After 14 hours of traveling, my cab ride through the quiet, shuttered streets of downtown Guayaquil at 1 am gave the impression of a clean manageable town. The largest port in Ecuador and spread out in all directions, the spectrum from poor to rich seems to be leaning more heavily in the center here than in other places, with people looking well fed and children seeming healthy.
The social center of the city is the Malecon, a public park stretching along the long edge of the river and created in the last decade with modern technology and architecture to rival any similar urban area in the world. There are beautiful playgrounds for children as well as elevated walkways an wood and canvas structures to enjoy the water view.
At the end of the Malecon is a new museum complex wth an impressive building dedicated to an unusual combination: the Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art. It includes both a beautifully curated history of pre-columbian art with inspiring ceramic examples of local images and a serious exhibition of recent art from fine Ecuadorian artists as well as a history of modern art in the country.
The architecture of the city is mainly poured concrete and block construction, with commercial buildings in the heart of downtown displaying blocky columns over the sidewalk to provide a protected walkway. In the residential area of the inner city, the houses vary from very poor hovels to large family homes, often side by side. Once outside the central downtown, it becomes clear that the wealthy live in gated communities of new homes, separated from those less fortunate.
The tourist bus I was on for 2 hours passed by some of the great historic buildings of this once colonial city, the municipal “palace”, the university of arts, the telegraph office, part of the older world where those from other cultures controlled the wealth and the power.
I had studied 3.5 hours of beginning Spanish with CDs last week — my only exposure to the language — and I used and needed on my first day everything I had learned. I became lost and had to ask directions back to the hotel. The service here is outstanding, from tour bus operators, to hotel clerks, to waiters, and it seems so universal that I wonder if kindness and consideration toward others is a deep seeded part of the culture. Would that it be so everywhere.
Tomorrow, early in the morning, I head for the Tren Crucero, the beginning of my train trip from Guayaquil to Quito.