A couple years back, someone I used to know told me that I wouldn’t want to live on the beach. “The sound of the waves will drive you crazy. There’s no escaping it.” This from a guy who can’t stand the ocean and hates seafood. Why he decided to settle on the coast is anyone’s guess.
Beach life suits me fine. I don’t mind the inescapable sound of the sea. In fact, I love it. So does Chantal. Ever since we moved into and purged by flamethrower Departmento 3 at Condominio Miramar, our lives have been a never-ending pinch-me moment.
This is the actual dream, right? To live on some South Pacific shore and drink fruity punch with little umbrellas in it? When “financial planners” hand out FREE Info Kits! about why your retirement savings would be better off in their pockets, the folder cover always features a couple in gauzy white clothing walking barefoot on a beach. It’s standard issue.
I will admit that the pinch-me thing is probably short-lived. There’s a lot about la vida playa that I enjoy, very much. There are also a few less-pleasing details lurking at the periphery. They’re not crazy making yet. But I can see a time, somewhere not too far away, when they could be.
Indulge me, therefore, while I yack up that laziest of blogosphere hairballs: the pros and cons listicle. Before I begin, it is important to distinguish between life on the beach, as Chantal and I have discovered it, and some overpriced luxury condo on Manta’s primera linea del mar, which is notionally oceanfront. Miramar is on the beach. I mean, it’s directly on the sand. I can throw a cold empanada from my bedroom window and hit the surfside comedor guy who served it to me.
These are in no specific order.
Pro: Everyone Everywhere All at Once
Punta Bikini, El Capitán, and other nearby beaches are vital to San Clemente’s such-as-it-is economy. Weekends and holidays, this sleepy seaside village (population two thousand) suddenly inflates ten-fold as tourists from Portoviejo, Manta, Guayaquil, and the Sierra disgorge upon it for brief coastal getaways.
Our one paved road becomes clogged with spiffy SUVs and ATVs, the monograms of Ecuador’s rapidly emerging middle class. Restaurants overflow and at night the street-meat vendors appear, Doug Henning-like, amid plumes of greasy smoke. People dump trash where they stand but on Mondays the locals clean their town spotless. The coastline is a writhing mass of oiled bums, boom box carriers, sandcastle builders, and hammock swingers.
Some might not favour such chaos. There are moments, I confess, when the mayhem is difficult to bear. But these are fleeting. Overall, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by people who are having the best day of their week. Monday to Friday, the beaches are ours. Saturday and Sunday, they belong to the tourists. I’m good with that arrangement.
Con: Beach Life is Party Life
Holidays, especially, Ecuadorians gather on the coast with their enormous extended families and party like they were born without livers. Every Ecuadorian beach fiesta features at least one ground-bouncing sound system turned up to Spinal Tap 11. People mill, music blares, and dogs bark.
The result is indistinguishable from a minor earthquake. Except this tremor starts reliably in the late afternoon and ends around three or four (or five) the following morning. You get a few hours’ peace while your uber-inebriated neighbours recover, and the whole bombastic mess ratchets up for another go that evening.
By the end of it, you’re bleary-eyed and bitchy from lack of sleep. There’s a small mountain of gross paper waste and empties heaped beside your house. The twenty-or-so SUVs that were parked in your laneway are gone. And you vaguely wonder how much your condo might fetch in a pandemic-depressed real estate market.
There are two species of waterfowl here: frigatebirds and pelicans. They couldn’t be further apart in personality. Frigatebirds are Proud Boys of the sky, flying swastikas in Fred Perry polo shirts. Pelicans, on the other hand, are stoners. If they listened to music, it’d be Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon. Favourite ice cream: Cherry Garcia.
At dawn, the lanchas depart to place their nets in huge crescents, kilometres long, with ropes at each end for retrieval from shore. Once set, the community arrives to pull in its catch. It is backbreaking work. There are often two or three metric tonnes of fish to haul. A full net takes hours to beach.
That’s when the birds arrive. First, the pelicans. They settle in threes and fours upon the water above the open nets. They are in no hurry. Once the catch is sufficiently concentrated beneath them, they leisurely dip their bills into the fishy broth and enjoy what you might call home delivery. It’s like potheads on a sofa eating pizza. I think they’re hilarious.
Frigatebirds can’t swim. Instead, they violently mass above the beached nets, in what Chantal and I call a birdnado. Once they spy fish, these nasty SOBs divebomb anyone near it and then fight, mid-air, for whatever scraps one of their throng chances to steal.
Frigatebirds are enormous, and they swarm at something above eye level. It’s a genuinely visceral experience, to stand in the centre of a birdnado and witness these flying jackals on the hunt. Just don’t wear or carry anything that resembles a sardine.
Con: Rust Never Sleeps
Humidity levels are off the chart next to the ocean. Even one block back, it’s negligible. But on the beach, if you aren’t used to it, the leaden air feels like you’re breathing soup. Combine it with salt, and you have the makings for a Neil Young album.
These are the things HGTV never tells you about life in a coastal paradise. You are obliged to clean your windows, weekly and sometimes daily depending on the weather. Also, everything metal rusts. Door handles, cabinet pulls, bathroom fixtures, beaded light chains, exposed wiring, flaws in stainless steel. It all rusts, with breathtaking speed.
The locals use Vaseline. A thin veneer, applied monthly to metal surfaces, prevents oxidation. Also WD-40. No home on the coast is without a can. Like Frank’s® RedHot®, I put that shit on everything.
Pro: They Don’t Call It Punta Bikini for Nothing
It’s astonishing, how flimsy South American bikini tops become when they’re harassed by an aggressive wave. That’s all I need to say on this subject.
Con: Crotch Sand
It doesn’t matter how well you shower after a day at the beach. There is always a fold of underboob skin, or an armpit, or some sinkhole of an orifice where sand accumulates. Only when you settle into your favourite chair or pull up the bedsheets does it exit, en masse and in considerable volume. This is distressing.
Sand everywhere, all the time. It is the natural law of the beach. It’s stuck to the bottoms of your feet. It’s stitched into your clothing. You rub it painfully from your eyes when you wake. It forms a sparkly patina on every surface in your home. My favourite is when it gets into my toothbrush. Or into my food. That, I cannot abide.
I’d like to report that there’s some magic solution to crotch sand. There isn’t. Learn to live with it. Own a credible broom and dustpan. In Ecuador, these sell in sets for under six bucks.
Pro: Sunset Season
Despite it all – despite the crowds, the birds, the grit, the incessant partying – there are also the sunsets. These are why we choose la vida playa. To face the ocean is to point westward to the setting sun. In Ecuador, this is our spiritual compass.
South Pacific sunsets challenge me to find the right words. Often there are none, nor are words required. It is enough at times simply to be, neither part of nor apart from the visual spectacle of life in a place so stunningly beautiful as this.
I often think of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot; how fortunate I am to live on the pixel that produces such transcendent extravagance. It means nothing to the universe that my evening sky is ablaze with colour. And yet, I am alive in this moment, on this insignificant speck, dumbfounded.
I am not a religious man. I don’t need to be. I have my loving wife, and our little home on the beach, and the soothing clockwork of the tides, and that vivid orange ball deflating on the horizon.
I know where I am. I know my place.