Let me just start by warning you that this entry will be a rant – my own personal tirade against those who judge places, and especially cities, in a black and white manner.
I cannot count the amount of times someone has told me that they are not a “city” person. If these words come from a self-professed homebody, a non traveler, it can roll right off my back. I don’t expect the varied people of this world to see things the same way I do, BUT, this statement does raise my hackles, when it comes from a fellow traveler, a person who wants to experience the world, and might even consider themselves a bit of an expert on foreign destinations. Saying that you hate cities, is like saying you like someone’s arms and legs, but can do without the torso. It shows an unwillingness to appreciate all parts of a country, a culture, a people. It is a an avoidance of grit and painful contrasts, manmade wonders next to architectural atrocities, an unclean beggar seated on a subway next to an artfully made-up woman in designer clothing, a dirty sidewalk bordering a manicured park, and crowded streets, bursting with humanity all jostling for a place.
When I travel, I do my best to love the cities as much as I love the countryside. I want to find inspiration and beauty everywhere. This is not always easy, but it is rewarding, and this desire helps me to find patience in places not known for being peaceful. This is not to say that I haven’t met a city that left a bad taste in my mouth, but when it does happen, I know that it is more often my fault, my own inability to dig a little deeper, and cultivate joy in an uncomfortable environment.
It is easy to take a walk through nature, and trek your way to a space of bliss and serenity. I get it. I want that too. This is why poets have written endless prose about the great outdoors; but, don’t assume that the same meditative state cannot be reached within the chaos of a city, or that those opportunities for reflection will never blossom from the crush of a populous place. Don’t be scared of that which is ugly, or suffering. Embrace all that challenges you, including the craziness of a city, because you CAN find your own unique rhythm and niche, and ultimately be spiritually fulfilled for your efforts. Trust me, fight against your trigger response to flee the metropolis in favor of the forest. Your perspective on the world will only grow with your patience and appreciation of ALL world domains.
Now that I have tried to convince you to give cities a chance, don’t be another person who tells me that some place sucks, because you are probably wrong, and I am sick of hearing it. Especially if you think a place is bad, just because it is a city. This brings me to the reason I am writing this essay in the first place – let me introduce you to Guayaquil, the inspiration for my tirade.
Poor, disdained Guayaquil, suffering the flurry of foreign travelers, who see you as a mere stepping stone to and from the Galapagos. I read and listened to far too many voices, all telling me to avoid spending time here. “Guayaquil is awful.” “It’s dirty, muggy, dangerous, and there is nothing to do.” Now, I have to admit, all of these negative opinions definitely put Guayaquil on the bottom of my must-see in Ecuador list, and if it weren’t for the fact that we had to transit through this city, at the end of our own Galapagos adventure, I might not have gone out of my way to visit. However, both Dan and I have always been of the mindset that if fate is engineering us to stop in a certain place, than the best we can do is to embrace the adventure of it. While we didn’t want to devote a week to a place shamefully referred to as purgatory, we also knew that a 4-hour connection was an unfair snub. In the end, we only spent two nights here, but they were PERFECTLY PLEASANT.
We approached Guayaquil as we have any other city. We studied the must-dos and highlights, and then sketched out a walking route to occupy the better part of a day. I don’t know if our expectations were so low, and that is why we were easily delighted, but really..? I don’t get the complaints. Did these people ever venture out of their rooms? Did they not take the time to watch the nightly water fountain show of colorful lights from the Malecon del Salado? Were they blind to the cool retro architecture lining the main thoroughfare of 9 de Octubre, or the Liberty column built to celebrate the founding fathers of Ecuador? Did they not check out the tropical Parque Bolivar, crawling with land iguanas or peek into the nearby cathedral with its elaborate lace-like exterior, or even take a smidgen of time to educate themselves in the municipal museum? What about strolling down the lush and modern Malecon 2000 that runs along the Rio Guayas, stopping for fancy coffee or ice-cream? How about perusing art galleries, and beer shops in colorful Las Penas, learning about the music of Julio Jaramillo, and ending this exploration of a historic neighborhood, with spectacular city views from atop Cerro Santa Ana? Did they not step out of their comfort zone to sample some juicy empanadas or any of the amazing seafood of this region, like ceviche, or shrimp in a spicy coconut sauce at La Culata?
I feel very bad for them. As Donald Trump would say, “Sad. Very sad.”
Have a look. Do you think we suffered?