Co-ordinates: S 02º16’43”, W 079º54’44”
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 28ºC
Pressure: 1007 hPa
It has been several months since I have been in the southern hemisphere, and early this morning as we were sailing up the Guayas River on our way to Guayaquil, I realized that we were at 2 degrees south latitude. We must have crossed the Equator sometime last night.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s most important port and its largest city, with more than 3 million inhabitants. Multi-coloured metal containers formed a wall paralleling the Silver Explorer. Seventy percent of Ecuador’s exports pass through this area; however, today was a rather quiet day at the port since it was a bank holiday.
I climbed into a large air-conditioned coach along with Claire and 26 guests. Our guide for the day was Victor. 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 Victor 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. Guayaquil’s current mayor is an ex-president and he is taking very good care of the city by implementing big urban renovation projects and depurating the local government from corruption and inefficient entities. 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. Lots of different birds were seen along the green fields.
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 tomate de arbol (tree tomato) juice and patacones (fried plantain) 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 under the shade of a huge Samán tree.
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.
Our lunch was a traditional Seco de Gallina with rice, delicious fried sweet plantain and salad. A wonderful salsa accompanied the chicken. 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.
On the way back to Guayaquil we stopped at a small stall and sampled some fruits not normally seen in Europe and North America: lumpy guanabana, the legume-like guaba (Inga sp.) and ñame (zapote), plus mango, banana and coconut.
When we got to Guayaquil we did a city tour with a stop at Plaza Iguanas, a small square with a Simon Bolivar statue and lots of trees that are home to about 300 green iguanas, right in front of a beautiful church. We then drove through the city as Victor showed us the highlights and gave us interesting information on the history, government and present situation of not just Guayaquil but of Ecuador itself.
Back on board we had a leisurely evening, well deserved after a long, but most interesting day. That evening the gentle rocking of the Silver Explorer helped me drift off to sleep as we sailed down the Ecuadorian coast to Peru.