1. Community is everything here.
I’m not really an emotional person. There’s a reason why I studied maths at university – I like it when the answer is either right or wrong. For that reason, I find it incredibly, unbelievably difficult to empathise with most people. People are not made of clearly defined rules – they’re a terrifying jumble of thoughts, feelings and emotions, most of which I’m not very good at processing.
This is why I was so surprised at how quickly I became attached to the community of Flor de Bastión in Guayaquil. As much as I’d have liked to chalk it down to just the thrill of travelling or volunteering, it wasn’t even close to my first time living in a developing country, staying with a host family or serving the community. The real reason was that every single person I met took a genuine interest in me – my obsessions, hopes, dreams, fears, pet hates, ambitions, opinions – everything about me.
And just like that, without even realising it, I had been totally accepted into a community halfway across the world.
2. It’s South America’s best-kept foodie secret.
Oh god. Anyone who knows me knows that my relationship with food comes before absolutely everything. My dad’s family own a restaurant on the west coast of India, and he basically taught me to cook before I could walk. I would say that the way to my heart is through my stomach, except I’m pretty sure that I have a second stomach in place of where my heart should be. It’s the only explanation.
Anyway, the point is, I’ve had the privilege of tasting a lot of different food in a lot of different countries – but Guayaquil is the only port city that came up with encebollado. Imagine lazy Sunday mornings slurping an aromatic broth of rare tuna flakes simmered in a rich base of tomato, coriander and yuca, served with a light smattering of banana chips and a mouth-watering hit of lime juice on top.
Well played, Guayaquil. Well played.
3. Equatorial nights like Equatorial days.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m from India. I have Indian skin and Indian hair, which means that any time the temperature drops below 20°C my skin literally starts to turn grey from the cold, and any time the humidity is less than 50%, the air is so dry that no amount of Frizz Ease in the world will get my hair back to a state considered acceptable by western society.
Guayaquil, weather-wise, is basically my Indian hometown without my extended family; the climate is almost identical. And that suits me and my body just fine.
4. The west coast > everything else.
Have you ever taken a bus out of the sprawling city centre, past the endless banana plantations of Guayas, and followed the majestic Pacific Ocean up along the coastal path of Ecuador, humpback whales breaching in the distance, untouched beaches as far as the eye can see?
I rest my case.
5. Guayaquil speaks Spanish better than you.
My first week in Guayaquil, I remember wondering what the hell everyone was saying. My second week, I remember thinking that I still didn’t know what anyone was saying, but my goodness what an incredibly expressive, gorgeous, melodic accent they were saying it in.
Spanish is sexy; that’s a fact. But it’s just so much better with a Pacific-Coast accent.
6. It has a gloriously bad reputation.
When you tell people that you live in Guayaquil, they look at you with a mixture of fear and sympathy. Holy crap why would anyone live there traffic noise pollution muggings gang violence absolutely no peace and quiet whatsoever poor girl clearly has no idea what she’s got herself into. Then they offer you the palatable alternatives of Quito and Cuenca, serene colonial cities tucked away in the tranquility of the Andes, all cool breezes and cool attitudes.
Thanks, but no thanks – I like my cities with a little life in them, please. And maybe it’s the Indian in me, but I never could sleep in a city that goes quiet after dark.
7. The airport is literally. Right. There.
As a serial traveller, my ultimate pet hate is landing at an airport located so far outside the city centre that you feel you might as well have booked a holiday to a different city. I’m looking at you, London Southend.
Guayaquil has no such issues. The airport is only ever half an hour away from anywhere. Let’s all just take a moment of silence to recognise superior urban planning here.
What’s your idea of a perfect city? What factors make you fall in love with a new place? Let me know in the comments below …