Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the Road: Guayaquil, Ecuador

I have to say, I never imagined I would take a trip to South America, let alone Ecuador.  I guess Miami has kinda soured me a little on Latin culture.  That's a really dumb excuse though.  This year is all about new adventure for me, so just last week I found myself deplaning in Guayaquil, visiting a friend I'd made while traveling throughout the US. 

It was a little before midnight when I arrived and we stopped at my hotel before heading to a section of Guayaquil called Las Penas.  My friend and I walked around the hilly area and then she recommended we check out a bar called La Palleta.  This place was really cool, an artsy, funky bar that was cozy and fun.  We ordered a few mojitos and a few snacks - olives, bread, and some clams.  The clams were of the canned variety from what I remember and they were pretty good.  The only thing I didnt like was that they were kinda sandy and gritty.

The next day, we drove to the town of Montanito, a tiny beach town about 3 hours from Guayaquil.  It was packed when we got there around 11am.  People get to the beach really early to enjoy the day.  This was a surf town and lots of surfers were walking about.  After picking up some supplies, including some much needed sunscreen for my gringo self, we headed over to a friend of my friend's house.  His place was recently purchased and being remodeled but it was really, really cool and really big.  It was also right on the beach which, in this area, was semi-private since it was a good way down from the main beach town area.  The beach was beautiful and we spent the day sitting in the sun, walking, and swimming.  The best part, however, was when her friends brought back some fresh ceviches for us to enjoy.  We had a fish ceviche that was very good and super fresh but my favorite was the shrimp ceviche.  The shrimps were cooked perfectly and full of flavor.  I regret not taking pics of these dishes!

Iguana w/ snapping turtles in the water @ Iguana Park

A few days later I was back in Guayaquil and on my own since my friend had a busy day and had to go to work.  I used my not-so-great-but-not-too-bad Spanish skills to get around, with a plan to hit up a few museums and parks and learn more about the local culture.  When I got to the first museum it was closed so I hit up a park called Iguana Park in the middle of the city.  You'll never believe this but lots of iguanas live there along with snapping turtles and a bunch of pigeons that were so big they looked like roosters.  The iguanas were extremely docile and kids would pull their tails which I thought was kinda funny, a little cute, and kinda cruel at the same time haha.

My taxi driver had told me that the Continental Hotel was a good spot to eat lunch and as I was leaving Iguana Park, I looked up and it was right in front of me.  The spot was called Cafeteria La Canoa.  I was pretty hungry so I stopped in for lunch.  Some fresh, soft bread appeared in front of me along with some spicy salsa.  I ordered Sango de choclo con camarones, knowing that I'd liked the shrimp here in Ecuador so far and also knowing that choclo meant "corn" which is another one of my favorite things to eat.  The dish came out hot, a bunch of shrimp cooked and hidden amongst a bowl of what amounted to corn porridge.  A side of rice was served on the side and I sat at the counter, fishing out a shrimp from the corn porridge and topping it on the rice, then adding a little of the spicy salsa before wolfing it down.  It was a good dish even if it was a tad on the heavy side for lunch. 

 Sango de choclo con camarones

Two younger people came in and were looking for a seat at the bar since the restaurant was packed for lunch.  There were vacant seats to each side of me so I moved over so they could sit together.  They were appreciative and a few minutes later they spoke to me in English, asking where I was from.  They were students at the university and we chatted for a bit, me speaking as best I could in Spanish and them letting me know it was ok to speak English if I wanted to.  Their English was very good, especially the girl who happened to have the same name as my friend that I was visiting.  She had lived in Atlanta for a bit and when she spoke English she had little to no accent.  After chatting with them, I headed back out to explore more of the city of Guayaquil.

I hit up another museum and once again found it was closed.  I later would learn that all museums are closed on Monday.  Just my luck.  With no museums to teach me more about the city, I walked around observing the architecture while I made my way to the Malecon, a long boardwalk down by the river that had shopping and other things to see.  The architecture and art in Ecuador was really cool.  As I walked the Malecon, I eventually came across an artisan market where they had a lot of handmade goods.  I walked the shops and didn't see much that caught my eye.  As I was about to leave, a man invited me into his shop and I took him up on his offer since he seemed like a nice guy.  As I walked through the shop, I noticed a boy playing a guitar.  It was the man's son.  I asked how long he had been playing and he answered a little over a year and asked if I played.  I said that I did and he invited me to play, which I was happy to do as I'd missed my guitar since I'd left Miami.  I played a few tunes and then bought a shirt and a pair of pants from the man as a show of thanks.  It was a good day.

That night I met up with my friend for a Valentine's Day dinner date.  Her father is a member at a place called the Bankers Club (he is not a banker, that's just a name of the place I think) and they had a selection of 2 pre-fixe menus to choose from.  Both of us chose the 2nd option which started with spiny lobster presented beautifully with some mashed potatoes and what seemed to be something similar to a green goddess dressing.  It was fresh, light, and tasty.  The next dish was a soup.  I forget what the vegetable in the soup was (I want to say squash blossom but I'm pretty sure that's wrong.  It was something similar to that though) but it was stuffed with foie gras which I really enjoyed.  After a palate cleanser sorbet, our main course of lamb medallions came out.  It was ok.  I found it to be overly salty but my friend said she enjoyed hers.  We ate dessert while the live band played on.  The lead singer had a beautiful voice, even when belting out a few "happy birthday" tunes to some attendees.  I had an early flight the next morning so after finishing our glasses of wine we headed on our way.

I really enjoyed my trip to Ecuador.  I must admit, I have always been a bit intimidated by South America.  Going to Ecuador really helped me get over that.  I met lots of really cool people and even learned that my Spanish isn't all that bad when I'm forced to use it.  I plan to practice more and hope to visit Ecuador again someday to check out Quito and the other mountainous areas.  Maybe even visit with other friends when they go to places like Columbia too, since I hear I have some fans there hehe ;)