Thursday, 18 August 2011

Piura to Guayaquil- Ecuador 9th-12th July, 2011

Piura (Population around 329,200)
Fransisco Pizarro first came to the region in 1532, founding the city of Sullana, then Paita, and finally Piura after a series of mishaps, such as pirate raids and intolerable heat; thus, the city’s nickname “La Primera Ciudad” or “the first city” arose.  During colonial times, the city was also the main port, used to transport ships loaded with gold back to Spain. Once the conquistadors showed up, the mestizo and criollo culture was born and this makes up the modern day Piura.
Arriving in Piura from the South after crossing the unforgiving Sechura Desert, Peru’s oldest city is like a mirage on the horizon.  Piura, located almost 900kms from Lima, is located in the valley of the Rio Chira and is a transportation hub.

I arrive late in the afternoon and after some discussion, I find out the CIFI bus line has moved from what should have been across the road to about 5kms away.  I decide not to walk it with my pack, yeah I know slack, and take a taxi.  This ended up being a good decision as the area was very industrial.  The bus station is very new, clean and with nothing to do there to fill in the 5 hours before my overnight bus to Guayaquil departs.  I leave my large pack with the bus line and head to a Mega supamarcado I noticed coming in.  As it was still light I decided to walk the 2kms or so.  I was hoping for a café or restaurant to eat but was out of luck, though the supamercado had a dining area, expensive but I was able to waste a reasonable amount of time.  Then I went shopping, amazed with the variety of grocery, electrical, clothing and baby items up for sale.  At around 8pm (yes the supamercado was still opened and doing a roaring trade), I started my trek back, thinking I would get a taxi if I felt unsafe.  I did walk the whole way back, at no time did I feel unsafe and this certainly helped fill in a little more time.  When back at the terminal I went to the bathroom, cleaned my teeth and prepared for the overnight journey.  One day, Peru will realise how helpful a hook on the back of toilet doors, a mirror, toilet paper, soap, hand towels etc would be to the traveller.  While preparing for the night trip I met a delightful young woman, Elenite, a Peruvian working in Guayaquil.  We had a lovely conversation, well Spanish/English, we did manage to understand each other, she invited me to sit with her while we waited for the bus and then was very generous ensuring I was okay at the border crossings, just in case she was needed to translate for me.  Fortunately I didn’t need her to translate, though I was grateful to know she was there in case there was a problem.

We all board the bus at 10pm, I get comfy and before we know it the bus is quiet and we all fall asleep.  Around 3am we are awakened to disembark for our first stop, exiting Peru.  The process was long with no toilet facility, so gratefully it was not so cold.  The Peruvians can be a little annoying in lines, particularly when there are a lot of tourists, they push in constantly, sometimes they are told to go back to the end of the line by an official and luckily just as I was at the head of the line, my pushy Peruvian was told to go back. 
No problems with this crossing, we all pile back into the bus and around an hour later we were awakened again for the next border crossing, this time into Ecuador.  More lines, more forms, more impatience and then finally a stamp in my passport and tourist visa.  Eventually we are back on the bus.  I am feeling very relieved, none of the warnings had come to fruition.  I slept for a little more and then watched the changing scenery rush by.  Ecuador is much greener than the desert we had left behind in Peru.

Guayaquil (population 2,119,000 approximately) 10th-12th July
Ecuador’s biggest city is an oppressively hot, noisy and chaotic place. Guayaquil has come a long way from its dismal days as a dangerous port town offering nothing but trouble to the visitor.  The city has transformed the once crime-ridden waterfront along the wide Rio Guayas into as 2.5 km outdoor showpiece, Malecón 2000.  At the northern end of the Malecón is the historical neighbourhood of Las Peńas, refurbished into and idealised version of a quaint South American hillside village – brightly painted homes, cobblestone alleyways and all.  The stairway winding up Cerro Santa Ana has views from the hilltop fort, called Fortin del Cerro and there is a lighthouse as well.  Guayaquil’s principal downtown thoroughfare, Calle 9 de Octubre, has also been restored.  All flights to the Galápagos either stop or originate in Guayaquil.

I arrive in Guayaquil around 8am, pick up my pack and head for the taxi to take me to my Hostel.  I slept reasonably well considering it was in a semi-cama, the seat only goes back 90 degrees, no flatbed this time, though I am really looking forward to a shower.  The taxi takes me through the city and I can see it is indeed a large and overcrowded city.  I arrive at the hostel and the taxi driver was kind and rang the bell and waited till it was answered before he left me.  In South America all houses, shops etc have grill/wrought iron doors onto the street, than a timber door to enter the house.  Usually no one can enter without a key or using the bell to have someone open the door for you.  Great for security.
The door was answered by an American (Californian-married to an Ecuadorian, my hosts) and preceded with check in.  My room wasn’t ready but I was able to leave my pack.  Here I met a young French Canadian – Alex who arrived late the night before.  After some introductions, we decide to share a taxi into the city and have a walk around.  The American heard us and told us not to take any bags, no cameras, passports, bank cards etc, just take money and hide on ourselves, telling us there were thieves about and we were likely to have a knife to our throat if we took these items.  He really put the wind up us.  We did what he requested, later I wished I had taken at least my camera as I have no photos of Guayaquil and it is indeed lovely around the waterfront and Las Peńas.  Nothing happened of course and I am disappointed with myself for letting him decide my actions.  I am a careful and a clued traveller and I would have been perfectly fine.  Oh well we live and learn constantly.

My young friend (Alex) and I hop into a taxi (an ordered safe taxi) and headed first into the main square to see the many iguanas lying around a fountain and little lake, it was a lovely setting but felt sorry for the iguanas.  Then we walked up some of Calle 9 de Octubre till be reached Malecón 2000.  By this time it was mid-morning and starting to heat up.  I was still wearing long sleeves, long pants, wool socks and boots so was starting to feel the humidity.  We walked around here for a few hours and we were upset not to have had our cameras, particularly as there were many others with theirs.  The River was lovely and we watched the boats cruise along, wishing we were on one of them, catching a cool breeze.
Next we meandered along the kilometers till be reached the cobblestone alleyways and the stairway winding up Cerro Santa Ana.  This was a step climb with each step numbered, (over 300 steps- they stopped being numbered but still went steadily up) we figured seeing there was no building numbers, the step numbers helped identify the houses or buildings.  The views from the hilltop fort, called Fortin del Cerro were beautiful over the water stretching out to the islands in the distance, the weather was warm, humid and sunny and we began to huff and puff a little as we headed up to the lighthouse.  Here we walked around the cliff top, took in the magnificent view, visited the small church and enjoyed looking around a model of a ship that sailed the area, the anchor was huge.  As it was well past 1:30pm we decide to have lunch in a quirky little café with tables on a tiny verandah.  We have the menu del dia, Alex was not sure about eating locally, though after a good meal and beer for $5.00 US he decided his suggestion was fabulous!! 
We head down the stairs, past many Panama hats shops and like and head to another part of the waterfront and stroll with an ice-cream, thankfully in the shade.  Las Peńas, a beautiful area built on a hill, with lovely coloured houses, is before us but with no cameras, the heat and the walk up another hill we decide to just view the area and enjoy the colours from our vantage point. 
Around 3ish we head towards the bus station to take the bus back, another adventure in this so called dangerous town.  The Hostel guy gave us a map with directions and cost so we thought we would try.  We did eventually find the bus stop, waited for ages, finally got on the bus and with my Spanish asked to be dropped off at the intersection stated on the map.  We are not sure if the driver just had a bad day (he was cranky), was sick of tourists or my Spanish but he dropped us off kms from the right stop.  We asked for guidance from a man and with new direction we started to trudge.  To cut a very long afternoon short, we either were receiving wrong instructions or were getting them mixed up but after hours of walking I said to Alex, after he was heading in a direction I had not seen before, let’s just take a taxi.  For some reason he was determined to find the hostel on foot.  Eventually we took a taxi (I think he was frightened the taxi drivers would steal from him or worse) and sure enough we had been walking in circles.  Oh well, I grabbed a beer and a lovely long shower and settled in for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I awakened with a cold and felt a bit miserable.  After breakfast of juice, (sweet) bread roll, jam and coffee (usual Peruvian and Ecuador hostel breakfast) I gathered my washing and headed to the nearest Lavanderia (laundry) and then as I had a heap of computer work for my trip to The Galápagos Islands, I stayed around the Hostel until early afternoon.  I checked where the best Chifa restaurant was for a good feed of chicken, rice and vegetables, picked up my laundry and began the reshuffling of my pack for my flight to Galápagos.
I slept well, showered, finished packing and was ready for my ordered taxi, however the American took it upon himself to order the taxi just as I came down explaining I didn’t need so much time at the airport.  Good on him!  After a delayed start, I arrived at the airport, managed to follow the strict instructions I received from the travel agent (in Quito) and then go through security.  All was well, I had time for a good coffee (you take these opportunities) and soon headed to the boarding gate.  We were all lined up – then a commotion at the top of the line began.  Soon passengers in every direction were shouting and complaining.  Oh oh, things may not be too good.  I headed towards the top of the line as well, trying to find out what was wrong, eventually I did and the plane was delayed 2 hours.  I tried to explain I was heading for a boat and realised everyone else would be in the ‘same boat’.  I walked back into the airport area to Skype the agent and no sooner had I put my pack down to take out my notebook when the airline representative came over and told me to come with her.  Miraculously a seat was available (I am hoping on another plane).  Then I had to run the gantlet of angry Ecuadorians shouting (at me) why I was let on the plane and not them.  I was grateful for whatever reason I was lucky enough to board and around 15 minutes later we took off heading towards my dream 8 days on the Islands.

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