Flight down went without a hitch. We were so exhausted after the move and the conference we slept most of the way. This morning, awoke in the heat and humidity of Guayaquil, a city with a well-deserved reputation as the armpit of the Pacific coast of South America.
Personally, the Dowbrigade has always had a wild time in Guayaquil, a huge industrial port city with more energy than elan, and more commerce than culture. Sure, the atmosphere is like soup and the streets have a gritty, work-a-day busyness. There is a dearth of picturesque tourist cafes and galleries, no world-class architecture, but there are several good universities, including the Holy Spirit University where the Dowbrigade was Chair of the English Department for two years. But that was a long time ago,and all the professors we hired are long gone and largely forgotten.
Back in the day, when the Dowbrigade was a rascal and an outlaw, our M.O. in this part of South America was to rent a small house in the nearby beach town of Playas, and take the 90-minute bus into Guayaquil to search for drugs (we were looking for cocaine hydrochloride but usually ended up with Pasta Basica de Cocaina, the raw material for snortable coke, which must be smoked like crack but which packs several times the wallop), hit a few pharmacies (Ecuador, like many Latin American countries with low per capita incomes, has an extremely liberal policy towards pharmaceutical drugs, on the basic principal that most people here have enough money to see a doctor or buy medicine, but not both, so the pharmacist ends up acting as a primary care physician, people wander in and cough, show their sores, and buy whatever the druggist recommends), stop in at the “Paradise of Fruits” on the Avenida Nueve de Octubre for fruit cocktail or black raspberry juice, eat at a chinese restaurant, maybe take in a movie, and in general, look for trouble and adventure in the big city.
We ended up in some incredible dives, sleeping on floors in dope dens, under staircases, huddling under bridges, waiting on desolate and dangerous street corners, hanging out with surfers and smugglers and agents and whores until, bedraggled and exhausted, we boarded a bus back to the beach.
Of course, we no longer do things like that, but during our time here as a professional educator we discovered many more hidden treasures, artists, restaurants, a small but vibrant ex-pat community, tennis and country clubs and lots and lots of interesting people. Still, its not the kind of place one wants to stay without a good reason, and tomorrow morning we are heading for the apartment we have rented on the beach, in the city of Manta, 4 hours north of here.
But this morning, the first thing we did, mere hours after landing in Ecuador, was to sign on for three months of Internet Access from Interactive, a local ISP. We opted for the “Buho” service (Night owl), 9 pm to 7 am and weekends. For $35 including tax we are theoretically connected for the duration of our stay, although we need to wait until 9 tonight to test it out.
Even in this benighted backwater, there is no escaping the internet. Cybercafes are more common than regular cafes or even bars. Since most people don’t have computers in their homes, and the regular phone service, a government monopoly, is prohibitively expensive, the cybercafes are all equipped with phone booths for VoIP calls to anywhere. Prices are incredibly low, by North American standards.
A couple of years ago we were driving around Guayaquil looking for the one shop in the city which sells our favorite local coffee (and one of the best in the world), Flor de Manabi, in toasted whole bean. The store is a tiny hole-in-the-wall and we couldn’t find it for the life of us, making repeated circuits in a borrowed land rover. So we pulled over to a convenient Cyber, and called Norma Yvonne, who was back home in Boston. She, of course, was able to give us exact directions to the shop, which was only a couple of blocks from where we were. The international VoIP call cost us 35 cents.
So the Dowbrigade is back on line, at least theoretically. We have some great shots in our digital camera, but our current problem is that we left the Compact Flash card reader in our car. Our current mission is figuring our a way to get the pictures out of the camera and into the computer. As soon as we figure that one out, we will start posting the graphic track of the Great Experiment.