Two perks of being a teacher in South America are vacation time and easy travel options. For me, this meant 3 weeks to explore and several inexpensive airlines to choose from. Based on my slim volunteer budget, I elected to go to two countries: Ecuador, which has recently piqued my interest, and Perú, which I have dreamed of visiting for years.
Stepping off the AeroGal plane in Guayaquil, I arrived to a climate similar to Barranquilla: hot, sticky days and breezy, balmy nights. A short taxi ride took me to the 3rd-floor-up Re Bed and Breakfast, where co-owner Fede greeted me warmly, mixing Spanish and English, describing the Centro district as “totally walkable,” pointing out places of interest on a map. I couldn’t wait to get started on my 5 day visit to this river-bordered town, officially named Santiago de Guayaquil, which resembles a hybrid of an Inca-influenced tapestry and a Méxican fishing pueblo.
Re Bed + Breakfast and El Centro
My first instinct when traveling is to find a local supermarket. Fede from Re suggested a small supermercado nearby, and while the downtown streets were dark at 7:00 pm, they were still busy with people and felt relatively safe. Once inside, I was fascinated with the store’s selection of traditional Ecuadorian foods and brands, all at very low prices in US dollars. Twenty-seven cents for a bag of chifles (plantain chips). Two dollars for a stack of large, fresh flour tortillas. A dollar for several Kolosso chocolates. I returned with my goods and cooked a delicious meal for one in their spacious, clean kitchen.
After a restful night in a cozy bed, I woke to a full breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh juice and coffee served with a warm smile by Hector. As with my time in Bogotá, I planned my days around the World Cup 2014 schedule, returning each afternoon to Re, where I enjoyed watching games on their large, flat-screen TV with Ana, Fede and a few other guests.
For one of the Ecuador games, several of Ana’s friends came over and we celebrated the team’s 2-1 victory over Honduras, I grew to appreciate my stay at Re, which is more being at a friend’s house.
As the days melded together, I fell in love with Guayaquil. From my first day’s visit to the beautiful, nature-focused Parque Histórico to my final hours perusing the tiendas and souvenir shops of the Artisanal Market, each moment in this pretty city delighted me more than the next.
[Please note all days are scattered around FIFA World Cup 2014 schedules. It should also be noted that on my current volunteer budget, I did not go to Galapagos Island, but stayed all 5 days in Guayaquil, and it was perfect.]
Museo Nahim Isaias, Catedral Metropolitana, Parque Seminario (a.k.a. Parque Bolivar Park or Iguanas Park)
This small museum is made of several rooms linked together on the 3rd floor of an office building. The current exhibition, presented in dimly-lit rooms, revolves around the theme of the 4 elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth), which have interactive displays triggered by motion: as you enter each room, sounds and sensations of the elements begin. There is also a vast collection of gorgeous religious statues, as well as iconic paintings, all presented under spotlights.
Catedral Metropolitana, Parque Seminario
Parque Seminario, also known as Parque Bolivar Park or Iguanas Park, is a grassy plaza across front the Catedral Metropolitana where dozens of huge, tame iguanas lounge on park benches and hang from overhead tree branches.
With a phobia of iguanas, I wasn’t sure this would be on my list of Things to Do in Guayaquil, but once in the park, I noticed if I stayed one or two steps ahead, the mighty green ones couldn’t get too close. After several squeamish minutes, I headed to the Catedral Metropolitana and thanked God for protecting me from the mini dinosaurs.
The Malécon 2000 of Guyaquil, is mostly just a large, wooden walkway along the Guayas River, with a few vendors and restaurants available.
Beginning at the Crystal Palace, and passing the beautiful Moorish clock tower, the Malécon provided a relaxing path to walk without traffic. At the end of the Malécon, near the Museo de Antropologia y Arte Contemporaneo (MAAC), with its collection of pottery, artifacts and a small modern art exhibit space, I stumbled upon a school-centered cultural event celebrating the native languages of Ecuador.
Kichwa and Fiesta del Inti Raymi 2014
A centuries-old celebration of the Sun, Guayaquil’s Fiesta del Inti Raymi (Fiesta del Sol, en Quichua) was colorful and inspiring, resplendent with traditional dance and costumes.
Clearly the only blonde tourist inside the event, a man asked, “Are you an English teacher in Ecuador?” to which I responded, “I am a volunteer teacher in Colombia.” He quickly grabbed a chair for me and said, “Sit, and please, enjoy our presentation!”
After watching several dances, I checked out a few booths promoting Kichwa, culture, and food, including one honoring Dolores Cacuango, a pioneer of the indigenous rights movement in Ecuador. It was refreshing and inspiring to feel the pride and joy of the friendly students and teachers of this great event.
Las Peñas, El Faro and the Chapel of Santa Ana
After my fill of Kichwa, I headed to Las Peñas, a colorful stair-ladened barrio with little houses and cobblestone streets. Winding my way through the multi-leveled neighborhood, I finally reached the infamous “444 Steps,” which felt more like 544, as the stairs taunted me “just one more!…”
At the top of Las Peñas is a beautiful small Faro overlooking Guayaquil, as well as the picturesque tiny chapel of Santa Ana, with a spectacular view of the city.
Leaving Las Peñas, I made my way down to the impressive Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Guayaquil’s first church, built in 1548.
Parque Historico – structures, screamers y más
In addition to a spacious, boardwalk-pathed walking zoo featuring multicolored birds, lazy sloths and exotic large rodents indigenous to South America, Parque Historico boasts a relocated colonial street front and beautiful marshland.
The colonial “urban architecture” area includes several residential homes, commercial businesses and the breathtaking Corazón de Jesús Hospice.
Playas General Villamil – a bouncy bus ride and tattoos on the beach
Guayaquil, like Barranquilla, is not directly on a beach: people think “coastal,” but the coast is about an hour’s bus ride away. Leaving early in the morning, I took the modern Metrovia from El Centro to the massive Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil, where I purchased a ticket to Playas for about $2.20 US. After an hour on a bumpy highway, I arrived to a pueblito with a busy downtown boasting ceviche restaurants and heladarias.
Two girls selling suntan lotion out of a wagon pointed me in the direction of the beach, and within a few minutes I arrived to a large sandy coast scattered with cabanas, round seafood restaurants topped with palm fronds, and beach chairs for rent by the day. I bargained down my single seat from $5.00 US to $3.00 using hand signals with the vendor and sunk into a cozy chaise.
I spent most of my beach afternoon with a family of local police officers, who shared large bottles of Pilsener and stories of their daily lives in the village of Playas. As the day passed, I soaked in the Ecuador sun, eating fresh, warm chifles from vendors and watching Fernando get a tattoo right there on the beach. Heading out just before sunset, I enjoyed a savory, seafood-based casserole from a street side restaurant before catching another bouncy bus back to Guayaquil.
Besos y Abrazos, Guayaquil
The day of my flight to Lima, Perú, I realized my Spanish still needs improvement when Ana woke me at 4:30 a.m. to tell me my taxi was waiting downstairs. I had asked for a 4:30 cab ride to the airport, but remembered she had asked me earlier, “¿mañana?” which meant in the morning, and I replied, “si, mañana” which (to me) meant tomorrow.
After a brief apology to each other, Ana sent the taxi away and we both went back to sleep, waking the next day to laugh over my “taxi translation.” Riding in the (afternoon, correct) cab to the airport, I said a happy-sad goodbye to Guayaquil, understanding why the Ecuador Ministerio de Tourism boasts, “Ama la Vida,” (Love the Life). Living here, it’s probably the easiest thing to do.