Montanita is a small pueblo that is situated on the beach and is known for partying. The town is so small that only two roads actually have names: "calle principal" and "cocktail alley". It is relatively deserted during the week, but Thursday through Sunday are filled with locals and tourists for the fiesta. This may seem like a strange place for us to settle down since we aren't exactly party people, but we were mostly there to learn Spanish and spend some time on the beach.
We opted to take small group classes from Montanita Spanish School... What could be better than an outdoor balcony classroom overlooking the ocean? The classes were two hours each, twice a day, with the morning focusing on grammar/vocabulary and the afternoon focusing on speaking. It was intense and quite exhausing: By the end of three weeks, we had progressed beyond what is covered in two years of a typical high school Spanish curriculum. Since we were in a class of only 2 to 4 students, we spent a fair amount of time at the end of each class chatting with the teachers in Spanish, which helped our speaking tremendously.
Learning Spanish has already been worth every penny. While we aren't fluent, we are able to communicate fairly well and are much more confident as we are traveling. Things like ordering at a restaurant or booking a hostel room used to be agonizing, and now they are no big deal at all. Also, the local people are ridiculously nice when you make an effort to speak to them in their language. We are constantly being asked where we're from and how we like their city.
Another great thing about the Spanish School is that it helped us meet some great people. We celebrated the Fourth of July with another American couple and (ironically) a Brit. We have exchanged information with people from around the world who have told us to look them up when we get to their country. It is amazing how quickly you become friends with people when you're traveling... after only three weeks, we were sad to say goodbye.
We settled into a routine of our favorite places to go, and the people who worked at those places all came to know us quickly. It is not uncommon for restaurants or stores to not have names, so I will describe them the best I can. We found a wonderful hostel called Charo's (it was more like a hotel, really) a bit outside the main part of town that was comfortable, quiet, and had air conditioning. Since we stayed for three weeks, we were able to get a bit of a discount and all of the employees were exceptionally nice
For breakfast, we usually ate scrambled eggs or an omelette from our favorite fruit stand on our way to school. There was also an amazing Colombian bakery that we stopped at almost every day to get some bread or a fresh doughnut filled with caramel. One routine that we have started is eating a nice breakfast out on Sundays. We found a place that made fantastic french toast with fruit salad, and made it our Sunday spot.
The restaurant next door to Charo's had almuerzo (set lunch) for $1.50 that consisted of a soup, meat, rice, and some type of vegetable. We ate there most days, and enjoyed chatting with the owner (the man who cured my stomach woes). The soup was fantastic, and the main course was acceptable or a notch above. The restaurant was always packed with locals, and we decided that it was because it is the cheapest restaurant with a big screen television. Our other favorite place was called "Pollo al a Brasa" (or as we called it, "Cheap Chicken"), where you could get 1/4 of a charcoal roasted chicken with salad and plantains for $3. It ranks as some of the tastiest chicken I've ever had.
As far as dinners were concerned, we tried most of the restaurants in town. For the mostpart, the food was somewhat disappointing because they tried to serve American food, and it just didn't taste right. We did find a great Medeteranian place, and later found out that the owner of our hotel is the restaurant owner's father in law... how's that for a small town?
I also had a favorite cocktail maker, beach spot, and three legged stray dog. I saw some weird things on my running routes, like a wild peacock and a tree full of chickens. We did some fun things like rent a motorcycle and drive for hours along the coast. We figured out the tricks of the city, like how nobody ever has any change and how you should always get money out of the ATM in increments of $15. After three weeks, we were almost too comfortable, and knew that it was time to get back on the road. We packed our bags and boarded a bus: next stop, Cuenca!