It took about a week for me to turn on the Ecuadorian coastal town of Montañita. Our relationship started off, as so many do, passionately and full of excitement. The town seemed a little hippie-ish, but charmingly simple and full of interesting travelers. A good and social hostel, a diverse selection of cheap restaurants, and a decent view - that's all it takes, initially, to be excited, about a place. I met some cool Germans and hung out with an amazingly talented Peruvian guitarist at a rock club. I read some books and drank a lot of Americano coffees. I should have left after that. But then an Irish girl I liked showed up and I stayed.
Every traveler knows how easy it is to get stuck in a place. Moving around is the point but staying put takes so much less effort. It's 10:30, checkout is at 11, you're exhausted, your stuff is all over the dorm room, the mere thought of another bus ride seems too much to bear, and you haven't planned out where you're going next anyway. "One more night, I'll leave tomorrow." Oh the lies we tell ourselves.
And it's not just that, those logistical issues of when and how to leave and where to go. There is a social, emotional component that weighs heavily on the traveler's mind. You've met people, you've got a good group. You're comfortable with these people, surprisingly close to some of them. A new place means a new round of "Hi! I'm....". That's a blessing and a curse; that constant stream of new faces is integral to the joy of backpacking but it can get tiring. Sometimes you're just not in the mood to be that extroverted. Staying in a place means staying safe in that bubble of camaraderie, with all the inside jokes and shared memories. You're the 'cool kids' of the hostel, sitting around the lounge in a exclusive little group laughing, judging the new backpackers who have just arrived in town, wide-eyed and slightly confused. Leaving means being one of those new kids - and in some other town that might not even be as good as this one. The truth of course is that it's never as harsh as all that - in the next town you meet people easily, and they're just as great as your last group. Almost shockingly soon, you can't even remember some of the names of those people in that last, tight-knit, crew. But when you're convincing yourself to lazily stay "one more day" somewhere, you don't take such an objective view of the experience.
And so you stay. "One more day" becomes a week and though you feel lazy, you have your fellow just-as-lazy backpackers to share in the shame and commiserate with. Eventually, you move on and there's a few ways that happens. Maybe a portion of the group collectively decides to go somewhere new and you motivate each other into packing up and going. Sometimes you put a personal end to your procrastination and decide, as much as you've liked a place, you've simply have to get going. But every once in a while, something entirely different happens - you snap. You wake up one morning and absolutely hate where you are. It's not that you've slowly grown tired of it, it's that you suddenly simply have to leave. The cracks have become exposed and you feel incredibly stupid for staying as long as you did. There is literally nothing - not a girl, not a party, not an activity - that could convince you to stay. It's like a movie where one bad scene just takes you out of the whole thing. Or a relationship where you discover, and then can't stop thinking about, some dark facet of someone's personality. You're so in and then, suddenly, you're so out. This is what happened to me in Montañita.
"A surf town where no one fucking surfs. Everybody wants the vibe, no one wants the sport." "A wanna-be Thailand that fails miserably." "Oh you hippies, don't you dare try to sell me another Che Guevara shirt. If he were here today, I'm pretty sure anti-capitalist, anti-materialism, Che would tell you to take his damn image off your mass-produced merchandise."
Let's just say my engine was running hot. I'd had fun but become stuck, stayed far too long, and was suddenly overwhelmed not by the urge to move, but by the urge to leave. Yet, as rapidly angry as I'd become at this little beach town, the amazing experience that is backpacking provided a silver lining. In the traveler's world, leaving - when all those other considerations have been stripped away and you truly want to leave - is a beautifully uncomplicated notion. I woke up and truly wanted to leave. And so, within about twenty minutes, with my bag packed and my bill paid, I had disappeared back onto the road, grateful as always for the freedom to do so.