My last days in Ecuador have been spent in Guayaquil. This is Ecuador’s largest port and an intriguing city in that nothing is what it appears to be. The cathedral at first glance is a magnificent structure probably from the 18th or early 19th Century. In fact when you look closer at the detail you will notice that the beautiful stained glass windows are in fact modern, what I would refer to as printed. As late as 1915 the building was little more than a large brick-built warehouse with a reasonably imposing frontage. There is also a clock tower which would not look out of place on the esplanade of an English seaside resort; indeed the clock was purchased from England in 1842 and is still keeping good time. Teach the Swiss a thing or two about timepieces.
Although I am guessing I would say there are very few, if any, buildings here that are a hundred years old and in their original appearance. That does not detract from the fact that it is a pleasant city with a number of attractions. However in this area the main tourist attraction has to be as a jump-off point to the Galapagos Islands.
I however have neither the time nor money to spend on visiting them and so I did the next best thing which was to cross the road from my hotel to Seminario Park. Here there is a large colony of Iguanas, turtles and Ecuadorian squirrels.
I have been a little pre-occupied trying, so far in vain, to get Bridget loaded into a container for the trip to Panama. The ship is due to leave on Tuesday 30th June and today is Saturday 27th June. I have just returned to my hotel having spent over 5 hours trying to gain access to the port only to be refused entry because a particular piece of paper is missing and the chief Honcho is not working today so nobody will complete the process. We have to return Monday morning to make a final attempt or miss the boat!
Success at last, but at a price. Today I met the main contender for ‘most officious customs officer in the world’. We locked horns very early in the proceedings and things went downhill from there. At one stage he indicated that he wanted the engine removed at which point I said, “If you want the bloody thing out you can f…..g well do it, sunshine”. After such an inexcusable outburst he appeared to become more reasonable, but everything was removed from the interior and the boot. However after all the games Bridget finally was put to bed in her container. She has become such a beast since her engine rebuild that they tied her down in much the same way as the safari guys secure big game when transporting them; each wheel was lashed with ropes tied off at an angle of around 110º. I am returning to my hotel to organise a flight for myself and then await her arrival.
My journey through South America has been memorable for many different reasons. First, and foremost, has been the scenery throughout almost the total route; the desert areas and of course the Andes sometimes completely barren and at others covered in dense vegetation. Secondly has been the children so clearly the core of many of the Indian communities throughout South American countries, and finally the driving; probably some of the most punishing for Bridget, but also the most exhilarating for me once we had completed each section. The drive over the mountains to Cuenca will always be with me.
My final night in Guayaquil was exceptionally poignant that will stay with me forever. My shipping agents partner makes a considerable contribution to local charities. She asked if I would like to visit one of the projects that she is managing and jointly funding with the Ecuador Government. The whole area was, until two years ago, waterlogged swamp which has now been reclaimed and is given over to a large population of the city’s poorest residents. They are building a school, that I was shown around, that by normal education standards in Europe would be considered basic, but for them, is palatial; and in addition there are several community projects being piloted. The most ambitious is a self help employment scheme that they hope will give work to 100 individuals. The plight of the children in the shanty buildings was difficult to comprehend but they display amazing resilience and, above all, hope.
Bridget and I should be back in action around the 8th July when we will tackle Central America.