Armed with tickets for Guayaquil, we shot out of Baños on a bus that thought it was a bullet! Chugging through the Andes, while breathing diesel fumes isn’t fun at all. All I could do was close my eyes and try to keep my head from spinning off my body. Inhaling a peppermint scented gum wrapper Deenaree gave me kept me from losing my lunch, as our bouncing bus coughed up diesel! Fragrant bodies press, babies wail, and things get sticky, as small tin-roofed cinder block towns gave way to rolling farmlands, gave way to winding roads through the cloud shrouded Andes. Vendors hop on and off, singing of steaming popsicles, banana chips, and sweet pineapple wedges heaped onto flaked enamel trays. We stop at a few gas stations to use their Spartan bathrooms, sans toilet paper. If you’re planning on taking a long bus ride in Ecuador, plan on packing some toilet paper, because the roadside facilities don’t offer any!
Seven hours later we pulled into Guayaquil’s mall-like bus terminal, looking for Alejandra, our couchsurfing host. She was on the other end of Ben’s cell phone trying to decipher his Spanglish for our exact location. Alejandra only spoke Spanish, so it was an adventure in language from the start. She glided up slender in a long pink dress, tennis shoes, and a warm smile, and told us we were her first couchsurfers! She then curtly negotiated the fare for two taxis to deliver us to her home. While we fumbled with our bags, upon arrival, Alejandra insisted on paying, and swept us into her house. After greeting her mother, she led us up immaculate tiled floors to the third level. We passed her younger sister, sound asleep, face down on her bed, and arrived at our room, with two beds, posters of Quito’s fùtbol team, old military uniforms, and windows she swung open, flinging the curtains out.
Downstairs, Alejandra and her mom were busy cooking, and wouldn’t accept any help from us. The quick clip of her step, with her pink dress bunched tight at the waist, showed how adept and efficient this little girl was. She was graceful determination, and she was clicking down forks and plates for an army! Then, an outside table came in, along with a procession of men wishing us buen provecho, have a good meal. Now, I was totally confused about what was happening! As the men filled Alejandra’s large wooden table, she served them a heaping portions of delicious chicken and rice, smothered in steaming gravy. We likewise were given hearty helpings, and my aching stomach was more than satisfied, with a wonderful warm bowl of cream of broccoli soup. In addition to being a vegetarian, Alejandra also works as a food engineer for a children’s school, so she was very mindful of my dietary needs. A man who dined at our table explained that Alejandra’s family is paid to serve a company of wielders dinner. I was in awe of the politeness of the men, despite their scruffy façade, the swift way they ate, cheerfully conversed, and orderly cleared out. I lingered, as I always do, savoring each spoonful of yummy broccoli soup, while chatting up everyone around me. Soon, with my stomach bulging, I realized how tired everyone was in the room, the four of us, after the magical seven hour bus ride, and Alejandra and her mom, after cooking for a small army, plus four additional vagabonds. We gradually excused ourselves, and slowly trudged up three stories to our beds.
The night was cooled by a steady breeze drifting through the two windows opposite each other in our room. As my friends and my husband slept, I watched the curtains grow fat and float eerily around like glowing phantoms. It grew quite chilly, so I closed my window a bit, and drifted to sounds of dogs whining, drunks shuffling, and the wind moaning through Guayaquil’s dark labyrinth.
The morning presented us the opportunity to wash our stale clothes at a cement wash station on Alejandra’s roof. Thantcyn scrubbed our clothes with bar soap on the slant of the sink, rinsed them clean, and strung up our dripping laundry to dry. After a quick brunch of eggs, sweet plantain balls, and rice, Alejandra surprised us by announcing that she took a day off work to show us around Guayaquil.
We walked down the dusty sidewalk with our new friend, past cinderblock houses painted the colors of tropical fruit, jumped onto the median of one of the busiest streets I’ve seen in Ecuador, and waited for the bus to lead us into town. Alejandra waved her little hand out to bring our bus to stop, and I bumped my head on the too short door. I quickly realized that we were giants among the Ecuadorians. Thantcyn stood holding on like a monkey for dear life, and Ben, being over six foot tall, bent in an uncomfortable position as the bus pulsed quickly ahead.
I worried about my husband’s pockets being fished in by a woman who sat on the other side of Alejandra and me. She kept whispering to her friend and nodding toward his gaping pocket. When her hand progressively inched closer I patted Thantcyn’s bottom and told him to move up. She recoiled into her friend when I smiled at her and said, buenas dias. She didn’t seem aware that we were together since I sat next to Alejandra. Who knows what she was doing, but she was way too interested in my man so I let her know she needed to back off!
In this big city, charm was sprinkled in the details. At the Parque de Las Iguanas, scaly little iguanas freely roam around. It was pretty intimidating passing a guard armed to the teeth, with many massive guns strapped to his every limb. I wasn’t sure if he was there to shoot the visitors bothering the iguanas, or the iguanas if they attempted escape! A proper statue honoring Simon Bolivar stood center stage, and beautifully manicured gardens flowed in every direction, as did the iguanas. Iguanas bobbed their heads at each other making the old and young giggle. One man who spoke English was scratching away at one, telling me they like to be touched, so I patted one on the head, and squealed when he looked up to acknowledge me. They swarmed, lounged, and climbed on everything in sight. Many dripped from trees, swam in ponds, splayed out on park benches, and balanced perfectly on two hind legs to reach a crumble of bread from a visitor. One man’s body even became an eager iguana’s ladder as the hungry little fellow clawed his way up his jeans to get at the precious bread. I suppose bread doesn’t grow on trees, so that was quite a treat for him. No harm came out of these crawly little things except for the occasional poop that plopped from the trees.
Guayaquil gets plenty hot, even for a Texan! When we boarded the bus all the locals sat on only one side, the one in the shade, while we were forced to sit like potatoes cooking on the sunny side of the bus. We were getting hungry, and Alejandra was on a mission to get us the best ceviche in town. Ceviche is a traditional dish of raw, but chemically cured seafood. Alejandra and I contented ourselves with rice and plantains, while the meat-eaters sampled the restaurant’s ceviche offerings: fish, shrimp, and conch. After the long, hot, sticky day, and the relaxing meal, Alejandra led us back to her home, where we had another wonderful meal, and met her father, before crashing for the long day to come.
The next morning we rose before the sun, ate breakfast in gulps, and hugged our sweet friend, Alejandra, making her promise to visit us in Texas someday. The good-byes were hurried, but heart-felt, and we couldn’t hold on to her long enough. We had a flight to the Galapagos to catch, and the taxi she called was already waiting and paid for! We groaned as she told us this while shutting the taxi door, and watched Alejandra’s small figure, shrink smaller still, as we zoomed away in the pinkish-gray dawn.