Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to life, back to a sweaty reality.

Once again just as soon as we’d met someone we really liked it was time to move on. Unlike Annie, we had nothing keeping us in Riobamba and the Galapagos Islands were waiting for us. So we said goodbye and exchanged emails then hopped in a taxi to the bus station. There was a bus leaving shortly and we rushed to get our tickets and onboard before it took off. Unfortunately that was the most rushing of the day as the highway was half under construction. Instead of a 4.5 hour trip it took us almost 6 hours to get to Guayaquil and as we came down out of the mountains, it became a stifling 6 hours once the heat and humidity hit us. It was sweaty but also nice to be back in a tropical climate.

The bus headed over a long bridge which took us right into Guayaquil and to the bus station. Like Quito, the bus station was huge and looked just like an airport terminal. My confusion wasn’t helped by the planes landing next to us, over us and all around us. I wondered briefly if the bus had pulled into the wrong terminal until I saw other buses parked in the terminal. Apparently the airport was just on the other side of the runway. But since this was a big transportation hub finding a taxi was as easy as stepping out the door where hundreds were lined up. Finding one that knew where our hostel was a little more difficult. Our hostel was in a residential area and new so it had yet to register with any of the cabbies. Thankfully another person standing nearby was able to help out and help us get a decent price. Despite the cheap price, my love for Ecuadorian transport had been dulled by our bus robbery. So there will be no more jumping up and down at the prices.

Indeed the hostel was a house, a big house in what looked like a fairly wealthy area of the city. But it was also close to a grocery store and tones of restaurants. And the hostel, although once a home, was well equipped and new. The rooms were comfy and clean and breakfast was included as was use of the big pool. We took advantage of our new “western conveniences” (please say that in Adrian’s accent – it’s his term) and had dinner at Burger King then headed to bed. The heat had whacked us out so you can forgive our lack of food creativity. Exploring the new city would have to wait until tomorrow.

Actually the next day I didn’t feel like doing much either, but Adrian was able to convince me to get out of the house, I mean, hostel. We hopped on a local bus (25¢) that took us to the heart of the city. As we drove downtown, Guayaquil was unimpressive and looked like any other Latin American city. Big. Hot. Dirty. Congested. Some of the streets even reminded me of the avenues in New York. But that changed when we got off at the Malecon. For the millennium, the city had done up the riverfront as a brand-new promenade which was very unlike other Malecon’s we had seen. It was all wood and steel with just enough shade to help us escape the hot sun. It was fun just to walk the length and take in some of the monuments incorporated in the design, including the Bolivar and Martin rotunda (photo above) where we stopped to test our knowledge of Latin American flags (perfect score). But we veered off it and into the city when we saw some old buildings. There was the city hall, a museum complex and a bank and eventually the main square and the cathedral. Oh yes, another main plaza. But this one was different. Sure there were trees and statues and people selling stuff. However, this park had more iguanas than people. (On a side note I just had to look up what a group of lizards are called – it’s a lounge of lizards, fyi). They were on every surface and many were either territorial or horny as we saw quite a few iguana fights going on so we hung out and watched the action hoping to see one defensively drop its tail. Alas we only saw one weird tale thing and that was a three pronged deformity which was just gross so we headed back to the Malecon where we gave into temptation and treated ourselves to a McFlurry. It was ridiculously expensive (almost $3) and I’m sure the price was somehow rigged to the temperature outside so that the hotter it got the more they charged. However, it was delicious and cold and a lot less messy than an ice cream cone would have been in that heat.

At the end of the Malecon was the contemporary art gallery which we could see before we could get in – some bad signage had us walking into dead ends before we finally found the entrance. Inside the air conditioning was a welcome reprieve and the museum wasn’t bad either. There was a small museum that was a miniature of the one we’d visited in Quito. But we zipped through it since we’d already had our fill of pots and arrow heads. But the art gallery was fun. Rather than being divided up by style or era, it was more educational and the categorized by method, technique and theme with signs that tried to explain how to appreciate modern art. However when faced with a forest of 6 foot tall pencils hanging from the ceiling only the artist can truly explain the where, what, how and why.

When we were done, Adrian decided we should explore the hill where the old-style clapboard houses still existed. A road lead up and around the hill and it was pretty. Most of the old shuttered homes were now expensive shops and art galleries catering to the tourists though. As we were taking in the sights a voice called out from up above, “Are you Canadian?” I looked around and finally located the speaker two floors up hanging out a window. I asked him how he knew and he pointed to my Mountain Equipment Co-op handbag. The guy was on the phone and returned back to his conversation so I’m not sure if we were supposed to go out for poutine and beavertails. I just smiled and waved goodbye and kept walking. I guess the MEC logo is the new Canadian flag. Good to know we were so easily identifiable especially as it began to get dark and the area was closing up leaving us vulnerable. We headed back down to the Malecon and found the bus back to the hostel. Adrian got off at the laundromat to pick up our clothes and I headed back to the hostel. When he returned back to the hostel, we headed out for sushi (I know, sushi in Ecuador made by actual Japanese folks, amazing. And no, although Adrian did try some sushi, he ate the cooked salmon.) and then it was an early night. Because tomorrow we were off on our big Galapagos adventure.

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