This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.
Why I'm Living in Coastal Ecuador (Santa Marianita)
Inge Van den Herrewegen
Website / Blog URL: puntalabarca.com
More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Sun Protection Hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Where are your currently living?
We (my partner Juan, our two sons, and I) are living in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. I have lived here since 2012.
What's Your Story?
I’m from a small town called Oudenaarde in the Flemish region of Belgium. I did my studies in biomedical engineering and then worked for an orthopedic company as a researcher.
I worked for around 3 years as a researcher; life was comfortable, work was comfortable, I had a routine. But it was missing something and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.
So I quit my job and started traveling. I didn’t want a routine, I didn’t want plans, I didn’t want an end date. I wanted to live and be present – and kitesurf.
My journey began in Australia, with lots of expectations of an authentic and idealistic lifestyle – like most Europeans have. But I ended up leaving Australia disappointed, and most probably because of these expectations I had.
South America was the next destination, but flying was an expensive option, so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to island-hop and kitesurf through the pacific. I did New Zealand, Fiji, French Polynesia, Easter Island, and then to mainland Chile.
From Chile, I made my way up north to Peru, and then I hit Ecuador. I had met a traveler who had mentioned a town, by the port-city of Manta, called Santa Marianita where there was perfect scene for kitesurfing and that it was not swarmed by tourists.
I arrived at this small fishing coastal town, and I loved it! As corny as it sounds, it was exactly that “authenticity” that I was looking for. It became my base for a while, splitting time between Santa Marianita and Bahía de Caráquez.
For four days a week, I would be kitesurfing in Santa Marianita, and then three days in Bahía de Caráquez, working with a guy, who had a boat, in exchange for a place to stay and a free trip to to the Galapagos Islands. Spoiler alert: I never made it to the Galapagos Islands.
One day I was out on my board, and the line to my kite had snapped. Suddenly I was stranded in the water, and it was too far out from the shore to swim back. Luckily there were other kitesurfers around and they helped me back to shore.
But during the struggle, in the distance, I see this young, handsome Ecuadorian guy just observing from the shoreline. That was Juan. He helped me out with my line later that day, but it didn’t matter – I knew I had the “catch”.
A romantic relationship was the last thing I was looking for, but within a week there we were. I had obviously been accustomed to life here already. We got to that part of a relationship, where we started to dream of a future together.
We tossed around the idea of buying property and creating a hostel, a space where travelers like myself could find refuge in this piece of paradise. It seemed like an idealistic dream, and then by surprise I became pregnant – this actually became a catalyst for a lot of things.
We found and purchased a property on top of a hill in Santa Marianita (that was actually owned by Juan’s grandfather) and we started to build our dreams with our bare hands – literally. It took us almost a year to finish the cabañas and set up our business.
By the end, we baptized it ‘Punta La Barca’, paying homage to the land it breathes and beats on. There’s something really beautiful and cathartic about seeing what we dreamt, form into life. The feeling is like when you catch the right wind and you just keep “surfing”.
Over time our family has expanded and we now have two ‘niñitos’. We have changed from being a backpackers’ hostel to more of a co-live and co-work space for nomad travelers, remote workers, and kitesurfers.
And now, there are still no routines in my life and I get to live life in the moment – and I get to kitesurf whenever I want.
How's your Spanish?
I speak Spanish, Flemish, English, French fluently – but I speak Spanish here everyday. I didn’t know any Spanish before arriving to South America – I kind of guessed based on French. But I learnt on the road during my travels, and I took a week’s worth of class in Ecuador to just pat down the basics of grammar.
When I arrived to Santa Marianita, no one spoke English – with the exception of retired foreigners living here, but I didn’t want to be part of that culture. You really do miss out on a lot if you don’t speak the native tongue.
Language and culture are so interconnected, that you can’t fully understand the culture unless you know a little bit about the language at least.
Also, Juan doesn’t speak English, so I had to learn it in order to communicate to him and his family. But the process of learning any language is like a rollercoaster.
It was tough and I had a severe headache for two months, but the best way to learn is just to be immersed in it all.
How do you make your living?
In addition to our Punta La Barca, Juan works as a kitesurfing instructor here in Santa Marianita and I have my part-time remote job.
The remote job, that I earn most of my income from, is from the same Belgium I left when I left Europe to travel.
Since I was still on very good terms with the management of the company, I asked them if there were any jobs that I could do remotely and they created a new position for me.
This is one of the reasons that enabled me to stay in Ecuador. Internet is good here – we have fibre optic – so it all worked perfectly!
At the moment for the company, I am working on a research-based orthopedic project in collaboration with the orthopedic faculty at the Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí in Manta.
What do you love about Ecuador?
I can only speak for this part of Ecuador. People are very “authentic” (here goes that word again) here, very family-orientated, welcoming, and super curious.
If you put the effort to speak Spanish to them, they will converse back with you and perhaps tell you their life story. And if you’re considering moving to Ecuador, stay in a place for a while and feel it out.
- The weather (here in Santa Marianita) is great and very pleasant – I live on 7km of deserted beaches. It’s extremely safe here, day and night, but that’s not always true for other parts of Ecuador.
- Living here is cheap – local food, travel, accommodation, etc.
- Nature – Ecuador has a variety of beautiful nature and all within close reach. It has a variety of coastal regions, the Amazon rainforest, tropical dry forests, cloud forests, and mountain ranges (Andes).
- It’s hard to find good bread.
- Imported goods are expensive.
- Some parts of the culture – like organization, punctuality, responsibility
Have a question for Inge about why she moved to Santa Marianita, Ecuador? Or what it’s like for her family in Ecuador? Join her in the comments.