World Wide Will Galapagos Adventure – Day One, Guayaquil

Posted on February 28, 2010

This adventure started with an extra day in Ecuador’s massive port city of Guayaquil. We were met at the airport by the lovely Isla, one of International Expeditions’ (IE) organizers on the ground in Ecuador. Her energetic spirit jolted us out of our jet lag haze and reminded us of the wonderful congeniality that is so typical among South Americans. We arrived in the middle of the night so we were taken directly to the hotel where we poured ourselves into the bed and crashed into a deep sleep.

When we woke up we began exploring the city of Guayaquil. Even though it was early, the city was already bustling with businessmen, shoppers and street vendors. We walked down the main street, Avenue 9 de Octobre, towards the massive Rio Guaya. As we meandered through the city we shopped and ate empanadas from little food vendors that have literally set up shop in little holes in the walls of the city’s buildings.

About halfway through our journey we detoured to the right and checked out Park De Iguanas. This considerable patch of green in the middle of the city has for years been home to scores of feral land iguanas. These large and docile lizards stroll around the park eating and interacting with the locals.  Their beautiful colors seem to blend perfectly with the colorful facades of the surrounding buildings. On one side of the park an imposing cathedral rises into the air as if it is keeping watch. Bronze statues dot the green park and offer resting perches for the pigeons who, by the way, seem to have no problem pecking around the iguanas in search of a bite to eat. I think the true magic of this park is that somehow all of these unrelated items seem to find a beautiful synergy and harmony that ultimately makes the park what it is.

After spending some time in the park we headed back to the main street and continued on our trek to the river side where we would find the city’s newest addition, the Malecon 2000. This beautiful new boardwalk hugs the river bank and winds along with the water from Avenue 9 de Octobre to the base of Cerro Santa Ana (Santa Ana Hill). This boardwalk is jam packed with bars, restaurants, water features and playing areas for the kids. There is also a convention area, an IMAX theater and a museum all with striking views of the water. We stopped for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch of mixed seafood. Ceviche itself is not necessarily indigenous to Ecuador but the way that it is served certainly is. The tart seafood is served with a basket of popcorn that is intended to be sprinkled over the top. The concept turns out to be brilliant because the salt of the popcorn brightens the tang of the citrusy seafood and the textures of both compliment each other well.

After washing lunch down with a couple of icy cold local beers, appropriately called Pilsner, we were refreshed and ready to continue our walk along the river. Where the boardwalk ended the steps of Cerro Santa Ana began. From the base of this massive hill we began our ascent to the top where we were promised striking views of the city and the river from atop the hill’s famous lighthouse. There were about 450 steps to the top. We wound our way up and around through neighborhoods, shops, bars and cafes.  Conversation and laughter spilled out of the convivial cafes where beautiful South Americans drank coffee and watched breathy tourists struggle their way up the steep hillside. I thanked God for the many early mornings at the gym as I pushed up the steep steps towards the top of the hill.

I have to say that the reward at the summit was certainly worth it. At the top stood the beautifully modest Santa Ana chapel and it’s tall slender neighbor, the Santa Ana lighthouse. The view of the city of Guayaquil and the meandering river was everything that was promised. The hills and valleys of the city were dotted with colorful cottages and building facades. The Rio Guaya was truly massive and from the elevated view you could easily see that it was as impressively wide as it was long. The entire setting was picture perfect and again worth the climb. From the top you could also see the other main attraction of Cerro Santa Ana, the Pirate Ship Building. Best I could tell this faux pirate ship was actually a restaurant and bar. It looked just like the bow of a giant pirate ship complete with statues of swashbuckling pirates complete with eye patches and wooden peg legs. As wonderful as the view was the day was starting to fade and I did not want to attempt the steep descent in the dark so it was time to go.

On the way down the steps the cafes were beginning to give way to the bars. Music was drowning out the conversation and only the laughter of the patrons managed to cut through the deep bass thumping. I had planned on stopping in for another cold beer on the way down but thought the better of it as I peered down the steep alleyways and sidewalks of the neighborhood. Speaking of the steep steps, I am amazed to this day with the skill and agility of the local women who not only managed to glide beautifully up, down and across from bar to bar but doing so in dainty high heel shoes and martini glasses in hand. I still don’t understand how they accomplished this feat considering I was in tennis shoes and barely getting by. And, I had not had a beer since lunch.

Having made it safely off the steps of Serro Santa Ana, the rest of the evening’s walk back to the hotel was easy and beautiful. The sight of the setting sun on the river and the awakening of the flickering lights of the city made for a beautiful show. Once we made it back to the hotel we showered and headed down for a quick dinner before crashing. The Hotel Oro Verde where we stayed had several restaurants and bars in the lobby. Considering we were about to spend the next seven days eating arguably the best Ecuadorian food prepared by the chefs of the Evolution, we chose a Swiss Fondue restaurant. Dinner was wonderful and consisted of one cheesy delight after another. Best of all the walk back was nothing more than an elevator ride.

It was a wonderful first day and at the end of it, despite the exhaustion from the day’s exploration, I still found myself unable to sleep through the anticipation of the next day. It was hard to believe that I was twelve hours away from one of the most beautiful and natural places on Earth, the Galapagos.