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Published: June 29th 2006
I am writing from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, located in the southern part of the country, just north of Peru. I’ll say more on Guayaquil soon. I’ve included a few more photos from Lima, and yes, none of them show much sun. It is just how Lima is this time of year. However, one day last week there actually was a day of partial sun which was terrific. The city just seemed so much more pleasant and the Miraflores section, where I am staying, felt a lot like Miami Beach.
My blog entries are usual very upbeat and several people have commented that I rarely seem to have many “issues” in my travels whether it is getting lost or being ripped off, or some other issue. Well, that changes in this blog entry as I spent four of my first seven days in Lima hanging around the B&B, mostly in room (thank God for TV and Internet access!) due to nasty case of upset stomach—“Delhi belly”—or whatever you want to call it. It was the first time in quite a few years that I actually got sick on the road. I enjoy sampling local food so perhaps it was that.
I also think eating something that did not agree with me, plus my running around Lima like a madman for the first three days, wanting to see everything, and not to mention the change in climate, could have done me in. Luckily, by the time I was ready to fly to Guayaquil, my stomach problems had subsided.
Ah…flying in Latin America….
Since I moved to Costa Rica over a year ago, I have been flying TACA Airlines (www.TACA.com) fairly consistently as they fly to many destinations in Central and South America, and between both. So, I booked a ticket from Lima to Guayaquil on TACA.
My friendly taxi driver in Lima picks me up on Friday morning at 7:30am so I would have plenty of time to arrive at the airport, check in, and all of that, for my 10:40am flight. It was fun to drive between the B&B and the airport as I got to see a lot of Lima at an early hour: people hopping on buses to get to work, shops opening, and more generally, the hustle and bustle of the city. I also saw some fairly cruddy parts of the city, areas in
desperate need of redevelopment.
On the way, my driver puts on the radio to listen to some English language music and the third song is “YMCA” by the Village People. So there I am in a taxi in Lima and my driver is singing along with the radio, even briefly removing his hands from the steering wheel to make the “Y” sign with his hands during the “Y-M-C-A” part of the song! If that wasn’t funny enough, that evening—and now I’m in Guayaquil”—I see a bunch of people doing the same thing in a bar near my hotel! I’m not sure if there is some hidden meaning in coming across this campy American song twice in one day in two different countries. Whatever its meaning, if any, it sure was unusual
I arrived at the new, modern airport in Lima right on schedule and fortunately the check-in line at the TACA counter was not terribly crowded. However, I knew as soon as the customer service agent handed me a “food voucher” at check-in that we wouldn’t be leaving on time (geez, my former airline experience paid off!). The agent told me the flight would be an
hour late I leaving. I thought it was odd that she would give me a food voucher for an hour delay but I gladly accepted it and had breakfast courtesy of TACA, not giving it much more thought.
I should have given the flight delay more thought. When I arrived at the gate about an hour later (after the worst breakfast I’ve ever had, consisting of way overcooked eggs and something that looked liked sausage but tasted like something I was not familiar with), the board still read 10:40am for the flight’s departure and no one was around. So, I sat and waited and waited some more. Finally, after two hours, an agent arrived at the gate. She told that there was bad weather in Guayaquil and the flight would not leave until 1:15pm, in another 2.5 hours!
In another 2.5 hours I inquired about the flight again and was told it would leave at 2:30pm. We finally took off at 3:45pm over five hours after its scheduled departure! Funny, I saw the LAN flight for Guayaquil, two gates down, take off at 10:30am, right on time. I had a choice between the two airlines and chose TACA.
I guess the LAN flight didn’t have the same weather problems in Guayaquil as the TACA flight!
What bugged me the most about this experience—and I’m no stranger to flight delays—is that no one from TACA every apologized for the delay either in the airport or even when we were on the plane. Luckily, I’ve learned to have some patience living in Latin America (reading a good book helped pass the time too) and frankly, I didn’t have any pressing business in Guayaquil.
The tropical city of Guayaquil….
I have to admit I knew very little about Guayaquil. In fact, I had rarely heard about it before making this trip. Ecuador’s other large city, Quito, was somewhat familiar to me having read it in several books, but on Guayaquil, I all I knew about it was what the famous travel writer Paul Theroux had said about it in “The Old Patagonian Express:” “Visitors to Guayaquil are urged to raise their eyes, for on a clear day it is possible to see the snowy hood of Mount Chimborazo from the humid streets this stinking city; and if you look down, all you see is rats.” Theroux’s book is
some 15 years old now so I hope it has improved since then.
I knew Guayaquil was not really my destination, only a jumping off point for other things I’ll be doing later, but nonetheless I figured I should know something about the city, since I’d be spending a few days here. I did a day-long tour of the city, mostly walking, and discovered it actually is a fairly pleasant city once you starting observing it more closely. At first, the ride from the airport to the center gives a bad impression as all you see for miles are run-down buildings, However, some of the colonial style that have seen better days, I could imagine were quite impressive 50 or 100 years ago. However, once you get out and walk it actually isn’t so bad. It is fairly clean and since Theroux’s assessment, many parts of the city have been redeveloped.
Once of the city’s proudest accomplishments is the building of “Malecon 2000,” the redeveloped waterfront area featuring long boardwalks with views of the dirty brown River Guayas, numerous restaurants, an IMAX theater and green spaces with benches. I walked much it and thoroughly enjoyed the sunny skies
and warm temperatures, particularly compared to my first week in forever shrouded Lima.
One of the things you notice in Latin America during World Cup time is that most businesses—bars, restaurants, even “convenience stores”—all have a game showing and people standing on the street nearby watching, no matter who is playing. It certainly is huge down here. One of the more unusual things I witnessed was a “half time” show during one of the games, consisting of three men, apparently analyzing the game that was on at that hour. I couldn’t tell if was an Ecuadorian television station, but all three of the commentators were smoking cigarettes and had ashtrays in front of them! I cannot remember the last time I saw commentator on television smoking a cigarette. Maybe it was a spoof and I didn’t realize it, but I don’t think it was.
While Ecuador is largely known as an Andean nation, Guayaquil does not have that feel. It has a Caribbean feel due to its proximity to the Gulf of Guayaquil and because this city of over 4 million people is very racially mixed and includes Asians, mestizos, and black Ecuadorians. It’s also a sweltering city
during the summer, and where there is heat, there is a relaxed atmosphere.
Two Generals meet in Guayaquil….
Guayaquil’s fame to claim is that two of Latin America’s greatest generals in the struggle for independence from Spain, Simón Bolívar and Jose de San Martín, met here in 1822. A large statue at the Malecon 2000 commemorates this meeting and apparently while both men wanted independence, Bolívar wanted Guayaquil as part of his notion of a greater “Gran Columbia,” while San Martín wanted Guayaquil as part of Peru. Apparently, Bolívar won out and on the evening of their meeting, San Martín quietly went back to Peru while Bolívar danced the night away with the ladies of Guayaquil, eventually becoming the sole “protector” of the continent.
Simón Bolívar Park, in the center of Guayaquil was one of the most interesting parks I’ve seen in South America—and every town has several parks, usually with a church on one side. However, what was interesting about this park was the number of iguanas in the park I tried to count them all but stopped at 50. The seven or eight green spaces in between the walkways had iguanas in each of them.
Some were small but many were quite large, perhaps four or five feet long from head to tail. They were also on some of the walkways, a few were on benches and several were in the trees above. In fact, I saw a few locals get “spat on” by a few of them in the trees. I also saw one rather large iguana lose his footing on a branch of a tree and fall about 25 feet to the grass below. It didn’t seem to bother him as he simply regained his composure and scurried away. I am not sure I’d want to walk in this park at night because I’d fear stepping on one of them!
More World Cup action….
Last week I watched the Brazil play along with dozens of Brazilians living in Lima. This week, I watched Ecuador play England (Ecuador lost 1-0) on the streets of Guayaquil along with thousands of Guayaquilians. You definitely get the sense there is a ton of national pride here, and frankly, not the discrimination you see among races in Peru. The majority of Ecuador’s players are from a remote area in the central part of their country, and
they’re known as “black Ecuadorians.” Descendants of slaves who toiled in Ecuador’s vast banana, coca and other agricultural areas, these players are revered as gods throughout the country. It was quite and experience to watch the game along with the local, share their ups and downs, and take it all in. When the game ended, rather than leaving the area where televisions were provided by store owners (and even on the back of pickup trucks), with their heads down, they stuck around, sang the country’s national anthem and cheered for their country, win or lose.
That is all for this week! More places to discover in the coming week, so stay tuned!
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