How we barely avoided sleeping on the street in Ecuador.

We stepped off the musty bus onto the abused concrete sidewalk of the town of Canoa and immediately looked around for hotel signs in the dark. From where we stood, hoisting out backpacks on, we could see a half dozen hotels, with the promise of more on nearby streets. Cautious sighs of relief. We went looking for rooms.

“Perdon, hay habitaciones?”

A look of surprise from the manager. “No.”

Next place, same. Again. Repeat. What the hell was going on?

We found a female innkeeper who was less abrupt about dismissing us and asked her if there was a festival or something. She looked at us with that “you poor tourists are so terribly stupid” look that every traveler dreads.

“Si. It’s Festival Weekend throughout all of Ecuador. The entire country comes to the coast for this weekend, every place has been booked months in advance.”

Crap. This is why we avoid festivals.

We couldn’t help but wonder why our friendly abuela in Puerto Lopez (or either of her sons) had neglected to warn us as we sauntered out the door that morning, but at the end of the day, it’s the tourist’s responsibility to have a clue.

We kept looking. (What’s the Spanish word for “manger”? Maybe we could find one of those…)

Things were getting desperate when a woman carrying her shopping bags home down the sandy street asked us if we were looking for a room.

“I have a…room. But it’s not really…nice.” She warned us. I had been sizing up clumps of bushes to sleep under (no, I’m not kidding) so we were happy to have the option.

Every year so many people flock to the coast for that weekend that locals rent out their extra rooms, or even entire houses. Our lady had rented her house to a group, and she was staying with her husband and 37 children in the other spare room, which looked like a converted storage space.

We had the laundry room.

There was a foam pad on a bedframe with a powerful odor, but there was also a mosquito net. (They hold the smell in, but are supremely worth it.) There was a “bathroom” we could use, which was really more of an outhouse, with a semi-broken toilet and no light.

But our hosts did all they could, and strung a bare bulb up in the outhouse via an extension cord from their room. This was very nice, but we had no control over the light, so when we got back from dinner and it was out, we were stumbling around in there blind, trying not to think about spiders, cockroaches, and things that go clickety-click.

Between the smell, lumpy surface, highway a couple meters from our heads, and relentlessly meowing kitten somewhere nearby, we didn’t expect to sleep much, but we actually did pretty well, all things considered.

But we woke up with full-fledged colds from the overly AC’d bus, and did not want to spend another night there.

Things start to look up when the cat likes you.

First things first, we went looking for breakfast. We found a place run by a retired Dutchman living the good life. He had opened an eco-cafe/hotel thing, and was happily bustling around serving breakfast with bare feet in his sand-floored yard just opposite the beach. It feels like a blessing to witness someone so utterly happy with their place in life.

His happiness alone was a blessing, but when he heard we were looking for a room, he resolved to help us, and went marching off down the street with us, hailing each hotel owner by name and asking if they could fit his “friends” in.

These were people we had asked previously, and been universally rebuffed, but on only the second try they answered “no, we don’t have any rooms. (pause) Except one, but it’s not…nice.”

Familiar refrain. This place’s “not nice” looked better than the other one’s (a functioning toilet!), so we grabbed it immediately. It turned out to be worse than the first one, with plenty of mosquitoes but no net or air circulation, but we felt lucky to have anything, and made it through to Sunday afternoon, when we suddenly had our pick of the town again.

Now that’s more like it.

We settled in a nice Spanish-owned place, where we stayed for our remaining four nights in Canoa, appreciating every moment in our palace of mosquito net, non-stank-ass matress, and fully functional bathroom. With light! This, my friends, was not “not-nice.”

And to top it all off? They made the best tortilla espanola I’ve had outside of San Sebastian. All’s well that ends well-seasoned.