Today we are being dropped off at the airport, but before that we had a last nature walk in Seymour Norte Island. We disembarked at 6 am in an inhospitable, flat and rocky islet, where the last surprise of the trip was waiting for us. I stayed in the Fragata Hostel, and spent a week aboard the Fragata Yacht, so it was time for us to witness the courtship ritual of the Fragata bird. This bird, who is a very elegant glider, mates in February and March, but several weeks before the mating season the male makes a nest (it is the guy making the nest, so it is more a bachelor pad than an attractive home; afterward it puffs up his bright red crop and stands there looking pretty, letting the females check him up for several days. Eventually he mates with the female that chooses him, and an egg results. The chicks are of course very cute, but as soon as they hit adolescence they turn dower and morose, sink their with head within his black shoulders, hangs his long curved beak, and broods in the guano-covered nest until his parents come with food. For all practical purposes it looks like the bird of death!
The other species that is in courtship is the Pájaro Bobo, or Blue-Footed Boobie). This is where they are their goofiest, with both male and female goose-marching with their blue feet, lowering and rising their necks in unison, and playing hard to get as they stare at each other amorously with beady little eyes. I also saw a Green-Footed Boobie trying to court a Blue-Footed female, but to no avail. That is what he gets for having turned vegan.
We got to the airport around 8:30 am, said our goodbyes, and started the endless wait for our flights. I am flying to Guayaquil at 12:30 pm, and shall be there at 3:20 pm. My onward flight to Quito doesn’t start until 9 pm, so I am going to rush to the city and see what I can see in five hours. More about that later.
In a brief composite from my observations from the air plus a tour around the city in the tourist bus I can tell you that Guayaquil is a large city (the largest in Ecuador at 3.5 million inhabitants) that was founded at the shore of the Guayas river around 1548. Francisco de Orellana, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Amazon is mentioned everywhere, so I am going to guess that he was the founder. During colonial times the Royal shipyards of Guayaquil built many of the galleons that made the crossing to Philippines, and the city prospered. Now it extends as far as the eye can see from El Mirador, a 100 m high prominence (built by an endless sequence of turbidites) that dominates the city.
My tour started by the Malecón of the Guayas River, which at this point is as wide as the Amazon River is in Iquitos. The Malecón, or Boardwalk, is one of the main attractions of the city, and has been built into a beautiful park where one finds monuments to Simón Bolivar and Sucre, both of whom are the acknowledged liberators of Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, which at some time formed the Gran Colombia that Bolivar had dreamed as the big confederation of South America. The boardwalk also has a Botanical Garden, marinas, an amusement park, and a couple of museums.
Overlooking the city are the hills of Santa Ana and El Carmen, both of which are covered by a colorful mélange of fabelas (quaint fabelas, not dangerous like the ones in Rio De Janeiro). Atop Santa Ana there is a monumental Christ that looks benevolently over the city, and atop El Carmen is a light blue lighthouse. Both of them reportedly afford great views of the city, but I didn’t have time to climb them. At the base of both hills is the Mono Machín, a 10 m high colored sculpture of a monkey, which has given Guyaquileňos their alternate appellation as “monos”.
Surprisingly, the city has two boardwalks, the second one being along the estuary of the Rio Salado. One of the banks has been handsomely developed with parks and community centers, but the opposite bank had been the traditional dwelling place of the fishermen, who still claim the area, now turned into a colorful fabela on stilts with a well-illuminated wood boardwalk.
And then there is the city itself, which is a vibrant mosaic of old qurters, parks, modern buildings, and fancy districts. Commerce is alive and well, and the old commercial center is a beehive of activity. I had a few dollars left in my pocket, and decided to stop at a bookstore to see if there was something I could blow off my cash buying. To my surprise the books were quite affordable (plus a $6 taxi from the airport, an $8 tour of the city, and a $5 dinner of empanadas Argentinas), and reminded me that Galapagos is a particularly expensive province of Ecuador.
Ecuador has treated me well, and I am very happy I came to greet my Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. It is varied and beautiful land, and I would certainly like to come back. For now it is time to put an end to this journal, as I wait for my flight first to Quito at 9:30 pm, and then to Dallas and San Francisco at midnight. Good night for now.