The transition from summer on Harris to autumn in Ecuador has been a roller coaster ride.
My first full season running Roam Outer Hebrides proved to be an absolute blast, with a total of 79 trips run between April and September and plenty of happy customers. Alongside all the sea kayaking, I had committed to join Her Majesty’s Coastguard (involving five weekends of Core Skills training prior to deployment), as well as gain my Summer Mountain Leader certificate.
With boats and gear stowed, the final Coastguard training weekend was successfully completed (and featured an exciting winch out of the helicopter!), and I headed back to the mainland at the start of September. I’d planned a couple of three day camping trips in Glen Affric and Knoydart to brush up on my mountain skills, and I was happy to have the company of friends and family for much of it. The assessment, although slightly nerve-wracking, turned out to be a great week with a fun bunch of people in spite of some particularly foul weather on the three day expedition. I couldn’t praise the assessors of Abacus Mountain Guides enough for their good cheer and professionalism, and was happy to learn at the end of the week that I had passed.
With these loose ends tied up, I drove an hour south from Fort William to Oban to secure accommodation for the winter, a task that I had been informed was “notoriously difficult”. A good slice of luck dished up a pleasant and spacious flat right in the centre, and all that was left to do was distribute various belongings amongst friends in the central belt, pack up my kite and fly to Ecuador to meet Mika.
Everything seemed to have gone remarkably smoothly over the last month, and as I arose in the middle of the night for a 6 am flight from Edinburgh, I had a sense that a bungle may be imminent. So it transpired. I learnt at Amsterdam airport that an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is required to transit through the United States, and so on reaching the gate I was apologetically informed that I would not be able to board the plane until I had one! Thankfully, the officials should never have allowed me on at Edinburgh, and on that basis a kind lady behind a desk went to considerable lengths to re-book my ticket via a torturous four leg route to Quito, Ecuador, free of charge! With a hefty fee for a new ticket ducked and a mere 10 hour penalty for my negligence, I continued my journey in a state of smug relief. Travellers take note!
Arriving in Quito on Thursday morning (4th October) turned out to be trickier than anticipated. On the morning of my arrival, strikes were gathering momentum; people were protesting against the president’s recent decision to abolish subsidies on fuel (a move that would see prices instantly double) on top of increased privatisation and austerity measures imposed by the government. We were lucky to get into the centre of town at all on the day, with blockades being set up on many routes in and out of the city. Quito-bound for the following three days, we took the opportunity to climb the jagged volcanic peak of Rucu Pinchincha to the west of the city; a much slower-moving affair than normal due to the summit altitude of 4,784m. It had taken me nine days of acclimatisation to reach these dizzy heights in Nepal last year! Come the weekend, some public transport services had been briefly reinstated, and we managed to sneak out on a night bus to the coast on the Saturday evening.
Thus followed a beautifully relaxing 10 day period of leisure at the small coastal towns of Puerto Lopez, San Lorenzo and Santa Marianita, where we swam in the sea, ate fresh fish, and played backgammon for hours on end. The latter of these three towns was my final destination; the only place in Ecuador with an established kitesurf scene and thus an appropriate base for my next objective!
I had made it my mission to learn to kitesurf with a foil (effectively an underwater wing that attaches to the bottom of the board, allowing one to glide effortlessly above the surface with very little wind), and Javier at Kite Ecuador had been really helpful in getting me set up with a board. The kite school is right by the beach and as well as offering kitesurf lessons, modern and well-maintained gear is available to rent. There’s always someone on the beach to launch and land your kite, and a great little kitchen offering delicious ‘schawarmas’ and cold beer for post-session recovery – to be enjoyed on the adjacent terrace. Thus began a lot of crashing, “woah”-ing and progressively more whooping as the foilboard began to creep above the surface of the chop with increasing regularity.
With three more weeks left at Santa Marianita, I’m hoping to improve my foiling skills to a point where I can ride fast and perform tacks and gybes (upwind and downwind turns) quickly and consistently. My suspicion that kite-foiling is the most elegant way to travel has already been proven (forget the bicycle or sea kayak), and on establishing a reasonable level of competence I’m looking forward to planning some long distance kitesurf expeditions in the near future!