Seduced in Guayaquil

Day 22 – Off the coast of Peru – Find Insignia on CruiseMapper

When the onboard announcement was made that our port calls in Peru were being replaced mostly by a two-day docking in Guayaquil, Ecuador, we were not enthused. The change-out felt like a spin on the old WC Fields joke about Philadelphia: First prize for missing Peru was one day in Guayaquil. Second prize was two days. 

Partout had passed through Guayaquil twice in the year before the pandemic, once for an airport layover, once overnight. There was no way a third visit could be the charm. 

And yet, here we are, the coast of Peru almost behind us off our port side, and we can’t stop shaking our heads at the surprises and pleasures (like this view from a gondola over the river) Guayaquil offered. 

Biggest Surprise

The first and maybe biggest surprise was the city’s setting.

Guayaquil sits almost 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean in a vast wetland. The earliest riser of our early-bird duo has made a habit of going to the lounge in the ship’s bow every morning to check our position on CruiseMapper, enjoy a sunrise coffee and get the first glimpse of our newest port..

Having visited Guayaquil twice with no clue what lay on the other side of the river where the city sits, Doris was shocked to see the CruiseMapper overview of Guayaquil’s location and to find the sun rising over narrow channels teeming with bird life and smothered in mangroves. It was as if we had gone to bed on an ocean cruise and woken up on a river boat. So vast is this delta that it took more than two hours to motor from where Insignia was when Doris first checked in to docking.

Guayaquil as Wannabe

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s economic engine, but most visitors experience it the way we have, as an airport layover or the briefest of stopovers coming or going from the Galapagos Islands.

To entice visitors into lingering longer, the city has invested significantly over recent decades in creating a tourist-friendly chunk of the historic center and waterfront. The strip incorporates a long, fenced promenade running more than a mile along the Guayas River, a few scenic and well-policed attractions like the city’s understated Gothic cathedral, and some charming plazas and parks sprinkled with public art. The investment shows.

The Brighter Side

Guayaquil has two long histories.

One is a history of productivity and wealth. The cacao plant originated in Ecuador (not Mexico, as we all grew up learning) and, for centuries, was a source of enormous wealth for a few favored Ecuadorian families. The fruit was traded with the Aztecs, among many others, and was love at first bite for the Spanish invaders, who added sweetener to create the confection we know as chocolate today. So valued was the cacao seed that it functioned as a currency in pre-Columbian times.

The impressive Museum of Cacao housed in the mansion of a former cacao magnate is an elegant illustration of the good old days before blight and world events devastated the cacao trade in the early 20th century, creating a national economic crisis.

The Darker Side

But Guayaquil also has a history of violence at least as old as its founding in 1537. Political violence, gang violence, drug violence, individual violence – the city has lived and died with ferocity all its long life. In 2021, the worst prison riot in the nation’s history left more than 100 inmates dead in Guayaquil’s Litoral penitentiary. Even the coronavirus was more violent in Guayaquil than elsewhere, producing one of the most lethal outbreaks on earth and searing images of bodies abandoned in the streets into universal memory.

The guides and locals took obvious pride when assuring us we would be safe walking the embarcadero and the park where trees drip with iguanas. But for all the urban renewal, the buses that shuttle tourists from the port to the city center still carry an armed guard on board and armed motorcycle escort alongside.

And yet we ended up disarmed by Guayaquil – enchanted by its estuary, charmed by its waterfront, delighted by its public art, touched by the people who call the city home. The guide on our bus tour told us his own harrowing stories of growing up unsafe in Guayaquil but pointed out the city’s relative lack of graffiti. He said the clean walls are the result of a system where taggers are jailed and forced to scrub and repaint walls around the city for a week as penance. A small step in the war on crime perhaps but still a step.  

Another Question Answered

Candy asked, “Was there a ceremony when you crossed the equator?”

It probably takes a mariner who descends from a line of naval officers to come up with this one. For at least a few hundred years, a sailor’s transformation from slimy Pollywog (a seaman who hasn’t crossed the equator) to trusty Shellback (aka Son or Daughter of Neptune) has been marked by initiation rites attended by Neptune himself.

We crossed the equator off the coast of Ecuador at midnight so the ceremony was postponed until our next crossing, between South America and Africa. We will make five crossings in all, and my brother Rick has noted mine will make us brother-sister Shellbacks, albeit with a half-century gap between our initiations.

For now, all we have are certificates attesting to our status. Crossing the International Date Line should make us golden Shellbacks, but we’ll settle for our initiation (and meeting with Neptune!) first.

Coming Soon!

Poignant Peru

6 thoughts on “Seduced in Guayaquil

  1. Loved these photos, and your blog, of course 😉
    Question for Doris: Have you found your sea legs–ie, any bouts with motion sickness?


  2. Really really enjoying your writing
    So happy you are sharing your fantastic vacation with us
    Have loved everything you have sent so far. Thank you thank you thank you


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