Four hours from Cuenca (man I am loving these short bus journeys) is Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. Whilst we’re only really stopping here en route to the coast, we’re hoping there’s enough to keep us occupied for a couple of days.
We arrive at the hostel around mid-afternoon, and decide to immediately head out to explore the city. Our helpful hostel manager recommends a few sights and we head off to ‘Iguana Park’, so called because, you guessed it, it’s full of iguanas. They’re crawling all over the place, and many more are sitting in the trees. There are dozens and dozens of them, some of them well over a metre long. A few people seem to be feeding them bananas, but overall the locals seem more fascinated by the pigeons, which happily coexist alongside the reptiles.
A small group of giggling teenage girls run up to Rich and ask if they can have their photo taken with him. I’m not quite sure why, maybe it’s his fair hair and skin, maybe they think he’s hot (they only seem to be interested in him, not me) but anyway, he seems to enjoy it!
After marvelling at the iguanas for a while as well as some weird Japanese tourists taking a million photos, we decide to head down the river. I don’t think we mentioned the last Japanese tour group we came across. Unfortunately for one lady, the local food was too much for her and she, ahem, vacated her bowels, mid-tour, and unfortunately not into the toilet. We tried not to laugh and felt very sorry for her as she tried to dig out her pants whilst walking along in front of us, bless her. Not the most pleasant sight I can assure you!
I digress. Back to Guayaquil. The city is famous for the Malecon (waterfront) 2000, a huge urban renewal project which stands along the west shore of the Guayas River. It has gardens, fountains, restaurants, and the first IMAX in South America. It makes a pleasant stroll, and as we make our way downriver, a further two separate bunches of screaming girls accost Richard for a photo. He is absolutely loving it. Can’t see what all the fuss is about myself, maybe he looks like someone famous here?
The next day and we decide to explore Las Penas, the oldest district in Guayaquil, located on the Santa Ana hill. Until recently, the neighbourhood was pretty run down but they have now renovated all the building and painted them bright colours, as well as installing security guards on pretty much every corner, making it one of the safest and prettiest places in the whole city. It’s a stiff climb up over 400 steps to the summit of the hill, which would be fine apart from the scorching heat (it’s nearly 30C and sunny, yay!), but thankfully there are bars along the way to stop for a beer. At the top is a cute little lighthouse and a great view over the city.
That evening and we venture back to Las Penas to sample a little of the Guayaquil nightlife at a little bar recommended to us by the hostel, La Paleta. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d easily miss it as there is a tiny sign on the closed door, but open it and you’ll find a sumptuously decorated bar with beanbags on the ground floor and sofas on the balcony, playing some great chilled house mixed with old favourites and new tracks. Half the tables seem to have a reserved sign on them, so it must be popular, and though we start relatively early when the place is virtually empty, a few hours later there is barely a spare seat in the whole place. A bottle of wine and several cocktails later we stumble our way home to bed. All in all, a great night.
Despite being the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil maintains a friendliness and cleanliness that some other South American cities lack, thanks in large part to the recent regeneration projects and the ever-present security. I’m sure if you venture out of the tourist areas you’ll encounter a very different side to the city but they’ve certainly given it a good facelift for the visiting foreigners en route to the Galapagos.