Once again, Rita and I have defied the odds, and managed to visit Guayaquil without a major crime event. We are constantly warned by expats and some Ecuadorians alike that it is a very dangerous city, with a whole list of “nevers” – never take a cab, never walk more than a block or two, never take a local bus, etc.
But I have to confess – we like going to Guayaquil!
I don’t want to pretend like it is a completely safe city, or that you shouldn’t take reasonable precautions. It is, after all a city of about 3.5 million people, with almost 2.7 million in the metropolitan area. That puts it around the size of Chicago, and means it would be the third or fourth largest city in the US. Much larger than say Philadelphia, DC, Detroit or Baltimore. Would you wander around any of those US cities without a care in the world? Of course not, and we don’t go to Guayaquil and act naive either.
But to stay away from Guayaquil out of fear is doing yourself (and Ecuadorians) a big disservice. Sure, there are some very poor areas, and most of those you would be foolish to venture into, but there are many great things about the city as well. The Malecon has a riverwalk that is a great place to visit, with restaurants, shops, parks and playgrounds. There’s the Iguana Park (pictured above), where you can stroll around among 50 or more lizards, and several modern malls. There are also many great medical facilities and doctors in Guayaquil, and of course plenty of great dining options.
Our recent trip was to shop for hiking boots and a few odds and ends, and for a medical appointment for Rita. We also arranged to meet some friends who live in Guayaquil for lunch. We started out about 8:30am from our condo in Salinas, catching a local bus to the Terminal Terreste in Ballenita, total cost for two of 50 cents. Regional buses leave every 10-15 minutes, so it was no problem to buy our tickets ($6.28 total for two) and get immediately on a very comfortable bus. Less than two hours later, we were at the Terminal Terreste in Guayaquil, where we caught a $3 taxi to the Mall de Sol.
So far, we have broken several “rules”. First, we’ve been told that the regional buses are unsafe. You can be stopped and robbed, or be in an accident. In fact, one expat in particular seems to take an unnatural glee in posting every article he can find about bus accidents. It is true that crime can happen, and even Elvis Costello will admit that Accidents Will Happen, but what are the odds? If you ever visited the Terminal in Guayaquil, you would marvel at the number of buses coming in and out in a steady stream about 20 hours a day. Out of hundreds of buses and tens of thousands of riders, I like our chances. Don’t you take a risk just leaving your home every day, or crossing the street?
The next thing we did “wrong”, was to take a taxi. It is a well-known fact they will take you somewhere and rob you. Again, maybe we are just lucky, but we have never had a problem. It especially seems low-risk taking a taxi from the Terminal. The taxis there are the only cooperativas allowed, and I can’t see them wanting to risk getting booted from a lucrative location. They also have radios, and call in their destination at the start of the trip.
Back at the Mall de Sol, wonder of wonders, we were able to find hiking boots in our sizes, and at reasonable prices! Flushed with success, we grabbed a $3 cab (again, at the official cab pickup spot for the mall) out to the San Marino Mall, to meet our friends at an excellent Peruvian restaurant, Secundo Muelle.
After a wonderful meal and great company, we performed our next death-defying feat! We walked a few blocks to a pet store to buy flea/tick treatment for Rita’s corgi. Once more, let me point out, we are not idiots. We do not walk around the city wearing a lot of jewelry or watches, we do not have our iPhones out in our hands, and we are not wearing checkered shorts and loud Hawaiian shirts. As best we can as obvious gringos, we are dressed much like everyone around us. Comfortable, simple clothing, and a small backpack slung over one shoulder. Nothing about us screams out “wealth” or “target”. I generally have a little cash in my pocket, a little in my wallet, and if we need to carry a lot of cash (like to pay for a medical procedure) I use a money belt. Also, the places where we walk around are really not very dangerous places.
The area we are talking about now has two malls across the street from each other, San Marino and Policentro. We had time to check out a few stores in Policentro before heading across just one more street to the Kennedy Hospital, for Rita’s consultation appointment. Doctor’s appointments in Ecuador are a little different from in the US. This was technically a one-year followup visit. First, there are the handshakes and hugs (for me), kisses and hugs (for Rita), then we sit and talk for a while. We talked about everything except of course the reason for the visit. We covered how our kids are doing, grandkids, the doctor told us about his recent award, his farm outside of Guayaquil, and we talked about our plans to hike the Inca Trail next year. That of course led to places he had visited in South America, and then finally, after about 45 minutes, he asked Rita how she was feeling. There was perhaps a five-minute exam, then after telling her she was fine, check back in after 6 months, we talked for about another 45 minutes.
So by the time we left, it was almost 7pm and almost completely dark out. Here we transgressed once again – this time by not getting out of town before it gets dark! Instead, we decided to walk back over to the San Marino Mall, and have dinner in the Food Court first. Laughing (or I guess, chewing) in the face of death, we enjoyed a quick meal at Chop-Chops, and then went out to another official cab stand for one more $4 cab ride, this time back to the Terminal Terreste.
Another $6.28 cents and a couple of uneventful hours later, we were back in Ballenita for the last leg, this time taking a $5 cab, since the local buses leaving the Terminal change their schedule after 8pm and it take forever to get back to Salinas on the #11 late at night.
Home again, home again, 13 hours after we left, and none the worse for the trip. We had two great meals, found everything we were shopping for, and had a terrific time. Our total transportation costs for two came to $28.06.
Now, consider the popular “safe” alternative – hire a driver to take you everywhere, wait for you at each stop, and bring you back. Most local drivers would charge about $10/hr, and would expect to have their meals paid for as well (which is only fair). That would have cost us about $150 total. Even if we had used a cheaper driver, who maybe charged a flat rate, it would be hard to do it for less than $100 – unless of course we had only gone to Guayaquil for the doctor’s appointment, and come right back home. Then we probably could have done it for under $80.
But where’s the fun in that? Unfortunately, that is what many expats end up doing. Guayaquil is not a fun outing – it is something that should be gotten over with as quickly as possible, and a place to visit as infrequently as possible. For some, it is only the place where the airport is located.
To each his or her own, certainly. Everyone has to find their own comfort level with living in a foreign country, and I don’t mean to disparage anyone. And you never know, our next trip could be the one where Fate bitch-slaps us and puts us in our places. But I don’t want to live in fear of something that could happen. I feel like we have a wonderful opportunity living in Ecuador. There are so many things to see and do here, so many new experiences, and even if we felt like we have seen everything, we are in South America, and that much closer to even more fun stuff.
Besides – I really do like Guayaquil!