Yesterday, Ellen and I left the farm in Mindo, Ecuador, for a few days at the beach. We were having an amazing time volunteering, but it was exhausting work and there was a stomach bug going around that I didn’t want to get, so we figured a few days off would allow us to return to the farm refreshed and ready to get our hands dirty all over again. I think we’re overdue for a little beach time.

Before we arrived in Ecuador, a friend of Ellen’s strongly recommended we visit Canoa, a place that also came up in my searches for cheap camping spots in the country. We checked with the farmer, and he agreed that Canoa was a great location for a weekend getaway – as long as we weren’t planning to get there by bus. The bus from Mindo goes to Quito, a three-hour detour in the wrong direction, where we’d have to take a taxi to a different bus station and transfer to a different bus to Canoa, turning a five- to seven-hour drive into an all-day transit nightmare. Instead, Ingo assured us that dozens of his volunteers had successfully and safely hitchhiked to Canoa, and wrote out the names of the towns on the route so we’d know which way to go.

We left the farm promptly at 7:30 on Thursday morning, along with Ingo, his wife and daughter, and six other volunteers leaving for Quito that day. The eleven of us piled into the vehicle, along with everyone’s bags and luggage, the farm’s returnable beer and pop bottles, garbage, the neighbour’s chainsaw, and the propane tank needing to be refilled. Even with the roof rack fully loaded and two guys hanging off the bumper, it was a tight squeeze, with the smallest volunteer sitting in the two-year-old’s carseat while the toddler sat on the passenger-side windowsill, with her head leaning out the window, her tiny hands holding on to the “oh shit” handles, and her mother’s arm around her waist making sure she didn’t fall. Ellen and I were crammed into the very back seat, with a German girl sitting on our laps facing us, her knees hanging over the seat behind our shoulders. The ride was an adventure, to say the least. The 40-minute trip to Mindo took twice that time with the car so overloaded, and when we got to town Ingo ordered the two volunteers riding on the bumper to squeeze into the car as well, so we wouldn’t get in trouble on the road to the ygriega, the Y, where those going to Quito were catching their bus. Eventually, we made it to the junction and unloaded the other volunteers and their bags, a good two hours after we’d left the farm. Ellen and I drove onward with the family to Los Bancos, where we had a nice breakfast before hitting the road.

Hitchhiking with Ellen in Ecuador was just as fun as it was in Canada twelve years ago. The first car that picked us up had three middle-aged guys, who warned us of the perils of travel this way, and then proceeded to compliment us on our bravery and ingenuity the rest of the trip. The next few legs were just as amusing – locals stopped to ask where we were going, and offered to take us for beers, and we had little difficulty getting rides with only a few minutes’ break in between each. We were hardly the only people hitchhiking, either. In one place, we were hitchhiking next to a family of six and a guy on his way to work. The truck that stopped for us already had three young boys riding in the back, and took all twelve of us along the road to our respective destinations. I felt a mixture of amusement and horror when the youngest child, not yet two, fell over as the truck went over a speed bump, and his mother just laughed. The family, when they got out, paid the driver a few coins for his troubles, but none of the other riders did, so Ellen and I just got out at the junction toward the next town on our list.

We didn’t even have to stick our thumbs out for the next ride – a gas tanker truck that we’d dismissed as not being a likely ride pulled over and waved us into the cab. Inside, the driver and his wife were easily the most welcoming people we met all day. She moved into the sleeper part of the cab, with their sleeping baby, and Ellen and I enjoyed the view and leg room in the front seats. They asked us about our travels, described local fruits and attractions, and even pulled over at a roadside stand to buy us what the locals call guava, a large green bean-like pod from which you eat the white flesh surrounding each bean. They invited us to ride back with them on Monday, and spend the night at their family’s farm. The wife was quite excited to think of all the fun places she could take us if we meet them. They dropped us off at the gas station where they were making a delivery, and reminded us that if we were there at the designated time on Monday we were welcome to stay with them.

Guava - what we know as a guava is called guayaba here.

Guava – what we know as a guava is called guayaba here.

The gas station was in a town on the coast, and we immediately noticed dozens of moto-taxis driving people all over town. We couldn’t imagine how the town could support so many – more moto-taxis passed us than cars. One stopped for us, and for the grand sum of fifty cents, drove us across town and left us in a good place to hitch a ride to Canoa. Within minutes, we were in the back of a truck taking two couples to a weekend at a different beach. This was a pretty drive, through farmland along the coast, dotted with cows, trees, and beaches. They dropped us off in Canoa an hour and a half before sunset, giving us time to set up our tents and still play in the waves in the setting sun. It’s a good feeling.

Ellen enjoying the ride, with the wind blowing in her hair.

Ellen enjoying the ride, with the wind blowing in her hair.

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