Hostelling for the holidays: How a solo trip shed my expectations of the season
The cat on my lap doesn’t seem too interested in my French fries. I tried to share, but I think he prefers scratches behind the ears so I switch tactics in hopes of making friends. I’m a bit windblown from the drive, a tad sweaty with the coastal humidity, and thoroughly pleased that the motorcycle has taken me all the way from the Andean highlands down to the beach. I pulled into Olón, a small pueblo town on the Ecuadorian coast just in time to hear the shouts of a final goal in the world cup semifinal game between Argentina and Croatia. I sip my pineapple juice and smile. Go South America!
I’m proud of myself. It’s definitely an adventure travelling alone during the holidays—especially as a woman driving a moto. However, at the same time it’s exactly what I am craving. I like getting out of routine. I love seeing people in new places and watching how they share and celebrate… especially because Christmas and New Years are dates that come with their fair share of baggage.
In my case, the extra baggage is often unmet expectations. The holidays are meant to be spent with family, a tree, a dinner around a big table, or shredding the slopes—and here I am sitting with a cat on my lap sipping juice as I look over my plans for the next few weeks of solo adventure time. I’m dusty from the road, a bit tense from the high winds that literally blew me up La Ruta del Spondylus (the coastal highway), but the only extra weight I’m feeling this year is from my heavy motorcycle gear. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I prefer throwing out the extra baggage and saying goodbye to the expectations of what this time of year is “supposed” to mean. Out of necessity, I travel light and it feels wonderful. I feel free.
During the holidays, a lot of us feel the rush, the busy-ness, the chaos, and pressure to fulfil some idealized glittery version of what it means to spread cheer and joy. It often falls flat because it gets wrapped up in too many bows, too many packages, and loses meaning thanks to the consumerism of it all. Holiday cheer gets disguised as this toxic emotion that we MUST feel during a certain time of year, and if we don’t, we’re basically the grinch.
Personally, I feel that the end of the year is a time of reflection. I would rather surf smoothly into the new year feeling held, nourished, and content rather than disappointed by the fact that my nontraditional holiday plans don’t fit into some kind of pretty box neatly tied up with a society-approved fancy bow.
The holidays are meant to be spent with family, a tree, a dinner around a big table, or shredding the slopes—and here I am sitting with a cat on my lap sipping juice as I look over my plans for the next few weeks of solo adventure time.
So, here I am. Just me and Penelope, my 2022 Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle. She’s currently resting under a palm tree while I give up on the French fries. Our destination is an amazing, long-term stay hostel called La Casa where your stay feels like a bear hug, smooshed by the best group of fellow world travellers—and of course amazing local hosts.
The hostel is beachfront. Imagine falling asleep to the sound of the surf and walking out the front door into the sand, your toes just steps from the ocean. There are two overweight snuggly cats for when you need company reading or during an online work break. Here, there are weekly family dinner nights, snorkelling excursions, an emphasis on giving back to the local community, and sunset yoga classes all included in your stay.
Yoga is a big part of my holiday getaway. I try to do exchanges wherever I go offering yoga classes, tarot readings, and ayurvedic massages in exchange for room and board with incredible views and vibes. Not a bad gig, and I love making an impact because it’s not every day you see the hostel yoga teacher pull up on a badass bike.
The town of Ayampe is pure magic. There’s a special energy about this place. The local food is fresh, creative, and mouth-watering. You can take a jungle hike up the Colibrí trail, run along the beach, join a yoga class, go on tide pool explorations, try your hand at bird watching, sip a coconut after a swim, and stargaze at night. And it has to be said that it’s an incredible surfing destination. But Ayampe is even more than all that. It’s a bit of an anomaly for me. I’ve always been that traveller who likes to see new places, but with Ayampe, there’s a pull that brings me back again and again. I’ve been coming here to heal every year since 2014.
It’s only another 30 minutes up the coast, so I pay for my juice and say goodbye to my feline friend. I’ll have to put a bit of air in the front tire and get gas in Puerto Lopez—a bigger fishing village—but for now, I simply do a standard check of my gear before I get back on the bike. I check all of the locks on the luggage boxes, clean the visor on my helmet, and open up the air vents in my pants. My hands and upper body are tired from fighting the strong winds for more than a few hours, and I am literally salivating for a shower.
I come to the ocean every year to wash away the turmoil. Here, I have space to feel all the emotions that this time of year brings up.
The short drive from Olón to Ayampe is actually incredible. It feels like I’m cruising through a tunnel of life, the jungle exploding all around me as the road teases the coastline. I see the two rock towers off the shore that are Ayampe’s version of a town symbol. I flick on the turn signal.
A little dirt road leads me to the beach and my hostel. As soon as I pull in, I’m greeted by guests, local surf teachers, and Mohka the family dog. To me, travelling is about being present. It’s my time to observe, reflect, and connect. I come to the ocean every year to wash away the turmoil. Here, I have space to feel all the emotions that this time of year brings up. I come here because it grounds me. I come here because as a solo traveller, I’m embraced, accepted, and seen through the eyes of so much love. I come here because if I need to be the grinch for a moment I can, but no one ever lets me stay green for too long. The energy of Ayampe is vibrant. It is family. La Casa Hostel es mi casa for Christmas and I’m so glad to be home.