A sad farewell to the Galapagos Islands. Said goodbye to the crew and our wonderful guide. I was going to miss El Capitan aka Louis Felipe Scholari and those tighter than tight denim shorts he insisted on wearing (well, maybe not the shorts), the fantastic food, the friendly and hard-working crew, the other tourists on board; but most of all I was going to miss the captivating wildlife living on the unspoiled islands. The vast array of endemic species discovered by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle in 1835. How Darwin must have gasped when he saw giant tortoises plodding around, marine and land iguanas, sea lions and the like, and what a voyage that must have been. Nobody does adventures like that anymore. Only Bruce Parry comes close. I felt incredibly lucky to have followed in the footsteps of the great evolutionary, and bought myself some tacky Galapagos playing cards at the airport and a cuddly blue-footed booby to celebrate as the Floreana, my home for a week, pulled away for a voyage around the South Islands. Relentless. The crew don’t get much rest, and have to be just as enthusiastic for the next group of tourists. But what they are enthusiastic about the most, I noticed, was the nature. They cheered when they saw a dolphin, pointed out frigate birds and penguins with glee, joined us on snorkeling trips – they love the ocean and are creatures of nature and the sea. This was their world, and I admired each and every one of them. The crew of the Floreana, and Martha Chica, our excellent guide, elevated the trip from excellent to out-of-this-world. I salute the boat, the crew, and my fellow tourists – a fantastic bunch. Apart from, that is, the Maltese couple. There they were at the gate at the airport. I noticed the man first, panama hat in his hand, sat down, a look of concentration on his stupid face. He was attempting to catch a sparrow that had flown into the waiting area with his hat. He kept trying, and the bird kept hopping away. His wife, equally stupid, was watching him with a glazed expression that was almost pride. Get back to Malta! I said hello and goodbye just as quickly, and got on the plane to fly away from nature and into a city once more. A week on a boat in the Galapagos. One of my greatest ever adventures.
I flew to Guayacil, a coastal city, still in Ecuador. A city with a population of just over 2 million, colourful shantytowns plonked haphazardly on the surrounding hills, in complete contrast to the polished streets of the city, and the Singapore-esque Malecon 2000 running by the river Guayas, so soulless you may as well be in Singapore. Checked into the overpriced ($95) Intercontinental Hotel situated right next to Parque Bolivar. I went to my simple room, not worth the money, showered, changed, and headed out as the sun dipped behind the city and a night of both promise and danger revealed itself. I took a stroll around Parque Bolivar past the obligatory Simon Bolivar statue, and took a look around the Cathedral flanking one end of the square. The streets were relatively quiet for a South American city, and there was a warm hum of tropical tranquility in the air. I headed to the waterfront, the Malecon 2000, one of the most expensive urban renewal projects in South America. Ships were docked here, and the clean boardwalks are full of restaurants, bars, and attractions, and ponds and botanical gardens abound. It’s 2.5 km stretch ends at an IMAX, with a view onto the colourful barrios stacked almost on top of each other up the hill, poverty once more becoming just another photo opportunity for the minted traveller. I’m as much to blame. My photos won’t change anything, governments won’t suddenly improve the standard of life through my voyeurism. I sometimes think the poor get photographed more than celebrities. Perhaps they represent opposite ends of a spectrum most of us will never truly experience, and therefore we need to capture the snap to feel more sure of our place in the world.
I ate calamari and quesadillas here at a lovely restaurant over the river, washed down with a few local beers, which later gave me my second bout of food poisoning of the trip, after the most horrendous of my life in Venezuela. It slowed me down, but didn’t stop me. I saw my last Ecuador sunset, then I went to Zona Rosa for a few drinks, then sat in Parque Bolivar to watch the world go by for an hour, before heading to the hotel for an early night, as I had a 6am flight to Colombia in the morning.