It may come as a bit of a surprise that despite us being away we still have a lot of ‘administration’ to do – emails, phone calls, banking and even haircuts. Our ventures out into Quito before we headed south required us to find a bank that accepted our cards, a hairdresser for Sven where he wasn’t going to end up with a no.1 short cut and buying bus tickets for Guayaquil. What was noticeable the minute that we left the hostel was the ‘Monday morning’ belching of dark horrible fumes from the buses. Having spent 3 days out of the city and a restful Sunday we had been lulled into a false sense of peace and tranquillity. The first few horn blasts and mouthfuls of dust and dirt bought us back to the reality of Quito.
After trouping our way around town doing odd jobs we headed for Pinchincha volcano which provided an easy ride up to 3500ms on a cable car, the last 500m walk to some viewing points, a light walk in comparison to the previous climbs we had done. An hour’s respite from the city built up an appetite, so as true locals, we headed to a little restaurant that we found on the first day for lunch. Jimmy’s (good Ecuadorean name!) fine fare at a set price of $1.75 including a drink. Jimmy describes himself as ‘El Cheff de los magnificos sabores’ – our simple assessment was that we didn’t get any stomach troubles!
Monday night witnessed the last of our duvet wars. We have had a small room, simply furnished with a table, some pegs on the wall for clothing and a small double bed that has walls on two sides. The floor is tiled without any covering and the room has no heating. At night at this altitude it gets cold and we have to get dressed to go to bed.
The bed has a duvet that spans the top of the bed but does not flow over the sides. It looks OK until two bodies get into it, at which point the duvet no longer spans the bed. This sparks a lively discussion as to who has more of their fair share of covering. I argue that with more body volume, I should have more duvet but this is countered by Debbie who feels that, as she gets cold and I don’t, she should be allowed to wrap it all around her. I understand that females are supposed to be the weaker sex but I defy any man to get the duvet off them at 3 in the morning! They have an ability to sleep with a vice-like grip on the bedclothes that can only be broken by bolt cutters.
Our departure from Quito was uneventful, but the bus journey turned out to be quite different. We had bought tickets to Guayaquil and assumed the journey was direct. We also assumed the bus would have some air-conditioning and some comfort since it advertised so on the outside. It turned out that air-conditioning meant that the windows opened. However, the seats were not too bad, so we settled back for an 8 hour journey south to the coast.
The direct service was a complete misunderstanding. We were told the journey would take 8 hours, which we were mentally prepared for, but it took 10 in the end! 5 of those hours were spent going south at first (a good sign) then west (not great), then North (definitely the wrong way) and we believed we were on the wrong bus. After 5 hours we had travelled about 130kms, we were west of Quito instead of South and still another 300kms away from Guayaquil. We were so off-piste on the journey that even our trusty guidebook doesn’t detail the route we took, or the towns we passed through. We were on the local bus that stopped everywhere, carried all the locals with their shopping, their children and animals! A stop for lunch, several stops at different security points and even more for pick-ups and drop-offs.
We finally arrived in Guayaquil in the dark, concerned about getting a taxi, concerned that the guesthouse we were staying at would have given our room away, concerned about being in a new strange place feeling tired. But we had nothing to worry about; the bus terminal was light, airy, large – just like our shopping malls, the taxi cheap and efficient, the hotel welcoming.
Guayaquil is such a different place – clean, well laid out, no belching buses, a wide tree-lined promenade by the river – Rio Gayas – warm and a delight to walk around. To describe the difference between the 2 cities in one word – pride – Guayaquil wants to be the capital, is clearly investing heavily in the city renovating large areas in the city centre and gentrifying the river promenade, which now provides a lovely walk north to the old district of Las Penas. They have determined certain areas for complete renovation entirely transforming part of the Cerro Santa Ana shanty town into clean and touristy places. They even have ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs on the buildings. It’s a delight to be here after Quito and feels like we have returned to civilisation.
Another big difference is the Spanish that is spoken here. In Quito, our poor Spanish was readily understood and it was easy to comprehend the Spanish spoken. Here it is like trying to speak French in France: one syllable out of place and they have no idea what you are saying. In addition, they mix their Spanish with local words and use Spanish differently. A simple example would be that instead of using the word Salidas (departures) they use Partidas.
In complete contrast to Quito, the mornings are cloudy and the afternoons bright. It is warm and humid but much cooler in the evenings.
We thought we would splash out on a slap–up meal in a Spanish restaurant. It was not very Spanish at all. An attempt at a Spanish ambience, a few Rioja wines and food that had Iberian flavour in its description only. This must be how Indians feel back in the UK when dining at the local Taj Mahal.