Normally I don’t listen to people when they try to warn me about areas. Normally people feed off fear and regurgitate it for no real reason. People warned me about Baltimore before I moved there, but that ended up being my favorite city to live in. So I was cautious when I was traveling through Central America. I listened when I was in Medellin, Colombia. I paid attention when I was in Quito– but no one warned me enough about Guayaquil, Ecuador.
The following is my experience of one day, my first day, in Guayaquil:
I arrived off a bus at 5:30am. An old man screamed “TAXI!?” at me and I showed him a sheet of paper with the hostel name and address on it. He nodded and said “seven dollars”. I groggily nodded, even though I know that it was too much. I figured it was “gringa tax” and just kinda accepted it. I get in the cab and we start driving off. I quickly note that this city is nothing like the beautiful Quito that I had just left. (However, I can breathe and feel a lot better!) The streets are filled with homeless people, dirt, grime, trash and standing water everywhere. Twitter weather alerts tell me that it’s been raining a lot and a lot of Ecuador is flooded.
The driver keeps driving and we’re getting into more and more “icky-land”. From everything that I remember reading about the hostel it said that it was in a great part of town near the university. This doesn’t look like a university area. Suddenly, the cab stops and the man turns around and stares at me. “Treinta dollars”. ($30).
“uh, no. Urdesa Central. siete dollars”.
“treinta dollars. no vamos.”
It takes me longer than I’d like to admit before I catch on that I’m being scammed… Or stupidly kidnapped. or both. Either which way, I act TOTALLY PROFESSIONAL and grab my stuff, scream at him in English, and run out of the cab towards some light. He yells and starts to drive after me, but I duck down some ally and into a bus stop where there is a cop. I pay the 25cents fare and ride the bus until I my exhaustion catches up with me and then try to figure out my way to the hostel myself. (Come to find out, I was 5k away from the bus station).
I check into the hostel and immediately collapse for a few hours. I wake up around noon, shower and dress and get ready to find any of the crossfit gyms that are around the area. (There are 8, according to maps.crossfit.com). Three within walking distance (5K according to google maps). No problem. I venture out!
The first one can’t be found anywhere. The address points me to an abandoned yard next to a car dealership. I sigh in frustration and decide to walk into town, across a river, towards Crossfit Machete. Couldn’t find it. I ask locals. They all are shocked that:
a) I’m walking (period).
b) I’m walking alone.
c) I’m a woman looking for a gym.
A cop pulls me over and tells me (in very fast Spanish) that this is a dangerous area and I shouldn’t walk solo. I ignore him and tell him “Gymnasico. Aqui” and point to where I think the gym should be. I turn down a block and dodge him. I ask again for directions for the last crossfit gym. This one is supposed to be HUGE. It was recommended by everyone in Colombia and Quito– so it should be TOTALLY OBVIOUS, RIGHT? Wrong. Every time I asked for directions it becomes a huge debate. Everyone brings their friends, family, cousins all over to converse on the best way to give directions. Because of this, I end up getting 14 different answers– all in quick spanish and all conflicting. I keep walking. Another cop pulls me over. Tells me the same thing “Why are you walking? Why are you walking alone? This is a dangerous area” etcetc.
Seriously? Come on. There are kids playing soccer in the street. People are stoop-sitting. Leave me alone already. You’re just drawing attention to me! (Even more than a white girl walking in Vibram Five-Fingers!)
So I keep going. Ask for directions one last time. Same group-effort leaves me frustrated. Another cop pulls me over. (HEY! I’M JUST WALKIN’ ‘ERE!) and after I tell him that I’m looking for a gym and that it should be here- I turn and start walking. He follows me. I’m getting nervous now. Why is this guy following me? I’ve heard enough stories of corrupt “cops” (people dressed up as cops that kidnap people) that I wasn’t going to get in any cars with strangers. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But I’ll admit that my spider-sense was on FULL and I was more anxious than a horse in Sweden.
I spot a “Kratos Gym” sign and turn up the stairs. Anything to get out of the street. I ask the gym people if they’ve heard of crossfit and where it is. No one knows what I’m talking about…
I start to lose it at this point. It’s 5:30. I’ve been walking around, apparently aimlessly, for hours, stalked by cops, mocked by locals, lost in a city that everyone is telling me is “dangerous”. My nerves are shot and I’m suddenly aware of how exhausted I am. I start to tear up. The gym goes quiet as everyone stops lifting weights and comes around me berating me with questions. Where am I from? Where do I need to go? Should a taxi be called? (I should note that I’m assuming that this was asked because my Spanish is still abysmally poor that I can only grasp every 3rd or 5th word). It is finally decided, after I try to tell them where I’m going/where I walked from, that Taxi drivers are bad (I already know this) and that someone from the gym will drive me home.
This is where Spidy-sense should come in again, right? But for some reason, when you meet people at a gym, you’re family. I’ve had this experience at every Crossfit gym I’ve been to and again at this little local gym. One guy approaches me who knows a little English. He gives me a hug and says “It’s ok. We’ll take you home. It’s dangerous here.”
This English speaker was brought to you by Call of Duty. This is important to know because as we were driving away, they rolled up the windows and informed me that there were 18 ex-convicts that just escaped from prison. All the kids (the ones that I passed that were playing soccer) are all packing. I didn’t really believe him until we passed by and the 10-yr-olds shot up gang signs and pulled out their guns (“Armas Pequeñas!”) and posed.
“BAM! HEAD SHOT” said the English speaker. Everyone laughed. I remembered that at one point in my life I thought working on Fable 3 was stressful… I also can’t decide if I love or hate COD for this.
Needless to say that I ended up fine. The guys were sweet and funny and drove me the 15miles (15MILES!) home safe and sound. We talked about the Macarena the whole way. (This is where I mention that I’m really thankful for all those terrible first dates that made me a PRO at small talk). I only know their names (Dennis, John and Raoul)– but I have no way of contacting them to thank them profusely for being my knights on white-SUVs. Back at the hostel, I proceeded to drink a lot of beer, talk to a cute Canadian (I didn’t know they existed!) and change my flight to the Galapagos to leave ASAP instead of a week from now.
(this is when I have a notice that says “blah blah blah… This is just my one experience in this city… blah blah blah. I’m sure the rest of it is fine… etcetc. I shouldn’t judge a whole city based on one experience… blah blah blah… I should be more careful… Whatever. I’m going to see giant tortoises tomorrow.)