Birthday on the beach in Puerto López
Jul 12, 2005
|"Sooner or later we all discover that
the big moments in life are not the advertised ones,
not the birthdays, the graduations,
the weddings, not the great goals achieved.
"The real milestones are less prepossessing.
They come to the door of memory unannounced,
stray dogs that amble in,
sniff around a bit and simply never leave.
Our lives are measured by these," Murdoc Niccals.
Puerto López is a small fishing village with a low-key tourist industry. This time of the year tourism is active thanks to a pod of humpback whales that hangs out two hours by boat off the coast. People come from far and wide to get seasick and see the whales. A unique national park around the village boasts three climates; a dry forest, a coastal forest and several islands crawling with creatures. These islands are known as the "Poor man's Galapagos" because for a fraction of the cost you can go there to see two of the Galapagos' main attractions, sea lions and blue-footed boobies.
Sometimes guidebooks are helpful to get me started on my search for a hostel. There are times when I don't care about where I stay, as long as the place has a bed to crawl into for one night. Sometimes, I want something special, something memorable; in short, something to write home about. That's what I was looking for in Puerto López.
After traveling through six countries using the same guidebook (an all-in-one South America book) I've learned to read between the lines of their brief hostal descriptions. I now know that when they write "good value" it means the rooms are roomy, but the place doesn't have much character. I've stayed in a few places with "if you're really pinching pennies..." in the description. They are depressing hotels where old and homeless people stay because it's all they can afford after b egging for the day. I stay at these in towns that don't have "backpacker" hostals, this is usually when I'm way off the Gringo Trial. A few descriptions are brutally honest and write "shabby but clean," which I've come to learn means shabby but clean.
The description for Hostal Monte Libano caught my attention, "A friendly place on the southern end of town. It's quiet and close to the beach." It's the last sentence that caught my attention, and I'm glad it did. I spent six days at one of the nicest hostels in South America. I loved the beach location 15 minutes from the town's noise, had my own room for $6/night, use of the kitchen, hammocks and a second floor terrace with ocean view. Getting to know the manager, his wife and their little son was also a real treat. Long story short, the day I left, Julio took a Polaroid photo of me and stuck it on his wall of favorite guests. I didn't want to leave, and as the bus pulled away from town, I found myself wondering how I could make a living and call Puerto López home.
PHOTO of hammocks
I spent my days in Puerto López following the same basic schedule. I made a simple coffee, jam and bread breakfast, read, walked into town to find a cheap lunch on the street ($1.50 for soup, plate of beans, rice fried plantain or yucca), sat on the beach or in a hammock in the afternoon and returned to town for an expensive dinner of ceviche or other seafood (a whole $6). PHOTO of fisherman
I don't usually get overly excited about my birthday. In the absence of my family, I decided to make it a big deal. Since no one knew July 12 was my birthday, I had to tell people. I found it incredibly easy to get to know people in Puerto López. What started as offers to see the whales or go to a bar's happy hour soon turned into conversations that forgot how they started. I arrived Monday around 4 p.m. and by Tuesday morning (July 12), I had offers from three different groups of people to hang out that evening. I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to make some hard decisions about with whom I was going to celebrate my birthday.
I decided to hang out on the second-story terrace of my hostal with the manager and his family a few of their friends. PHOTO of Hostal Monte Libano We chatted, listened to music and the magical sound of the waves on the beach, and I realized I was doing exactly what I wanted to do for my birthday.