Defending Guayaquil


This blog entry about the events of Friday, November 14, 2003 was originally posted on November 15, 2003.

DAY 27: “You know what I heard?” Anita said at breakfast.

“What’s that?” I answered.

“That the train derails, for the tourists, so they can take pictures.”

I had met Anita in Spanish school in Quito, and we had both finished and headed south at about the same time.  She and her friend — I forget her name — were having breakfast at the cafe in my hostel in Cuenca and were planning to head to the Peruvian border afterwards.

“I’ll probably see you somewhere south,” I said.

“Most likely.”

However, I was not headed south like most of the backpackers.  I was headed west towards the coast, to the city of Guayaquil.  Chris was headed that way too and so we met up to split a cab to the bus terminal.  Pepe tagged along as well to split it three ways.

I bid farewill to Pepe as he was headed south with the rest.  Chris and I got tickets for an express bus for Guayaquil.

AFTER A THREE HOUR DRIVE through ear-popping, motion-sickness inducing mountain roads, we descended down and out of the Andes, through a thick rain cloud and made it to sea level.  Immediately the weather transformed from cool mountain breezes to the humidity and heat of the tropics.

We rode another hour through small towns and passed banana orchards, all the while listening to the salsa CDs the driver was blasting.  Gradually the rural tropics transformed into the suburbs and into the urban area of the busy Guayaquil bus station.

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR’S LARGEST CITY (Quito the capital is the second largest), is a sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Rio Guayas.  I had received many warnings about going to Guayaquil prior to my arrival:  Carmen, my Spanish school’s director said the pickpockets are very aggressive.  Blanca, my host mother, told me it was straight out dangerous.  John, my one-time Aussie “brother” from Quito, once told me that he had taken a bus to Guayaquil, walked around for two hours and then left.  His reason:  “There weren’t any gringos around.”

However, I didn’t let this stop me.

Chris and I split a cab and a room in a hostel with a private bathroom, TV and, more importantly, air conditioning.  After lunch, we wandered into the main part of town.  The streets and sidewalks were clean and everything looked nice for a modern city, despite Lonely Planet’s suggestion that Guayaquil was nothing more than a big city with lots of crime and traffic. 

“I’m really impressed with this place, as far as Westernized cities go,” Chris said.  “The book almost said to avoid this city.”

I wondered if the lack of gringos was due to the semi-negative write-up in the Lonely Planet guide.  It’s amazing how Lonely Planet controls the direction and opinions of the backpacker set.  The thing about Guayaquil is it’s a real city.  Coming from metro New York City, I can appreciate this.  Quito is a real city too, but the tourists often just see GringoLand — with its backpacker standards of vegetarian restaurants and nightclubs — and therefore like it much better.  Whether you travel to do the same old “backpacker thing” or experience a different culture — modern or not — is up to the traveler I suppose.

CHRIS AND I walked the streets and to the main plaza and the plaza near the cathedral.  In the plaza, iguanas walked on the lawn like squirrels in the North American suburbs.  Nearby was a well-cared for fish pond and turtle pinTropical vegetation surrounded us, with bright flowers, plants and mangrove trees.

Surely there was more to this “crime and traffic ridden city” than Lonely Planet had described.

Clean, modern brick streets led to the new riverfront district — which wasn’t around at the time the Lonely Planet guide was written.  If the book was up-to-date, perhaps they might have described the riverfront as a beautiful promenade of modern architecture and design with gardens, contemporary wooden footbridges and monuments (picture above), all lines with shops, cafes and ice cream parlors.  I got a Baskin Robbins X-Mint and managed to smudge it all over my face.

USING THE POSTINGS ON THIS BLOG, I managed to track down Navid, who was staying at a hostel four blocks from mine.  I caught up with him there.  He was complaining that Guayaquil was a cesspool — perhaps influenced by the Lonely Planet guide? — but that was only based on seeing the seedy, sketchy areas where the hostels were centralized.  He had arrived in the city the night before and complained that the people in Guayaquil didn’t even attempt to try to understand broken Spanish, unlike Quito and Baños.  (This I was okay with me because I couldn’t give a shit about tourists in New York’s Times Square.)

Determined to change his negative view of the city, I led Navid into the newer part of town with the cathedral and the clean streets.  I showed him the iguanas, all of which were leaving the lawn and climbing the trees for the night.

“Hey, it’s actually not that bad,” he said.  “What a difference four blocks makes.”  We wandered around the riverfront area until dusk, when all the trees and fountains along the river were lit up with sparkly lights.

“Oh, the river front is very beautifully done,” Chris said when we bumped into him.  The Lonely Planet guide didn’t get him down.

EVERYONE IN TOWN was gathered in front of electronics stores to watch the big soccer game on TV: Ecuador vs. Paraguay.  It was an important game that led to World Cup contention, and you could really feel the energy of the fanaticism in the streets. 

The three of us found a restaurant that had the game on, and we watched along with the citizens of Guayaquil over steak sandwiches and beer.  I really wanted Ecuador to win because two years before, I was in Lima watching Ecuador vs. Peru, in hopes of being a part of a big victory street party — only to have the home team lose.  Now was my next chance.

Ecuador lost to Paraguay, 2 to 1.

“I think there’s going to be a riot in the streets,” I said.  But there was none.

WE WENT TO AN INTERNET CAFE where I was hoping I could hook up my camera to upload the much needed pictures missing from this blog.  However, I couldn’t.  Instead, I passed the time looking up flights for the Galapagos.  Navid was on the other side of the room, but I contacted him through Yahoo! Messenger. 

Me:  I’m looking up flights on the Tame website.
Navid:  I’m having sex.

Even in a big city like Guayaquil you can stop into an internet cafe and have fun with a little cybersex.  And that’s something that the Lonely Planet guide never mentioned.

If you have already pledged or donated to The Global Trip 2004 Pledge Drive and have NOT sent me your address via email, please do so.  (I don’t have everyone’s ZIPs, ya know…)  The first wave of postcards will come from the islands hopefully.

Next entry: Line of Hope

Previous entry: A Day “On” in Cuenca

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Comments for “Defending Guayaquil”

  • nice entry. We can’t wait to read your new adventures in the galapagos!

    Have fun and be safe.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/15  at  02:28 PM

  • hopefully someone from lonely planet is reading this and decides to hire cool people to do their research!  if someone says “dont go there it is dangerous”, they really mean “hey check that place out, its really interesting and has nice people”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/15  at  02:56 PM

  • UH-OH!!! a possible N.I.Z for an entire week??!! what are we to do?

    good you went to guayaquil & ignored all the bad talk about it! sounds like a nice place… too bad no photos:(

    well, HAVE FUN!! we’ll be waiting for all the galapagos gossip when you’re back in the zone!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/15  at  04:17 PM

  • Erik:  Would you like to write for LP or Let’s Go?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/15  at  05:45 PM

  • HEY, whaddaya know…there’s internet in the Galapagos…  still looking for a place that will connect my camera easily…

    TD0T:  Don’t know how much of a guide writer I am…as you can see, I’m much more of a narrative guy…  have you picked up the latest Travelers Tales book that I’m in?  check it out:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/15  at  09:22 PM

  • PEPE:  hope you get to Lima on time…  you can use this blog to post me messages…perhaps we’ll meet up somewhere south…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  12:07 AM

  • gila monsters meet you at the airport….so how do you feel about iguanas?

    feelings….by aliki!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  12:09 AM

  • Erik, First,  I am really enjoying your blog, it’s terrific, between you and Navid I feel like I’m traveling in South America too.  Love the pictures.  Second, you sure have a knack for timing, do you plan that or what?  You should know by now when Navid hits the internet cafe, give him privacy, he’s talking to me and we have (important!!)  things to talk about!!  HA! HA!  Keep up the good work!!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  01:52 AM

  • Beautiful pics, city, & iguanas.  smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  02:19 AM

  • ya, so guayaquil might have a few streets & a waterfront that are nice & artificially beautified for local & international tourists, but I still think the place is a dump- crowded, dirty & polluted with rude people- it maybe a “real” city, but not neccessarily desirable…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  02:32 AM

  • DA:  hahaha…i usually don’t pry what other people are up to on their computers… I wouldn’t have known what Navid was up to unless he told me straight up!  (the IM dialogue above is verbatim from my screen)

    NAVID:  true, Guayaquil has nothing on the Galapagos…although I accept that modern Westernized life is inevitably a part of Ecuadorean life…  A lot of people don’t think NYC is desirable, but it’s my kinda town…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  03:13 AM

  • MOMAN:  the guayaquil scenario sound a bit familiar? (i.e. the south bronx conception)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  03:57 AM

  • beautiful city.. cleaner than any i’ve ever seen.. looks so inviting.. well, with the exception of the IGUANAS!!! jesus those things are big.. i’d take the little lizards in the philippines over those things any day..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  05:26 AM

  • HAMMERHEADS! man, I am so jealous, I want to be there with you. Hopefully you’ll make friends with an eel! wink

    Be safe diving!

    (I loved the Iguanas)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  02:40 PM

  • Hot damn, the Galapagos already! This is great stuff, the pics really prove your point… those Lonely Planet guys missed the boat on that city. Anywho, I saw Master & Commander last night—love my Russell Crowe, ya know. They did some shooting in the Galapagos too. It looks so lonely, so untouched. Can’t wait to see and hear more on your island hopping excursion. That $12.50 went a long way, your room’s view is beautiful. By the way, no photo with ice cream smeared on your face? You’re slipping pal.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  03:13 PM

  • have u had deep fried iguanas yet? they really shouldn’t discriminate. If you can have deep fried gerbils, they should have deep fry lizards too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  03:48 PM

  • Yo Erik,
    Am in Lima right now. Couldn’t stand another busride for a while so I booked a flight from Piura. Yesterday was great. First I was jumped by a horde of chicas who thought that I was a member of some Brazilian popband who were in town. All were about 16 or thereabouts so before I got into trouble with the law I fled. They had a football match here as well, Peru v Brasil. Peru didn’t win (would like to have seen the scenes in the street then!) but didn’t lose either (1-1 draw), so everyone was happy anyway. Got drunk with some Peruvian guy and a Frenchman who were staying in the same hotel. Regretted that early this morning when I went to the airport. That’s why at first I didn’t understand what all the fuss there was about, because everybody was screaming and jumping. Turned out that I was on the same airplane with the Brazilian band. So I did like everybody else, got some pictures, chatted up the 2 girls in the band and had them sign my Lonely Planet. Things keep getting crazier and crazier here ...

    Posted by Pepe  on  11/16  at  05:53 PM

  • Christie, I was going to say the same thing about the ice cream haha

    Nice pictures though Erik! They are very colorful. I wonder if the iguanas wander out onto the streets much. I finally got caught up on about 2 weeks of your blog that I had missed out on. Sounds pretty amazing so far. That incident with the gun was just a weee bit sketchy! I got laid off from my animation job which was somewhat unexpected. I am now at home, living with the parents as a way to keep the savings on track *sigh* Its not so bad though. Everyone is away during the day so I have the place to myself.

    Can’t wait to hear about the Galapagos Islands! Keep up the good times!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  08:27 PM

  • Sorry, thats ChristY. I wish you could edit your posts in here!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  08:28 PM

  • CHRISTY/DEWBIE:  I probably would have taken the picture of my slobbery face…had i known there was chocolate on my cheek all day!  (i didnt notice til navid pointed it out)

    PEPE:  hahaha, thats funny… perhaps i should have gotten your autograph after all…  after you meet your mate in Lima, where are you headed off to?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  09:02 PM

  • LOVE PENNY:  don’t worry… if deep fried lizards DO exists, you know i’ll be the first to try them…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  10:26 PM

  • las cosas no son siempre lo que parecen y aunque guayaquil pueda parecer una ciudad hostil para los turistas la verdad es que su gente es muy calida y amable… cuando por lo menos hablas el mismo idioma, veran mucha gente en guayaquil no sabe ingles y bueno no se los puede culpar, nunca tuvieron la necesidad de aprenderlo, entonces… como se supone que pueden ayudarlos si no les entienden lo que uds dicen?...
    pd: i wrotte in spanish just to make you remember what it is like to try to understand what someone you’ve never meet is trying to tell you

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/16  at  11:17 PM

  • MAFER: si…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/18  at  03:19 AM

  • Quieres saber mas sobre Guayaquil, visita el portal mas caliente del Ecuador, Guayaquil - Informacion para Guayaquile?os e Hispanos, Guia de la Ciudad y Lugares de Atraccion, Noticias en espa?ol, Multimedia y Servicios Interactivos
    Agradecemos tus fotos de farandula, Chismes, chistes y cualquier comentario que nos ayude a comvertirnos en tu portal favorito.


    Juan Carlos Ramirez

    La Mejor y Mas Caliente Guia para los Guayaquile?os e Hispanos.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/26  at  03:19 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Line of Hope

Previous entry:
A Day “On” in Cuenca


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