Weather: Warm and slightly overcast
For the first time on this voyage, I didn’t disembark on a Zodiac. Instead I walked out onto a cement platform, part of Santiago de Guayaquil’s busy industrial port. Multi-coloured metal containers formed a wall paralleling the Prince Albert II. Heavy cranes swung above trucks and forklifts, as men in florescent orange jackets moved cargo. Seventy percent of Ecuador’s exports pass through this area. It was fascinating to watch.
I climbed into a large air-conditioned bus along with Daniil and 22 guests. Our guide for the day was Ricardo, a jovial character wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat. He was delighted I recognized his hat for what it was, a local product commonly sold through Panama that had become known as the “Panama hat,” despite its Ecuadorian origin.
It took us almost an hour to drive out of the city, passing through residential and industrial areas. In some places piles of garbage, derelict houses and crumbling office buildings reminded us that Ecuador was still recovering from the hard economic times of the previous decade. As Ricardo explained, 500% inflation in the 1990s meant that people could not save, banks failed and large purchase items such as land and automobiles could only be paid for in US dollars.
In 2000 Ecuador made the US dollar its official currency and its financial position stabilized. As someone who had lived in Ecuador for two years during the 1990s, I saw many positive changes in Guayaquil; a bustling downtown office area, new cars, and a successful land renovation project in the Durán area of the city. People having breakfast and school children waved to us as our large buses negotiated the sinuous, crowded streets of the old city.
On the outskirts of the city we reached the fertile farms of Ecuador’s Guayas Basin. Lush green fields of sugarcane, soy and rice stretched out from both sides of the road. We stopped at a small stall and sampled some fruits not normally seen in Europe and North America: lumpy guanabana (chirimoya or custard apply), the legume-like guaba (Inga sp.) and mame (zapote).
At mid-morning we arrived at Hacienda Rodeo Grande. After passing through tall white gates and walking along a wide driveway lined with fruit trees, we were greeted with cool glasses of naranjilla juice at the hacienda house. It was a modest, elegant white building sitting amidst a large garden and small private zoo. There were kapok trees with curvaceous trunks wider above ground than at the base, giving them an eerie human appearance. Frangipani fragrance hung in the air. Flowering shrubs and vines filled the flowerbeds. A small handicraft market was set up at the front of the main front patio.
We were led across the road from the hacienda to the banana plantation. We wandered along the narrow roads that stretched along the miles of banana plants. Each banana stalk is carefully monitored as it grows and is harvested after about 11 months. I watched a banana stalk cut down and visited the processing plant where banana stalks were inspected, disinfected and packed for shipment to North America or Europe.
A traditional dance troop performed for us on the hacienda’s patio, the teenage girls wearing long sweeping dresses and the men gaucho outfits with cowboy hats and boots. I chatted with them afterwards and it was clear they loved what they did, plus, if it was a weekday, they didn’t have to go to school.
Our lunch was a barbecue of beef, sausages, rice, beans and salad. A wonderfully spicy salsa accompanied the meal. After that we were free to wander around the garden and visit the zoo. The British Consul owned the hacienda. He or she must have been an eclectic individual given the animals on display. There was a herd of African buffalos—the only herd in Ecuador according to Ricardo—two ostriches, two collared peccary, a small herd of white-tailed and red brocket deer, and a peacock. A guest suggested that perhaps the Consul liked mozzarella cheese and therefore maintained the herd of buffalo.
Back on board I gave a recap on the origin of the banana in the New World and what staple crops people would have eaten before its arrival. That evening the gentle rocking of the Prince Albert II helped me drift off to sleep as we sailed down the Ecuadorian coast to Peru.