I arrived in Guayaquil at 7pm. I was wearing jeans and a hoody when leaving Baños, and was immediately struck by sweltering heat as I stepped off the bus. I took a taxi across town to City Mall. I had booked an Airbnb and the owner, Veronica, picked me up from the mall.
Guayaquil is a port city on the southwestern coast of Ecuador. It is the largest city in Ecuador by population with about 5 million people, and is the commercial and financial center of the country. It is located at the delta of the Guayas River and has a humid tropical climate. While there are several large slum-like areas, the city is being revitalized with a growing nightlife and arts scene stemming from the several prominent universities. That said, Guayaquil is not a touted tourist destination in Ecuador, and has the reputation of being dangerous for travelers. Most backpackers seem to use the city mainly as a jumping off point for other destinations in Ecuador. I found this apparent in a lack of backpacker hostels.
Veronica was a gracious and welcoming host. She was about my age, spoke English well (was also learning French), and was keen to offer information about and suggestions about Guayaquil. She kept telling me places to buy and drink beer. “Are you trying to get me drunk, Veronica?” I joked with her. I was planning to just make a pit stop in Guayaquil for a couple days on the way to coast of Ecuador and didn’t have any hostel-mates to go out with, so wasn’t that keen to hit the party scene.
After settling in at the Airbnb, which I had all to myself for $15, I headed out to look for dinner. I wound up at a neighborhood restaurant owned and operated by a Peruvian family, which was recommended by a couple people I asked where to eat while walking around. It was a ‘paradilla’ place with a barrel grill out front. A couple was eating at a picnic table under an outdoor tent and seemed surprised to see a gringo stroll up. I ordered a grilled chicken plate to go, which included salad, rice, beans, guacamole, and fried plantains for $3.
I took my dinner back to the house and ate while watching Tony Robbins – I am Not Your Guru on Netflix. The food was tasty and hit the spot. Little family restaurants usually seem to be good in South America—they put lots of love into the food! The documentary was cool too. It was interesting watching it, knowing that my buddy, James Whittet, from my ayahuasca retreat had just completed the seminar featured in the film.
The next morning I was up early and went out exploring. I walked around for about two hours trying to get familiar with the area. I was in the northwestern part of the city, about 20 minutes from the city center. I found a supermarket and bought a bunch of healthy comfort-food, and headed back to my rental to cook. I resolved to go explore the touristy areas of Guayaquil tomorrow. Today was Sunday—I had my mind set on playing poker all afternoon.
I spent the day recharging, cooking, and grinding poker. I came out a small winner on the day. Quite a disappointment after making a pretty big final table 2nd in chips, but losing a big pot early on for 32 big blinds effective QQ<KQ all in preflop versus a spazzy player I had been battling with. I had 4 big blinds left after losing that hand and petered out in 8th place. Winning the pot would have made me chip leader with me almost 2x the next biggest stack with 7 players left, making it likely I would’ve made it to at least 3rd place for a minimum of a +$3000 day. A lot of close misses in my pokering recently. Oh well, c’est la vie.
The next day I woke early and was making breakfast when Veronica came over. She and her mother were going to the Malecón 2000, a popular area on the Guayas River in the city center, and invited me to join. Qué perfecto! I was planning to go there anyway.
Veronica picked me up 30 minutes later with her mom and teenage nephew, letting me ride up front. We stopped along the way to pick up a girl friend of the nephew’s. Veronica must invite her Airbnb guests out with her family like this all the time. At first I felt a bit awkward, being a gringo-stranger riding along with her family trying to communicate in Spanglish. They were warm and relaxed, which put me at ease and made me less self-conscious about the language barrier. Along the way, Veronica was pointing out sites and telling me about Guayaquil. It was like having my own personal tour guide—Thanks, Veronica!
We got to the Malecón 2000 and spent a few hours looking around. This was the first time I heard the term ‘Malecón,’ but it is a popular term in Ecuador. It basically means boardwalk or seafront, and almost all the coastal towns have a seaside street referred to as the Malecón. This one was built in 2000, so was a newer, trendier area of Guayaquil. There were nice attractions there, such as beautiful parks, an IMAX theatre, and many shops and restaurants. Brightly painted houses line the old fashioned, colonial era streets making it a quite charming part of the city.
The entire Malecón was mobbed with people. Veronica explained that it was a holiday, Guayaquil’s independence day. In South America, not only do countries have independence days, but individual provinces have their own holidays celebrating freedom from European colonial rule. Due to the holiday there were extra street performers out and about making it a lively atmosphere. Additionally, one avenue had dozens of artists selling paintings and sculptures. With hundreds of works of art on display, it was basically an art show. I really liked a few psychedelic paintings and may have made a purchase if I wouldn’t have to carry it around for several months.
We eventually got to the ‘444 steps’ in the Las Penas neighborhood. Here, beginning at the Malecón, you walk up a set of numbered steps to the top of Cerro (hill) Santa Ana. At the top there is a lookout with a lighthouse, church, and several replica cannons and armaments from colonial times. The lookout offers a beautiful view of the city.
Veronica and her mother didn’t feel like scaling the steps, so I went on my own. The 444 steps weren’t too taxing to climb, but it was 90+ degrees in the tropical river city. On the way down, I decided could use some refreshment, and joined the crowds of people having a lunchtime beer at a bar along the 444 steps.
I met back up with Veronica and the midday heat had become oppressive, so we headed home. I spent the afternoon having lunch and a few beers at a nearby restaurant, and later went and walked around City Mall people watching. I went home and had a siesta before making dinner. I spent the evening figuring out how to get up the coast towards Montanita, Ecuador, a popular surf town. It appeared that Salinas was a nice beach town on the way to Montanita to stop for a few days.
The next morning I said bye to Veronica and caught a cab to the bus station. I got a bus that left immediately, and settled in for the hour ride to the bus station in La Libertad, Ecuador. I then caught another bus for a 40 minute ride to the Salinas peninsula.
I got off the bus on a dusty, quiet side street not knowing where I was, but that I had seen a sign for the muelle (pier) at the center of town. After walking three blocks north, I hit the malecón which was buzzing with midday beach town fervor.
That mostly sums up Salinas. It is a popular vacation destination due to its beautiful sand beaches. The popular beaches off the malecón are protected by a harbor that is swarming with jetskis, windsurfers, and kite-surfers. The beaches are dotted with sun umbrellas and beach chairs, and lined by restaurants, shops, and condos across the malecón. Two blocks off the malecón, it is a quiet, dusty little town starkly contrasting the hectic vacation atmosphere beachside.
I walked along the malecón for about ten minutes before finding Chescos Hostel, right across the street from the beach. I got a dorm room with a nice double bed for $10/night. After settling in, I ran into the Kiwis, Chris and Heidi, whom had been staying in Salinas at Chescos for almost a week. Heidi’s foot was doing a lot better and she was getting around on her crutches like a pro. We got a couple beers and headed to the beach.
After lounging on the beach for a few hours, I headed back to the hostel and showered. Chris and Heidi were having leftovers for dinner. I had a taste for seafood so wandered about the town for a half hour looking around before settling on a restaurant. I had a delicious plate of fresh grilled seafood and rice for $10. I headed back to the hostel and had some rum with Chris and Heidi before turning in.
The next day Chris and Heidi departed for Montanita. They were meeting friends from New Zealand there that evening. I spent the day writing and being a beach bum. On the beach I met Stephania, a student from Guayaquil who was taking a short vacation in Salinas. We hung on the beach, soaking in the rays. At one point I decided to go for a swim out to a buoy that was a few hundred yards off shore, and Stephania took a picture for me.
I walked down to the main pier to watch the sunset. There I met Amanda from the UK and chatted while we watched the sun go down. She was also traveling solo, and we agreed to have dinner together. First she wanted to see what my hostel was like, being unhappy with the one she was staying at.
At my hostel, I showed her my dorm room, and we met Faisal another solo traveler from the Netherlands. We all got to talking about our travels for an hour or so, then headed out to dinner together. We went to an unremarkable place with simple, traditional Ecuadorian fare, then got helado (ice cream) after. All of us were looking to take it easy that night, so said goodnight rather early.
I spent the next morning drinking copious amounts of coffee and writing until about 1pm. I had lunch, and then headed to the beach where I laid in the sun, reading and drinking beers until sun set. Beach bum life, yall!
I went back to the hostel and after showering found Stephania in the kitchen. We made dinner together. She made bolons (basically dumpling-like balls with butter and spices) of mashed fried banana, while I made fish and rice. We had a nice dinner with some good rum. After dinner Stephania fell asleep early on the couch while watching TV, and I stayed up drinking rum and smoking mapacho while writing and reading.
The next morning I again spent writing until early afternoon. Around noon, I met a new roommate in my dorm room, Indy from the UK. She was a new volunteer at the hostel, and was moving in for the next three weeks until she was to return home. We decided to go whale watching, a popular activity in Salinas. We made a rum and coke cocktails in water bottles and headed to the pier where we found whale watching cruises for $10 each. The cruise lasted about an hour of which 30 minutes were spent following around a pod of humpback whales about 4 miles off the coast of Salinas. We were lucky enough to see a full breach by one of the bigger whales.
After whale watching, Indy and I laid on the beach and went swimming, while continuing to drink rum. After sundown, we went into the hostel where she was keen to show me a cartoon show called Rick and Morty. I have to say it’s a pretty smart, hilarious show.
After watching a few episodes, we went out to the beach for a cigarette. It was about 8pm and we had been drinking rum the whole evening, so were pretty toasted at this point. We started making out. During a pause, Indy said, “Let’s go swimming!” I protested for a seconds, but she stood up and took off running towards the water while taking off her clothes, throwing each article in the air.
It wasn’t like the beach was completely deserted, there were people within a few hundred yards of us, but she didn’t care. I hesitated for a moment, but didn’t want to be uptight and was soon running behind her butt-ass naked for a skinny dip in the Pacific.
The water was warm and inviting. We swam around playfully for a few minutes, then started making out and going at it in about 4 feet of water with just our shoulders and heads above water. It was a superb experience, the type of event where time and space become distorted and the external world fades from consciousness.
After our dip, we emerged from the ocean to find our clothes had been hit by the incoming tide. They were completely soaked, but we put them on for the three minute walk back to the hostel, laughing in bliss the whole way.
While showering and changing into dry clothes, Indy fell asleep in my bed. We had planned to get dinner, but I didn’t want to wake her and headed out on my own. I again had seafood and, you guessed it… more rum!
After dinner, I got some ice cream, and while walking back to the hostel encountered about a hundred people standing in a big circle on the beach. Two guys were leading an improvisational comedy street performance, which the crowd was enraptured by. Not even two minutes after I started watching, one of the performers picks me out from the crowd (I was the only gringo watching) and starts asking me questions in front of everyone. After every response, he would make a joke to which the entire crowd would uproariously laugh. I took it all with good nature, smiling and laughing, even making fun of myself, trying to represent gringos (which most of the jokes were about) in a positive light. After the street performance I headed back and turned in for drunken slumber.
The next day I woke and was lazy all morning. Indy began working as a volunteer so was occupied until the evening. I decided to walk to La Chocolatera a national park at the point of the peninsula with scenic views. It was a long walk, took me more than an hour and a half. I could have taken a cab for like $2, but wanted the exercise to sweat out my hangover. I tried hitchhiking but no one would pick me up, although a couple cars slowed down and thought about it.
Along the way, I stopped at Punta Brava, a point on the south side of the Libertad peninsula with amazing white sand beaches and clear aqua blue water. There was absolutely no one around, I had the endless beach to myself. I decided to go for a swim and as I was about to enter the water, said WTF… let’s skinny dip again! I dropped trough and plunged into the water. So refreshing. And liberating!
After about 20 minutes in the perfect Pacific seawater, I toweled off and got dressed. I walked a mile more along the beach to La Chocolatera point and walked around a while taking in the scenery.
Afterwards, I caught a cab back into Salinas and had him drop me a few blocks away from an open air market. I purchased some vegetables and a bag of about 3 dozen fresh caught mussels for $1.50. I walked 15 minutes back to the hostel and found a coco juice stand along the way! Just what I needed after walking several miles to La Chocolatera in midday heat.
At the hostel I ran into Indy and we prepared the mussels, veggies, and rice while the sun set over the bay. The open air kitchen at the hostel had a perfect view of the beach across the street. We watched the vendors and sun umbrella hawkers pack up and head home while having cuba libres (rum and cokes) waiting for the food to cook. We enjoyed the mussels, which turned out quite delicious, although a few didn’t open up after simmering them which means they were not safe to consume.
After a mapacho and cleaning up the kitchen, Indy and I watched a few episodes of Rick and Morty on my laptop on the couch in the shared living room. We started making out, which was quite a public display of affection in front of a half dozen nearby people, but we didn’t care. After skinny dipping together, this was hardly a blip on our social decadence meter. We watched another episode of Rick and Morty before retiring to our room. We were lucky to have the six person dorm to ourselves that night.
The next day was Sunday. I had an Airbnb booked in nearby Ballenita for my usual Sunday recovery and poker session. I awoke and Indy was already busy with her volunteering duties. I said hi to her in the kitchen while making breakfast and coffee. I was being picked up by a cab taking me to Ballenita at 10:30, and I finished breakfast at about 5 after 10, so had to hurry to shower and pack my backpacks. I met my cabbie out front and loaded my things. I went back inside to say goodbye to Indy and was a bit sad to be leaving. Such is life on the road.
After a 20 minute cab ride, I reached my Airbnb and met the owners, Janet and Rick. They were American ex-pats from who had retired to Ecuador six years prior. They had a 1500 square meter compound a few blocks from the beach with three guest cabins which they rented on Airbnb. I had one of the guest cabins to myself.
After cooking up lunch and another pot of coffee, I settled in for my poker session. There was a bigger tournament with a $450 buy-in, in which I ran up a nice stack of about 70k chips. It ended in disaster as I made a substantial error in a blind versus blind battle when I 4-bet shoved 88 in the small blind over a large 3-bet by the big blind on about 65k chips at the 1600 blind level. He had KK of course and I didn’t improve. After the hand I realized we were 7 people off the money, and I ended up bubbling the tournament a few hands later, while the big blind was now top 5 in chips. Luckily I had won my entry to that tournament for only $35. That hand really took the wind out of my sails that day, but somehow managed to end the day break even after a slew of other decent cashes.
The next morning I packed up intending to find my way to the nearby bus station, and catch a bus to Montanita, Ecuador. Outside my cabin, I ran into Natalia, from California, whom had been staying with Janet for a month while scouting out properties in Ecuador. Natalia was about 50 and looking for a house in Ecuador to live at for about half a year or more for the rest of her life. She was nice enough to show me a pretty nice 3 bedroom house she had found just north of Salinas a block from the beach that I could buy for $25,000. I was amazed I could get something like what she was showing me for that cheap, but then she pulled up a listing of it for $120,000 online. “And that’s why you gotta know what you’re doing, kid,” she said to me with a wink as she lit a cigarette.
Natalia gave me a treatise on the real estate market in South America, and provided a lot of tips and advice to avoid getting gouged with los precios de los gringos (gringo prices). Apparently, a lot of shady things take place in real estate transactions in Ecuador, even when dealing with other ex-pats. Having been poking around for good real estate deals, I was glad to have met her and gotten the breakdown of how things go down in South America. We talked for about an hour before I headed to the bus station.
After a short ride on a local bus, I arrived at the Terminal Terrestre Regional Sumpa-Santa Elena bus station at about 1pm. I saw a sign for Montanita, and bought a ticket. The bus was leaving in 5 minutes, so I hurried to take a whiz and grab a bottle of water before finding my bus, tossing my backpack in the luggage compartment, and taking a seat on the crowded bus.
After an hour ride we were nearing Montanita. I was already worried about missing my stop in Montanita since the doorman was not calling out stops and I was toward the back of the bus pinned in a window seat by an overweight elderly man. Then, at one bus stop about 30 schoolchildren of about 12 boarded the bus and stood in the aisle.
At my stop in Montanita, which I only knew we were at because I was using my MAPS.ME app, I told the guy sitting next to me it was my stop. It took him about 45 seconds to get up and be clear of the seat so I could squeeze into the aisle. I then had to carry my daypack and a bag of food overhead while pressing through the throng of schoolchildren toward the front of the bus. “Permiso, Permiso,” I repeated while contorting through the crowded aisle. Predictably, the bus pulled away before I could reach the front. When I got to the front I told the driver that was my stop and he pulled over about 100 meters onward. Exasperated, I grabbed my backpack from the luggage compartment and the bus sped off, leaving me in a cloud of dust. Ahhh, traveling by bus in South America!
As I put on my backpack, I was greeted by the sound of waves in the distance. A young Ecuadorian rode by on a bicycle with a surfboard. A group of young people with cocktails in hand walked by in the distance as I heard reggae music from passing Jeep. Ahhh, surf towns in South America!