September 8-10, 2007
To get to the Galapagos, you have to fly, and the cheapest location to fly from is good old Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. I had already been there a couple times to use the airport, but this time I got there a few days before my flight to check the city out.
I stayed with Mauricio from Couchsurfing, who lived with his brother and parents in an apartment in a really nice part of the city. Mauricio is studying tourism now, but once traveled around the US by car, going from the east coast to the west. He's currently planning an overland trip to California. I also got to meet a lot of Mauricio's extended family, who spoiled me with their hospitality.
The first thing Mauricio and I did was go to a tourism exposition in a huge convention center near the airport. I got more info about the Galapagos and other parts of Ecuador, but the most interesting thing about the convention was that I ran into Veronica, one of the people I went canoing with down the Mamore River in Bolivia over a year ago. It was a crazy coincidence because she lived in Quito and I had no idea she was even in Guayaquil, a city of over two million. She just happened to be working for a tourism company and was presenting at the exposition. We caught up on old times a bit, and maybe I'll run into her again later when I visit Quito.
There was also a festival this weekend near Mauricio's apartment. It was one of those places where you first have to buy tickets if you want to purchase the overpriced food and drinks. Luckily, pizza was going for only $1 per slice, a comparative bargain. While we were walking around the festival grounds, we saw a bunch of screaming, bright-eyed girls looking at the stage, where some guy was singing. Mauricio told me his name was Loco, and he was indeed quite famous. So I guess I'm becoming clueless about Latin pop culture, too. After the festival, there was an incredible sunset (sometimes smog can be a good thing), and a fireworks show, which I could see clearly because Mauricio lived in the only tall building in his neighborhood.
On my last day in Guayaquil, Mauricio took me downtown. First we walked past the usual government buildings and museums. Everywhere we walked, we saw people holding up political signs because the constitution was going to be rewritten, and the people had to decided which political party got to rewrite it. The confusing part was that the parties in Ecuador all had numbers instead of names. So if I were Ecuadorian, would I vote for 6, 14, 27, or 35? I haven't got a clue.
Next, Mauricio and I walked to the seafront. It looked nice, but Mauricio told me it used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Guayaquil. If you had gone there a few years ago, you would have been guaranteed to get robbed. Now, according to Mauricio, you're safer there than outside a police station. I didn't dispute him considering that there were more officers there than a police station could hold.
The most interesting part of the seafront was the big clock tower, or at least the story behind it. One day many years ago, an American couple were admiring the clock when a smooth-talking man approached them with an offer they couldn't refuse. He said he owned the clock and needed to sell it quickly. After some deliberation, the couple agreed to buy the clock for what seemed like a cheap price. Except of course, the clock was property of the city, and the couple had been conned. The grifter continued scamming people for some time, but now he's sitting in jail. Now the only landmark in Guayaquil for sale is the statue of Simon Bolivar shaking hands with Ecuador's first president, which I happen to own and am selling for only $250,000.
We ended our tour with a trip up a big hill, which used to be another slum. Now it's a bunch of trendy restaurants, bars, and colorful houses. All of the drug dealers, thieves, and thugs have been kicked out and are presently living in the slum on the next hill over. At the top of the hill was a lighthouse with a view of the city. Guayaquil still didn't top my list of favorite places in South America, but at least I had someone fun to hang out with during my stay there.
The photo album for this entry is here.