Fighting Complacency & Embracing Routine
Planning a year-long trip is not easy. There are so many places beckoning and we try to balance the loose itinerary we outlined with the flexibility of adding new places that people tell you about along the way. Inevitably though, towns get missed, tours are left untaken, people unmet, photos unsnapped, beers un-drunk, and food uneaten. It makes each decision matter more. Obviously no matter where we go, we will work to maximize our experiences there and it will be fantastic because we are exploring the world. But for two project manager types, we can’t help but ask ourselves, “Are we maximizing our potential to maximize?”
Looking back on some of our experiences in small towns (Montañita, Santa Cruz, etc.), we find ourselves somewhat at odds with them. We usually choose these types of places for a specific attraction like the beach in Montañita or the wine in Santa Cruz. However, once we get there, time gets away from us and we aren’t always sure if we spent it on something worthwhile.
Is it good to keep heading to these smaller towns, or do we end up wasting part of our year?
We remember sitting together a few days into Montañita and discussing the prospect of living in a small beach town. Matt discussed how he felt that if he lived in a beach town he would waste his life away. He was concerned he would trade productivity and career/personal goals for relaxation and way better sleep/health. He remarked that he didn't think you could make a huge social impact from a town like Montañita because you could only affect so many people.
Ben didn’t feel the same way though. Would it be a different life? Sure! But, he had romantic notions of using Montañita as a hub to refine his travel photography or opening a small cafe or bar and converting to a Montañita-ite. And, of course of learning to surf. He felt that social impact could still happen, but with the locals and creating a positive space in town, and making photographs that impacted others. But he admitted that the “beach bum” life would probably be filled of a lot of complacency.
This conversation turned into a bigger idea as the time passed.
In Montañita, we definitely watched more than our expected amount of Netflix, and spent time doing normal, life things. We worked during the day, grabbed coffee and lunch in town or on the beach during the afternoon, drinks after work, and ended up at home with time for a couple hours of TV. It sounds great, but it doesn't sound like the adventure this year is supposed to be, right? After all, we aren’t on a year long “vacation,” we want to challenge ourselves!
We struggled with this a lot. But while Matt complained about boredom or complacency, he also tried to convince Ben to go back to one of three locations (Lido's, The Wave, or Frank’s) rather than finding a new spot. Disclaimer: Frank's is not called Frank's -- it is the Spanish word for hangover, but we never called it that. Ben wanted to try new places a lot more than Matt did. So, like any good couple, we ended up with a compromise of the two.
The last couple of days in Montañita, something weird happened: We started getting homesick just thinking about leaving Montañita. This was a surprise to both of us. Montañita is the Las Vegas meets Surfer Town meets Miami Beach of Ecuador. The streets are covered in dog poop from all the strays. You can’t walk down the street without being harangued by a gauntlet of thirsty tourism workers inviting you to eat at their restaurant, buy their wares, or buy their drugs. We learned the phrase “Ya comimos” or “We already ate” as a self-defense mechanism against the relentless barrage. Yet, we both knew we’d miss it when we left. And that was weird to us.
Weeks later, in another small town, Santa Cruz, we were talking about what was causing our confusing affection for Montañita since we did not feel the same about Santa Cruz. And we realized it's because we had built a mini community.
While in Montañita, we made friends:
Franreinaldo worked at "Frank's". It was so nicknamed for him. He is a photographer, writer, illustrator and all around awesome guy. There’s already a profile on him, so I won't say too much more, but check it out here.
Constanza worked at Frank's too. She was wonderful, friendly, and reminds us both of our respective moms, for all the best reasons. She checked in on us whenever we saw her, she rolled her eyes when we said something dumb (or when we couldn't understand her)—which happened a lot, and she made us practice our Spanish while she practiced English.
Alejandro was Constanza's son. She immediately called him when she found out we both work in start-ups/the web world. He is a social media/bartender/publicist/all around entrepreneur. He connected Ben to the Corona Hotel, where he exchanged photography for a hotel room in Olon.
There were a variety of service staff members that knew us immediately when we walked around. No one stays in Montañita for more than a couple days so by the time we were there a whole week, some of the local workers stopped getting harassed to buy things and started to get hellos, how are you, and when are you coming back (alright, they still wanted us to buy things -- but it was WAY less pushy). We didn't learn most of their names, but there is something HUGE to be said for having people recognize you, and be excited to see you.
So, at the end of the day, we would definitely say we lost some time in Montañita -- but we think we would do it again in the same way. We already want to bring family/friends back and introduce them to some of those spots. When we return again, it will probably be for a weekend, but it will still feel like coming home in some ways.
Santa Cruz didn’t leave us with the same feeling. We didn’t ever really manage a community in the span of a week and a half. The closest we got was Javiera and Laura Hartwig winery, because we returned there twice. Looking at the two experiences together, it paints a clear picture of how we exist in a small town and maximize our experiences. It matters that we find a place we like with genuine people we like, and we return. Sometimes to an embarrassing extent. It helps to talk to people and to walk the same streets over and over again. If we are going to dedicate larger portions of time to smaller towns with less diverse attractions, we need to make sure we really try to immerse ourselves.
Our trip is more than just exploring and seeing as much as we can. We are pushing ourselves to find culture, understand it, and learn to exist outside of ourselves. When we accomplish those things, regardless of the location, it makes the trip worth it. And now we have a good roadmap for the Montañitas and Santa Cruzes of the world.