On December 23 I explored downtown Guayaquil. The city’s impressive neo-Gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter was completed in 1937.
Its interior reminded me–a bit, at least–of St. Johannis church in my hometown.
It seemed to have been renovated recently.
Right across from the cathedral is Parque Seminario, better known as Parque de las Iguanas — probably the only public park in any major Latin American city where iguanas outnumber visitors by a factor of five.
It was astounding how well the reptiles appeared to get along with the pigeons (or vice versa?).
I continued on foot on the Malecon 2000, an urban renewal project that some may find appealing while others shudder at its pseudo-modern, globalized adornments. The historic neighborhood of Santa Ana is visible in the background.
And yet, Guayaquil struck me as pleasantly alive — of course, as in almost every Latin American city, urban poverty and wealth coexist side by side.
Following two hours of walking around in humid heat I fled into Lo Nuestro restaurant, known for its ceviche (raw fish). The delicious food made up for truly abysmal service — a pitiable junior waiter seemed completely out of his element; first I had to remind him twice to bring some bread, then he delivered the main dish when I had barely begun eating the starter, and in the end I had to wait for almost half an hour until the check arrived. Needless to mention, I guess, that the bill was hefty. I left half-pleased, half-amused.
For December 24 I had made a rental car reservation to escape to more temperate climates, but when I got to the airport to pick up the car I was told that AVIS (or rather its Ecuadorian franchisee) expected a US$5,000 security deposit refundable upon returning the vehicle in good order. At first I thought the employee was joking, but when she coyly explained that I could alternatively take out local insurance (over US$300) offered by the very same franchisee instead of using the insurance coverage that comes with my credit card — and thus avoid the deposit — I got it: this was merely another creative tourist rip-off. I canceled my reservation on the spot and, following ten minutes of mental decompression, struck a deal with William, a cab driver willing to take me to Riobamba for a fixed rate. After picking up my stuff–and Harry, of course–as well as his wife Carmen (so that he wouldn’t fall asleep on his way back, as he explained), we headed toward the Central Ecuadorian highlands.
This was the first time in my life that–without being on board of an airplane–I went from sea level to almost 3,900m altitude in under three hours.
We broke through several layers of clouds and eventually reached the plateau south of Riobamba.
As the map shows, the distance–as the crow flies–between Guayaquil and Riobamba is a mere 150km, yet the contrast could not be starker: daytime temperatures in the steamy port city of Guayaquil barely drop below 30C whereas Riobamba enjoys a wonderful mild-to-cool climate.
I felt (and still feel) so happy when I was shown my hotel room — I guess the picture above probably explains why. Note Harry’s “convertible” crate; he’d barfed right into it just before we left Guayaquil and therefore had to hang out in the crate’s upper shell while I was cleaning the lower half. Fortunately he seems to feel better already.
I treated myself to a tasty Christmas dinner…
… while a local band was playing Andean music.
Afterwards I enjoyed a delicious Hoyo de Monterey Epicure Especial (deservedly rated 2014’s top-4 cigar)…
… while chatting with my family in Buenos Aires.
Merry Christmas everyone!