Guayaquil, the Pacific Pearl
Travelling through a tropical savannah climate, we really shouldn’t have been surprised when we paddled our way to breakfast this morning. To be fair, it wasn’t the fact that it had rained that surprised us, but more that we hadn’t even noticed it was raining!
It soon dried up though and taking umbrellas as a precautionary measure was enough to ensure that it didn’t rain again all day!
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and a bustling port. It’s the jumping off point for visitors to the Galapagos Islands and as a result attracts a number of tourists.
But the charms on the drive into the city were few and as we drove through fairly marginal areas of urban sprawl, our guide, Celeste, explained that these suburbs had developed from squats, build hurriedly when volcanic action further inland had driven people to settle in a more secure location. Having been given the land rights to build something a little more permanent, the homes had developed piecemeal, which explained the blocky, rather haphazard nature of the buildings.
Eventually, we found ourselves turning onto a larger, grander street, following the river and the Malecon 2000, described as one of South America’s largest construction projects.
Some way along, we passed by a monument to the Liberators Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin, adorned with the flags of South American nations drooping in the humid heat.
We didn’t stop however, because we were on a tour entitled “The Artists of Guayaquil” and were heading for a more colourful place – we hoped!
The coach dropped us outside the new Simon Bolivar Museum at the end of the Malecon 2000 and Celeste began her work. The thing is, she wanted to talk…and talk…and then talk some more, but we had seen where we were going…
Now, can you imagine that I could possibly concentrate when faced with this view?
The trouble was, neither could anyone else! Sad to say, Celeste had already lost most of us at this point.
But over the road we went, towards the Barrio Las Penas; the artists’ quarter.
The first corner looked promising and the wall signs interesting. We wanted a closer look, and when we stood back, the camera shutters were going twenty to the dozen.
A hasty shot, taken way too close to the building, because I realised that rather than continuing up the colourful street, past the house, our group was being led in the opposite direction!
Oh, I see, maybe we were coming back that way, because here was the grand staircase Celeste had been describing, which led up to the artists colony.
Oooer, the steps were numbered and since she’d told us there were 400-odd, it looked pretty daunting. Better take a deep breath…(and work off some of those calories we’ve been consuming!)
Anyway, there were a few interesting artefacts in the centre of the two flights of steps, so I could always stop and admire them when I needed to catch my breath!
Whilst Celeste was talking some more, I couldn’t resist a photo of suggested items not to send through the post. Don’t put your dog in an envelope, will you?
Sorry, she was still going on and on…
But then, suddenly, she said we weren’t going to climb those steps after all, but were returning to the colourful street.
Oh my. We were beginning to lose the plot!
We were advised that we could stick with her or simply go on up the street ourselves and meet her at the top. Guess what we chose to do?
We’d imagined these to be artist’s studios, that we’d be able to see them at work or at least step inside a few galleries.
Well, in some ways, that was true. But those with open doors this Tuesday morning could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and they weren’t exactly full of the most innovative or high quality work.
But really, that didn’t matter one bit, because the buildings themselves were lovely.
I took so many photographs of different colour combinations, of window shutters and beautiful light fittings.
We were happy simply strolling along at our own pace, looking around us and noticing things of interest.
At the top of the street was a small shop and I couldn’t resist going inside to see what was in there. Everything “Made in Ecuador” was the answer, including a sample of locally produced chocolate
Having gathered the group together again, we followed the newly constructed walkway around to the Wyndham Hotel, where a snack was on offer for us, it being all of three hours since we last ate anything! But our bus was waiting there too. Perhaps that was that?
Actually, not. Now was the time for the craftsman’s market. We all piled into this steamy but very colourful place to wander around the various stalls for a while.
We weren’t so interested in buying Ecuadorian souvenir having invested in our Panama hats yesterday, but it was fun looking around and taking photographs of this and that. Many of the bags and purses would have been so much more attractive without the screenprinted “Ecuador” on them, we thought.
Of course, not all designs were of Ecuadorean origin!
But those which were caught our eye and in such cases, were really lovely, if not quite the thing to wear in a Cotswold village, perhaps?
By the time we’d wandered around two or three times, lost our bearings a couple more and finally made our way out onto the (correct) street again, we’d had enough.
Time to drive back to the ship, past this beautiful old hospital, built in the 1920s. Celeste pointed out the many funeral directors’ shops on the street opposite, adding that the mortuary was next door, too.
This really was a one-stop-shop, because next door to the mortuary was…you’ve guessed, the cemetery. What a cemetery, too! Elaborate memorials and mausoleums which seemed to stretch as far as we could see.
The journey back to the ship was a slow one, giving us chance to see a little more of everyday Guayaquil life, for though I had a couple of “ordinary” things on my list to look out for, we haven’t really had chance to pop into anywhere un-touristy. That doesn’t matter, but I do like to see what’s what!
Like the little girl walking quickly to school this afternoon, dressed in her sailor-suit school uniform and carrying a rucksack on her back. She was heading for the girls’ high school just up the road and sure enough, the scene outside was the same as outside girls’ high schools the world over.
Giggles, gossip and a couple smooching by the park railings!
To say Guayaquil didn’t meet our expectations would be unfair, because really, we had no idea what to expect. Las Penas was a very picturesque part of the city and felt “real”, not just created for tourists, I mean. But the way in which we were introduced to the city was possibly not as effective as it might have been and switching into my professional mode once more, I’d say “we were not fully engaged throughout”.
Or perhaps it was simply the rainy Tuesday morning effect?