Category Archives: Around Town

Guayaquil Malecon 2000

Guayas River water hyacinths

Most mornings, I take a brisk walk along the Malecon 2000. This lovely riverfront promenade, flanking the western side of the Guayas River, is the crown jewel of Guayaquil. It begins at the Crystal Palace, the former southern Guayaquil marketplace turned exhibit hall, and ends up at the MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo), located at the foot of the northern hillside neighborhood of Las Peñas. This recent waterfront restoration project transformed what was once one of the seediest areas of Guayaquil into the safest outdoor public area in the city. On any given day joggers, couples, friends and families enjoy the calm, relaxing riverside environment bordering the busy downtown area.

Water hyacinth foliage

Certain times of the year, tiny islands of water hyacinths float up or down the river, depending on the tide. As you walk along the promenade, there are numerous gardens with lush tropical plants and brightly colored flowers shaded by majestic trees. During the rainy season (January-May) the tree canopies offer a dry place to wait as the occasional downpour passes overhead.

red cannaDeli juice cart orange and yellow canna

On weekends, the malecón, which means sea front promenade, is bustling with families walking, sitting, playing and exercising. There is a fitness circuit, a playground and a variety of open areas, where tai chi regulars meet. Vendors sell water, juices and soda from their brightly colored carts, while young ladies stand inside the big round red and white Pinguino stands selling ice cream. There is an outdoor food court at the southern end of the malecón and an indoor one at the northern end. The typical international and national fast food chains are represented, including the nicest McDonald’s I have ever seen. Actually, it looks more like a bistro with its sleek contemporary wood and metal tables and chairs and large glass windows overlooking the river.

Guayas Learning Ship

The Guayas Ship School (Buque Escuela “Guayas“) is docked at the Navy Yacht Club on the malecón . Guayas is the name of the province where Guayaquil is located. Built in 1977, in Bilbao, Spain, the “Guayas” sailboat acts as the Ecuadorian Navy’s world ambassador, having visited 60 ports in 25 countries and traveled the equivalent of 16 times around the world (340,000 nautical miles). The ship’s many voyages have often included outstanding students and foreign officials.

Little observer Guayas River rower Walking along the malecon

The Henry Morgan, also docked at the malecón, is a pirate ship replica that offers 50-minute tours up and down the Guayas River. This sailboat was built specifically as part of the Malecon 2000 project and was named after the infamous pirate, Captain Henry Morgan. Though Morgan never made it to Guayaquil, he represents the many pirates that plied the Ecuadorian waters throughout history.

Malecon sky
I grew up on an island connected to the mainland and another island by three bridges. One bridge, in particular, always had workers suspended from it, painting and doing maintenance. We called them the bridge people. Here, there are the malecón people. There is a reason why the esplanade is immaculate and the gardens always lush and beautiful.

Everyday, the maintenance workers are fixing, staining or sanding the wooden planks and railings, sweeping up any litter, emptying the trash bins, power washing the brick and stone and feeding and watering the plants. There are even recycling stations with clearly marked barrels and interpretive posters explaining the benefits of recycling.

Palacio de Cristal

Designed by French engineer/architect Gustave Eiffel and constructed in 1907, the Crystal Palace was once known as Guayaquil’s busy southern marketplace where vendors sold vegetables, fruit and fish, among other things. Today, it is used for expositions, flower shows and a variety of public or private events. Early mornings, usually Saturdays or Sundays, the workers are seen cleaning up from the previous night’s festivities.

rose petals
The lovely state of the art MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo) has an ongoing detailed exhibit of the rich Pre-Colombian coastal Ecuadorian history. Another exhibit hall presents varied works of Ecuadorian artists and the MAAC theater regularly shows films and documentaries.
MAACMAAC fountain
The Fundacion Malecon 2000 was established in 1997 to oversee the development and maintenance of the malecón. The Guayaquil waterfront revitalization project began in 1996 and was completed in October 2003 with the construction of the Teatro IMAX, located next to the MAAC on the northern end of the Malecon 2000.
Malecon 2000

Back in Guayaquil

Departing Miami

It is a grey overcast, but warm and bright Saturday. A few days ago, I returned from a very enjoyable month-long trip visiting family and friends. My return flights were pleasant and I arrived to a warm welcome (people and weather) in Guayaquil. It is nice to be back in Ecuador.

Tostadas con Jamon y Queso

I am sitting at the dark green tiled countertop of Las 3 Canastas (The 3 Baskets) at the corner of Chile and Velez in Guayaquil. Fresh cheese and ham sandwiches piled on small plates sit on top of one of the stainless steel shelves in the glass case in front of me. The rest of the shelves and countertop are lined with small silver platters or white plates stacked with bolón de verdes (balls of mashed plantains mixed with cheese), humitas (corn tamales), papas rellenas (balls of fried mashed potatoes stuffed with meat or chicken), tortillas de verde (mashed plantains filled with cheese), pastel de pollo or chorizo (puff pastry with chicken or pork sausage), quippe (could not find a translation, but am curious to know what it is) and torta de camote (sweet potato cake). Another glass case protects and displays a rich assortment of colorful fruits (cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, papaya, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon and bananas). There are more fruits (apples, grapefruits, persimmons and tomato de arbol) stacked on layers of black shelves behind the register.

Tortillas, Papas Rellenas, Etc.

There are also fruits hidden from view, because I just ordered my favorite shake, guanabana, and don’t see the guanabanas. Once ripe, guanabanas deteriorate quickly, so they are probably stored in the refrigerator. Although guanabana is my favorite, I have tried many other fruit shakes, including mamey, naranjilla and mango. All are delicious.

Las 3 Canastas Fruit

Guanabanas (Annona muricata) are large pocked green fruits, typical characteristics of the cherimoya species and custard apple family to which they belong. Inside they contain black pea-sized seeds and a white custard-like cream. In other parts of the world they are also known as guyabano or soursop. Mamey (Pouteria sapota) is especially common in Mexico, Central America and the northern part of South America. It has a smooth beige brown skin and is a deep orangish red inside. Mamey’s taste reminds me of raspberries. The first time I tried it was six and a half years ago at a small roadside stand in Acapulco. It was my first trip to Latin America.

The naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) has a reddish orange skin and resembles a greenish yellow tomato on the inside. It is a member of the tomato family. Quitoense refers to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Though not one of my favorites, tomate de arbol juice is also quite popular in Ecuador. The egg-shaped tomate de arbol (Solanum betaceum) is also a member of the tomato family and comes in yellow and red.

Guanabana shake and fruit

Accompanying my guanabana shake is a small bowl of mixed fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, banana, papaya and peaches)) with yogurt and granola topped with a little brown sugar. In some parts, honey is used instead. This is my breakfast. It is absolutely delicious and all for $3.90.

Earlier, the line at Las 3 Canastas was especially long. The streets of Guayaquil are filled with thousands of people, including many out-of-towners. All ages and ethnic backgrounds from various regions of Ecuador are represented. They are gathering to demonstrate their allegiance to the president, Rafael Correa. More specifically, they are rallying and drumming up support for their president in the city of Guayaquil. This industrial port is Ecuador’s largest city with approximately 2,200,000 inhabitants. Guayaquil’s mayor is Jaime Nebot, a prominent Ecuadorian affiliated with one of the president’s opposing parties.

Voted into office on 6 December, 2006, Rafael Correa is the 56th Ecuadorian president and the seventh president Ecuador has seen in the past eleven years. The president belongs to the left-wing Christian party, Aliaza PAIS. PAIS means country and is also the acronym for Patria Altiva I Soberana, which translates to Proud and Sovereign Fatherland. Jaime Nebot has been mayor of Guayaquil since 2000 and is a member of the Partido Social Cristiano, the center-right Social Christian Party.

My hotel is in the center of town on one of the main streets, 9 de Octubre. This morning, I awoke at 7am to lively music and people sporadically raising their voices. When I looked out the window I was surprised to see only a few people on the street. Stages were setup alongside the road with enormous speakers reverberating a series of lively tunes. It was not long before the amount of people matched the noise level. Soon, speeches, parades and performances were in full swing. There was also a parade on Victor Manuel Rendon, the street parallel to 9 de Octubre.

By 9am, the downtown was teeming with people in lime green t-shirts reading, “35 PAIS, Patria Altiva I Soberana, Asamblea es Pais!” The number thirty-five represents Alianza PAIS, the president’s party. Other popular t-shirts are white with light blue writing, “Guayaquil apoya Correa, La Revolución Ciudadana Cumple un Año,” (Guayaquil supports Correa, the revolutionary citizens have one year behind them) and yellow t-shirts with black lettering emphatically stating, “Todos contra La Corrupción!,” which translates to “Everyone against Corruption!” Of course, on any given day, there are people sporting the Guayaquil Barcelona soccer team’s bright yellow t-shirts listing the team’s sponsors Banco Pichincha and Pilsener.

The indigenous Andean women wear long bright pink, green or blue skirts and neatly pressed white blouses. Countless strands of gold necklaces adorn their necks. The women wear brown or black loafers or black cloth sandals. Most indigenous men and women wear a dark felt hat. Men, women and children mill around eating plates of choclo (large-grained corn), pork and/or fruit. I walk by a large pile of small plastic bags filled with All Natural water, available free of charge for passersby. Almost every block is lined with a combination of uniformed members of the civil defense, military and national police. In some areas, there is a greater concentration of the latter two. It is a lively crowd and people are enjoying the opportunity to congregate and be entertained.

Midnight Surprise

Large Painted Locust

It’s midnight. The lights are out. I have spent the past sixteen hours doing the types of things you don’t remember at the end of the day. Normally I would pass out from exhaustion, but a three inch long insect has just landed in my hair. Within seconds the lights are on again and I am wide awake. It is grasshopper season and it appears one of these stealthy little beasts has made it into my bedroom.

The truth is the grasshopper may have gone unnoticed had I not reached behind the bed for my mosquito net. Mosquito season has passed, but there are still a few stragglers annoyingly buzzing around my room. The grasshopper was probably comfortably nestled into the mosquito net when I pulled his resting place out from under him.

This common Galapagos grasshopper is also known as the Large Painted Locust (Schistocerca melanocera). As described in Wildlife of the Galápagos, it grows up to three and half inches and is seen most frequently after a heavy rain fall.

It is incredible how far these grasshoppers can jump. Ten feet is a piece of cake. Once they enter a room they refuse to leave. You are usually left with four choices. The first, is to leave the room. The second, is to stay in the room and watch the grasshopper distractingly jump around, occasionally landing in your hair or on your back. The third option is to catch and release the little creature. This takes perseverance. Be prepared to leave the article that you used to catch the critter outside all night. The final alternative is to put the grasshopper out of its misery. Clearly, this option should only be used if the grasshopper has been injured. I usually opt for the third choice.

Missing My Mac

Site of Missing Mac

The Monday before last, I returned from an all morning meeting to an empty dining room table. Between 11:15 and 1pm, my laptop had disappeared. Though anything is possible, it is hard to believe the computer was unplugged from the socket, lifted off the table and pulled through one of the barred windows. There was no damage to the front door, so we assume the person who stole the computer entered with a key. At noon that day, the suspected keyprovider and my housemate exchanged glances at the airline reservations office. My housemate had just begun standing in a long ticket line as the person in question exited the reservations office. We can only guess who actually entered the house and helped themselves to my computer.

In the afternoon, a friend accompanied me to the police station to file a missing article report. Relatively few people in Galapagos own Mac computers, so the police said it would probably be difficult for the thief to sell the computer on the islands. The computer would most likely be sold on the continent. Nevertheless, the policeman who filed the report said he would notify his colleagues on the other more populated islands of Isabela and San Cristobal.

Word had it that the suspected keyprovider was leaving for the continent the next day. While at the police station I ran into an employee of TAME, the airline most commonly used by Galapaguenos. I explained my situation and that I was interested in going to the airport the next day to make sure all the baggage is carefully checked. The TAME employee suggested I speak with the head of DAC (Direccion de la Aviacion Civil), the organization in charge of airport security.

At 7:30am on Tuesday morning, my friend and I crossed the channel from Santa Cruz to Baltra and boarded the bus to the airport. While we waited for the bus to leave I looked out the window and noticed the suspect boarding the next bus. As soon as we arrived at the airport I spoke with the head of airport security and his team of inspectors. I described the computer, so they knew exactly what to look for as the carry-on luggage passed through the x-ray machine. 

The Galapagos National Park, airline personnel and airport security (DAC) all work together in monitoring what enters and leaves the Galapagos. They use an x-ray machine to check all the suitcases boarding each flight. The security personnel were kind enough to allow my friend and I to watch the monitor as the luggage passed through the machine. The suspect’s suitcase was one of several suitcases that was pulled and checked in more detail. The suspected keyprovider was present while his baggage was checked. The security personnel also inspect each box sent by cargo. While they were at it, they also checked for my computer. At one point they called me over to take a look, but it was someone else’s computer that was being shipped.

After checking all the baggage and boxes leaving on the four flights that day, it was time to return to Puerto Ayora. It was not too suprising that my computer had not appeared in someone’s luggage. Any savvy thief would wait at least a few days before escaping with the stolen goods. Nevertheless, it was worth a try. I provided the people in charge with a photo and detailed description of the computer, a copy of the police report, and my name and telephone number. They assured me they would continue to be on alert. The cooperation of the security personnel, Park and airline staff was above and beyond what I expected. I was truly impressed and grateful for their help.

Several friends suggested that I pay a visit to the Puerto Ayora computer repair stores.  Most people are not familiar with how to erase and reload computer information, so chances are they may go to one of these stores for help. Over the next few days, I put together packages of the same information I had provided for the airport security people and went to each computer repair place.

At one store I got into a more in depth conversation with the manager. We discussed the different ways a thief could escape. The San Cristobal airport is closed for maintenance, so Baltra is the only exit by air. Leaving by boat appeared to be more of a possibility than I expected. Each week cargo ships arrive carrying just about everything the Puerto Ayora population consumes. They return to the continent on Thursdays. It is fairly well-known that sometimes the cargo ship crews leave with things that do not belong to them. This seemed unlikely, since the probability of damaging the computer on this type of trip is quite high. The manager agreed. He then recommended that I check with the tour boat companies. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for tour boat personnel to engage in this type of illicit activity. The time and effort it would take to approach each tour boat company was a daunting prospect. It was then that I knew the chances of recovering my computer were slim to none.

It is time to move on. Fortunately, I backed up most of my data a week before the computer was stolen. I did lose a number of email addresses, so for my friends that are reading this, please drop me a quick note, so I have your email address again.

My Roommate

my roommate

The other morning, I woke up and saw my roommate clinging to the upper right hand corner of my white bedroom wall. There are usually at least a few geckos residing in most Galapagos homes. Their tiny toe pads allow them to scale any slightly rough surface. Geckos are harmless and eat insects. They are also quiet and steadfast. A number of times I have left a room with a gecko anchored to the wall, only to return hours later with him still positioned in the exact same place.

Geckos are lizards belonging to the Gekkonidae family and are found in warm climates. In Galapagos, there are six endemic species (species found only in Galapagos) and three introduced species. I am quite certain that my roommate is a Phyllodactylus reissi, an Ecuadorian native gecko species introduced to Galapagos. He or his ancestors probably hitched a ride on a freight ship delivering goods from the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil. Harmless, quiet and insect-eating, my roommate could not be better.

find my roommate

Chloris and Momordica

Chloris spp.

Chloris and Momordica are two plant species growing in our front and backyard. The Chloris lines the street in front of the house. It is particularly attractive in the morning, when the rising sun highlights the grass’s mauve color. In the province of Galapagos, there are three species of Chloris, also known as Feather Fingergrass. It is uncertain whether any or all of the species are native or introduced. As Julian Fitter’s Wildlife of the Galápagos nicely describes, native means that the specie is “found in the Galapagos and elsewhere, but arrived by natural means.” Introduced indicates a specie that was “brought to Galápagos by man, either deliberately or inadvertently.”

blue rain barrelOut back, where the washbasin is located, there is an abundance of lush, green vines climbing in every direction. Every other day or so, my housemate, Mayra, or I step down among the vines to turn on the water pump. The pump delivers water from a cistern under the house to a covered bright blue rain barrel sitting on a concrete piling approximately twelve feet above ground. A full rain barrel assures a few decent-pressured showers and water in the kitchen and toilets for two or three days. The cistern under the house probably holds a couple hundred gallons of water. If we remember to place the black hose into the grey pipe feeding the cistern, we have an uninterrupted supply of water. When the cistern is full, we kink the black hose and place it between two lava rocks. The water in the black hose, supplied by the town of Puerto Ayora, is turned on at some point each morning. The Puerto Ayora water supply comes from the coastal grietas (crevasses or cracks in Spanish), a semi-saline, non-potable water source.

Momordica flowerOne morning, as I went to turn on the water pump, I noticed what appeared to be brilliant yellow and orange beacons scattered amongst the sea of green vines. I could not resist grabbing the camera and photographing these unusual flowers with their bright red fruit. Momordica charantia, or simply Momordica, is a Galapagos native with lovely fig leaf-shaped leaves. The flowers start out a lemon yellow and then turn orange as they wither and give way to the fruit.

Momordica charantia


Weighing the Laundry Situation

Elsa’s LavaFlash

There are really two choices when it comes to getting laundry done in Galapagos, the washbasin out back or the laundrymat. Few people have their own washing machine, and I have not heard of anyone owning a dryer, though I am sure most hotels have both. During my last stay in Galapagos, I chose to hand wash and line dry my laundry. It actually made more sense, since I lived and volunteered in the national park outside of town. I will never forget the time I saw a small dead hawk next to the laundry basin. Later, a neighbor told me as she was preparing to wash her laundry she saw the dead hawk floating in the basin. The unfortunate hawk had flown in to get a drink and could not fly out, so it drowned. My neighbor had kindly fished it out and placed it on the side.

This time around, I decided to have my laundry done at a local laundrymat. The laundrymats in Galapagos are not self-serve, so you drop off your bag of clothes, have it weighed, and 24 hour later, you pickup a bag of warm, nicely folded laundry. There are many laundry places to choose from. I go to LavaFlash, where I am always greeted with a smile by Elsa, the owner. She is consistently efficient and friendly, no matter how hot it is outside. In an earlier entry I mentioned that air conditioning is virtually unheard of in Galapagos, so you can imagine the temperatures in the laundrymat when the outdoor temperatures are in the high 80’s.

Aside from the convenience of having the laundry washed, dried and folded for just one dollar per pound, there is another reason for not hand washing the laundry out back. This year has been an especially hot and humid year, so the mosquito population has increased tremendously. The standing water in the basin is an attractive breeding ground. Seeing that we already have plenty of mosquitoes living with us, we are really not interested in having more. A friend is doing research on the types of diseases carried by mosquitoes in Galapagos. His research group has four mosquito collection sites (one on Isabela Island, one on San Cristobal Island and two on Santa Cruz Island). I knew we had a lot mosquitoes in our house when one evening a group of us were sitting around the table talking and he stood up, pulled out a matchbox and started carefully collecting mosquito specimens. When collecting mosquito samples, you cannot swat them because you need to have the body intact to study it. He joked that perhaps our house could be the fifth mosquito collection site. Clearly, Elsa’s laundry service is the way to go.

Potential mosquito breeding ground