ohana Language School and knew it was a good choice upon greeting my maestro (teacher) Miguel. His sonréir (smile) is as big as his corazon (heart) and remarkably, I understood most of his Spanish right away. He’s been a professional Spanish instructor for nearly a dozen years and his enthusiasm and energy are compelling. There were no other students during my time there, so I had the good fortune to have private lessons.
Miguel has grown up in Montañita, this former quiet fishing village turned surfer/backpacker town. Not only is he an excellent teacher, he also has the best restaurant recommendations for the types of food I prefer. He is the youngest of six sisters and one brother and it seems the whole village greets him with abrazos (hugs) and besos (kisses) as we meander the streets, all the while speaking nothing but Spanish. Miguel becomes like a hermano menor (younger brother) to me, adding to his pod of big sisters.
I look forward to school each morning as Miguel makes learning fun and varied, we start off with casual conversation, then work on verb conjugations. Just that word sounds complicated, but Miguel has a knack for keeping things challenging yet entertaining. If he senses my brain is on overdrive, he’ll grab his phone and play a fun and upbeat Latin song. This talented young man also teaches salsa dancing on the weekends. The actual classroom is outdoors, a huge selling point for me. A wooden table, some chairs and a dry erase board, all under a shady tree with a view of the ocean.
Often after class, we wander down to the village for almuerza (lunch), speaking solamente Español of course. Dining in a Peruvian restaurant run by a Venezuelan family in Ecuador where no one speaks English seems perfectly normal to me, as I adapt quickly. After class I get to do homework and love it. If only school from my youth had been this creative and such an enjoyable learning experience.
One day Miguel had a lot of online classes in the morning so he suggested to start class in the afternoon. Por supuesto! (of course). I enjoyed an early morning beach walk and as I wandered the quiet streets, the aromas wafting from La Panadería were beyond tempting. They were not quite open, so I politely waited outside the open door, a man greeted me with a warm welcome and an even warmer pan chocolat. We chatted as I dripped gooey chocolate deliciousness on my chin like a niña as we both laughed. I asked his name, he replied, “Cristiano, y como se llama señorita?” I’ve learned in Latin countries that Lynn doesn’t really translate, so I use my español name, “Me llamo Linda”. “Ah, muy Bonita” he exclaims. As nice as it is to be referred to as young and pretty at 6:00 am by a man who can bake, I believe he was just explaining that Linda means pretty.
Afternoon classes were productive until we both decided we couldn’t miss puesta del sol (sunset). We moved class to a beachfront restaurant, over a glass of vino during happy hour, I am really liking this school!
On weekends I loved exploring. I took a bus to the nearby town of Ayampe. Traveling sola chica, I tend to put on my self assured, bad ass persona. My body language says, “Don’t mess with me.” The down side of this portrayal is I don’t make any friends because I appear so unapproachable!
Ayampe is the perfect antidote for boisterous, energetic Montañita. A laid back vibe envelopes this little outpost. A serene beach walk ends at La Tortuga for lunch. It seems each beach village offers Spanish classes, surf school and yoga lessons. I sit upstairs overlooking the calm sea and enjoy doing my homework, taking breaks to chat with friendly locals. Muy tranquilo.
Armed with a day full of serenity, I’m ready to join in the amped up fun of Montañita. I discover a small retreat down the beach called La Gondola, offering healthy fruit smoothies and açaí bowls, a perfect spot to enjoy sunset.
On the final day of escuela, Miguel takes me on a field trip to Parque Nacional Machalilla. A guide shows us the beauty of the protected habitat on forest trails. We arrive in the small village of Agua Blanca, passing by a sulfur lagoon where folks are slathering black mud head to toe, as the slimy contents are said to be therapeutic.
Agua Blanca lays host to one of the oldest archeological sites in South America, with preserved remains of the ancient civilizations, the Monteño.
Meanwhile, a couple of hammocks called our names. A perfectly relaxing place for verb practice. Some young local girls were curious about our hammock school. While Miguel was taking a siesta, one of the girls picked up his index cards. She spoke no English but was delighted to quiz me on the Spanish words and I prompted her to repeat the English translations, which she excelled at, with lots of giggles in between. Perhaps a future teacher in the making!
I left Ecuador with a greater appreciation of Español and graduated up to “limo Spanish”, thanks in large part to Miguel, who I can recommend to anyone wanting to learn in person or online: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just mention his new hermana sent you.
Viajar es vivir (to travel is to live)