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Tropical animals, architecture of old Guayaquil

Guayaquil Historical Park


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Edit from January 2019: I forgot to mention this originally, but the Historical Park is free entry! It's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and is open 09:00 - 16:00 the rest of the week.

Parque Histórico Guayaquil lies on a peninsula that splits the Río Daule and Río Babahoyo before they converge to become the Río Guayas. It needs to be within quite a large area because is split into three zones; the Wildlife Zone, the Urban Architecture Zone and the Traditions Zone.

My colleague/ friend 'H' and I decided to go there together today because neither of us had been before, despite having wanted to for ages. I am starting to run out of weekends before I leave Ecuador...

The Wildlife Zone was first. It is split into the four forest ecosystems of the local Guayas province; Drizzle Forest, Tropical Dry Forest, Mangrove Forest and the Floodplain (Wetlands) Forest. As we wandered round, we saw lots of wildlife, some of them common but others critically endangered in the wild. The Guayaquil macaw is probably the most at risk of extinction; there are only about 90 breeding pairs left in the country. Aside from the parrots, my favourites were the harpy eagle, the horned screamer bird, the two-toed sloth, the tapirs, the collared peccary and the turtles.

In order, each row from left to right; peccary, chestnut-fronted macaw, more chestnut-fronted macaws, scarlet macaws, flamingo, green parrots, horned screamer, more horned screamers and flamingoes, more peccaries, two-toed sloths, Central American agouti, tapirs, mangrove forest, pond, caiman and more caimen;

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From there we followed the path into the Urban Architecture Zone, which brings together several important wooden buildings which were built in Guayaquil in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, then dismantled and transferred to the Park in the 1980s. These buildings were mostly built directly after the great fire of 1896 which destroyed a lot of the old part of the city. Most of them were residential, belonging to locally important people, but one was the Territorial Bank and one was used by the Social Services as a hospital, complete with chapel.

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With all of these buildings, the upper storey is wider than the lower and is supported by columns. You see this basic set-up in the modern city centre; it makes a lot of sense in this climate. Shelter from the monsoon rain showers between January and April, shade from the scorching tropical sun throughout the rest of the year.

We were allowed to go inside some of the buildings, so we walked round one or two and admired the period furnishings and decoration.

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We liked the views out of the screen doors (which acted as windows on the upper floors), too. The combination of colourful wooden buildings, cobbled streets and original street lighting made it easy to picture the Guayaquil of the early 20th century. One exception to this was the plane we saw flying low over the river, coming in to land at the airport opposite!

We stopped for a snack and a drink at a collection of booths and tables in the square in front of the old Social Services building, then admired some tortoises crossing the path on our way into the Traditions Zone.

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This zone showcases the working life of rural, coastal people in Ecuador at the turn of the 20th century, when there was a boom in bananas, cacao and coffee. One group of people focused on is the Montubio, who to this day do a lot of ranching and hold rodeos, especially in Guayas province. The rodeo I went to last October in Salitre was a Montubio rodeo (you can read about this here). We looked round a colourful wooden landowner's house and a typical campesino (peasant) house made from wood, bamboo and wicker, admired a couple of peacocks and looked at aloe vera, cacti and many other aromatic, medicinal and edible plants within the ethnobotanical garden.

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I most definitely recommend this place if you are ever in Guayaquil and have half a day to spare away from the city centre!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds turtles museum parrots botanical_gardens ecuador sloth flamingoes peacocks explorations guayaquil_historical_park peccary horned_screamers tapirs harpy_eagle central_american_agouti caimen traditional_customs Comments (0)

Journey to the Amazon: Carnival!

Guayaquil, Baños, Tena and Puerto Misahuallí


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I'd always wanted to be in a country that celebrates Carnival at that time of year, so now that Carnival had come upon us, I wanted to make the most of it! My friend/colleague 'E' and I went on a four-day trip to the mountains and rainforest with some friends of hers.

Our bus left Guayaquil's bus terminal at about 12.45 am. As snacks for the journey I bought a bag of small yellow sponge things that had jam in the middle and a little bit of sugar on the outside and a bag of small balls that looked like peanut brittle. Due to Carnival the terminal was crowded, despite the late hour. Guayaquil is very quiet at Carnival time because everyone goes off to the beaches at Playas, Salinas and Montañita or to places in the highlands like Baños, Ambato and Cuenca.

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I didn't get much sleep on the bus. I dozed off at one point but woke up because I was so cold; while I had dozed off we had clearly arrived in the mountains and the altitude had increased enough for a temperature change. I'd been in a sleeveless top before but now had to put my Bolivian coat on. I only managed to doze off again once or twice more before we arrived at Ambato at about 6.30 am. We only stopped there for a few minutes before carrying on to Baños, where we arrived about an hour later. Our arrival was interesting not only due to the amazing setting - mountains tower over Baños on every side - but because of the clouds. It was mostly sunny but there were a couple of very flat, low-lying clouds that we could clearly see both above and below. One of them looked almost like a bridge between two parts of the valley.

I was intrigued by the stalls set up on both sides of the terminal. They had bunches of what looked like green bamboo, long poles leaning up against the wall next to them and small ones upright underneath the stalls. I found out later that these were actually sugar cane.

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We had some breakfast at a café near to the bus terminal. Bread rolls with white 'queso fresco' inside, scrambled eggs, a glass of borojo juice (a fruit native to the Amazon) and a cup of hot milk (or hot water, if you fancied it) to which you could add coffee or hot chocolate powder.

Breakfast was relaxed but we only had time for a quick toilet stop after it because our bus to Tena was due to leave at 8.15. Tena is a 'jungle town' north of Puyo. As we sat on the bus waiting for it to depart (which it did half an hour after it was supposed to - other passengers started getting annoyed and called out to the driver "Vamos!"), I heard the crowing of a cockerel coming from very close by - apparently it was coming from inside the luggage hold below us! It did sound like it was directly underneath us.

It was still quite bright when we left Baños but about 30 minutes later it started to rain. It didn't last that long though. The journey took about four hours. Once we had arrived in Tena we didn't have long before we had to get another bus to the even smaller town of Puerto Misahuallí, which is on the banks of the River Napo. This took another hour.

We were dropped off in the town centre, which would probably have been sleepy at any other time of year but wasn't this weekend because of Carnival! There was a small fruit and vegetable market in the square, with wares spread out on blankets on the ground, and children and teenagers roamed with spraycans of foam... water-throwing and foam-spraying is a Carnival celebration very widespread in Ecuador! On almost every side there were little stalls set up selling cans of foam for $1. Luckily, for now at least the children and teenagers seemed to be concentrated in the park in the middle of the square, not at the corner where we were, so we crossed the River Napo bridge and up a hill to our accommodation without much damage.

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Our accommodation was a set of cabins, one of which was split into two dorms, where we stayed. In mine there was one single, a double and a bunk bed - nobody else wanted the top bunk so I took it. There was mosquito netting fixed over the windows.

Soon we headed out to our first excursion - a trip on the River Napo to two Kichwa-speaking indigenous communities. We stopped in town for a late lunch, however, on the way to the small riverbeach where the wooden motorised canoes leave from. There was a restaurant where the food was cooked on grills outside the front - whole fish and parcels of stuff wrapped in palm or banana leaves.

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As we watched for a while, the woman reached into a small water-filled tub and retrieved three very large and fat maggots, which she skewered and put on the grill... we weren't tempted, strangely enough!

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What we did have was the fish; tilapia, commonly eaten in the Amazon. They had been gutted but were completely whole apart from that. The flesh was very white and juicy and there had clearly been butter involved in the cooking process as well - it was delicious. We had one each; they came with yuca, a slice of lime and a salad made from raw onion, tiny pieces of cheese, herbs and a white vegetable I didn't recognise.

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The trip on the River Napo took about 10 minutes. The River Napo is a tributary of the Amazon, so I had always pictured there being mudbanks on every side, but in fact there were a lot of large, very smooth stones.

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Once we arrived at the first indigenous settlement we were shown round by the guide - he showed us lots of plants that have special uses, for example a couple of poisonous ones used for blowpipes, ones with medicinal uses, and a cinnamon plant (he handed round one or two leaves form it; I bit into one and it did indeed taste very strongly of cinnamon). There was also a pond with a couple of caimen in it and two small enclosure with a peccary and capybara inside.

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We saw some massive ants on one tree trunk - the biggest I've ever seen! Apparently if antagonised their bites are extremely painful. He showed us round a hut filled with examples of pottery, shells (he demonstrated blowing into one conch shell and we all had a go), jewellery, spears and other things. We finished up in another hut where there were samples of jewellery, balsa wood parrots, little bottles of natural remedies, spears and arrows and more. I was really tempted by the arrows but didn't think I'd be able to get them back to the UK in my luggage, so I didn't get any.

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It was lovely to stand on the bank of the Napo before we climbed back down the bank to the canoe, because I could see nothing but forest on every side.

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After this we visited another community on the other side of the river. They had a volleyball game going on in the middle of their square. We were welcomed with a dance by some of the women and we had a chance to be 'cleansed' by a shaman - I passed on this because although no doubt the roots of it are genuine to the community, it seemed quite put on for tourists. I had a wander round another hut filled with handmade souvenirs, but didn't buy anything. I wish I had now, though.

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Lunch had been very late for us so it wasn't long after we got back that we had some dinner. This time we had another type of grilled fish; I've forgotten its name but it was massive, with enough meat on it for four people. Those of us who chose it, including me, had one in the middle of the table for us to share, with bowls of rice and yuca and the same type of salad I mentioned before. Once again it was delicious. The flesh not only looked a very creamy colour but tasted creamy as well.

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It was after dark by the time we finished. Once we got back to our accommodation I had a much-needed shower and went to bed. Some of the others went back out for a drink or two, but by the time they decided to do so it had started pouring with rain and I felt so nice and dry and comfortable, as well as tired, that I decided just to get an early night instead.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:06 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges birds hostel buses parrots carnival banos ecuador guayaquil tena ecuadorian_cuisine misahualli river_trip peccary traditional_customs Comments (0)

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