Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What's his deal with Puerto Lopez?

Guayaquil. We made it to Guayaquil and were greeted by out adoptive Ecuadorian mother, Margoth. She is another of my mother’s extensive latin American network of friends, family and colleagues who has graciously agreed to take me in, coddle, feed, clean and provide me with the comforts and luxuries I seldom find when traveling on my own.  But this time it was double duty, it wasn’t just me, it was Justin too. But Margoth, like every woman on the planet that has ever met him and his one dimple, was more than happy to give Justin whatever he wanted.

This was a welcome treat. Thinking over the day’s events it almost seemed like a miracle that were were even at the terminal in Guayaquil.  We were sweaty, smelly, and hungry…but we were there. Margoth was waiting with her sister Isabel for us at the terminal.  I had never met either of them before. In fact this has been the case with most of my hosts, with the exception of Laura and Steve in Lima. I didn’t know Veronika in Santiago or Irene in Buenos Aires, and that always made things interesting when showing up at the terminal. I know someone is here waiting for me, I just don’t know what they look like or where they are.  But Margoth and Isabel were surprisingly easy to spot, they were far too classy to be slumming it around a bus terminal….that and I had her cell number and watched her pick up the call right in front of the booth I was calling her from. 

What a wonderful welcome, to be wrapped in a strangers arms who already loved you like a daughter. “Ay, mi reina. Como estas? Como te fue? Tenemos que llamar a tu mami para que ella no esta preocupada. Tome, llámela.” Really, what could I say to that? Plus I could get used people calling me their queen, it’s a nice petname.  The way she said it just rolled right off the tongue, riena, princessa, bella…and not in the least bit condescending or sarcastic. I think I am going to like my Ecuadorian mother.

Justin and I followed the sisters out to the parking lot, into the car and further and further away from that nightmare at the Peruvian border, which now, seemed like it must’ve happened to someone else. That couldn’t have been real, that didn’t really happen, that must have been a dream.  The first stop was to drop off Isabel at her office and then all the attention was on the two homeless looking people in her back seat. We must have looked hungry because she insisted on taking us somewhere for something small to eat, you know, to hold us over until dinner. That sounded like a fantastic idea, we hadn´t really eaten anything but Doritos (our staple bus food) that whole day and it was nearing 5pm. Justin moved up to the front seat and Margoth took off, like a veteran race-car driver through the busy streets of Guayaquil. Between talking to us, swerving through traffic, adjusting the music and smoking a cigarette I wasn’t really sure what her priorities were…but did breathe a sigh of relief when she pulled into a parking spot in a swanky new strip mall.

We walked into a nice café, whose drinks cost more than most of the meals we had been eating. I looked around: nice furniture, fancy lights, tasteful art, polite uniformed servers…and all of a sudden I felt really out of place. I am dirty, with that perpetual shine of someone who can’t stop sweating, my hair frizzed and sticking out in every which way brought to life by the humidity in the air…and I actually felt bad about sitting at that prim little table. I excused myself to go the bathroom, with the hopes that some cold water splashed on my face and a thorough scrubbing to my hands and fingernails will at least bring me back to the realm of respectable human being. But let’s be honest, I was long past the point of respectable human being, what I really needed what a shower and some clean clothes. But for now, this would have to do.

We were told to order whatever we wanted. I honed in on a salad, fresh vegetables still seemed like a luxury to me. I just don’t understand why this whole continent seems to avoid fresh vegetables, like a salad is they last thing they would ever think to eat. My body craved it. After months of living on starches, carbs and meat (basically the polar opposite of what I normally eat at home) the only thing I dreamed about was fresh fruits and veggies. My dream was about to come true.

Justin ordered a Panini, we both had ice-cold lemonades and reveled in that moment. These were no small portions, the salad could have easily have been split between the two of us, but I was not about to let a single green leaf go to waste. By the time we finished I was stuffed, hoping that the dinner they were talking about would be postponed until tomorrow. I waddled my full belly back to the car and prepared myself for the ride ahead. I’d learned, Margoth was a bit of a firecracker, sweet and wonderful, but you get that woman behind the wheel of a car and it’s like she remembered her past life as a spy. She just laughed and asked as we whipped down the streets, “I’m a good driver right?” We got where we needed to go and got there very quickly…I nodded my head, told her yes, a great, great driver.

I miss my car.

We got to the house, were shown our room and instructed to be ready for dinner in a couple hours. Any dirty clothes we needed washed, we could throw in the hamper in the bathroom. The house was ours to use, help yourself to anything in the kitchen, here’s the wifi code…and please don’t judge the mess  – the kitchen is being remodeled.

Not because she wanted to pressure us, but she is a very busy woman and had some questions that she didn't just ask but demanded. What are our plans while we were in Guayaquil? How long do we plan to stay? What do we want to do? When does Justin fly out so she can be sure to take him to the airport? Where do I go when he leaves? When do I go when he leaves? These were all valid questions, none of which we had the answers to. We had a loose idea, maybe a day or two in the city then spend the week slowly working our way up the Ruta Del Sol. Pretty much just bumming around on the beach, attempting to surf, eating delectable treats, and generally enjoying our last few days together.

She had me laughing hard with her brutal honesty and was basically throwing our itinerary out the window. “First of all,” she said, “there isn’t much to see in Guayaquil. One day is more than enough time to walk down the Malecon, up the hill to the colorfully painted neighborhood, haggle a bit in a market or two and take pictures of the iguanas in the park. Seriously, that´s all there is to do here. This is not a pretty city, the Malecon is all there is to see. You’ll see.  If you want to go to the coast, 2 days is plenty of time to do that. I will take you to Salinas, we will stay at my house there, then you can go to Montanita. It’s a dump, but foreigners like it. Then you can come back, go the north, to Cuenca and Quito. They are pretty and there is a lot to see. Really, I think that is a better idea.” And you could tell she was quite pleased with her plan. But then Justin hit her with a bomb, “We want to go to Puerto Lopez.”

I swear she almost chocked on her cigarette. “Puerto Lopez?! Puerto Lopez?! What the hell do you want to go there for? Puerto Lopez? There is nothing there. Don’t waste your time, Puerto Lopez…” She almost spit the name of the town out, disgusted by how it sounded, tasted, felt. Puerto Lopez.

But Justin really wanted to go there. He’d read somewhere that it was the poor man’s Galapagos. We told her we’d think about our plans and let her know in the next day or so. Tomorrow we knew we would be wandering around the city and by the end of the day have a good idea of what we wanted for the next week. But first we had to go to dinner. I couldn’t even contemplate eating. I was still stuffed from the salad. But apparently my mother had specifically asked her to take us somewhere where we could get a bolon verde, which is basically a fried ball of plantain, cheese and pork.  This thing was huge. She ordered one for Justin and I to share, one for her and one for her husband. We barely dented out fried ball, it was so rich and I was already stuffed. I watched in wonder at how easily and effortlessly they destroyed theirs, like they hadn’t just consumed double their daily caloric intake in one appetizer. But this was just the beginning. The real dinner was still coming.

A beautiful cazuela in a ceramic pot was my round two. It was thick and wonderful and overflowing with fresh seafood. I wanted to eat it all, but there was simply no more room. That giant fried pork ball was taking the lion’s share of my stomach, and I forced myself, yes, this was gluttony, to eat half of my dinner.  I stole a look at Justin, his fish plate mostly pushed around…that bolon verde beat him too.

In the morning we were waited on hand and foot. Fresh squeezed juice, an omelet stuffed with cheese, 2 other kinds of cheeses sitting on the table for us to consume and hearty brown bread. We ate like royalty had our laundry washed and ironed, and were dropped off downtown with every phone number I might ever consider calling for when we were ready to get picked up and taken home.

Margoth was right. We did really see all there is to see in an day. The Malecon was nice, but damn this city is hot. We wandered on foot, from one side to the other, and spending a disproportionate amount of time stalking the iguanas. They were my favorite part. Justin was a good sport at let me go back to see them twice. I just couldn’t get over the little beasts. The look like dinosaurs and aren´t the least bit scared by all the people. It cracked me up to see them sitting on the park benches, napping in the walkways and strewn about in the tree branches overhead. Iguana trees. But really…that was it. After a day we had checked all the tourist attractions off the list, and around night time we gave Margoth a call to come get us. 

When she got there she asked, "So, what are you plans? I told you all there was was this. I can take you to the beach tomorrow after work. We will all go. But then what? How long will you stay?"

I dropped the bomb on her again. "We think we are going to spend the whole week on the coast, Montanita and Puerto Lopez, then come back the day or two before his flight."

I swear to beans she almost threw that car in park on the highway. 

"Puerto Lopez?! Que es, con este chico y Puerto Lopez?!!" I really didn't know what else to say, I was afraid we had somehow offended her. Instead she sucked harder on that cigarette, laughed at our response and told me, "you'll see, that there is nothing there, you'll come back early. Puerto Lopez..."

She kept her promise and the following day when she got off work, we loaded up in to the car with her, her sister and her nephew to go to Salinas. Like normal, we made great time, and pulled the car up to their humble little beach getaway. (read the sarcasm, there was nothing humble about this place.) But I was not one to complain, sitting in the lap of luxury is something, let's be honest, I rather enjoy. First of all ac is always a welcome friend, and so are unobstructed 180degree views of the beach. The lap of luxury also gets us into the yacht club. No big deal, we're just members here.

It was short lived, our life of yach club dinners and invisible helping hands to set up our shade and bring out our kayaks. But is was sweet while it lasted. On sunday we were packed up and they were taking us up the coast to leave us in Montanita. Infamous Montanita, where all the dirtbag foreigners go to lounge on on the beach. I could instantly understand way Margoth and her spotless beach house and yacht club steak dinners would be repulsed by the likes of this town, but I liked it. It was basic; shelter, food, good surf, cheap price. It was everyhthing we wanted. 

So once they say that we had a place to stay it was time to say our goodbyes. We were loaded up with every imaginable phone number, just in case, and told that if we change our minds and want to come back, to just call. Then Margoth said with a laugh, "and let me know about Puerto Lopez." With that embrace we left on the dirt streets of Montanita, shuffling our way through dread locks and dark tans.

Our time there flew by. We had all kinds of wonderful adventures. Justin found a love affair with a scooter as we zipped up and down the coast. We spent hours bobbing in the ocean on surf boards and occasionally standing up to catch a wave. We ate delicious food. We played on gorgeous virgin beaches that looked like they came from some photoshopped picture. 

We eventually went to Puerto Lopez.

The reason for going there wasn't actually to make Margoth upset. But there is an island that you can get to from there that has similar animal species to what you should see on the Galapagos. Birds more than anything, and the famous one being the blue footed boobie. Justin wouldn't have the chance to go the the Galapagos with me, but this would be a kind of sneak peak. And instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars it would be more like $30. We could spare $30.There really isn't much to see in the town itself, with the exception of the fisherman coming in with their morning catch....and this island. It was cool, and I loved the boobies. I mean really, who doesn't love boobies?

Then like going in rewind, back to Montanita, back to Guayaquil, back to luxury for one more night before Justin has to go home, and I well...figure out what's next.

It was almost as if I just denied it enough, then maybe he could stay. Maybe, this life we're leading could somehow manage to find a way to sustain itself. Maybe, I won't have to keep going alone.

But this year was about going alone. This is about learning and growing and getting stronger. So with warm salty tears pooling on the chest of Justin's shirt I had to say goodbye. We'll be seeing eachother soon. I'm on the downhill slope of this thing and from here it gets easier, right?

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