Friday, February 21, 2014

Guayaquil - Part 1

It's Christmas
Our last stop in Ecuador was Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and port in the southern part of the country. The story is that the city is named for the great Puna chief Guayas and his wife Quill. Guayas fought against both the Incas and the Spanish. Rather than allow Quill to be captured by the conquistadors, Guayas killed Quill and then drowned himself. I like this story better than the more scholarly one that the name really just means “the land like a beautiful prairie on the land of the Qulicas.”

Guayas and Quill
Our Hotel Oro Verde was right in the middle of downtown on the principle downtown thoroughfare, Avenida 9 de Octubre, where walking the streets was not dissimilar from walking down the street in most large American cities. Lots of people in business dress along with the more casually dressed working class people. Large and small stores shared the buildings and vendors shared the sidewalks with the pedestrians. Cars and buses made crossing the streets a hazard, but most of the more difficult intersections had signs warning of the danger and a traffic cop directing traffic. Government buildings and churches shared the open spaces and the museums are free; even the historical park/zoo is free to enter.

The old museum building; now government offices

Some of the leaders of independence

Of course there are differences. Most of the small shops are barely 10 feet wide and carry only one type of item. Perhaps half of them sell various kinds of food with only a few seats for sit-down dining if there are any at all. Every few blocks a money changer holds a wad of US dollars. That was a bit strange until I was reminded that the currency here is the US dollar and most of the visitors would be from other South American countries with different currencies.
Art on the Malecon del Solado
A play area on the Malecon Simon Bolivar
At  both ends of Avenida 9 de Octubre is a Malecon or riverfront walkway. The shorter one, Malecon del Solado, is near the college where young lovers are watched by the many statues and monuments honoring the country’s heroes. At the other end of the street is the mile-long Malecon Simon Bolivar along the major part of the Rio Guayas. This area was a mess not that long ago, but has been cleaned up and built up to be a major tourist attraction with restaurants, parks, play areas, and museums. Like many cities in the world today (including our own Vancouver, Washington), the people of Guayaquil realized that the river should be an attraction and not a distraction for the people and have done something about it.

The Blue Snail restaurant, a good example of art deco, surrounded by new buildings.

One of the buildings built around 1900 shortly after the fire that destroyed the town around 1890 - just like Seattle and Chicago.

A beautiful new area just north of downtown on the waterfront. Not many people live here yet.
Urban renewal has also come to Guayaquil. Our guide pointed out several beautiful buildings built shortly after the 1896 fire that destroyed most of the city. Then she would also point out the ugly newer building nearby that had replaced a building similar to the older ones. We were immediately reminded of the recently completed renovation of King Street Station in Seattle which we visit several times a year in our travels north. In the 1950s, it was modernized by covering windows and putting in a drop ceiling to cover up the magnificent high ceiling that has just recently been uncovered and rebuilt to its former grandeur. New styles may sometimes be more functional and there is a place for them, but too often it comes at the expense of the real beauty of the past. Sometimes we remember that in time. Sometimes we don’t and live to regret our modernizing actions.  
A view of downtown and the Malecon Simon Bolivar

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