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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Farewell to Ecuador

Glancing Back from Guayaquil
Tyrel Nelson

I hit the street and suddenly began to sweat. As the glass doors of the Grand Hotel Guayaquil closed behind my back, I could immediately feel the coastal climate weighing down on me. The late-afternoon air was beyond muggy, so thick I could take a bite from it. It was a drastic change from Cuenca’s spring-like, Andean weather I had grown accustomed to over the past several months. Nevertheless, I only had a couple hours of daylight to work with and wasn’t going to let the sultry skies stop me. I knew I was close to what I wanted to see.

Somehow, I managed to study a map of the Guayas province’s capital during the furious, fishtailing car ride that had transported me through the mountains of El Cajas National Park and across the fiery flatlands before arriving in Ecuador’s largest city, which took just under three hours (a bus trip from Cuenca usually lasted four). The grid of Guayaquil’s center was tattooed on my brain by the time I stepped into the lobby of my hotel.

After quickly checking in and dropping my bags off, I went straight outside. First, I started south on Boyacá and quickly turned left on 10 de Agosto. I then continued east one block until I reached Parque Bolívar, which was home to the city’s famous Parque de los Iguanas.

Entering the verdant park, I was intrigued by the endless iguanas that gallivanted on the grounds. I noticed scores of the reptiles roving the cement walkways while others climbed the towering trees that dominated the plaza. I also saw just as many men, women, and children taking pictures of the lizards. The iguanas were far from camera shy, seemingly unbothered by the limitless lenses in their faces. Apart from the legions of lizards, I was pleased by the ornate cathedral that loomed over the lush lot, the square’s red-roofed gazebos, and the big monument of Simón Bolívar on horseback, which stood proudly at the plaza’s bull’s-eye. I was also impressed with the small pond that occupied the southwest corner of the greenspace. Just below the surface, numerous fish swam above several stout turtles that slowly patrolled the pool’s floor.

Despite its rather small size, el Parque de los Iguanas was certainly one of the most pleasant parks I had visited during my year in Ecuador. I left the greenspace feeling quite satisfied and moseyed towards the Malecón 2000.

Staying eastbound on 10 de Agosto, I found myself on Guayaquil’s renovated boardwalk a few minutes later, straining my neck to see the round top of the yellow and green Moorish clock tower, which stabbed high into the stifling sky. I then turned north and started my strut on the municipality’s pride and joy.

While the sun sank closer towards the horizon, I could still feel its heat. My Twins baseball cap became soaked as I wandered along Guayaquil’s wide malecón (which ran parallel to the metropolis’s dirty Guayas River). Avoiding oncoming amblers, I took many photos of the various sculptures, fountains, and gardens decorating the 2.5-kilometer stretch. And when I wasn’t taking snapshots, I observed the constant activity occurring on the pedestrian pathway, surprised by its overall cleanliness.

Unlike the murky Río Guayas over which it stood, the colorful, modern walkway’s presence was striking due to its incredible upkeep. In spite of being a few years old and the centerpiece of the nation’s largest city, it looked like it had been built the night before.

Wanting to finish the walk I pressed on, enduring the hellacious humidity as well as the constant crowds I had to weave through. I eventually passed the IMAX Theater and Central Bank Museum to reach the northern end of the promenade, where a rock concert had just begun on a small stage. I actually put up with the screaming, dark-clad vampires for a few songs until I couldn’t take the deafening music anymore. As a result, I turned away from the bloodsucking multitude and began retracing my steps along the malecón.

I was back at the hotel half an hour later. Sitting on my bed, I glanced around my room and remembered the first time I had seen those beige walls, even though I shouldn’t have.

Six and a half months earlier, my girlfriend and I had to leave the Galápagos Islands a day before we were supposed to. EMETEBE, the archipelago’s only interisland airline, overbooked our early morning flight from Isla Isabela to Isla San Cristóbal. To make a long story short, some arguing, a couple of unplanned flights, as well as a failed attempt to board a jet back to Cuenca brought Amanda and me to the glass doors of Guayaquil’s Grand Hotel. Besides all the worrying and rushing, everything turned out alright. Amanda and I even liked the hotel we were basically forced to stay at, which was the reason I booked it again. I chuckled when I thought about how everything was connected.

This memory spurred others, causing me to reflect upon all of my days in Ecuador. I vividly remembered walking to the baggage claim in Quito a year earlier, scared to death and wondering how I was ever going to get my feet under me, let alone teach English. I recalled how I was just as frightened leaving everyone I knew in the capital a month and a half later, nervously heading south towards Cuenca to start my job at the Centros de Estudios Interamericanos. Next, I thought about all of the classes I had, the dozens of students I taught, and the many teachers I had seen walk in and out of CEDEI’s doors. In addition, I reminisced about my beautiful town and how I loved walking Cuenca’s peaceful, historical streets, which reminded me of the good friends I had met there. This made me think of Sheik, who was my closest friend, and how she had cried just hours earlier. I could still picture Sheik standing next to her husband, Juan José, waving until they disappeared from my driver’s rearview mirror.

I just sat there, astonished at how the next day, my day of departure, was going to be number 365. Although I was excited to see Amanda, who was anxiously waiting for me in the U.S., I still couldn’t shake off the sadness. I had an unforgettable year and part of me didn’t want it to stop.

On the other hand, I knew I’d be okay in the end. Although I was about to leave Ecuador, I was sure Ecuador would never leave me.

© Tyrel Nelson January 2009

Rambling through Rotary
Tyrel Nelson
Sunday morning. That’s always my answer whenever I’m asked what tops my list about Cuenca.
The Quirks of Cajas
Tyrel Nelson in Ecuador

Without warning, the skies turned overcast and a light rain began to fall

More travel stories in hacktreks 3 & 4


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