Entry #075: Monday, April 14, 2014 (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

Back in Guayaquil, well past my one-year anniversary, a few days from returning back to the United States, and lemme tell ya, folks, it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, inasmuch as I can feel emotion. I'll explain more within the entry, but needless to say, there's been a veritable hodgepodge of feels. So let's look into what brought about said feels in the last few days, as this may be my last entry before my days will be filled with photo uploading and other computer-planning thingamajigs, which make for terribly dull narratives. So let's hop to it!

On the night between Wednesday, I was trying to have a lovely dream in which I met the emperor of Japan, and completely did none of the formalities required of me, and yet nobody cared, because I was...I dunno, too cool or something. However, the weather didn't make this easy, because it was raining all night, and it was coming down in droves. Remember how I said that last week, it pretty much didn't rain, and they had said it hadn't been raining in weeks even before that? Yeah, we were definitely making up for it. And since we had a corrugated metal roof, the noise of the rain was intensified a hundred-fold. I still managed to get some sleep, but it seemed like everyone was still plenty tired when we all woke up and had a pancake breakfast. I looked out while eating; it was a gray and honestly miserable-looking day. And so it was when we hiked up the hill to begin our work. As per usual, some folks were a bit slower in prepping themselves for the day, so I found myself at the top of the hill early enough to get a nice rest before actually doing any work. But when we did start, it was windy, and it was cold. Like, this may have been the first morning that I didn't feel the need to put on any sunscreen, as there was absolutely no sun. But anyway, the work was reminiscent of my first day's work...namely because it was the same job - moving chopped-down guava trees to the edge of the cliff - in the same place. It was nothing terribly special, and actually made me wonder when (or, hell, if) we'd be feeding the tortoises this week. I mean, we already had cut all the otoy. It was just sitting there, waiting to be shoved down some tortoise's gullet. But nope, it was just moving guava tree trunks and branches and tossing them off the edge of a cliff. Eventually, I felt a little bit bored of just moving things - and I felt that Jose alone cutting down all the trees was going too slow for six people to move - so I went, got a machete, and began doing some chopping of my own. The process was not nearly as satisfying as what I was saying before about cutting through otoy or banana trees, at least not in the sense of having a samurai-like single stroke. Here, it was more like having an ineffective axe. But there was some sense of satisfaction you got after chopping at a tree for a minute, hearing that creaking and cracking, and then see it - slowly but accelerating - topple over. So I guess destruction of all types can have its upsides.

After a while of this, we took our break. It was another extra-long break, as Jose once again fell asleep. I think the infusion of the four Danish folk made him a bit more inclined to laze off, since (and this was told to me by Julie, a Dane herself) Danish people can be fairly lazy. So we all just lay on our hammocks during the break, each person trying to have a snack without attracting the attention of Ardia the dog, who had gone with us for the workday, and was being super annoying (and somewhat aggressive) in trying to get at our food. I can sympathize for the poor guy, since I don't know what food he gets during the day, but still. I also had my own special visitor during the break, as a wasp land on my thumb (and stay on there for quite a while). I was honestly curious - and perhaps a bit concerned - that it may be from the hive I unwittingly attacked, and "remembered" me somehow. But it went away...eventually...and after some more time, Jose woke up again, and told us that we'd be continuing to do the same work for another half hour, which meant that the day would be ending for us about an hour earlier than normal. No particular reason for this was given, I think Jose just found a group he felt comfortable easing back with. Anyway, we did exactly the same work for that time, and when we were done, I took off my gloves and found myself with my first blister since working here, right under my pinky. I was genuinely surprised by this, because I had up to that point thought myself invincible; most other people got blisters within one or two days, whereas I - doing the same work; don't guess otherwise - had lasted almost two weeks without issue. Anyway, it wasn't bad, but I was still feeling a bit disappointed as I walked back down the hill.

After a polarizing lunch - the potato soup was fantastic, but the guava juice we were served couldn't be more room-temperature), I made plans to go to town with Julie and and Lina. So, we had a taxi called and headed on over. Once there, we split up. I walked around town a little bit, and then randomly came across the Finns eating at a small restaurant. Again, in this place, you will always see everyone, all the time. In fact, Bronn walked by while we were talking. It turns out, they were just an our from leaving on a boat to Santa Cruz island, to start up their island hopping. We chatted for a little bit, and then they left to go to an Internet cafe. I didn't see them again before their boat left, so I just wished them well in spirit. As for me, I headed to the Internet cafe, where I again saw Bronn, who was hanging out with one of the other thirteen Danish girls (and apparently was his partner for working with kids, who I was told were younger and better-behaved than the brats I had seen). We made plans to meet up when I got back into town on Friday, and then I went to doing my Internet-y things, like checking emails, posting the prior entry, and the like. While checking my emails, I actually got a really pleasant surprise. Remember when I had mentioned, way back in...June, I think, that I had won a custom theme song. Well, it was sitting there in my inbox. So that was pretty awesome. Technically, since I was given a chance to give feedback, it's not the final version, but I'll be sure to post that up when it arrives, since it all happened on this trip. I won't spoil anything about it here, but it goes above and beyond what I was expecting...and is pretty damn ego-inflating, to boot.

After staying at the cafe for a bit, I walked over to Playa Mann, where Julie and Lina were lying down, sunbathing. I just sat down next to them, keeping my shirt on and hiding my feet behind my backpack. It's not that I was afraid of the sun or anything, but I was near the absolute end of my bottle of sunscreen, and if it could have managed to cover my whole torso, it would have been totally empty afterward, and I had no intention of paying $20+ (or mooching off someone else) for what was only needed a couple days. So I just sat and talked with the girls about everything from meaningful tattoos to Greek mythology to a topic I've brought up in this very blog, the mathematical attractiveness of different ages, although that one was really between Julie and myself. (A funny moment from that, though; I mentioned that 26 was an uninteresting age, to which Lina asked why I didn't think 27 was less interesting. Without missing a beat - and oddly, without even thinking about it - I answered, "Well, that's 3 cubed, a number to its own power.") At about 5pm, we headed back to the main part of town, where we took a taxi back to the Hacienda.

That evening at the Hacienda was mainly show-and-tell. At some point on the ride home, Julie mentioned something about her passport, to which I replied that I wanted to see what a Danish passport looked like. So she showed me, as well as showing some of the stamps she'd gotten in different countries. I then showcased mine, which made her a bit jealous both because of the legitimately amazing interior design of the current US passport, and because I had a Machu Picchu stamp, which she missed when she was there. We then asked Sebastian to see a Swedish passport (as that's his primary citizenship), and then we played the good ol' game of "compare-the-ID-photo-to-how-the-person-looks-now". Somehow, this then led into me showing a few photos on my laptop, and then we just ended up talking some more. Then, after dinner, Julie asked to see some of my tortoise photos, as she wanted to dry some in her journal (she's actually a talented artist). Show, I brought out my laptop, and showed her the tortoise photos. However, she didn't stop looking there. She then went through all my Galapagos photos. She burst out laughing when she saw one that had Factoria the Travel Monkey in it, which prompted me to explain the concept, at which point I showed her all my photos of Factoria, which really are a really condensed version of some of the amazing places I've seen and things I've done. This then got us deeper into the hole, and she suddenly wanted to see pictures from all over the place. Of course, I was happy to oblige, and showed off photos for a couple of hours, attracting a bit of an audience with the other volunteers. Maybe it was just late, but going through all them made me a bit tired...in the best way possible, of course. So, once everyone decided to call it a night, it was legitimately late, and there was no time to do anything else before going to sleep.

Once again, the rain and metal roof made a good night sleep a tricky proposition, but it didn't matter all that much, because we all knew this was going to be a relatively lax day. In fact, Jose had told us as much. This was both because it was a Friday, but more-so because it was Jose's birthday (43rd, I believe), and so it was quite clear he wasn't interested in doing much work. In fact, he wasn't even planning on leaving the house, it seemed. After a nice breakfast with fruit salad for all, we were told that we'd be working for about 2.5 hours, clearing rocks and sticks from the path taking us up the hill. That...that was it. I knew from the get-go that this wasn't going to be particularly demanding, but once we actually got to it, it was quite clear that this was just busy work, and it was the most busy work busy work I've ever been busy working. I mean, it really could have all been done with two people; there was no need for six. But still, we went along, throwing aside any largish stones and sticks we could find. Occasionally, we pulled a large rock out of the dirt, which made a big hole in the ground; potentially even more dangerous for the careless walker. But at least we had some people bringing up the rear who could fill in these holes. That almost made our numbers worthwhile.

After some time, it started raining. While I had no issue getting wet myself (and thought it might even be nice) I didn't want my backpack or the stuff inside to get wet, so I took out my Oruro Carnaval poncho and draped it over me. I was actually somewhat pleased with this, because this was the only time I had left to use the poncho before leaving it at the Hacienda, and even using it once justified my keeping it with me for over a month. (The rain was fairly light and sporadic, but hey, every little bit helps, right?) As the work continued, the group splintered quite a bit. The four new Danes trailed behind a ways, taking extended breaks and even just spending time sitting in trees, while Julie and I continued ahead, not really because we felt the job was necessary - it really wasn't - but hey, it at least felt like good, honest work. And it was nice to both talk to each other, and to appreciate the path that we'd walk on several days a week, but never took any time to jut look at. We continued going until we reached a point in the path where it seemed like we weren't going to find any additional rocks, and then headed back. By the time we got back to the house, a good fifteen minutes before our assigned end time of 10am, we found the other Danish folks already lying in the hammocks. We sat down and began cleaning the half-inch-thick mud off our shoes - the rains sure had done some work to the path, and then took a shower.

Shortly before taking a shower, I came to a realization: I was taking off my pants. Or rather, I was doing so for what may be the last time. Of the two pairs of pants I had, these were the ones I probably liked (and thus wore) more. I had worn them out in the sun so much that there were two distinct colors to them; what did not get direct sun exposure was considerably darker. And they had their problems - if I sweat even a little bit, they let the world know - but still I liked them. And right now, they were filthy from two weeks of dirty work. So I wouldn't be wearing them again for the rest of the trip. But there was no guarantee that I'd be wearing them even when I got back home. This might have been the last time I ever wore those pants. It was the weirdest thing to feel wistful about, but here I was, almost getting misty-eyed over a pair of pants. This may have been the start of my emotional tumble-dry.

Anyway, after the shower, the sun was just peeking through the clouds, so I hung up my damp and dirty clothes. Even if I wasn't going to be wearing them, I didn't want to shove them into my luggage wet, lest I get back to the US with a funky odor. I then went into my room, and began the process of organizing my stuff. After a quick lunch, I continued this process - I really had basically unloaded all of my stuff for some reason when I got here, so it took longer than normal - and then starting packing away the first few things. I then went out to the back hammock and continued reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; I don't know exactly when, but thanks to some long sessions, I am now confident I will have finished that book before stepping on US soil. At one point, though, I was called in, because Jose had bought an ice cream cake, and we were all going to enjoy. We sang "Happy Birthday" in Spanish (which I led) and in Danish (which I abstained from). I also considered singing "Las Mañanitas", but couldn't remember all the lines (and it's just as well, as that is only a Mexican birthday song). We then all enjoyed some cake. And then, suddenly, a taxi came in, bearing a new volunteer. It was a German girl named Sara, who was planning to work here for three weeks. In what could not have been healthy for her ego, the four Danish folks left right then to go to town. Julie and I, meanwhile, had no reason to go to town too early, so we stayed in. I talked to Sara for a bit, but couldn't get a good read on her. I then went into my room, where I wrote some journal notes, as I wasn't in a full-on writing mood.

After a little while, I went out to the front porch, where Julie and Sara were sitting. I talked a bit more to Sara. I'm not sure exactly what prompted her to make the statement, but she pegged me as "dripping with bitter sarcasm". It's weird; this is completely true - when I'm in good form, I can be a master of sarcasm - and I've been told this by other people, but I didn't like the way she said it. It seemed...condescending. Still, I didn't let that hurt my hospitality, so I took her on a tour of the Hacienda, which proved to take much less time than anticipated. (There's really not that much to see.) It's just as well, since the taxi picking us up came early. We asked Sara if she'd like to join us, and she agreed. On the way over, Julie noted that Jose was encouraging Lina specifically to go to the bar and discotheque that night and meet up with it. Now, I can't be sure of anything, but damn, it's easy to get an idea to think of the implications. Really, I almost just pity the man. It very much seemed in what he was saying about his birthday that he doesn't have very many people in his life, and it seems like he deals with that in one of the worst ways possible.

Anyway, once we were in town, we walked around helping Julie with some of the errands she had to run (I had nothing to do myself). She made some trip payments for her island-hopping tour (which she'd be taking with Bronn), and then she and Sara decided to do a Kicker Rock trip. I took them to the agency where I booked my trip. They had a completely successful time booking the trip, but I was occupied during their visit by a little girl who was constantly trying to show me things and an overly aggressive little poodle-ish dog that would not stop biting my leg (and arm when I tried to make it stop). Not enough to puncture my skin, but enough that I had considered a brief lapse in my pacifism towards animals. Needless to say, I was happy to get out of there and continue along. We continued walking around in the light rain (I felt bad for the Danes, who had come early to go to the beach), saw some sea lions (who seemed relatively absent, possibly also due to rain), and then walked to the WiFi cafe. I didn't get anything myself, but the two girls did, so I ended up getting the password regardless. We stayed there for a good long while, checking emails and talking about music, specifically music we've heard while traveling. This actually had me getting out my phone and checking my Soundhound app, which was a veritable treasure trove of nice music I've heard on this trip, and I could remember where I was when I recorded each piece. It was another little piece of trip nostalgia bubbling up. After a while, Bronn appeared and came to sit with us, and then even the other Danish folks, having been washed out of their beach visit, walked by. They also told us that their original plan of staying in town with the rest of their group had fallen through, since they didn't want to pay $13 a night at the volunteer hostel. Again, we all just couldn't help running into each other.

At 6pm, we all walked over to a burger joint ("restaurant" would be a generous term) that the Finns had recommended for dinner. They had a special where you could get a burger, fries, and a banana milkshake for $5, which was pretty decent compared to the prices elsewhere. We all basically got the same thing, and while the drinks were legitimately good, the food was pretty laughable. Like, it literally made us laugh. The contents of the burgers differed from plate to plate, some of the buns had their tops cut off (as though they may have been moldy at some point), and the fries were oily and flaccid. But hey, it was edible. We ate, chatted, and tried figuring out what the hell was happening on the TV; there was a news program ripping off the X-Files theme, followed immediately by some sort of dating/game show where people in short shorts were riding stick ponies. Afterward, we tried to go to the Barquero (our intended bar), but found that it wouldn't open for another hour. So, we walked around town looking for another bar, while Julie and I traded tongue twisters. Her challenge for me was "Fem flade flødeboller på et fladt flødebollefad" (which I did...okay on), while I gave her both "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, then a peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked," (which she at one point recited as "If Peter Parker picked a pack of pickled papers..." which actually has some logic to it) and "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood." At the end of the day, we (the two of us plus Bronn) all agreed that Danish was a silly language that almost sounded like a sea lion.

We finally got to the open bar, which was actually pretty nice; it was quiet, and they even had some hammock seats. Had they had non-alcoholic drinks available, I would have loved to just stay there to talk. But we ended up staying there for about an hour. We spent half the time talking, and the other half watching their TV, which had a show called Yo Me Llamo, which seemed like a low-budget South American version of American Idol, with terrible clothing choices. We then walked to the other bar and found ourselves a table. I ordered myself a Fioravanti, which according to some research, is a native Ecuadorian soda, first produced in 1878. It was a Strawberry soda, and exactly as you'd think a strawberry soda would taste: super sweet and with a vague, artificial fruit flavor. Nothing really big happened while we were there (and Jose never showed up at 9pm like he said he would); we just sat and talked until about 11:30, when we all decided to head home. We'd all be sharing a taxi, except of course for Bronn, who was staying in town. I really liked the guy, so we had a nice little parting of ways. Instead of heading directly back to the Hacienda, though, we first walked in the direction of the volunteer hostel, where the Danish folks had left their stuff. While they were in the hostel, Julie and I sat on some steps and had a bit of a heart-to-heart. This was actually the first time where I was physically beginning to get the feels about going home. And it wasn't helping that it was her that I was talking to her. You may have noticed in the last couple entries that there have been a lot of moments when I just mention the two of us talking together. Truth is, I really enjoyed the time I spent with her; we had a lot in common, and we had some great conversations. And she told me she felt the same, that I made for conversations worth having. I can't say that there was any subtext hidden in what we were saying - on my end, at least, I am genuinely unsure if I'm capable of feelings like that - but there was no doubt that there was a strong connection...y'know what, maybe it was better that I was talking to her about it. Because if nothing else, she understood exactly what I meant when I said I felt bittersweet about the whole thing, but that bittersweet endings are the best endings. Eventually, all the others caught up with us. We quickly found a taxi, who was initially hesitant to drive us so far late at night, but eventually agreed. He talked a bit to me on the way back, which I was a bit too tired and distracted to really reciprocate with. But I could chat enough to be polite, and to direct him to the Hacienda. Once we all got out, we basically all had a simultaneous teeth-brushing session, and went to bed.

I figured I should leave at 9am, so I set my alarm for 8am. However, I found myself waking up closer to 6:30, partially because of some more rain coming down on the hard roof, partially because there was goat being noisily removed from the freezer just outside my door, and partially because I think my biological clock made sure I didn't make any mistakes. In any case, I went out as they were packing the goat carcass pieces into the taxi, so I hurried out, and made arrangements with the taxi driver to come back and pick me up at 9am. Once he agreed and drove off, I packed away the last few items into my bags, and then pulled everything out of my room. Nobody else was up, so I just continued reading my book at the dining table until Jose came in. He said that he did, in fact, make it to the bar the night before, but not until 1am. He then cooked me my last breakfast, which I ate slowly. New girl Sara also woke up and had breakfast. I talked to her a little bit, and I might be jumping to conclusions, but I'm not sure I would have liked spending more time with her than the 20 hours I did. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I feel we might have gotten on each other's nerves given enough time. Anyway, before long, everyone woke up and got ready to go to town to enjoy their weekend. The taxi eventually showed up, and I began putting my stuff in the back. Jose then came up to me and asked for the $200 for that week, which I handed over. I know it makes me sound like the biggest scumbag, since that is the price for the accommodations, but I was honestly hoping he'd forget. Like, I was literally two minutes away from saving that money, and I don't particularly respect Jose for reasons I've gone into enough, but it was what it was. Anyway, everyone piled into the taxi, and we headed into town, where everyone was dropped off. It was there that I said my goodbyes to everyone. I then got back in the taxi, and we drove to the airport, which turned out to be amazingly close to town proper.

I think this may be as a good time as any to give a "review" of sorts to my experience of volunteering in the Galapagos. Would I recommend it, and would I recommend Hacienda Esperanza specifically? Honestly...I'm not sure I can answer yes to either question. I am honestly all in favor of volunteering, no question, but in all I've seen, the opportunities all seemed a bit...off. Like, with the volunteering with kids, you're only watching over the richer, more privileged kids who really don't need help. And the percentage of people I've met who had their plans changed due to incompetent planning of volunteer opportunities was staggering. Like, it wasn't taken very seriously. I actually think the work at the Hacienda was probably the best of the options available in terms of both stability and actually helping out the island. But at the same time, I can't really recommend it, because the head of the program is, without sugarcoating it, a dirty old man who creates an uncomfortable environment and may have tried making passes on numerous female volunteers (and most volunteers are half his age). It's definitely a sad situation that I can't give it the same kind of glowing recommendation that I give, say, Askari, but that's how the cookie crumbles. Truth be told, I think the Galapagos has a number of issues stemming from the local community, but that would take way too long to go into.

I had a little under two hours before my plane was supposed to take off, so I got my boarding pass, and then met a Canadian guy, who I overheard asking about getting a Galapagos stamp in his passport (like me, he didn't know you could get one upon arrival). We spoke for a while, and he had some interesting perspectives that I couldn't quite figure out. Like, when I talked about the work that I did on the Hacienda, he basically said that such a long term project can't work out, because you'd need centuries of governments to continue supporting it, and so it was doomed to fail; and yet, he assured me he felt it was worth doing. Still, he was a friendly enough guy to talk to, and he even recommended a documentary for me to watch about traveling, called A Map for Saturday. The way he described it made it seem like it takes the same kind of realistic look at long-term traveling that I do, but I'll have to give it a watch to see for sure. Anyway, after a while, we were able to go through the security line, and when we got through, I was surprised to see Carlos, Jose's brother, on the other side. Apparently, he was going on vacation, also to Guayaquil, though on another airline, which was leaving then. The Canadian guy and I then sat down and talked some more. Looking around, I realized I couldn't see any place where I could get a Galapagos stamp, so I asked a security guard if he could get one for the two of us. Amazingly, he agreed to the whole deal and disappeared for a minute, returning with two stamped passports. the stamp was fairly simple - just an image of a tortoise and a hammerhead shark; no text - but I still found it a bit funny that mine was on the pages that had so far been exclusively occupied by Chinese stamps/visas.

Eventually, we got on the plane, and took off. The flight actually ended up being twenty minutes shorter than planned, and I headed out, saying a quick farewell with the Canadian guy, who was continuing onto Quito. Once inside the airport, I grabbed my bag from the carousel, and headed out into the main lobby. I tried finding a place to eat inside, but couldn't find anything simple enough, so I went out of the airport, went across the street, and went down a bit. I stopped inside a convenience store with a KFC inside, but when I was waiting five minutes in line, I decided it definitely wasn't worth it. So, I left and continued on. To my pleasant surprise, I found myself at a large supermarket, which I had been planning to go to later in the day anyway. So, I went inside and bought some fruit, some snacks, and some drinks (including the largest bottle of water I could find). I also bought some empanadas at their deli to have for lunch. While there, I went to an ATM and got $160, which was just under what I'd need to pay for my hotel stay. In retrospect, this was a stupid amount to get, as I later found out that I would end up with barely enough money to last me the rest of the week, meaning I'd have to go back to an ATM. Anyway, I went out and began walking back to the airport, as they say that the taxis in Guayaquil that aren't at the airport can be shady at best and kidnappers at worst. However, before I made it the full way, I saw a free cab. I quickly studied the driver and figured it was worth the risk. We agreed at $4 to get to the hotel, which was pleasantly less than expected.

Once I arrived I at the hotel, I got all my stuff and checked in. The woman at the reception desk definitely recognized me, and almost immediately began smirking at my less-than-perfect Spanish and my inability to fully comprehend her near-impenetrably thick accent. I wanted to keep all my interactions with the lady short, so I quickly paid, got my key, and headed to my room (the same as before) and got myself settled. I then spent the day getting "reacquainted" with having the Internet, which meant a lot of downloading of stuff I needed as fast as the hotel's WiFi would allow (I think my review of this hotel would be that everything is "decent"; nothing great, nothing terrible). At about 7pm, I went out for dinner, except that, whoops!, it was actually 8pm, as I had forgotten to change the time zone on my laptop. When I went outside, the place I was hoping to eat at across the street was closed; I couldn't tell if this was because it was a bit later than normal, or if it was because it was the weekend. In any case, I walked around until I found the first open thing, which was a burger stand. I got an burger and a order of fries, and which they tried adding hot dog slices to (to make them salchipapas), and then, even when I said I wanted only fries, they still charged me for salchipapas, and then started yelling at me when I complained about that fact. I left, a tad disgruntled, and went back to the hotel, where I ate and continued doing my stuff.

It was just about this point that the feels really started coming in. I don't think it's any coincidence that at this point, I heard the song "Poor Wayfaring Stranger", which just helped hammer the feels in. The version I listened to doesn't seem to be available on YouTube, but you can just read the lyrics here, and I think you'll understand. And on my emotional roller coaster, I was very much in a low-point that night. Like, I've heard the term Post-Adventure Depression bandied about before, which I think may be a bit of an extreme phrase (at least calling it "depression"), but I could definitely understand it. I mean, for the last year, my life has been defined - hell, I have been defined - by being a guy traveling the world having adventures. Maybe not exactly the kind of adventures that I'd really love to have (the fantastical ones, that is), but more adventures than some people have had in their life. When that's over, what then? Interestingly, this is a concept I've thought about for years and years, though never with regards with my own life. Like, whenever I complete a video game (say, The Legend of Zelda), and the main character defeats the greatest evil the world has ever known and saves everyone, what then? What could the possibly do from then on that could seem worthwhile? I actually had a story at one point (called "Adventurers for Hire") in which the main character suffered from this kind of depression in the truest sense. Once the plot's quest is over, while everyone else is happy that is all is well with the world, he becomes listless and unenthused about everything. Now, I'm not trying to say that my trip is anything like saving the world, there are some parallels I can find in terms of feeling that, it's over, now you need to define yourself in a new way. Second, the last time I felt feels this hard was when I was saying goodbye to my job, my friends, and the world I knew to go on this trip in the first place, so it might just be one of those big transition feels. Third, I think the weight of all the people I've met and said goodbye to - something which was easy at the time for all of them - has come and accumulated all at once. Suddenly, I remember every person, every new friend. And while I made piece at each goodbye that I may never see them again, knowing that I may never see all of them again is...it's hard. Seriously, I wasn't crying, but I might as well have been. That night, I may have spent a good fifteen minutes sitting at the edge of my bed with my face in my hands. I fully anticipate such moments to come back over the next little while, and I know it's gonna be hard. It's natural, I'm sure, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Anyway, I spent a little time going through photos before having to call it a night. I then woke up the next morning at 9:30. This actually took me by surprise, as I was expecting someone to be pounding on my door to wake me up for breakfast at 8:30, like what had happened last time. I was worried that perhaps I had missed breakfast. So I went down to their dining room, and was yet again surprised by the fact that there were people there. Two tables had people, in fact. I was not the only person staying here this time. Go figure. However, this actually was not for the best, because the speed and quality of the breakfast declined a bit. Instead of getting the food near-immediately, it took almost a half-hour. And instead of getting a nice, fancy egg dish, sandwich, fruit, and juice, it was just two fried eggs, toast and spreads, and no juice. It seemed as though they couldn't scale the good meals. I finished my food, and then went back to my room, where I messed around for a little bit to prepare for my day.

I was actually in a much more optimistic mood than the previous night, which was good, because I was going to be out for at least a portion of the day. Basically, everyone says the same thing about Guayaquil: "I heard there wasn't much to see/do there." In some regards, that's part of the reason I went here; it gives me more excuse to spend time in my hotel, uploading photos and prepping to come home. Still, there were obviously some things to see, and I wanted to at least spend a little time exploring, so that's what Sunday was for. So, I headed out. I had saved a few locations to the map on my phone, and then judged how practical it would be for me to get to them. For example, I had an interest in getting to the local botanical gardens. How far away were the botanical gardens? 8.1 miles...probably not going to be practical to walk there and back, and I wasn't much in the mood to take a taxi. Same thing with a couple other places, so I just decided to stick to the places that I could walk to. My first destination was the Parque Seminario de las Iguanas. This was a fairly small-but-central park, very close to the city's cathedral. While walking by the cathedral, I saw that it seemed particularly busy, even for a populous city in a highly Catholic country. Then I saw people with palm branches, and realized that it was Palm Sunday. Wow, Lent was almost over? Had I given up anything this year, I would have been pleasantly surprised. Anyway, the cathedral was well too crowded for me to go inside at the moment, so I just went to the park. And, wow. They weren't kidding; there were lots of iguanas. There were more iguanas in one little patch of grass than I had seen - total - on San Cristobal. It was really something neat. What I didn't like was that people were completely ignoring the signs saying not to touch the iguanas. Some worse than others; while I can forgive people taking a photo of them petting an iguana, there was an ice cream salesman that was hitting a couple of them with a cardboard sign, and practically kicking some others. I tried to ask him to have respect for them, but my Spanish wasn't good enough to have any effect.

I continued up north to make it to the cemetery, which WikiTravel says is "worth a visit if you're into graveyards." I am indeed! And it was a pretty nice place. Once you got past the opening gate, which was full of vendors selling everything from flowers to little bags of popcorn (because even in a cemetery, you need to snack, I guess), it was nice and quiet and peaceful. There seemed to be three main sections of the place. There was the area for what I'm assuming were the rich folks, filled with impressive marble graves and statues. The second area was the walls (the "apartments", as I called it) filled with resting places, stacked five-high. (Basically, if your loved one was a top-shelf corpse, you best invest in a ladder.) Interestingly, I'd say about 95% of these two areas were almost completely white. There were hardly any graves that were your typical slate-gray, or any other color for that matter. The third area was arguably the most interesting; it was in the hills above the other two sections, obscured by trees and bushes and almost invisible from ground level. This area was most definitely for the poor people, and there was the most variety here. Some stone grave markers, some wrought-iron markers, some wooden ones. It was quite clear that many of these markers were too close together, meaning that these people didn't have all that much room, so I'm not sure how pleasant the burial processes were. Even more fascinating, some of the grave markers didn't have any information on them. Maybe they had a name and a date at some point (those that did were as much as a century old), but definitely not now. It was really cool, and somewhat mysterious. The occasional iguana running through only made it cooler. Not the best cemetery I've been to, but a nice one to end my trip on.

I left the cemetery, and - after stopping by an ATM to give myself some wiggle room in my finances (basically, before that, if I spent any more than $2 for a meal, I would run out of money) - I walked to the Malecon 2000, also called the Malecon de Simon Bolivar (hey, remember that guy?). So, I've only now looked it up, and Malecon actually translates to "breakwater" or "jetty". In any case the main purposes of these places seemed to be to be a park/mall like environment. Behind a big fence (you really had to walk a distance to get to the gate, which I guess was for safety), there were places for kids to play, stores, and spots to eat. I was already quite late for lunch, so I decided to get something. And, lo and behold, there was a McDonald's available. This was my opportunity to finally and officially finish My Disgusting Quest™. So, I went in, and looked for something Ecuadorian. To my disappointment, I couldn't really find anything. Except...well, maybe there were two things in the budget menu. So, I got myself a McTostado and some Yucas Fritas. The McTostado was basically a cheap breakfast sandwich - two pieces of bread, a cheap piece of ham, and a cheap piece of cheese; nothing special. The yucas fritas were actually quite different than the yuquitas that I got in Peru, and considerably less interesting, to boot. It definitely was a bit of a whimper to end out My Disgusting Quest™, but at least I could eat with the satisfaction of knowing that I had no reason to ever eat at a McDonald's again.

I then tried walking to one of the local museums, but found that it was closed (most likely for it being a Sunday). So I walked back to the iguana park, where I looked at the critters a bit more, and then continued into the cathedral. Mass was long since over, but there were still plenty of people inside. I got and sat down, looking around. It wasn't the most ornate cathedral ever, but it got the job done. Then, all of a sudden, I heard the sound of a violin tuning. I looked up to the front, and saw that there was a small orchestra at the alter, and behind that, a choir. Before long, there was an applause from the folks in the pews as a conductor walked up. Holy crap, I had 100% accidentally walked into a performance! And perform they did, with the same quality you'd expect of a professional group. I don't know if it was a free concert, or a rehearsal, or what, but it was absolutely beautiful, and listening to it put me at peace.

The show lasted for about a half-hour, at which point I continued on my way. I had actually exhausted all my places that were open and within walking distance, so I began walking back to the hotel. I stopped at a small supermarket, where I invested in some mosquito coils and matches to help combat the bloodsuckers in my room. I also bought my very first Magnum ice cream bar. Literally, I don't think these things exist in the States, but they are almost everywhere else, and I've commented on them almost every time (in the context of the confusion they could create in the States). However, I had yet to try one, so I decided to give it a shot. They had one in which the chocolate shell contained chopped almonds, which was actually quite tasty. As for the bar itself, it was pretty good. However, I felt it was too rich and creamy, which is actually the whole reason why people like them. Call me crazy, but I personally like when my ice cream is a bit more icy and a bit less creamy. Anyway, I ate that and got back to the hotel, where I got in and set up my mosquito coils. The matches I bought were absolute garbage: thin, weak, and burned out quickly, but I guess I can't complain when you get 400 matches  for 50 cents. I then messed around for a bit, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner. Where did the time go? I tried again to go to the cheap place across the street, but found it again closed, so I figured it was just a weekend thing. So I walked around town until I found one of the many Chinese places in Guayaquil. I ordered a dish called an Aeropuerto ("Airport"), which was just a hodgepodge of everything. Rice, noodles, chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables. I could find no rhyme or reason to any aspect of but it did it's job, so I couldn't complain. I then walked back to the hotel, where I planned to be writing (and hopefully finishing) this entry. However, that didn't work as planned, and that's mostly my fault, because I kept getting distracted by random stuff I thought of (perfect example: I am currently thinking that I want to, sometime in my life, bury treasure for people to find; so I looked up the cost, of gold per kilogram, and then the area of gold per kilogram [to know how big of a treasure chest I'd need], and then if there's a place where I can get custom coins minted. I had no reason to look up any of this stuff, since none of this would happen for years, but that's how I work occasionally. I continued on well past the changing of dates, and stopped only when I knew I needed to fall asleep.

And that brings us to today, the first of the "dull final days". I again woke up some time after the assumed 8:30 breakfast time, and again, the dining room had some people in it, and again, the breakfast wasn't as good as the first time I had come to this place. But hey, at least I got a glass of orange juice this time! Afterwards, I went back to my room, and then continued writing until about 11:30. Truth be told, this put me well behind schedule on my photo uploading, so I was sweating bullets. (Oh, wait, no, that was just because even with two fans blowing at me, this place is still hot and humid.) I then went through and, basically, finished filtering through the remainder of my photos (which, when you're dealing with underwater photos in some cases, requires a bit of tone/color fixes). So that was a nice little feeling. I then went out to get some lunch, hoping that the place across the street would finally be open. And it was! So, I got some food, and then headed back to my hotel.

And...well, and here is where things get a little dry, narrative-wise. Because I didn't do anything else for the rest of the day except upload photos. Well, okay, that's not 100% true. I did spend some time catching up on the new season of Game of Thrones, so that took up a couple hours. So I actually was well behind what I definitely could have managed in the day. But still, I managed to get five albums up as of this entry. You can find them here:
Australia 5 - Cairns (12/9-15)
New Zealand 01 - Christchurch (12/16-18, 22)
New Zealand 02 - Kaikoura (12/19-21)
New Zealand 03 - Lake Tekapo & Mount Cook (12/23-26)
New Zealand 04 - Omarama (12/21-28)

So that's that. I only went out twice in the day, both times for less than a half hour to go across the street to get some food. I have found that when it comes to these set menu places, I have the memory of a goldfish. I look at the sign outside, decide what I want of the couple options they have, then go in and sit down, only to have completely forgotten what the name of what I was going to order was. So when the lady comes up to get my order, I seem like a complete language idiot, rather than a complete memory idiot. So then when I try to pay, she would just put up two fingers, as though I would be unable to understand what "dos dolares" means. But hey, I'm just writing this to make me feel as though I did something more...outdoorsy today. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: these types of days are essential, and definitely productive, but so uninteresting to write/read about.

And you're about to be subject to several more days of them! Ha HA!!!

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