The beginning of the backpacking stories: Montanita, Puerto Lopez, and off to Peru

I’ve been on the road for five days now (two months to go), and with my one backpack, three shirts, two pants, and eight pairs of socks and underwear, have passed through three places: Guayaquil, Montanita, and Puerto Lopez. Guayaquil five years ago, apparently, was the Tijuana of Ecuador. In other words, el dompe, which is Tijuanan Spanglish for, clearly, the dump. My first few minutes in Guayaquil are pretty telling of what the city is like. I’m about to go into detail about my whole trip out there, so bear with me until the end of this:

I took a shuttle van from Cuenca to Guayaquil, which cost twelve dollars and took about three hours. Before the bus ride, I was hanging out in the buseta station (the shuttles have their own separate terminal), and a little six year old kid named Cesar walked up to me, mumbled something I could hear, and hopped into the chair next to me. Cesar was covered in shoe polish because he worked as a shoe shiner in the market, which is illegal. Child labor here, though, is pretty commonplace. I would see a lot of the kids I used to work with at Aurora working in the markets on the weekends, or skipping school to work before Aurora. So Cesar was really dirty, and as he was unintelligibly talking to me, I realized he was asking for money. He put his shoe shiner box down, and starting asking more clearly if I could spare anything. I gave him my lunch instead. What happens more often than not, I’ve learned, is the money you give to these kids goes straight to their parents, and their parents don’t always spend it on them. It goes to new clothes for the parents, booze, drugs, or something else. In some situations the kids benefit, of course, but Cuenca is no different than the rest of the world. There are good and bad people everywhere. So I gave him my lunch. He was like forty pounds. As he was eagerly chomping down on my lunch, his nine year old friend and apparent colleague Lenin came over and shared everything with him, and I gave them both my iPod to play Angry Birds on. These kids flipped when they starting playing it…they were so excited. I spent the next hour hanging out with these two before I had to go, and realized as I was leaving that a lot of people were giving my dirty looks. I still haven’t fully understood why, but I wonder what I was doing wrong. It goes back to what Jess was telling me earlier about walking the kids home: of course your first world mindset is kicking in now, but you have to think about what it’s like for these kids in these neighborhoods, and how the people around them are thinking. So here I am a few days later, I’m wondering if there were any unintended consequences of hanging out with these kids, and why people were looking at me so sourly. Anybody have any insight on this?

Back to the buseta. These drivers must get paid something extra if they make it there with time to spare, because good lord, I feel lucky to be alive. Either that, or these men clearly didn’t have the mother I did constantly telling them—as they were that annoying little antsy kid in line with their mother at the bank—“Patience, Matthew. Patience is a virtue. Calm down. It’s just a few minutes.” I shudder to think what I would be like without that constant chiding. And I’m still slightly more impatient than most.  I, and probably countless others, thank you for that, mother. I chose to pay the extra four bucks for the buseta because it goes through Cajas, and therefore is much faster. I realized quickly into the trip, though, why the larger bus doesn’t go through Cajas. In the early evening, a really thick, heavy fog descends upon the mountains in Cajas. It’s brooding gloom  (AP Lit alumni, I hope you thought of Ortman the minute you read that). I say that because below the fog, I’m sure there are hundreds of shells of burnt vans and corpses at the bottom of the mountains. The roads in Cajas are very well paved, and there are three lanes everywhere you go. One for going down, and two for going up. The middle lane is the passing lane for those going up. Of course, though, nobody is going to pass anybody in the fog. Or, rather, this is the hope. As we’re barreling down the Cajas lanes at 65 mph en route to Guayaquil, our driver is going between helping me with my Spanish pronunciation, laughing at various jokes, messing with the radio, and of course, blaring his horn and subsequently passing giant, apparently too slow buses and semi trucks. I wish I had been sleeping. I don’t know exactly what the drivers’ thought processes are, but the best guess I can venture is they’re thinking that if it’s this foggy out, there is no way in hell somebody would be stupid enough to pass somebody. So, that being said and assumed, the passing lane going up the mountain is going to be free to pass downhill. Of course, they’re not thinking about the fact that in a buseta-bus collision, the bus is going to continue unfazed. Every time the van jolted left, I was thinking “No, he’s not going to. Now way. He’s not that stu—oh shit, hold on, here we go. We’re doing this. Again.” I was having this exact conversation with a friend I met up with in Guayaquil, a coworker of Danny, who I stayed with the night I got in. He’s also a telecom engineer, and is from Ottawa. He was telling me that each time he goes back and forth from Cuenca, he sits in the far back, in the middle. I was sitting behind the passenger seat so I could catch the window. But sitting his way, in a head on collision, you’re in the safest position. But then again, when tumbling down a mountain, anything goes.

When we miraculously made it into the greater Guayaquil metro area, the guy driving in front of us was either drunk or attempting to commit insurance fraud, which is a thing that’s been made possible to do in the past five years. He was going from eighty to forty to sixty to thirty to ninety to drunk off his ass all within the same few miles, and my vigilant driver was still hyped up on enough adrenaline from nearly dying in the mountains to slam on the breaks in time to avoid crashing. The guy in the passenger seat was videotaping the whole ordeal with his cell phone. Eventually, the guy turned off, and we figured we were over him. We weren’t. When we pulled into the parking lot to get out and take taxing to our subsequent destinations, he pulled up behind us, got out of our car, and started screaming at our driver for driving like an idiot and to immediately delete the video. They were arguing for a while, and after some carefully placed “vete a la mierda-s” and “concha de tu madre-s,” my driver caught a solid left hook/suckerpunch to the jaw. So they starting fighting, and then took their shirts off, which is apparently a thing people do. After walking around in a few circles huffing and puffing, they continued to fight. A security guard from a bank next door slowly sauntered over, stood behind the guy who initially accosted my driver, casually raised his baton, and cracked him over the head. He crumpled, slowly got up about ten seconds later, and dejectedly and angry walked to his car as my driving was screaming “A donde vas? Ya peleamos! Ya peleamos!”. As this was all starting to happen, I quickly moved about twenty yards away with everybody else from the van. A women looked at me and said “Bienvenidos a Guayaquil. La gente aqui es muy malo. Ellos son como ninos. Cuidate.” Welcome to Guayaquil. The people here are very bad. They’re like children. Be careful. So that about summed Guayaquil up for me. I’m heading back in two hours to grab a connection to Mancora, Peru. I’ll just be in the bus station, but maybe more stories to come?

I’ve been spending the last few days in Montanita and Puerto Lopez, two coastal cities about 20 miles apart. Both are absolutely gorgeous, and quite different from one another. Montanita is a debaucherous surfer town of four square blocks with cocktail stands all up and down the main block for two bucks a pop. So my three days there went like this: go to a crepe stand with Andrew (18) and Collin (19), two guys from Southern California I met on the bus from Guayaquil, hang out on the beach, read, and just bum around, grab dinner when we felt like it, get two dollar mojitos and 90 cent 40 oz beers from the former crepe-now-cocktail-stands, and learn how to salsa in the many beachfront discotecas. It wasn’t a bad life. I can see how some people get stuck there. I was reading on the beach the other day, and after about twenty minutes I looked up to see that I was surrounded by probably a hundred crabs. It was incredible. I moved to grab my phone to take a picture, but scared them with my movement and caused them all to scatter. Puerto Lopez is about the size of Montanita, but much, much quieter. I think they may be like Montanita at certain times of the year, since there are about eight or nine bars on the beach, but at least for now it’s pretty dead. I came here from Montanita with three English girls named Ana, Cassie, and Sophie and a Dutch girl  named Joliene. I met them all in my hostel, and all happened to be heading to Puerto Lopez at the same time. We went to Isla de la Plata yesterday, which is like a poor man’s Galapagos, and saw blue footed boobies, albatrosses, other weird birds, and WHALES. Real live humpback whales, jumping in and out of the water. It was like Free Willy. Absolutely spectacular. Puerto Lopez has been pretty tranquilo, and I’m looking forward to moving on to basically the Montanita of Peru. The only difference in Mancora is that it’s really hot and sunny all of the time, and people may not wear fanny packs all of the time. Those are a huge thing here. It’s weird, and a bit amusing. It’s been really overcast in Montanita and Puerto Lopez, since it’s nearly constantly covered by a massive cloud. It’s supposed to let up on the weekends only, although I’m not sure how that works.

From Mancora I’ll be meeting Trish in Lima. I’m not sure where we’re going from there, but we’ll figure something out. Maybe Bolivia? Chile? Uruguay? Trish is looking for warm, so we may be heading to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, or possibly Brazil. I’ll have to reassess my funds to see what I can and cannot do. Wherever we go, though, it’s sure to be a blast. I don’t really know how it couldn’t be. The only plans I have past being in Lima on the 2nd is going to a 4th of July Party at the US Embassy, probably in Lima. I like it this way…never really knowing where you’ll be in a week, living with nothing but what’s on your back. It’s liberating. Nobody really tells out about the down side of travelling, though. For example, you always hear about the incredible people you meet along the way—like Joliene, Collin, Eddy and Dario—but nothing about how you have to leave these newfound best friends for more or less ever. It’s crazy how quickly you can get really close with people in just a few days, although saddening how you move on from them just as quickly. Although, I now have places to stay and people to hang out with if I ever go to Melboure, Concepcion, Utrecht, London, Jerusalem, Oslo, or southern California. Also, the great thing about living out of a small backpack is that everything you have is right on your back,  and can be carried on busses and planes as a carry on. However, the down side to that, which I realized today, is that once you put something dirty in the bag, no matter how many plastic bags you wrap around it, everything in the bag begins to smell.

So, that being said, I’m off to find a washing machine and a shower.

Pictures of whales, blue footed boobies, and run-down third world coastal cities to come when I find a way to upload them from my phone. 

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