So Friday was up and off early to the big city! We got away in decent time and survived two uneventful bus rides totalling four hours. (I over-indulged on Jipijapian (!) banana loaf again…) Somewhere near the end of the journey I realised my phone wasn’t sending text messages and then wasn’t even letting me write them. For people who know me, you’ll be wondering why this is a problem since before coming down here I think I could’ve counted the number of texts I’d sent on one hand. But here, the vast majority of people do not have daily access to the internet and I simply cannot communicate with some people in Spanish on the phone. (Plus I have 500 free msgs a month and it’s expensive to call here!) So I took my phone into Porta customer service in the bus terminal but after waiting an eternity to talk to someone, the lady turned out to be no help at all, she just changed all the settings on the phone pronounced it officially screwed up and told me I would have to send it in to be repaired for 3 days. Well I wasn’t going to be in Guayaquil for 3 days, in fact I had no plans to be in or near a city with a repair centre for 3 days. Ugh, disadvantages to isolated small town life. So I resigned myself to being text message-less for the next few days and try to take it into Manta on two separate day trips next week. But just a minute ago I somehow managed to fix it myself, I'm very proud nevermind relieved at saving two mornings, a phone-less week and $8 bus fare. (Yay for me!)
So back the real story, we were now quite late and worried that the hotel would be full, which it was. But our extremely nice taxi driver (probably the only nice one in the whole city!) showed us to another one around the corner that only had their nicest room left. ($15 a night with view over the main park, I’ve paid more for much worse! Though a viewless (and likely much quieter) room would’ve only been $10)
After a very challenged phone conversation with my friend (Lazaro, whom I’d been tutoring and who was working at the fair) we ended up taking the Metrovía (trolley) back up to the bus station(totally pointless) where his nice Czech friend picked us up and took us across the river to where he lived right next to where the huge fair was. The fair was well, not sure what I expected but not that, not sure why. It was a ways out of town (hence having to infringe on his friend’s generosity once again to get a ride back and avoid paying $20 taxi fare), and just huge. Line up to get in was ridiculous, by the time we left it was so crowded, litter everywhere, ten different songs being played at once, someone handing you a leaflet (or a free sample if lucky) every 5 steps… however there was only one ferris wheel and a random haunted house. Other than the free salsa concert and the generic (for Ecuador) food court, everything else was geared toward selling things. Everythings! Absolutely anything you can imagine. The usual, cars and beer, and every variety of local jewellery under the sun but also hot tubs, massages, palm reading, hot dog buns, oat milk substitute, Persian rugs, underwear, leather jackets, water bottle stands, organic banana jam ($1!! Had to buy some and should’ve bought more!), refrigerators, baby food, shower curtains, you name it. All in large themed (so we could easily by-pass some since we weren’t going to be bringing the newest in fancy blenders home) dome tent halls packed with stalls. It was great! For about 2 hours… by then we’d managed to walk around the whole place and were exhausted from not enough sleep and a more than long enough bus trip. So despite the fact it was apparently Guayaquil’s independence day (though didn’t see much partying just hoards of people) we tucked it in early glad to have seen that and quite excited about just relaxing the next day.
And relax we did on Saturday! Plus perfect weather, no sun so a bearable temperature for probably one of maybe five days a year... Slept in , hunted down a breakfast spot (perfect breakfast, I was full for the rest of the day – little café below the Hostal Madrid, 2 blocks from Parque Centenario, the guy was actually so helpful and patient with our order and then gave us the best directions I have got yet, with hand signals and landmarks. The food was amazing, I had 2 huge bolones de queso (balls of mashed plantain with cheese and butter), un batido de mora (natural mountain blackberry milkshake/smoothie) and shared a fruit salad with Sara. Decently priced too. Pure happiness! Then we followed those perfectly clear directions straight down the modern river-front Malecon to the Cultural Centre and the museum which was amazing too. We slipped in as students although I’d forgotten my card and so for 50c enjoyed a modern Ecuadorian art exposition, historical pottery exposition with pieces from all of Ecuador’s many aboriginal tribes and a chocolate exposition with, best part, free samples!! Finally a nibble or true dark chocolate and an expresso glass of drinking chocolate of which I had to ask for the recipe… (cocoa powder, milk, cornstarch, almond powder, vanilla and brown sugar).
After such a wonderful morning, it’s amazing we managed to enjoy the afternoon too but we certainly did. We wandered off in the general direction of the cemetery only to run into a large artesian market that I had no clue existed. It had the same stuff as all the markets here do but was quite large and an amazing variety. I now have a painting for my hostel-house wall as soon as I get some tape!
Sara grabbed lunch at a normal street restaurant that always specializes in delicious varieties of chicken soup but I was still full from breakfast and the drinking chocolate. We were pointed in the right direction by a waiter but managed to get a little lost, to be fair his ‘3 blocks straight that way’ was more like 6 and zig-zagged across a highway but we made it eventually and slipped into the cemetery. It’s huge and has to be among the top 3 most beautiful places in the city. I vote number one though I suppose Las Peñas and church on iguana park come close. We didn’t explore much of it but soon found a quiet corner and sat reading under a plumeria tree for… awhile? Until the sun seemed to be getting lowish. So peaceful, we could barely hear the city and other than some ants and an annoying security guard that came stood right by us for several minutes before finally muttering that we couldn’t take pictures (too bad we already had!), it was heavenly… excuse the pun. I guess that’s why I like cemeteries? People might think you are weird for reading and writing letters in a cemetery but they will leave you alone and generally there’s nobody there. Just the dead and I think they like being visited and having strangers ponder who they were in life. It also shows how different places view death. Here for example you can see how Catholic it is, the difference between rich (that actually have graves) and the poor (that just get initialled wooden crosses that fade within 2 years) and how life here is much more about the present than the past or the future.
From there we headed back across the city to our hotel with an excursion to a grocery store that we needed to pass twice and ask directions countless times before we finally saw it. Freshened up and headed out for dinner. I had ceviche but was not too impressed (well not everything in a day can be perfect!) it was too oily, sweet and salty. The only thing it was not too much of was limey which really should be the dominant flavour. Watched a bit of the game, which we lost! =( With our hopes of getting to South Africa seriously dimmed the city was pretty subdued for the rest of the night. After dinner we walked back up the Malecon and all the way up Las Peñas, 444 steps to the Cerro Santa Ana that I actually didn’t quite make it up to last year. A view worth every step, city lights in all directions… We were supposed to meet my friend and his friends up there but after an hour and not getting through on the phone we just headed back.
This morning was up super early and into a cab that dropped Sara off at the airport and me at the bus terminal from where I successfully navigated my way back home and only bought one new bus food: a large square bar of sweet roasted coconut with nuts (?) whatever, it was delicious and very filling.
And now I am ‘home’, caught up on life (laundry and blog) and ready for another week!
Side note: Interesting conversation can come from the most unlikeliest of places, I believe I chatted with old man who owns the laudromat (and so folds my socks) for at least an hour about everything under the sun from the recession to human nature to stem cell research to the oil fields, the fishing industry, evolution, the definition of beauty and religion. How fabulous, that was my thanksgiving right there.
Finally met the girl I’ve been helping with French as she’s studying it at university (she sends me topics and I e-mail her notes and worksheets since their prof gives them nothing and learned French out of a grammar book) and she bought me a jugo and invited me to visit her home 20 mins out of town and have a free guided tour of the nature paths they own some weekend!
I also had a surprise visit tonight from Raul, my sister’s host brother (although they’ve actually never met) from Quito as he was here this weekend for a diving course so we hung out and I am going to stop writing this now, post it tomorrow, and go to bed so I can get up early and make us crêpes before he leaves tomorrow!
PS, Chad is coming to visit tomorrow too, how perfect does that work out, no sooner does one friend leave than another arrives!!