Ecuador Day 1: Guayaquil

 Green Iguana, Parque de las Iguana, Guayaquil

On Christmas this Traveler met Travelers Ten and Thirteen at the airport to begin our journey to Ecuador. First stop: the city of Guayaquil. Traveler Nine would meet us as he was already there visiting family.

For me, this trip started with an email. I opened my work email one morning to find that  Traveler Thirteen was inviting me to to go to the Galapagos but the caveat being I had about 4 hours to make up my mind. Seeing as I've always wanted to go there I threw worries about the state of my bank account to the wind and said yes. I also ignored the fact that I had just had my left foot put in a cast and wouldn't be getting out of it until right before we left. But, hey, when opportunities like this come my way I don't hesitate, even facing the possibility of having to hop around Ecuador on one foot and wondering how one carries camera equipment that way.

We also started off our journey having no idea how we were getting to certain locations (like Quito and the Mindo region, which we planned to visit after the Galapagos). But as the best journeys go the ways appeared just as they should as if by magic.

And, as all good journeys do, this one began with food. Ten, Thirteen and I had the world's worst quesadillas at Logan International Airport. We arrived at JFK airport and had another dinner. This one was more edible. Then we entered my version of airline paradise: LAN airlines. I have to say this, for the most part, South American airlines are so much more pleasant than our national carriers here in the U.S. We had dinner #3 on board our flight to Guayaquil and then sat back in our coach seats (that came with foot rests!) and with stomachs rather over full, tried to sleep the rest of the way to Ecuador.

Traveler Nine met us with his neighbor at the airport in Guayaquil. His neighbor had a van. It was a very small van. It was red. We broke several laws of physics getting all five us in the van with our luggage. We began stage one of our adventure by first braving the traffic in Guayaquil. As a veteran driver of Boston traffic I do not say lightly that the traffic in Ecuador is truly impressive. You do not drive defensively in Ecuador. You drive on the offensive just as if you would during a zombie apocalypse with several hundred zombies converging on your car where you have to swerve to either avoid them or run them straight down depending on what strategy was best called for at the moment.

Guayaquil from Santa Ana Hill.
Click for larger image.

Guayaquil is the largest city and port in Ecuador. It's in a state of flux. It is visibly trying to improve itself. There is poverty. There are stray dogs eating garbage. The air is gray half the day and it smells like car exhaust. Homes are set beyond walls lined with broken glass and gated communities abound. It is hotter than hell. Yet there is beauty (the tile work on the supports of underpasses are some of the best examples of public art I have ever seen). There is great vibrancy to the people, the food, some amazing neighborhoods and the beautiful river front area. And there is an entire park filled with iguanas (for those of us obsessed with wildlife).

Guayas River, from Santa Ana Hill.
Click for larger image. 

We had breakfast number one with Traveler Nine's family. Yogurt here is great. So is granola. I believe there was also a very good ham sandwich involved. After being introduced to our rooms in the family compound -- mine came with its own pet lizard who lives in the window treatments -- and taking a nap, we headed out into Guayaquil.

Now here is where I have to say something about Time. Time in Ecuador passes differently than anywhere else I have been. Somehow you can fit three days of activity in one. There is time to do things here, more time than seems natural. A day covers days and a week seems like a lovely, long month filled with amazing things. It's really weird. It's really cool.

The colorful neighborhood of Las Peñas

We got dropped off where the boardwalk along the river and the refurbished neighborhood of Las Peñas meet. Las Peñas is one of the oldest areas in the city. It has been reclaimed by artists, bars and restaurants. The old homes here show off some of the amazing craftsmanship from years gone by. The woodwork is astounding. There are 465 steps (or 444 or 456 depending on what sources you read... basically, there are A LOT of steps) leading to the top of the hill the neighborhood wraps around where you will find the Chapel of Santa Ana and amazing views of the city and surrounding countryside.

After descending the hill we four travelers had Second Breakfast just like good little hobbits. In fact, we'd eat like hobbits for the rest of the trip. This was our first, but certainly not our last, taste of tostones: plantains with cheese. Delicious!

Gratuitous duck shot. For more on why I have to include a shot of ducks in at least one of my posts per location visit my Scotland pages. I have no idea what kind of ducks these are.

 Snowy egret

We wandered the boardwalk along the river and then found our way to the Parque de las Iguanas (Iguana Park). Here hundreds of green iguanas can be seen and beg for food just like pigeons. They are everywhere. Remember to look up in wonder at the hundreds of iguanas basking in the trees overhead. Just be careful of iguanas relieving themselves...

Green Iguana, Parque de las Iguana, Guayaquil

 Green Iguana, Parque de las Iguana, Guayaquil

Iguanas, Parque de las Iguana, Guayaquil

Iguanas, Parque de las Iguana, Guayaquil

Then it was time for lunch (or perhaps this was Second Lunch or an early Tea). We went to La Canoa, located across the street from the park. The food was amazing. I had some sort of pork dish with a cheesy potato creation and corn in a peanut sauce. I could have eaten an entire vat of the corn in peanut sauce.

Somewhere in here there were visits to two different malls. Then it was back to Traveler Nine's family house to pack for the Galapagos!

That night we managed to have two dinners (we had really turned into hobbits by this point). The last of which was sitting on the river front watching boats go by and wondering in amazement that it was only the first day in this astounding country. And it is astounding. In Alice in Wonderland the Red Queen says "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." One thing Ecuador promises visitors is that you will see six totally impossible things and seven completely amazing things by Second Breakfast or First Lunch. It all depends on how you look at it.

Next stop the Galapagos Islands...

If anyone can identify this bird for me please let me know. I don't know what it is.