Monday, July 13, 2009

Paradise Lost - Isla San Cristobal to Guayaquil

Monday, July 13th - Paradise Lost - Isla San Cristobal to Guayaquil

During the night I hear soft rain on the tin roof of our harbor side bungalow. I'm sure that it has rained most nights on our Galapagos cruise, but our cabin was on the bottom level and the noises of the ship masked the weather above. Although I wake before dawn, I cat nap and enjoy the luxury of a leisurely morning without a scheduled wet or dry landing. We leave John sleeping and Art and I walk the short distance into town. Sea lions grunt as we pass them along the beach and the red crabs are already scurrying upon the harbors black lava retaining wall. We choose a local open-air cafe, order our cafe con leche and huevo rancheros and wait for an extremely long time before our breakfast is served. We are on island time and I try not to be impatient as I gaze along the sleepy malacon and watch the boats rock in the harbor. Eventually, fueled with cafe con leche, we return to our bungalow to pack, wake John and return to our "slow food" cafe so that John can eat breakfast.

The airport is just a few minutes from town, but the check in process is inefficient and we wait over two hours for our plane to depart. An ambulance waits on the runway and our plane will transport an accident victim to Quito and we watch and wonder what might have happened to this unfortunate man. Our two-hour flight to Guayaquil is non eventful. We land just before 4:00 P.M and take a $5.00 taxi ride to the Grand Hotel Guayaquil in the center of the city. The Grand Hotel is not very grand; but they do have our reservations and give us vouchers for welcome drinks at the Turtle Bar and for breakfast the next morning. The obligatory bellhop delivers our bags our room and we immediately leave the hotel to explore the city in the short time remaining. Our first stop is the park directly behind our hotel where John and I remembered seeing iguana's on our previous visit five years ago. The small square has a wrought iron gated perimeter, the 4 gates wide open on this lovely warm afternoon. Climbing the abundant trees and basking on the warm walkways are dozens of iguanas. The smaller ones hang from the trees, but alpha males sprawl beside the park benches and tolerate the attention of humans. Many are incredibly beautiful, with moss green heads, morphing into golden bodies. The ample folds of skin around their necks have intricate scale patterns and John and I admire, pet and photograph these remarkable creatures. After a week of not being allowed to touch the iguanas, we enjoy this close up encounter. Some of the older iguanas are war veterans of this environment; one missing a foot and many missing parts of their tails. The traffic whizzes around all four sides of the park, but survival instinct and the wrought iron gates keep most of the iguanas in their designated area. Mucky cement feeding dishes are positioned throughout the park and we watch one iguana wade through a disgusting dish of mashed fruits and vegetables. Art is impatient to walk to the malacon, so John and I tear ourselves away from our lizard friends and leave the park. As the light turns green we hear a loud crack, almost like a gunshot. We twirl, startled, and see an iguana sprawled behind us on the sidewalk and I fear that a car has hit him; John mutters, that guy is "buckled." Turning back, we realize that this veteran male has not been hit by a car, but has fallen from the tree some 40 feet above us. He lies stunned, but miraculously sorts out his legs and tails and ambles off the sidewalk, squeezing through the bars of the wrought iron fence and disappearing into the foliage within the park. I wonder and worry how often this must happen, if he was pushed by another alpha iguana, or simply slipped.

We walk through the business district, past classical government buildings with ornate glass arcades. and monuments commemorating Ecuadorian independence. The afternoon light is lovely as we climb the steps up to the modern malacon; a raised expanse of concrete and stainless steel, curving along the waterfront. An impressive three mast sailing ship is permanently stationed here, a training vessel for the Ecuadorian navy. We walk along the malacon for some time, stopping to gaze at the wide and muddy river. Organic debris is trapped beneath the pylons to the pedestrian bridges and I imagine gargantuan, natural rafts composed of organic matter, transporting a pair of iguanas to one of the Galapagos islands and the evolutionary process that ultimately unfolded. Having just witness the resilience of the sky diving iguana, I find these theorized, incredible journeys all the more plausible. We leave the malacon and cross back into the city, finding ourselves in a labyrinth of tiny shops and street vendors. I clutch one strap of my back pack tightly as we wind single file through the crowded alleyways. Hawkers call out to us every few steps, holding out name brand copies of Nike, D & G. Pirated DVD's are crammed into tiny stalls and a slinky young woman, in too tight jeans and a haggard face does her best to lure Art into a side alley. He sidesteps her multiple times, but she is persistent and we veer off the main corridor and find ourselves surrounded by a sea of shoes, stretching as far as we can see. Every few steps, one of these merchants points to my sensible sandals, dismayed at my lack of style and asks hopefully if I would like a more fashionable pair. We leave the bazaar and head back towards our hotel. It is nearly 7:00 P.M. and many shops are closing for the night, shuttered tight with roll down steel doorways and grates.

Back at the hotel, we redeem our welcome drinks at the uninspired Turtle Bar. John and I wish for a memorable last dinner in Ecuador, but we feel restricted to the hotels restaurant; the armed guards at the door, an indication that we may not wish to wander the streets at night in search of local fare. The ambiance of the 1822 restaurant is encouraging, but the permeating smell of chlorine, wafting in from the pool, and the lack of other patrons should have forewarned us. Nevertheless, we order a creamed seafood and cognac appetizer, which is entirely too fishy; two other entrees and a salad. All but my shrimp salad is mediocre and we are disappointed with our last hurrah.

1 comment:

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Hi Marty, I happened upon your blog while visiting ULLABEULA and others. Anyway, great blog, fascinating journey you've taken. The creatures are magnificent and otherworldly. Thank you for sharing your adventures and thoughts.-Richard