Friday, October 15, 2010


Andes above the clouds

Ecuador had won our hearts.  It had also stolen our children; well one child to be exact.

Daughter Jenny and  husband Chris formerly of Homeleigh in northern New South Wales had found their personal El Dorado converting a run down building in the historic centre on Calle Larga  into a welcoming haven for locals and visitors  to Ecuador’s hidden secret, undoubtedly the jewel in its mountain topped crown, Cuenca.

We had made the long trek from Australia and stayed with them for three delightful months.  Delightful except for the havoc wreaked by our travel agency in Brisbane when they blithely changed our return flights without first informing us.   But all that was now just a horrid nightmare, we were back on track and heading down to Guayaquil to start our return flight home.
The twisting road led straight down

Tearful goodbyes behind us we first piled on extra woollies as our hired car crested the high altitude peaks  only to throw them off as we approached the tropical coast and Guayaquil;  Ecuador’s largest city.

We were back in sprawling suburbia,  high rise and concrete everywhere, humidity and heat.  We were both in shock.  For three joyful months we had been neither cold nor hot, we had walked literally everywhere, been assailed by colour and character, had delighted in conversations  and friendships with the locals.  Cuenca had come very close to stealing our very being.

With limited time to explore and luckily not able to see what lay ahead at its airport we set off to walk Guayaquil’s city centre.  This obviously was no Rome or Athens nor was it a smaller version of San Paulo;  or for that matter, thank goodness,  a soulless variety of any number of major cities back home.

Guayaquil was indeed a city of Spanish inheritance, it had pockets of grandeur and colour and surprise. 

For a start it had iguanas.

Did your thoughts immediately spring to Elizabeth Taylor and the ‘Night of the Iguana’.  No? Obviously you're  far too young for  Hollywood trivia;  but no doubt  you have seen the marvellous documentaries about the Galapagos and the not so little creatures that run amok there.
A squirrel passing the time
Well now, as we soon found out together with squirrels and tortoises, iguanas also have free run of a small park right in the centre of Guayaquil’s highrise central business area.  Parque Simon Bolivar is a neat  handkerchief sized  parcel of clipped lawns, massive shade trees, small ponds  and an enormous and growing family of free ranging Green Iguanas that can reach two metres in length.
Lunch time in the park

At this stage I hadn't checked the trees above
The park is bounded by busy traffic laden streets, overlooked by the city’s Cathedral and within a few blocks of the Malecon or waterfront.

The day we were there at least two school groups,  youngsters immaculately dressed  in school uniform, were busy teasing and in turn being teased by the resident iguanas.  Not that the kids were scared, like youngsters everywhere they shrieked with delight when the slow moving prehistoric looking overgrown lizards  lumbered anywhere near them.
Just two friends passing the time

Park workers ensured the Iguanas had plenty to eat with mounds of vegetable greens piled in various locations though I did see at least one being fed the remains of an icecream  by a generous  toddler.  

We also discovered the hard way that iguanas climb trees and spend a lot of time lolling in a heat induced slumber upon tree branches high above.  Some of the shrieks I imagine, were the result of a smelly discharge from those tree trunks.   I know mine was.

The day we were in Guayaquil coincided with a student demonstration and the streets were at various places blocked by police in riot gear.  But I noticed the general population seemed impervious to what was going on and continued through and past the police cordons as though they didn’t exist.

I liked their approach, treat a problem as one would a  storm in a teacup and it quickly becomes one.
A storm in a teacup

But there was another part of Guayaquil’s make up that intrigued me. In Cuenca where I’m told there are 52 churches, one for every Sunday of the year, religion plays a huge part  in the lives of the local people.  Barely a day goes by in that Andes city without a religious parade or demonstration enacted by devout and humble people.  It seems their religion is an everyday affair with direct ties to families both past and present.

Here in Guayaquil, I wouldn’t have the chance to observe their church going ritual,  and I  guess  on such a short visit such deep thoughts really never entered my head.

But then as I rounded a corner in a busy office lined street thronged with people scurrying each and every way, and hesitating to cross against the traffic of buses, cars and honking horns I glanced up  at a building opposite.   What I saw immediately transported me back in time to a childhood  of catholic schools and colourful prayer books.

The building that caught my eye was some four or five stories high, and on two of its visible walls were a collage of  beautifully crafted murals of the Nativity, of Mary and Joseph, and of Jesus.

Yes religion is alive and clearly evident on the streets in everyday down town Guayaquil.

©Robyn Mortimer 2010