30 kilometers east of Guayaquil a gray Peugeot whizzed past us, honking madly, the men inside waving their arms wildly and smiling from ear to ear. This was our introduction to Antonio, Javier, and David, three bothers with an incredible affection for one another, and the cousins of our visitors, Antony and Laurie. Rather than offering convoluted instructions on how to reach their neighborhood they drove out to meet us and guide us through the city.
Tannia and Patty opened their beautiful homes to us and made us feel like honorary primos. We were treated to a tour of the family’s banana plantation, the beautifully restored Malecon, an iguana park in the middle of the bustling city, and a trip to Salinas (Guayaquil’s very own South Beach) for sun and ceviche. After each full day of sightseeing, the family gathered in the evening for lively discussion and a download of the day’s events.
Although the cousins speak better English than we do Spanish, we did our best to participate in conversations and found this was the most rewarding form of practice. For the first time we had to push ourselves outside of the present. We needed to explain our past lives and our future desires. This was by far the most challenging language hurdle we’ve jumped yet. Knowing we could be put on the spot at the dinner table with a question about cattle ranching in Nebraska or our favorite aspects of San Francisco kept us on our toes.
As we pulled away from the cousins neighboring houses we agreed, Guayaquil was easily our favorite city so far. We were spoiled with all the creature comforts one starts to miss on the road – a reliably hot shower, home cooked meals, and the warmth of friends and family. But more importantly, we saw Guayaquil through the eyes of a local and as a result understood this city better than any other we have visited. You will not find Guayaquil on any recommended itinerary for travelers. Described as hot, noisy, and chaotic, Lonely Planet recommends anti-city travelers steer clear. Perhaps a good reminder that a guidebook is just a guide. This stop was entirely unique to the experience, specifically the incredible people and the distinct perspective they gave us.