Entry #070: Friday, March 28, 2014 (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

And here I am in Ecuador. My 22nd country, if you count every country where I gave my passport to a migrations officer. And my last country. It's a little bittersweet being here, but I really am starting to hear the siren song of home in my ears. So I'm just going to keep on keeping on. But before I talk about this hot and humid country, we need to finish up my time in Peru. And also talk about my bus ride between the two countries. It was a 28-hour bus ride. That's a long bus ride. Anyhoo, let's get on it.

I woke up on Monday - after, again, a nine-hour sleep - feeling...well, I guess you could say better than I was feeling on Sunday, but not necessarily better. Still, I was in good enough spirits that the thought that, hey, maybe I'll go out. One of the places I was hoping to see was the Museo Larco, which was named as the number one attraction in Lima. So, I decided to ask for directions. Actually, I had asked for directions (as well as some more complimentary soap) the night before, but when I did, all the girl at the night reception could say is, "Uhh, you could probably take the metro to get there. [*Looking at a map of a 15-block radius*] Do you know the address?" "It's the most important museum in the city," I replied. She said she would need to know the address to help me. She also told me that I'd need to buy new soap if I wanted any. That put me into a bit of a huff. Thankfully, the receptionist today was significantly more competent, and not only reached into a very accessible drawer to hand me soap, but then wrote down one of the buses I could use to get to the street the museum was on. Much nicer.

In addition to being a museum day, it was also a well-overdue laundry day. So much so that the only bottoms I had that didn't need washing were my swim trunks. I still have some washing powder at my disposal, but the sink faucets in the hostel have the power of a ground sloth. So, I had to have someone else do the washing. I could have just dropped it off at the front desk of the hostel, but they were charging a hefty s7 a kilo, and I could only assume they'd round up. The British guy I had met on the walking tour (and had not seen since), had given me the card of a nearby place that offered service for half the rate as the hostel. It was a bit of a walk, but nothing unmanageable. When I arrived, the lady looked at my clothes, and quoted me s15. I was going to complain that my clothes were nowhere near 4kg heavy, but then saw that the low rate was only good for 5kg and up. So I just let it go and had her do her thing. I then walked back to across the park (which I should note is called "Kennedy Park", as in "JFK Park". Why, I'm not totally sure), and to the bus station...like area. It was really more of a general vicinity where the buses would stop, but there was nothing officially designating it. And one of the first buses I see driving by is one of the ones I was told would take me near where I needed to go. However, when I tried communicating with the guy sticking out of the side, he wasn't making much sense, so I just let it go.

It was only about 11:30, but I thought to maybe get some lunch before heading off. However, as I walked on the nearby side street, it seemed that all of the cheap limited-menu places were not open yet. And what was I thinking, anyway? Food would probably be cheaper further away from the Miraflores/tourist district. So, I went back to the bus area, sat down, and waited....then I stood up, went into the shade. Man, that sun was fierce. Anyway, eventually another one of the buses came by that would take me to where I needed to go, so I hopped on, paid, and relaxed. It was a long ride, something over an hour. And it only cost s1.50 ($0.54). I only shudder to imagine what it would have cost via taxi. Along the way, it was really interesting to see how things just...functioned in this place. The folks getting on these raggedy mini-buses ranged from scummy-looking teen to suit-wearing businessmen. And people are able to hop on and hop off like it's nothing. And knowing where a particularly bus goes is just something you have to know. I can say that, unless it's trapped in some small, Spanish-speaking corner, there is absolutely no information online about the bus routes. You just have to ask or learn by experience. And as we were going from place to place to place, it seemed like there was some whole system in order; occasionally you'd see people with clipboards and pens. Occasionally they'd give a stack of coins to the bus "wrangler" (which is the term I'd use to refer to the guy who leans out the door, attracting people and collecting fares), and occasionally the wrangler would give them a coin or two. I tried figuring out the relationship - did the clipboard people book people for certain buses? - but I never could. Still, it was fascinating to see this whole little economy working in its own way.

Eventually, we got to the street that the museum was on, and I hopped off the bus a few blocks early. As I walked, I kept a sharp eye out for anywhere to grab some lunch. There were a surprising number of familiar names (KFC I expected, but Popeye's and a frickin' Del Taco of all things?), but I wasn't satisfied until I saw a market area, which I went into. As I was expecting/hoping, there was indeed a dining section there, with a number of quick stands to eat. Each one had, like, five stools in front of it, so you were somewhat limited to what you could sit down at, but I found a fairly empty one, where I got a hefty bowl of a type of homemade chicken noodle soup, an unlimited glass of what I can only guess was pear juice, and some stuff called vainita saltada, once again following the rule of "try the item you've never heard of before". Turned out the stuff was fairly similar to other saltado dishes I've had before, but this time the main ingredient was green beans, which was a nice bonus. All for 6 soles!

Y'know, a lot of times people talk about "eating like a local". There's a couple things I've learned about this concept:

  • First, eating like a local is super easy when you're an absolute cheapskate like me.
  • Second, technically, all those fast food places that you're told to avoid? Those are populated almost exclusively with locals. Rare is it to see a tourist in one of those places. Now, there are plenty of reasons to avoid fast food places, but you can't say it's because you're not eating like a local.
  • Most tourists actually eat in mid-range to high-end "local cuisine" restaurants that locals would never actually eat in.
  • Basically, if 4/5 of the people in the restaurant aren't speaking your language, you're doing okay.

After lunch, I walked to the museum...and then had to double back, because the museum was kinda hidden and hard to find. And I spent a good couple hours walking through. For the most part, it was your pretty standard archaeological and historical museum, albeit a really well-kept one, with descriptions for everything in six languages, good organization, and well-written pieces that were quite interesting and made you really think about all the cultures of Peru that predated the Incas (who, despite all the hoo-hah, had really only been in the 1200's. There were also some interesting items being showcased, though there was only one thing that I'd call awe-inspiring, and it wasn't even an individual thing. It was the fact that their storerooms were open. Apparently, they're the only museum in Peru (or maybe all Latin America) and only one of a few in the world that has their storerooms open to the public. And this made a big impression, because there were thousands, thousands of artifacts just sitting on the shelves. Like, the actual museum was probably only showing off about 5% (if that) of all they had. It really made me wonder about legitimately big museums (say, for example, the Smithsonian). The size of their storerooms, and the number of things we don't get to see must be positively mind-boggling. At this point, I can only imagine its like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Anyway, I finished, satisfied with the place (it was worth their entrance fee, but damn am I glad I didn't have to pay for a taxi to take me there and back). I sat down in a nearby park and took out my phone to see if there was anything else cool nearby to see/do. As it turns out, there wasn't. Like I said last time, that's Lima's big problem; everything is way too spread out. And even the things that were within two miles really seemed to only be worth doing for shopping and or dining purposes, which just says "Spend money!" to me. So maybe the Museo Larco would be my last major visiting spot in Lima. Hey, at least I learned stuff from it. In any case, I walked back to the bus area and hopped on another rickety mini-bus back to Miraflores. I arrived at 5pm, and saw that I still had three hours before I was told I could pick up my laundry. So, I decided to go to the nearby movie theater, as tickets were only s6.90 ($2.46) on Mondays. Not much really got my attention, so I decided to see the new Muppets movie, since I'd never seen a Muppets movie before. But I stopped myself when I saw that it was dubbed only. I'm definitely better with Spanish now than I was, say, a month ago, but I'm not that confident. So instead, I got a ticket to a sequel I never even knew existed, 300: Rise of an Empire (300: El Nacimiento de un Imperio). This actually caused some initial issues, because I think the ticket seller misunderstood me and thought I was buying three tickets, so kept charging me too much. After figuring that all out, though, I walked quickly through the park, where I got some sort of sweet snack, whose name I can't remember, but seemed to be a large, thin, kinda-crispy wafer thing, covered in honey or nectar or something. Bees seemed to love it, as they were basically competing with me to get at it (as such, I had to be careful with every bite).

I went back to the hostel briefly to drop off some things, at which point I realized: I need to get popcorn and a soda (and nachos, if available). I've had no real interest in watching this movie, and I had plenty of videos on my laptop that I could watch if I just needed to pass the time before my laundry was done. If I didn't get movie snacks and have a real movie experience, this would all be pointless. So once I got back to the theater, I made a beeline to the concession stand, where I got a large popcorn and a drink (unfortunately, nachos were not being offered). All in all, this whole experience cost me only $6.75, so I really could never complain about it, even if the movie was bad. Which it was. Though I should note, though, that this may have been the first time I really appreciated how much sound contributes to the movie-watching experience. We all scoff at THX this and Dolby that, but when you have piddly little sounds that can't even mask the noise of the actual-film projector being used, it really takes you out of the moment. But still, the movie was pretty bad. I even kinda liked the original 300, if only because the heroes in that all basically had a personality (said personality being that they were all completely off their rocker). Here, the hero was bland, there was waaaaayyyyy too many slo-mo shots, and while I can appreciate the shoe-horning of badass women into action-fighty movies, them doing "Aaaarggghhh!" screams just doesn't work. It was also during this that I realized that Leonidas' wife is played by Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. Who knew? But anyway, unless you can see the movie for less than $7, which includes drink and popcorn, there's nothing I can really say to recommend it.

After the movie was done, I decided to be polite to the staff by throwing away what was left of my popcorn and drink myself. But literally, I step out into the hall - I don't need to walk ten feet - and something happens where I just out-and-out drop the stuff, in just such a way that the soda cap pops off and soda splashes out. And it just happened to be right next to a line of people waiting to get into some movie. Just perfect. I used some napkins I had on me to clean up what I could, and the staff could figure out the rest. Later, when I dropped my keys twice while trying to get back into my room, I figured it was just one of my butterfinger days, which is a thing that happens to me sometimes. Anyhoo, after the movie, I went to pick up my laundry, and then looked around for a place to have dinner, even though I wasn't terribly hungry. I was walking around for a good half-hour, finally deciding on a vegetarian place (because I was somewhat craving a salad, or at least something with avocado in it). However, I realized that I had a water bottle back in the hostel, so I went back in there. Then I realized, Y'know what? I'm *really* not hungry. I'll just skip dinner. A radical decision, I know, but it worked out fine. I just ate an apple and some granola, and that was it for the day. So, I just spent the remainder of the night relaxing...and coughing. As if my body needed to remind me that I wasn't better yet, it sent me into a number of coughing fits until I finally got to sleep.

Once again, I slept for a good nine hours (this damn well better be contributing to my good health, because I sure haven't been doing enough active work to warrant it). And, on my last day in Lima (my last day in Peru not-counting-the-time-I'm-on-a-bus, for that matter), I kind of decided that I wasn't going to be doing all that much. I had gone through the list of things that can be done, and most of them were, indeed, museums (which I didn't need to see anymore) or shopping/eating centers (which I also didn't need to see). So I just went back to my room to write and do some work until lunchtime, at which point I went back to the small place near the hostel. This time, and for only s12, I got some more ceviche as my appetizer, and again following my current credo to order whatever I don't recognize, I got something called huevera frita. And it...I don't know what it is. Like, even after ordering, looking at, and eating it, I still don't know what it is. Like, I think it might be...a fried fish egg patty? Maybe? And I'm not even sure if I liked it or not, which I guess means I didn't? I'm not sure.

It's all very confusing.

What simplified things, though, was when I went to the nearby KFC to get an ice cream cone (and for only s1.50, a fairly hefty ice cream cone at that). I took it to the JFK park and was enjoying just sitting there in the sunshine, eating an ice cream cone. Is there anything that could make the moment better? Yes, there was. One of the stray cats in the area came up to me, and I shared some of my ice cream with it (not letting him lick the cone itself, just putting some on my finger...until I was finished. Then he could lick the cone itself). The little guy got a bit uppity when he realized I ran out, but it was all good. I walked back to the hostel, where I ran into Claudia (who was feeling a little bummed because her boyfriend left the night before), and we made some impromptu plans to meet up in the evening. I then went back to my room and just spent some time writing and sorting through photos, oh, so many photos. (As a somewhat extreme example, my folder from the Uyuni salt flats had over 700 photos before to start. After filtering? 165 photos.)

And so this continued until about 7pm, when I went up to the lobby to meet up with Claudia and go out to a cafe or something. Or at least that was the intention, but the fact is, even after waiting for half-an-hour, she never showed up. I didn't take being stood up too personally; I just felt it was more of a shame than anything, as I was looking forward to having someone to talk to during dinner. In any case, that freed me up to go wherever I wanted, so I first felt like I could try that vegetarian restaurant I hadn't gone to the previous night. I sat down and got a menu, and was a bit disheartened to see that the prices were about 50% higher than I was comfortable paying. But I had sat down already, and I was the only person in there? What's a guy to do? Well, I basically pretended I got a phone call, and then pretended as though I was exasperatedly speaking with a girlfriend who, I guess, was stuck somewhere and needed me to pick her up before we could have dinner. I then got up and apologized to the waiter (he asked "Tu novia?", to which I embarrassingly nodded) and left. I then walked around looking for another place to have a somewhat interesting meal. I didn't want another sandwich or saltado dish, so I ended up going to a middle eastern place, where I got a salad and a chicken schwarma dish (which didn't resemble schwarma in the slightest, but was still quite good). Eating there, and listening to the music coming out, made me kind of want to return to Marrakech. I think that if I were to ever fall in love and/or get a girlfriend, that would be the place I take her for a little trip; good testing ground.

I then walked around the park a bit more. I was hoping that there would be another singing/dancing thing going on (because I swore that they had said there was going to be one that night), but there were no haps. Not to say the place was empty. It's almost weird to think of a small park like this always being full of people - and locals, too boot - just sitting or standing around and doing things. Some people were talking, others were making out; one guy was doing an awkward and not-as-sexy-as-they-probably-wanted photo-shoot of this girl. And then people were buying food from the stands. Plenty of food. I was considering some, and then I considered getting another cheap ice cream cone (which was probably the best bargain you could get for dessert), but then reminded myself that the dinner was quite sufficient, and I didn't need dessert. So, I instead went back to the hostel, and then spent the rest of the evening packing my away my gear, doing more photo filtering, writing, and my nightly cough routine, before heading to bed.

I knew I was getting slightly better the next morning, because I didn't sleep in quite as long as I had been. But still, I didn't get up and about until about 9am, and I assumed that, like every other hostel in existence, I would have to check out by 10am (oddly enough, I was wrong; it was 11am). So, I packed up the rest of my stuff and checked out. The girl at the reception - a different one from the quite incompetent one a couple nights before - may have been one of the rudest people I've ever met in such a position (just in terms of unwarranted vitriol), so much so that I was even thinking of flat-out telling her...but I decided to wait, because I had to leave my bags in their storage, and I wanted to make sure I could retrieve them. After putting the bags away (following her brusque advice to "leave it on the bottom of the closet"), I went up to have another extended breakfast. I considered actually paying to have a bit of a premium breakfast but...paying? Perish the thought. After finishing my meal (or more specifically, finishing my second cup of tea), I decided to go out. My bus didn't leave until 2:45, so I had some time to do stuff. I first went out to the local church by the JFK park. It wasn't too fancy, but I didn't even bring my camera with me; I just went in to sit and pray/meditate a bit. Nothing terribly specific, just going in for a nice sense of peace, I guess.

Afterwards, I went to the local grocery store to get some water and snacks for the road. This bus ride was scheduled to be 28 hours long, and if I'd learned anything from the Cusco-Lima ride, it's that food was few and far between. But I was being careful about what I spent, because I didn't want to run out of money before leaving the country, nor be overloaded with it. To that end, after finishing my shopping, I went to one of the many money changers on the street (which, believe it or not, are actually pretty legit), and traded 300 soles for $106, at a roughly 2.82-to-1 rate. If you were to actually go on XE.com, you'd see that the market rate (as of my writing) is at $106.72, meaning that I actually got a really fair deal out of the guy. So much so that when I was safely alone, I checked the validity of the $20 bills he gave me. But no, those guys in blue vests in Lima are pretty on the level, in case you ever happen to find yourself there.

I went back into the hostel, where I saw Claudia, who explained that she was looking for me at 7:30 the night before (basically, she began looking for me when I had finished waiting a half-hour for her). We apologized to each other for the mix-up, and she said we should have lunch...at 1pm. Like I said, my bus was at 2:45, but I figured I'd be fine if I left no later than 2pm, though this would pretty much necessitate using a cab. So I agreed, but now this left me with about an hour and a half of nothing to do. But I did need to charge my phone, so I went back up to the hostel's bar/restaurant, plugged in, and had some more tea. I continued tea-ing up until I couldn't take it anymore, and left again to the nearby bookstore to kill the rest of the time. At 1pm, I went up to the lobby and waited. After nearly ten minutes of waiting around recalculating how much time we'd have, Claudia met me...and then told me that she was still busy, and if I could wait until 1:30. My chivalrous nature immediately prompted me to say yes, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wouldn't work, because I was rushing her to finish her work, and then we'd either be rushing to converse, or we wouldn't finish until well after 2pm, either situation I was not comfortable with. So I found her again and told her not to worry about it, and then I went to get my bags. Unfortunately, 1pm was the official check-in time, so plenty of people were rushing in now, and a lot (a lot) had left bags in the closet. I was third in line. The girls in front of me were taking, I kid you not, ten minutes to find their stuff, gingerly moving other people's aside, but without luck. "Can you see yours?" they asked. "No," I replied, "But I know exactly where it is." One of them laughed and said, "Yeah, that's what I thought," but the other insisted I give it a try. Within ten, maybe fifteen, seconds, I had both bags, and was on my way.

I first went to my favorite little hole-in-the-wall joint for lunch (it still being the cheapest best meal in the vicinity), but it seemed like it was rush hour, and I couldn't afford to stand around and wait. So, I decided to get some fast food, specifically, KFC. Because how long can chicken take. Apparently, twenty minutes. Because that's the time between when my order was placed and when I actually received my food. I realize that it was crowded, but even so, it seems like South American fast food joints really don't put priority on the fast part of the deal. (Also, this was one of several points during the day where I got hugely embarrassed/angry at myself because of Spanish slip-ups, due to people asking an out-of-place question quickly and softly, and when I gave a wrong answer, they furrowed their brow, repeated the question in English, and then proceed to have the rest of the interaction in English with me. Considering in each case, I was communicating fine in Spanish, each of these instances was a big ego blow.) I scarfed down my food in about four minutes, tops, and then headed out to find a taxi. I hailed the first one I could find, and tried to convince him that I only had 12 soles to pay him. He probably smelled a bluff, and demanded 13. I acted like a nervous Fargo character and searched my pockets. I had a bit more, but I saw this as a good time to get rid of my small change, so I pulled out all my centavos (all 55 of them) and sheepishly offered them as literally all I had left. He smirked and accepted, and we drove to the bus station. On the way, I realized that I no longer had the water bottle that had kept me company since...China, I think? Either I left it in my room or - more likely - it had fallen out in the storage closet. Either way, I had to remind myself to let go, especially for a $4 plastic bottle.

Once at the bus station, all of my concerns about time were completely validated. I thought beforehand that maybe I was being a bit overzealous about being early enough, but nope. In order to exchange my email voucher for a ticket, I had to get to the counter. And to get to the counter, I needed a number. How long before my number was called? Forty minutes. In fact, by the time I got my ticket, checked in my bags, and got on the bus, I had less than five minutes to spare. And this was with me getting in the taxi by about 1:50. If I had gone through with that late lunch with Claudia, there is the actual possibility I may have missed my bus. But I didn't. So that's good.

Having sat in the same seat in this VIP section (seat #10), I think I can now confirm it is the best seat in the bus. All the way in the back, all by itself, next to your own personal storage unit and the trash bin. Hence, privacy and convenience. And that bit of privacy was nice, because there was a big group filling up the majority of the VIP section, of a bunch of loud old people. And their complaining and geriatric needs seemed to make life a living hell for the bus's attendant, which was a shame, because he actually seemed like he gave a damn about his job. In any case, we soon took off, and after a brief period where it seemed like my electrical didn't work, it got going, and I was set to work/relax with my laptop. I was also planning on taking photos out the window - I even had pre-made a folder in my photos section for "The Road to Ecuador" - but the majority of the landscape really didn't inspire all that much (a couple notable exceptions: a watchtower coming from the top of a small house, and a shirtless man standing in the window of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Transport building), and besides, the windows of the bus were tinted in such a way to made for really poor photos. Anyway, I just spent the initial portion of the trip watching videos and having some snacks (including some apples, which I guess were contraband, as fresh produce was explicitly forbidden; it's just a good thing the guard checking my bag did such a piss-poor job). Dinner was a very basic affair, definitely not worth writing about beyond this sentence. And while I could amuse myself with my own videos, I found the bus's selection for people without laptops and/or individual monitors (that is to say, people in the non-VIP section) quite...eclectic. It went from a weird Brendan Fraser movie to an ultra-violent martial arts movie to...Independence Day? That one came way out of left field. And while I had no sound for it, I enjoyed watching the destruction scene before deciding to go to bed, which was really early (like, at 9:30 or so).

I'm not exactly sure how many hours I slept, because I went in and out of sleep a number of times. The main issue was just head support. While the chairs reclined a fair deal, they didn't recline enough to make pillows practical, and so your head is just sitting there, and any turn of the vehicle just moves it around. But again, thank goodness I was in the seat I was, because at times I was just able to shove my pillow in the corner of the chair and wall and lie on that. But overall, for being on a moving vehicle (that was not flying at a constant velocity), it was a pretty fine sleep. And thankfully, I barely had any coughing problems at all (the only issue I did have was with a swollen throat). So, that lasted until about 7am or 8am, I'm not terribly sure. What I am sure about is that I was rudely awaken by loud people. First of all, the big group of old people was simply talking loudly amongst themselves, as though they weren't all literally sitting within two seats of each other. Second, there was a prostitute at the other end of my row - and I'm not just making a judgmental statement based on her appearance (though I easily could have); I actually overheard her talking to the guy next to her - was talking on her phone at a completely unnecessary volume. It's as if the whole cabin had conspired to make sure nobody could continue sleeping. Sometime afterward, we got a very cheap breakfast - a hamburger bun with a slice of cheese and a tiny muffin - and continued on.

No real adventure stories for the trip, it basically was what you'd think: a long bus ride where I had access to my computer. I watched some more videos (and in case you're wondering how many videos I had on my laptop, I can confirm: enough) and filtering through my photos. Throughout the trip, I actually managed to get through all of my photos through the Inca Trail. So that puts me fairly close to up-to-date...at least on my end. In terms of uploading the photos online, I knew I wanted to put up a test album when I arrived at the hotel to see if it would be a good place to do a bunch of uploading once I was done in the Galapagos. (Or hey, maybe I'll get some done in the Galapagos themselves, should they miraculously happen to have good WiFi). Along the trip, there were a couple of stops, I think mostly for people to buy snacks and use a bathroom other than the onboard one. At one point, I spent 3 of my remaining 4 soles on some ice cream. It was not a bargain, to be sure, but I felt much better about having only a single sol left when entering Ecuador (because even having a dollar-forty of worthless currency would get my goat). Lunch was also another fairly blase affair, except that at one point, when the attendant was serving some Coke, the bus suddenly (and very rapidly) stopped. The attendant stumbled backwards (nearly falling), and it seemed like, almost universally, everyone got messed up. Some people's entire meal platforms fell out of their sockets, others had their meal trays fall off, others had Coke flying out of their cups and onto their stuff, and still others had some combination. Looking around, it seemed like I was literally the only one who was spared, as I was unknowingly holding onto my cup and food tray. It may not have been a life threatening event, but I'll again thank my long-suffering guardian angel, or maybe my laptop's guardian angel (as that's really what was protected).

We eventually got to the border, which oddly seemed to be a more confusing and anger-producing affair for Peruvian/Ecuadorian locals than it was for me. People were yelling, trying to cut in line, and getting shut down by guards, as though getting your passport stamped first was somehow going to make a difference when you're on a bus that can't leave until everyone is through. In any case, it went smoothly enough for me, although I was disappointed that the Peruvian official didn't put the exit stamp on the same page as all the other Peruvian stamps, despite there being room for it. (And yes, I do know that's a silly thing to be disappointed over, but bear with my quirks, please.) Once we all got back in the bus, I was waiting to get off again for a customs check, but once we did get to the checkpoint, all that happened was that a military person came on and looked at people. She literally never even glanced at me; if I wanted to be a runner, I just missed the perfect opportunity.

I just watched some more videos (completed a short series while I was at it), until we were within 20 miles of Guayaquil, at which point I put all my stuff away and got ready to depart. On the whole, we were a tad bit late; we were supposed to arrive at 6:35, but it ended up being more like, 7:10 or something. Still, 35 minutes late on a 28-hour trip, that's only about a 2% delay. Not bad, especially when you compare it to some of the trains I've been on that were 4-5 hours late despite not having traffic. Once we arrived at the bus station, everyone huddled around the cargo bay, where people were yelling to get their bags now, now, now. I don't know if this was supposed to be South American passion/impatience, or if it was just this particular bus of people. In my case, I could see my bag from nearly the very beginning, but it seemed as though, from the way they were unpacking, that it wouldn't be taken out until near the end, so I just stood back and calmly watched the sharks circle among themselves. As it turned out, my back was quite literally the last one to be taken out, and I accepted it with a silent, smiling nod. I then went into the bus station, where I saw a mobile kiosk. I got myself a Claro SIM card, and immediately found that it had no Internet! Remember that issue I had in Chile? It's the exact same thing! And with the same company, too! I can genuinely say I'm none too pleased with Claro at this point. (I later looked online to see how I might be able to activate Internet myself - including signing up for an online account - but to no avail. I can't believe how much money I've wasted - literally wasted - with that company. That said, both times I bought at a kiosk instead of a store, so maybe the fault is exclusively mine.) I then decided to get myself some dinner, so went to the bus station's McDonald's, hoping to get this last chapter of My Disgusting Quest™ out of the way. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention, and by the time I was at the register, I couldn't find anything at this place that seemed particularly Ecuadorian. I suppose I could have just walked away, but that would just seem rude. So I just got a chicken sandwich, and quickly ate it. I then got some cash from a couple different ATM's (one of which wouldn't give more than $100), went outside to hire a taxi (who was willing to lower the price from $5 to $4 really quickly, though I suppose it's because I'm overpaying either way), and got to my hotel.

The hotel didn't seem like anything special, but hey, it's a place to stay, and it seemed to have at least decent WiFi, which is all I needed from it. However, the thing I got most out of the place was that it was the first point where I could notice how...familiar everything was. See, Ecuador uses the same plug types as the States. So I don't need an adapter. They are also one of the countries that uses the US dollar. So now I don't need worry about doing conversions in my head, or about trading in money before I come home, 'cause that's all the same. (Side note: apparently, all of our Sacagawea dollars came to Ecuador. Remember those things? Seriously, I've seen more in the past day than I have in the past five years. Funnily enough, when I looked up the Sacagawea dollar on Wikipedia, I came across this line: "Despite their unpopularity in the United States, the coins proved popular for commerce in El Salvador and Ecuador, nations that use the United States dollar." So there you go.) But perhaps one of the most oddly familiar things I've found in my short time here was the fan in my hotel room, which is exactly the same as my fan back home. Coming so close to the end of my trip, it's definitely a tease. (It's also quite useful, because this place is really hot and - more insidiously - quite humid [70%].)

Not much to say about the rest of the night, other than that I was writing and unsuccessfully looking up mobile Internet activation and going to bed at 2am (which is a good sign that I'm feeling better, but not great because I probably won't be able to do that at the Hacienda in the Galapagos). Still, I had a nice sleep until some door pounding woke me up. At first, I thought it couldn't be on my door - it sounded so far away. But it continued again and again, so I figured I might as well just check. Dressed in only my PJ bottoms, I opened up, and sure enough, it was for me, telling me to go downstairs for an 8:30 breakfast. Now, it was a fine breakfast to be sure - scrambled eggs with some sort of meat in them, a grilled cheese sandwich, and watermelon - but I again am not a fan of early meals, especially when I am woken up from my precious sleep to eat them. But whatever, it's something I can deal with. After that, I just did some more writing.

I then went out to get some lunch and to do some shopping. I had a couple different potential objectives for the shopping: first, to see if I could figure out something with my phone and get the internet working, and second, if I could find some clothes - pants, specifically, I guess - for my work at the Hacienda Esperanza. I had done something similar when I was working at Askari, and it worked out for the best; the pants I wore got torn up to hell (and, being all cotton, were the only ones I could wear when walking through fired areas), and the shirts got all messed up with paint, dirt, and all sorts of viscera. However, I wasn't super concerned this time around, because of one important detail; back when I finished at Askari, I still had more than half a year left on my trip. When I finish on the Galapagos, I'll have less than a week. I can either buy new clothes, or live with messed-up clothing for a week, especially if the plan is to stay in my hotel for most of the time (which it is; more on that in a second). So yeah, I was somewhat casually looking for clothes only, and it's probably the better attitude to have had, because while there were plenty of places that sold clothes, the majority of them were ladies clothing (because women, amirite?), and the pants I could find for men were either jeans or dress pants, neither of which I need in this hot, humid equatorial environment.

Did I mention it's hot and humid here? Oh, I did. Okay, carry on.

Anyway, I first started by hopping into a small restaurant for lunch, where I got a fish soup, a chicken salad (which I'd have a hard time describing, but is not what you'd reason it to be), and a drink which I cannot put my finger on. My best guess was some sort of lemon/lime juice, but with something almost spicy in it. Like, mostly lime and maybe some ginger? I couldn't figure it out. In any case, it was a filling meal, and it only cost me $2.25. I then walked around and looked for stores. And there were plenty, although most of them appeared to be the wrong kinds. Like, there was an entire street that seemed to be exclusively devoted to party supply stores. Pinatas and the like. And then there were hardware stores, and some general goods stores. (If I were smart, I would have gotten a water bottle while I was at it. But I'm not smart.) And then there were these under the overpass areas where a bunch of stands...stood. These seemed to be where most of the clothes were being sold, and nothing really seemed to tick my boxes. There were also people offering services with phones and phone services, but something just didn't make me want to deal with that. Maybe it's just that I don't want to have to deal with the humiliation of being tech-incompetent, or maybe it's because I probably wouldn't be using this phone all that much for internet on the island, or maybe it's because I feel I could find someone on San Cristobal who could help. In any case, I didn't get that issue fixed.

All in all, I walked around quite a bit, until I finally found myself at the river. And I came to conclusion that Guayaquil, or more specifically the area I was in, wasn't really the most happening of places. Which actually was fine with me. See, as I've said, one of my goals in my last week is to just upload photos, to get as close to complete as I possibly can. And I can't possibly do that if I'm gallivanting about. So once I returned, I'd probably spend a day, maybe two, checking out some interesting sites in the city (which I've already marked out), and then spend the rest next to the fan in my room, uploading and type-typing away. What a climax to this trip! But anyway, I walked around some of the riverside area, which had some small artisanal shops, but nothing to pique my interest. There was also a church, but it was closed. And finally, there were a lot of black people walking up and down the streets, acting as makeshift vendors. I thought this quit interesting, and have since found out that these folks are known as Afro-Ecuadorians, and are the descendants of slaves that the Spanish brought in when they conquered the area, and currently make up somewhere between 4-6% of the population. The more you know, eh?

Anyway, after getting back to the hotel with absolutely nothing to show for my shopping, I decided this would be an excellent time to check out the bandwidth/uploading prowess of the hotel, so I uploaded a new album. And it did admirably, although my laptop still isn't a fan of the process (as it likes to tease crashing every five minutes when I'm filling in all the information). It took as long as these things often do, but hey, the uploading part was...fast enough for my needs. And if you'd like to see the album yourself, you can do so here:
Australia 4 - The Red Center (12/6-8)

Anyway, while this was going on, I was being driven mad by mosquitoes. I got several bites on me, but annoying as they are, they can't hold a candle the the insanity-inducing nature of seeing a mosquito flying in the corner of your eye, trying to smack it, missing, then watching it as closely as you can, only to have it take a quick turn and leave your sight entirely. You know it's still there, and you know it still wants you. It's you or her. But then when you see no sign of it, you sit back down with an inflated sense of paranoia, such that when you feel even the lightest touch on your body, you give no warning, no quarter, and just slap yourself, praying that there's a smear on your hand when you do. And when there's not, the paranoia goes up again. I've gotten a couple victories against the little monsters that have somehow infiltrated my room, but not nearly enough.

Well, eventually it got to dinner time, but at this point, it was raining pretty soundly, which I suppose is something I should come to expect in this place at this time of year. Even so, I didn't really want to have to worry about going to far to get dinner. I was contemplating ordering pizza delivery, if such an option was possibly, but instead when I walked out the front door of the hotel, I saw there was an open restaurant just across the street. How convenient! This may very well be my go-to restaurant when I get back from the Galapagos, especially if the rain keeps up. The meal I got wasn't the most substantial I've ever had - a sopa de queso (which, as far as I could tell, had no cheese in it) and a saucy chicken and rice dish - but for a flat $2, who's gonna complain. That cheap price helped make up for the sleezy pricing tactic of my hotel, as I soon found out when I came back and offered to pay. See, what they chose not to include in their pricing on Booking.com was a 12% tax and a 10% service fee. An extra 22%, just like that. It's pretty scummy, I have to admit. So much so that I felt I was going to do some more research on the other options for when I got back (although I think I remember most of the places having similar fees, to keep their prices seeming artificially low; seems like that should be illegal, if you ask me). I then asked when breakfast began, and they told me, 8:30. Huh? So, they woke me up just so they could give me breakfast at their proscribed time? That made...little sense. And I didn't see anyone else in breakfast. Am...am I their only customer? Well, regardless, that didn't work for me, as I felt I needed to leave by 8am for my 9:30 flight. We'll see how that works out.

And anyway, I spent the rest of the evening re-packing, grooming, writing, and relaxing. As of tomorrow, I start my last thing on this trip, which (if you haven't been paying attention) is my work at the Hacienda Esperanza on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal. Hopefully it's not so late into the trip that I have a case of travel-senioritis during it, but who knows. All I can really hope for is that it will be fun way to keep myself occupied and do something to help the islands. And maybe meet some people, too. Not sure how great the WiFi will be there (if there is any), but I'm sure I'll be writing to you again before long.

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