Cultural Experience | Ecuador

Stepping out from behind the (professional) lens: Spring Break in Montañita, Ecuador


How using a smartphone camera brings the freedom to experience a trip in real time.

My Nikon D7000 is the best thing I've ever convinced my dad to purchase. If I could carry it around Cuenca every day, I definitely would. | Kate Hiller 2014

My Nikon D7000 is the best thing I’ve ever convinced my dad to purchase. If I could carry it around Cuenca every day, I definitely would. | Kate Hiller 2014

Whenever I travel, whether it is to my cousin’s house in Cleveland, Ohio, or to Machu Picchu, Peru, I always have my camera at my side. I love my Nikon D7000 — it is definitely one of the best purchases I have ever talked my father into making. However, while I am here in Cuenca, I can’t carry my camera at my side every day (mostly for safety reasons), and when I went to Montañita for spring break last week, I left it locked in a drawer in my room in Cuenca.

Definitely an uncharacteristic maneuver. I was going to bring it (hello, beach photos! Gorgeousness all around!), but at the last minute I decided to step out from behind the lens and just live. Typing that out and rereading it made me realize how cheesy that sounds, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I took my iPhone 4s with me to Montañita…let’s be real, I need some sort of lens when I’m traveling…and it was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. First of all, I barely used it anyway. There are about 20 photos on my Instagram account from the trip, and I’m okay with that.  Secondly, I would have been absolutely paranoid about someone stealing it out of the room of my hostel, even though the room came with a safe, four different keys, and a dresser drawer that sometimes locked.

Waves break over the "point" down the beach from where I stayed in Montañita. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s, filtered through Instagram. | Kate Hiller 2014

Waves break over the “point” down the beach from where I stayed in Montañita. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s, filtered through Instagram. Maybe it would have been better with my Nikon, but the probability of me taking the risk to bring my camera out to where I had to be to get this photo is practically nonexistent. | Kate Hiller 2014

So instead of taking hundreds of photos and having a new album on Facebook, I decided to only use Instagram for this trip. It gave me a chance to actually see and experience the culture and to just relax while in Montañita. Since arriving in Cuenca, I have used Instagram a lot more than usual since I typically do have my iPhone with me during the day. I have also started following a few photojournalists and Ecuador/South America-based photographers, and have been inspired by the images they can create with the set group of available filters and equipment as simple as an iPhone. One of my favorite Ecuador-based accounts is @ivankphoto and his work with Project Mi Barrio (“my neighborhood”). @ivankphoto is based in Quito, about an eight-hour bus trip north from where I am spending my semester.

$1 empanadas were one of the perks I enjoyed at the beach. This guy cooked a mean caprese and spinach/cheese empanada. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

$1 empanadas were one of the perks I enjoyed at the beach. This guy cooked a mean caprese and spinach/cheese empanada. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Having the chance to take a break and live was a great experience, and there is no better place to do that than in Montañita — it is one of the most relaxed and friendly beach towns I have ever heard of. The party scene is definitely prevalent (“cocktail alley” is exactly what it sounds like — a line of cocktail stands leading to the beach), and everyone I met there was extremely nice. The food…well I could talk about food in Ecuador for months. Everything was fresh and inexpensive (compared to what it would cost in the US, at least). The hostel my friend and I stayed in had a communal kitchen instead of a restaurant, so we were able to buy a few groceries and cook our own food every day. We also did our fair share of purchasing empanadas, ice cream sandwiches and pizza from beach vendors, as well as having a few meals at local restaurants.

The land mass in the ocean is where I went to take photos of waves crashing all over. I also got soaked and fell down several times, so that was fun. View from the rooftop terrace of my hostel, photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

The land mass in the ocean is where I went to take photos of waves crashing all over. I also got soaked and fell down several times, so that was fun. View from the rooftop terrace of my hostel, photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

We also took the time to walk all the way down to the “point,” (the peninsula in the photo above) to take photos. Though I got soaked, fell over several times and almost broke my only pair of flip flops, I had an absolutely wonderful time. This time, my lovely friend Julianna brought her iPhone since mine doesn’t always work when it is in a plastic bag, so I wasn’t even worried about ruining mine. Which, granted, I wasn’t actually worried about until we got there. (No worries, her phone is totally fine)

Again, only via Instagram and an iPhone 4s, here are a few more photos. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words…

Looking back at the beach from "the point." Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Looking back at the beach from “the point.” Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean. Montañita was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Sunset at the Pacific Ocean. Montañita was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Montañita is a surf town...as if we hadn't already realized. At least four different surfer dudes spent three days trying to convince us to take their surfing classes. I would have if they hadn't been so obnoxious about it (and if it hadn't cost money). Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

Montañita is a surf town…as if we hadn’t already realized. At least four different surfer dudes spent three days trying to convince us to take their surfing classes. I would have if they hadn’t been so obnoxious about it (and if it hadn’t cost money). Photo taken with an iPhone 4s | Kate Hiller 2014

 

Kate Hiller

Ohio University | 21 stories

Kate Hiller is a Dec. 2015 graduate from Ohio University, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism and a B.A. in Spanish. Over the last two years, Kate has lived and studied in Ecuador, covered the World Cup in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Belgium, worked with the Young African Leaders' Initiative Connect Camps in Namibia and Rwanda, spent time doing radio production with students from the University of Leipzig in Germany, visited family friends in Norway, and spent 10 days on a research exchange in Hong Kong. When she isn't planning her next adventure, you can find her taking photos, getting lost, pretending to be athletic, or cooking something that usually includes noodles. Follow Kate on Instagram @kmhiller527.


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