Scrap the guidebook and make people laugh
I didn’t like Guayaquil in the first two or three days.
It’s a huge city with 8 lane roads, masses of traffic and lots of dodgy looking areas. I arrived at 8 pm on a Sunday. I had no accommodation booked and I didn’t know a single person here. I could have booked something in advance, but didn’t…
I took a taxi from the bus station to the city center and just walked into all the hotels I could find. I started getting worried after they told me they had no rooms available at five places. So I took the first opportunity I had.
I probably found the shittiest hotel in the whole city, which is an achievement by itself, especially if we take into consideration that it took less than an hour. The room was on the 5th floor, there was no window and internet, but it was quiet and it boasted a private bathroom. Not such a bad deal for $13 after all, only a tad depressing.
I had to find something else quickly so I just booked another hotel room for double the price with internet. The room itself is almost as bad as the other one, but the window makes a huge difference so although it’s an overpriced shithole, I couldn’t be bothered to go somewhere else.
Finding food was also a problem. For two days I looked everywhere in a two mile radius and the best option I could find was KFC. Ecuadorians, or at least people here in Guayaquil, take their holidays very seriously. Literally nothing is open except for a few pharmacies where you can buy water at least.
New Years Eve is a big deal here. They make human sized and much bigger dummies that are supposed to symbolize the old year and they burn them at midnight.
Apparently they also write all their worries on the dummies so as to get rid of them.
I heard about a couple of other traditions. For instance if you want to have kids, you’re supposed to push a stroller around the burning dummies or if you want to travel you have to run around them with your suitcases.
It must have been fun to see all these beautifully made dummies burn, but I was sound asleep by the time that happened.
The first day of the new year has been the worst in terms of finding food. The whole city looked like a ghost town. I took advantage of the metro system (they are buses, but are called metro here) not being too crowded and went for a sightseeing tour for 25 cents. I must have got on the wrong bus though as it took me to some boring and ugly outskirts and back.
My relationship with Guayaquil has come to a turning point today. Although I’ve been here for 4 days and I haven’t made a meaningful human contact, which is unusual for me, I’ve made friends with Guayaquil.
Most shops and restaurants opened today so there was an abundance of cheap food, amazing fruit shakes and other local delicacies.
Even better, I went for a run in the evening and explored the whole riverside. It’s a wonderful place to walk, jog, have a coffee or just stare at the mighty river slowly rolling along. The riverside is made out of elements that resemble certain parts of ships, which lends a special ambiance to the place.
I ran as far along the river as it was possible when I spotted a little outlook on a hilltop. I saw the stairs leading up to it so I started running up. Within a few minutes I found myself in a narrow, stinky, dark alley way with people standing by their door fronts and looking at me in a disapproving way. One of them approached me and said something, but I had no idea what, so I pointed at the top of the hill and asked how to get there. He showed me. I kept running and was amazed by how quickly these extremely poor and incredibly fancy houses alternated. Several people pointed me to the right direction without even asking for it. I finally reached the route leading up to the outlook that was full of tourists. I ran right up to the top.
The view was pretty amazing, but I didn’t have my camera with me, which I don’t mind because the photos wouldn’t really reflect what I felt up there.
The best part was definitely exploring the areas where I was not supposed to go, where the guide books would never send you, but would actually warn you not to go there, because it may be dangerous.
Scrap the guidebooks and just go explore.
Today I’ve realized why I’ve always hated the expression “I did Guayaquil”. Because when you “do” a city, you go to the main sights, tick them all off and you’re done. You did the city.
There is nothing more exciting than exploring a new place without any guidance. I had no idea that I had to see the cathedral, the riverside and this little outlook on top of the hill in Guayaquil. But I did see them all. And it was so much more fun than following someone else’s instructions.
We are so used to being told what to do that even when we are on holiday and are completely free to do whatever the hell we want, we need somebody to tell us what to do. We need to follow a script that someone wrote, because we’re too lazy or indifferent to take initiative.
If you just go out and explore, you’ll probably miss some things as I’m sure I did here in Guayaquil, but I’m not the least bothered about that. If you are, you could ask some locals for recommendations and still have your fun exploring the place.
On my way back, I found a playground at the riverside. It was full of kids playing and parents watching them. One of the structures had a nice horizontal metal bar that was ideal to do pull ups. So I did some. As I was doing it, I saw a few parents laugh at me. And then even take pictures of me with their phones. I asked them to show me the photos. They were funny, so we laughed together.
I like to make people laugh.