Life is good when you volunteer at Donkey Den Guesthouse on the small beach of Santa Marianita in Ecuador.
Kitesurfing and watching the waves crash are two of the main activities on this laid back beach outside of Manta.
In case you were wondering what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks, the answer is, not much. I’ve been straight kickin’ it working as a volunteer for Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast in Santa Marianita, Ecuador, an isolated beach outside of Manta where the sun waits for the weekend to shine. I found the gig at Donkey Den through HelpX. The hotel boasts three pretty sick apartment-style suites, four more private rooms, and a dorm room with five beds. The kitchen and common areas are all outside, because why not? The weather is always warm and there’s a roof to protect against uncommon rain. Most people, staff, visitors, pets and guests alike, congregate around the long rectangular dining table. In fact, sometimes, it looks like the Last Supper, with everyone on one side facing the ocean, looking out for whales or kite surfers or just simply watching the waves crash. I rest my elbows on the beautiful tapestry that serves as a table cloth as I cradle my second cup of coffee in the morning, watching the ocean change colors. Sometimes one of the ten cats tries to test its luck sitting on the table, and he or she is promptly denied via a squirt of water to the face. Sometimes Yahtzee dice spill over the surface of the table as the volunteers and I play our boss Cheryl, who adds up the dice for all of us sleepy heads. Sometimes I lead the girls in some early morning yoga on the beach, the constant sound of the waves hitting the sand as soothing as saying “Ommmeeee.” I wonder sometimes why that sound hasn’t started to piss me off, like other constant, unending sounds are prone to do. The worst it’s done is give me weird dreams, but I’m not alone in that. Something about this beach keeps almost everyone here from having a decent, and dream free, night’s sleep.
During these two weeks of bliss, I haven’t even bothered to groom properly. I can’t remember the last time I put on makeup, or shaved my legs, or properly and consistently washed my hair. Hawt, right? But I give zero fucks because my sick tan has hidden the bags under my eyes, the sun has bleached my leg hair blond, and the ocean cleans my hair every day anyway and gives it that beachy style that bitches be jealous of. As the wise Beyonce once said, “I woke up like this, I woke up like this.”
Then there’s the sand. It’s everywhere, even after a shower, a constant reminder that you are living on a fucking beach. It latches on to your ankles, finds a home between your shoulder blades. It coats your underwear line and the crease behind your ears. You scratch your scalp and find sand under your fingernails. You sleep with it at night, despite a vain, half-ass attempt to brush your feet together and remove some before resting your legs on your already sandy sheets. It is a friend, a companion, by no means a burden. The sand is an accepted part of your daily journey, and I bring it with me on my walk to Ocean Freaks, onto the hammock where I’ll read a book, and to my few hours of pretty chill work per day, which starts with wiping the sand and cat/dog hair from the furniture in the morning.
Work also consists of cleaning the rooms when guests check out, taking the few breakfast orders, cutting fruit, walking the dogs down the beach at night, and any other odd jobs that Cheryl comes up for us. I can proudly say that I helped paint a fence, varnished a bunch of bamboo, and gave the garden a haircut.
Truly, there is not much to do here except kite surfing (it took me a week to give in and take lessons and another week to fall in love), perfecting the art of chilling out, and getting to know the people around you. There’s Cheryl, who retired to Ecuador from Canada and has been running the Donkey Den for a little under a year for the owner Linda, a 70 year old Floridian princess. Annette and Juliet are best friends and my fellow volunteers from the Netherlands who have been traveling together through Central and South America and learning to kite surf along the way. Laura, another volunteer from Dublin, has just arrived and already we are making plans to meet up in Cuzco in a few weeks. Jooast and Lillian are basically part of the family, too. They live in a bright yellow Volkswagen that they bought in Chile and have been driving around South America, also kitesurfing, but they take showers and cook meals at the Donkey Den. There’s Sam, the kite surfing artist from Canada who lives in Dominican Republic. There were the Uno Nazis, a German couple who are really, really serious about Uno (Clarification: I called them Nazis because they are strict card players. Their German-ness only made it more funny). We have 10 cats and 3 dogs, all rescues. The cats are Tiger, Tigger, Tommy, Kiwi, Shortie, Fido, Mozzarella, Joe, Rodriguez, and Bubba. Shortie has a temper, Fido is an asshole, Mozzarella is cuddly and Rodriguez is a prince. The dogs are Barney, Bailey, Pepe. Barney is a lady, Pepe is a gentleman, and Bailey runs really fast. Maira and Fernanda are sisters and Santa Marianita locals who come to work every morning. Fernanda sees to the general cleaning of the property, while Maira prepares the delicious breakfast, sometimes just for the volunteers if there are no paying customers. We, as volunteers, are entitled to a free breakfast every morning, which I milk profusely, cutting myself a bowl of fruit before I order the Scramble and a side of stuffed french toast.
Then of course there are the Gringos, the ex-pats, the Golden Girls. The motley crew of Canadian and American retirees who congregate around their ring leader, Linda, to drink coffee and booze at our table, buy breakfast on Gringo Sunday, and share information about how to survive in a third world country with zero knowledge of the language spoken there, a big bank account, and a trusted contractor. A true talent indeed when all the locals are out to get you…she said sarcastically.
Now that I’m gone and embarking slowly on another adventure, I truly miss my life there. I miss searching for friends on the water by looking for their kites. I miss Cheryl telling me that I’m going to make some man an excellent wife every time I cooked her dinner. I miss Annette’s girlish laugh and Juliet telling me to enjoy my meal as I sat down with any plate in front of me. I miss Laura singing showtunes and leaving me in stitches with her quick wit. I miss being barefoot all the time and watching the sky change. I miss the rare nights when the clouds weren’t hiding the stars and I could look up and see thousands of them. I miss the donkeys walking up to our garbage for a snack. I miss the man who does drive bys in his truck, blasting over a loudspeaker that he’ll sell you “pina, mandarinas, verduras, cebollas…etc.” I miss burning my feet on the hot sand and dodging rocks on my walk to the kite school. I miss feeling the strong undercurrent of the ocean pull at my ankles. I miss waking up with sore muscles. And I miss kitesurfing. I always thought that I couldn’t stay in one place for more than two weeks while traveling, but now I wish I could go back and carry on the life that I started for myself there.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be back. But until then, onto the next adventure.
by Rebecca Bellan