Equador–Guayaquil and Cuenca

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Andre Gid

My first stop in Equador was Guayaquil on the southern coast.  It is said that Quito is the Ecuadorian governmental center, Cuenca is the cultural center, and Guayaquil is the crime (and commerce) center.  Though I was there only a couple of days, I enjoyed my brief stay and continued to feel absolutely safe on this trip.  Note that I did not venture far from my hotel at night, however.  Came in late and grabbed a very nice hotel room, at an “”expensive” $30 per night.

Wedding party also stayed at my hotel.  Here bride is texting groom about whether to go ahead with it?

Wedding party also stayed at my hotel. Here bride is texting groom about whether to go ahead with it?

I loved the central market across the street.  Had a bowl of morning soup and a cheese/corn ball thing…both unique in my experience and good.

10 cured meat and cheese shops in a row!

10 cured meat and cheese shops in a row!

Guayaquil has undergone some determined renovation in recent years, while maintaining some of its colonial architecture.  The Malecon is their upscale, long, shore pedestrian route.   The ancient, restored frigate is partly used as a bar, the men busts are of parliamentary debate, kids float on water in big balls, the historic handshake of liberators Martin and Bolivar, and signs from large structures dedicated to the 4 elements.

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Here’s a small taste of some of the amazing colonial architecture of the city, though you may have had your fill by now:

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I enjoyed the Plaza de las Iquanas and the S. F. Cathedral.  The iguanas have taken over the plaza, though they reluctantly share with pigeons and people.  The giant lizards are great shots from the trees with their poop, rivaling monkey and baboon shenanigans I’ve also experienced first hand.  Many a tourist outfit is ready for the cleaners each day!

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Some additional pics of my wanderings through the plazas and streets of Guayaquil.

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The main event in Ecuador was visiting my friend from men’s group, Steve Sheridan, and his wonderful wife Nanci in beautiful Cuenca.  It was an amazing, heartful, and restful week with them, and we had plenty of time to get to know each other on a much deeper level than before.  They are truly loving, spiritual, satisfied and peaceful people, and I felt I could live with them forever.  They are making their new home, situated on the outskirts of town in the campo, very comfortable, rustic, and tasteful. Nanci has a show garden of amazing, gorgeous flowers.   Steve is building great furniture to complement the natural wood furnishings of their huge home, patio with stove, grill and huge baking oven, and yard of paradise.  I couldn’t believe what $400 can rent in Ecuador!  Yet another treat was meeting and hanging out with Richard and Myung, another expat couple with many years of travel experience who have settled in Cuenca.

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I also got a good taste of their wonderful, well-preserved town, and truly understand why it has become a mecca for expats.  The size is reasonable (around 500,000), altitude is not too high (around 7500 feet), the air is neither too cold nor muggy, and the amount of rain is acceptable.  Plenty of traditional and modern culture, and about anything you need to buy from traditional markets or sprawling malls.   You can even assure your child is dressed provocatively by shopping at the ¨Sweet and Sexy¨ children’s clothing store. The 4 large rivers running through town have parks and walkways all along them, with many joggers, power walkers, dancing in the park in evenings, exercise stations, yoga and other movement groups, free government bikes and helmets on Sundays, etc.

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This bridge washed out 50 years ago and was never rebuilt across.

This bridge washed out 50 years ago and was never rebuilt across.

Huge area of ruins in middle of city is preserved.

Huge area of ruins in middle of city is preserved.

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Pablo mural

I encourage you to check out these pics of Cuenca: Beautiful Cuenca

I was also shocked and pleased at the incredible strides that President Correa and his administration have made in recent years, including tremendous infrastructure improvements, providing for the common person (heavily subsidized transport, health care for all, improved public education, free symphony and other cultural events, and taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.  It was interesting to be here and experience street protests by the wealthy, business execs, physicians, and others (and many say teaming with the military and the U.S. to stage a coup) demanding the ouster of the Correa despite his widespread popularity and re-election by a wide margin.  They especially hate the inheritance and income taxes that have not been present in the past.

But many middle class people resent the many new taxes placed on common goods, which has put a dent in his image, especially in the cities. Unfortunately, with the price of oil so far down, some taxes are apparently being applied to working folks, causing some backlash in that sector as well.   I am disappointed that Correa, like Evo Morales in Bolivia, is not protecting the rainforests; oil exploration, horrid pollution even in so-called protected areas, and widespread clearing in the Amazon rainforest is rampant.  The country is quite politically polarized at this point.

After a blissful week relaxing with Steve and Nanci, I made the decision to move north toward Quito via the Andes rather than via the jungle.  I’m heading to a small, mountain village off the beaten track called Salinas de Guaranga.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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