My last memory in Montanita consists of waiting for the bus at the edge of town and seeing a truck full of bright oranges. Speakers were attached to the side of the passenger door and the driver started rambling on about his beautiful oranges as he drove through town. The bus ride to Guayaquil, the countries largest city, is three hours. After two hours of driving our bus stopped for no apparent reason and we were all told to get off. I soon saw the attendant taking all of the luggage out of the storage door and start to freak out. Another bus then drives up right next to us and we are told to get on. Only in South America. I ran onto the bus to make sure Sarah and I would be able to get a seat. Unfortunately not all of the people on our first bus were able to sit so several tourists had to stand in the aisle for the next hour.
Our bus rolled into the bus terminal and as soon as we got off the bus several cabby’s were asking us if we wanted rides to Montanita. Apparently they weren’t aware that everyone on the bus had just been there. We were to meet my friend Jeff Karram at the parking lot and moments after arriving his car drove up. Jeff and I go way back. I went to a private school with him from JK to Grade five and his father is our families accountant. Jeff is somewhat of an interesting character. He founded an Internet company in Toronto which did very well. Sold his shares and moved to Ecuador with a goal to become a pro surfer in two years. A documentary called Breakbound was filmed about this adventurous man. He has appeared on MTV and this Film Canada sponsored documentary aired on TV this spring. He is currently working on a new Internet project and spending endless hours overseeing the construction of his new home.
I instantly fell in love with his wife. We arrived at his apartment and sat in his bedroom watching the television. His wife was just about to go on air. Maria Teresa Guerrero is somewhat of a celebrity in South America, especially Ecuador. She is what you would call a super model, print celebrity and talk show host. In the mornings she leaves the apartment at 7:30am to film her live talk show which is something like The View with a Latino flare (and no Barbara Walters). In the evenings she does an Entertainment Tonight sort of show where she dresses up in luxurious gowns and gossips about Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton. I was gitty with excitement when “flaca” (her nick name which means skinny in Spanish) appeared on the screen. She may be the most beautiful person I have ever seen. After her segment Jeff said she’d be home in a few minutes and we’d all go out for dinner. She popped open the door and I was star struck instantly. I could barely function. She was a huge giant of a model with a perfect complexion, endearing smile…and I could barely shake her hand.
We all hopped into her car and drove to a local Shwarama joint where we all got to know each other a little better. Jeff insisted we go to their favorite ice cream spot which serve up the most ridiculous cones. Once you choose your ice cream flavor they use paddles to stick the frozen yum to your cone. They then hang the cone upside down and beat it with the paddle until it pulls to the ground about a foot long like salt water taffy. If this was not magical enough…they then dip this foot long ice cream treat into a vat of chocolate.
We got back to the apartment and fixed up our pull out couch. Before bed Flaca showed us a few of her magazines. I stared at her with stars in my eyes as I saw her on the cover of several fashion magazines. She grabbed one magazine which featured an uber corny picture of her and Jeff. The cover picture was entitled “Love and the Beach.” The magazine featured a five page spread of Jeff and her modeling and looking very in love. In the next week I would soon find out that Jeff and Maria are somewhat like the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston of Ecuador (I know they split up but they were the only two I could think of…I was going to say Brad and Angelina but there are so many negative connotations with that mess). They both have nicknames for each other. She calls Jeff, gringo, he calls her Flaca. They both went through their mail and Flaca ripped open an invitation (which came with a DJ remixed CD) to the VIP opening of her friends high end bar/lounge. We soon found out we were all going on Friday. We were then told that her friend opening this hot spot was a fellow model and there would probably be a lot of paparazzi and what not at the event. I slipped into bed with Sarah (another nuptial moment) and was gitty with excitement. We both thought to ourselves before bed “oh my goodness WHAT are we going to wear?!” Clearly shopping was in order.
In the morning I flipped through some more of the magazines she was featured in on the coffee table. I thoroughly enjoyed her full page ad for Kellogg’s All Bran. I made a mental note to myself to make fun of her when she got home for modeling for a cereal company. I walked into the bathroom and was floored by the pyramid of cosmetics she has stored all over the bathroom. There was literally not an inch of space on the counter or floor that was not covered in conditioner, hair spray or makeup. I can not fathom how much work it takes to look that good every day. Apparently it requires all of these products. Thank goodness she gets them all for free as they could soon run up a pricey bill.
I was chatting with her last night about my love for travel and she told me she gets to travel with her work. She was Ecuador’s news correspondent for the last two World Cups in Japan and Germany. We chatted with Jeff in the morning as he made us the perfect cup of Ecuadorian Coffee. I asked him about what being a professional surfer is like. He spent two years surfing for hours every day and he said that there is a clear etiquette (and very little camaraderie) among surfers. Since only a few “great waves” are available each day surfers become very aggressive over who has access to these surf curls. He said he had been threatened many times with his life! He found it particularly difficult surfing in South America as he is a gringo and they didn’t treat him with much respect.
We all huddled on their bed and watched Flacka as her morning show aired. There were several scantily clad South American models dancing and posing in scandalous undergarments. Apparently it was the annual lingerie episode! We all hopped in Jeff’s car and he drove through the cities nicer neighborhoods to a furniture boutique. Jeff has designed all of the furniture for his new home so we had a chance to sit on all of his chairs and check out the various designs. Jeff bumped into three men on the street who gave him a huge hug. We had no clue who they were so just stared and smiled politely. From the looks of it they looked like the iconic image of a surfer. When we zoomed away in the car Jeff told us the oldest man is Ecuador’s National Surfing Coach and the two other younger tanned men were the countries top surfers. Funny how you can be standing in front of incredibly talented and famous people, oblivious to it all.
Jeff dropped us off at Malacon 2000. This huge boardwalk cost millions of dollars and is the most beautiful spot in the city. This riverside boardwalk is over nine blocks long and takes about an hour to walk from one end to the other. We stopped at the food court on the south side of the Malacon to eat a quick lunch. As we approached the glass door entrance I was taken aback at the stickers on the window. “No skateboards, no smoking, no guns!” There was actually a “no guns” sign! A bit terrifying knowing that they have to remind locals here not to bring their guns into a public food court. Brace yourself. We lined up at KFC and encountered the most irritating two children. I now refer to them as “the two brats.” They were both dressed very nicely and were clearly from a well to do family. As soon as they saw us in line they both put on a terribly sad face and started to beg from us. Sarah and I rolled our eyes as we couldn’t believe these two kids would beg from us simply because we were white. They weren’t even remotely poor. They put their hands in our faces and asked us for money for about five minutes before we ordered. Sarah had to start being rather blunt with the two. The nine year old boy really started to bug me as he stomped on my foot and insisted that I gave him money. I looked at him right in the face and slowly but firmly yelled, “go away now.” Sarah had the worst of it from the brat girl as she started to pretend to cry. Sarah couldn’t believe how rude this girl was being and when brat girl realized she wasn’t getting any money she started to laugh at us. When Sarah finally got her food brat girl set us off when she tried to grab some of our food with her dirty hands! Oy, the evil little witch!
After lunch we walked around the huge IMAX theater and then started to walk north along the Malacon. The brown coloured Rio Guayas moves quickly along the shore and carries bits of tree limb and leaves north. The heat was unbearable. I was sweating through the soles of my shoes. I can not fathom how hot it gets here in the summer! The Malacon is organized into several different areas of interest. The first section featured a huge stream full of brightly coloured tropical fish and swans which you can feed on the wooden bridge above. A famed architect from Quito designed the entire stretch. I was constantly wowed by the beautiful statues, modern water fountains and interactive play places for children. I particularly enjoyed the lookouts that have been designed out of steel to look like the sail of a ship. The Malacon has become the place for locals to jog, skate and walk day and night. It acts like Central Park in NYC for the locals as it is a natural and quiet place for locals to get away from the hectic streets of the city during their lunch breaks. Speakers and huge overhead antique lamp posts line the walk way and play serene orchestra and opera ballads. We walked into an antique train which provides free Internet access 24 hours a day.
After walking half of the Malacon I was mesmerized by the brilliance of it all. I kept thinking “Toronto needs this Malacon concept immediately!” My favorite sections of the Malacon were the immaculately detailed jungle gardens which featured a sparkling pond and swamp with a looming Amazonian tree. Every bud, leaf and limb were detailed. A horticulturalists dream! We stared in amazement at a stretch of the Malacon which featured a toddler race track! I kid you not, a race track outfitted with electric motorcycles for toddlers. The Guayaquil Yacht Club is located at the half way point on the boardwalk just after a succession of fast food restaurants and a cartoon inspired pirate ship which is home to the cities best fish and chips. The half way mark features a beautiful bronze, gold and marble statue. Two sailors shaking hands stand in the center of the monument, idolized in bronze. They are surrounded by a beautiful little flower filled park which is surrounded by a gold and marble Corinthian column parabolic structure which features a flag of each South American country blowing in the wind.
We sat at a beautiful McDonald’s with a brilliant view of the river to our right. A bit shocked to admit that we paid fifteen dollars for two Quarter Pounder meals! We walked the other half of the Malacon and stopped for a few minutes to watch a strange Peruvian band playing traditional folk music (on flute, drum and guitar) but dressed as Native Americans! The boardwalk here isn’t shaded by as many trees so they have cleverly outfitted the lamp posts with mist and fan machines to cool you down during the hot hours of the day. The very end of the Malacon features an indoor market which we avoided at all costs. No more trinket junk for us!
We walked off the Malacon into the center of the city and made our way to the cities huge black market. We walked by a cramped pet store (one bird cage featured about 20 000 little tropical birds squished together). At the market you can buy everything from plastic shoes to blue jeans. Food vendors sell boiled quail eggs with salt and huge slabs of crispy fried pork skin. I stopped at a small little shop that sells screen printed t-shirts. I got a pink t-shirt with a screen print of the Ecuadorian Virgin for two dollars. The market seems to go on and on for miles. All of the vendors hold fans in their hands and seem to be uncomfortable under the blazing mid day sun. Sarah and I both commented that our jeans were sticking to our legs like wet naps. We walked in front of the cities huge Cathedral which sits in front of the cities famed Iguana Park. The park features a small pond with turtles piled high on huge rocks. Iguanas of all shapes and sizes can be found hanging in the trees, slithering on the paths or tanning on the grass.
We walked to the huge beautiful San Marino Shopping Mall full of fashion boutiques. I was in awe at the selection: Hugo Boss, Dolce and Gabbana, Diesel, Hilfiger, Lauren. I popped into the Diesel store and was in shock at the prices! I found jeans that sell for 300 USD at home for 98 USD! I clearly needed to make a purchase (a sin if I didn’t). I bought a pair of jeans and a hipster shirt with a huge smile on my face. This would be my outfit for Friday’s VIP Lounge moments. We walked through the malls boutique food court which featured a Swiss Fondue restaurant, Sushi Bar and Imported Food Supermarket. We walked back to the apartment and flipped on the TV to watch Flaca and her Entertainment show. When she got back from work we headed to a Peruvian restaurant called News Cafe. The menu was something like a bible. I ordered a glass of vino blanc from Chile and indulged in a heavy four cheese gnocchi platter. We all shared a basket of Peruvian flat bread and bean dip as well as a dim sum platter. After dinner we drove Fast and the Furious style along the highway to Jeff’s friend’s birthday party. I soon picked up the fact that we were mingling with surfers (their persona is rather easy to pick up as you can imagine).
The next morning I was woken by the scurry of Maria’s high heels on the kitchen floor. I stared at the ceiling until I felt empowered enough to actually get onto my feet. They live close to the airport and the apartment practically shakes when the jets fly over the neighborhood in the morning. A great wake up call. I looked through the pantry and soon realized it was clear that they do not cook at home. Other than frying an egg they basically eat out every day of the week. I couldn’t even find pots and pans until I opened the oven door where they were apparently stored for safe keeping.
I had decided to make a feast for the four of us and ended up spending the entire day in their tiny kitchen. Maria drove us to the largest supermarket and we spent the next thirty minutes running around trying to find all the ingredients I needed before her next work meeting. I was shocked at the size of the avocado’s here. They are the size of footballs! Maria pushed the cart in her high heels, I ran down my list while pointing at Sarah to what we needed. During our thirty minutes in the supermarket four men came up to Maria and asked to have a picture with her. One man actually asked to have a picture with her and I, telling her “your husband in the picture to!” When someone mistakes you for the surfer husband of a super model. Nothing better than a good ego boost. It was sort of odd as we were in the pasta section and she was approached and suddenly she puts on her beautiful TV face and the guy takes a picture. I wonder if people like Mary Heart from ET have to do this in LA all the time. Sarah ran to get some bread crumbs in the bakery department and apparently all of the woman were whispering “I think that’s her,” in Spanish. Shopping with Flaca is by far the most exciting experience I have had in ages. When we got back from grocery shopping I started to organize myself for the next few hours of cooking. I stared at the fridge in the kitchen and realized that it was plastered with pictures of Flaca with famous people such as the Ecuadorian President.
I prepared the following for dinner:
Three bottles of wine: Sunrise Concha Y Toro Chardonnay and Graffigna Argentine Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon used for Sangria.
Boccacini with basil, tomato and balsamic reduction.
Arancini: lemon Rosemary stuffed with mozzarella dipped in marinara.
Fettuccine with mascarpone pumpkin cream, toasted almonds, honey and Parmesan.
As the various components of the meal were slow cooking we watched the film London. I took a shower in the late afternoon as I felt sticky from being in the kitchen all day. The fuse box blew and we ended up sitting in the apartment in the pitch black until a neighbor and her husband came by to rectify the situation. Her husband was hilarious. He knew we spoke English obviously and when he left he said “take it easy, don’t fool around, stay cool.” I assume those are the only English phrases he knows.
Jeff got home from work about an hour before Flaca. I had some bad news. Unfortunately their propane tank was now empty. I couldn’t get any flame and the dinner was looking like it may be a disaster. Jeff couldn’t believe it! Apparently they hadn’t replaced the propane tank once since they moved into the apartment two years ago (which goes to show how often they cook for themselves!) Flaca gets home and she instantly heads over to the apartment across the hall and knocks on the door. A little old widow woman lives all by herself. Flaca asked if we could finish cooking our dinner in her kitchen. I felt sort of bad initially and Flaca made me feel better about the situation by saying “this is the most socialized she has been in years, she’ll love it.” We rushed all of the pots across the hall and I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. The old lady sat by the island and poked her little nose over my shoulder. She talked to Sarah and Flaca about her favorite soap opera’s, complained about being constantly lonely and asked about what I was cooking. We spent the next thirty minutes running in between each apartment for utensils, plates and food items. I gave our gracious host a nibble of each of the dishes and bid her farewell. We spent the next hour indulging in my dinner, chatting and generally being merry.
Maria flew to Quito the following morning as she was filming a segment on a huge cosmetic conference (she promised to get us some free samples). In the morning we listened to Jeff strum on his guitar as we flipped through several South American magazines looking for various interviews featuring Flaca. In the afternoon we drove to the mall with Jeff as he was looking for a new sound system. On the way home we were stopped by the cops. I could tell Jeff was not fond of the local police. Apparently a new law had just been passed outlawing tinted windows (they believe less kidnappings will happen if tinted windows are illegal). The police opened Jeff’s trunk and ripped out the tinted screen from his back windows. He was not impressed. I kept my mouth shut as I didn’t want to have an issue with these police officers.
Jeff dropped us off at the Malacon where we spent the next few hours walking along our favorite spots. We walked to the base of the cliff side village of Los Penas which features a beautiful array of colourful houses overlooking the river. We grabbed a taxi to Mall del Sol and feasted on Cinnabon, Baskin Robins and Pizza Hut. While sitting in the food court we stared out at the huge crowd of fans. Jorge Luis is a huge rock star here and he was sitting on a platform in the middle of the cafeteria signing autographs for screaming woman. We spent the next two hours in an air conditioned cineplex watching Transformers.
We met Jeff at his apartment and drove to the base of Los Penas at the Malacon. We walked past the modern art gallery which features a modern moat outfitted with floating beacons with shiny sails. These little do-dads move along the moat all day and night depending on where the breeze takes them. We spent the next thirty minutes huffing and puffing up the 444 Los Penas steps to the top (they are all numbered). The top of the mountain offers perfect views over the city and bay. The city sparkles at night it’s rather romantic. The steps are lined with old historic buildings which have all been renovated and are now bars, restaurants and tourist shops. The top of the mountain has a small little Catholic Church (I don’t know who would walk that far every Sunday for mass but to each his own). The city lighthouse sits overlooking the city at the west end of the platform up top. We walked down the other side of the mountain and walked through a hilarious pirate park outfitted with a bar operating inside a pirate ship. Apparently Guayaquil has a rich history of pirates as it was an important shipping port back in the day. We walked back down the 444 steps and hopped into a small little Spanish bar. We sat in the VIP seating area on huge bean bag chairs in a little cave surrounded by indigenous dolls and candles. We stayed here until 2am sipping on drinks and eating Croque Monsieur while staring at the very passionate Flamenco dancers who pounded the floor directly in front of us.
Flaca returned from Quito in the morning and there was instantly a bit of scuffle in the kitchen. I had purchased a t-shirt the at the mall the other day and had found a little tag on the collar which featured a sponsored pro surfer from Peru by the name of Javier Swayne. I thought the picture was funny as he had his hands up in the air and a caption read “I did it.” I pinned it up on the kitchen cork board thinking it would add a little humor to the pictures that already existed up there. Little did I know, Flaca had dated this professional surfer before she met Jeff. They argued for about ten minutes about whether the picture should be removed. Jeff insisted she put it up to irritate him. I admitted to putting it up there and Flaca continued to repeat that she was “romantic with him.” It was a very funny and random moment. We ran into their bedroom and Flaca handed out a few freebies from the Cosmetic’s Convention. She came home with a huge bag of cosmetics, a girls dream I suppose.
Sarah and I ate lunch at the fancy Noe sushi restaurant. I slurped a sparkling water and nibbled on Chicken Tepanyaki. We both shared a plate of spinach, cream cheese and lobster rolls. Sarah also ordered a lobster, vegetable tempura cone and a California roll. We popped by the seamstress who had hemmed my new Diesel jeans for the party in the eve. Flaca picked us up at the apartment and drove us to her salon. We all spent the next two hours getting our hair did! As Sarah and Flaca’s hair took much longer than my own I ended up enjoying myself as I sat and stared at an incredibly sexy Brazilian soap opera. The salon was incredibly tiny and in about an hour you could barely move as about ten local women were standing, sitting and leaning on the wall as they waited to get their hair cut. The owner of the salon who did my hair apparently told Flaca that she desperately wanted to introduce me to her daughter as she felt we should marry. We stopped by the supermarket and bought the goods for another evening of Sangria. Flaca ran back to the studio to film her Entertainment segment while the three of us did ourselves up for the party.
When Flaca arrived to the house we clashed glasses and danced around the room to Dance Mix 95. Flaca was adamant about giving Sarah and I extravagant persona’s for the paparazzi. We finally decided that any paparazzi who asked who we were would be told the following: Sarah was a stylist for MTV Canada and I was a free lance writer for GQ magazine. It all sounds so ridiculous now that I am writing this two weeks after it happened. But I assure you at the time it sounded entirely necessary. We couldn’t just say “oh we no Jeff from home and we have been backpacking South America for the last three months.”
We hopped in a cab and spent the next thirty minutes trying to find this little hidden gem. Although the lounge is a bit off the beaten track it has a beautiful location. The spot is called Trio and is located right on the river. At night the huge bridge connecting the city on the other side of the river glows with strings of neon blue lights. On either side of the building huge palm trees blow in the wind and glow from the spot lights shooting up from the concrete bellow. Half of the lounge is located outside in the open air. The patio is stacked with luxury leather sofas, plush Indian pillows and antique coffee tables. As soon as we walked into the Lounge Flaca was bombarded by people who had already arrived. I noticed a few models standing by themselves who soon pounced on her. The somewhat drunken (and scantily clad) ex model and owner sauntered over to us and snapped her fingers at the waiter to get us drinks immediately. In the next two hours I drank the most free wine I have ever consumed in my life. I nibbled on little bite size treats and stared at the various TV personalities and media moguls from the city.
We all sat together on a leather bench for a while and chatted with a friend of Flaca’s. The man is 53 and has a radio and television show. He has bodyguards watching him at all times as he is the only man in the media who actually talks about the corruption that goes on in the government. As you can imagine several people have sent him death threats so he always has to be careful. I swished my glass of Chardonnay as I stared at the long bar which featured a blue glowing tropical fish tank. The DJ played an excellent assortment of low key euro house beats, an excellent atmosphere. We stared at the drinks menu and were shocked at the prices. Jeff repeatedly said he doesn’t think the place will ever survive. I realized I was sitting in a third world country and staring at drink prices that were about twice the price that I pay back at home in Toronto! The first half of the menu was dedicated to bottle service (80 USD for a bottle of Absolute Vodka?!) This place was clearly designed for the elite and wealthy members of society as I have never seen so many bottles of wine and champagne priced over 700 USD.
At 2am they stopped serving free drinks so we followed the radio personality into his car (followed by his bodyguards) and were dropped off the Malacon where the cities best clubs and disco’s are located. We bar hopped for the next two hours. Flaca was perfect, she would walk right up to the bouncers and insist that all of her friends got in for free. We avoided paying a twenty dollar cover at each establishment. We danced at one Latin electronic club while throwing on masquerade masks and dancing to remixes of Enrique as green lasers shot over the ceiling. At 4am I dropped into bed. Possibly one of the funniest nights of my entire life.
In the morning we watched Grumpy Old Men while drinking perfectly brewed cups of Ecuadorian coffee. We drove to a little strip mall outside of the city and parked the car. Walking from the car to the mall entrance was a bit odd. The parking lot actually has three sniper towers with two security guards in each little hut on stilts. We ate lunch at Chili’s: wings, chicken fingers, southwestern egg rolls and a huge bacon cheeseburger. Maria asked at lunch if I would invite them to my wedding. Not that I had any plans on marrying in the near future. I asked Jeff if I could borrow Flaca as my bride as it would be the most spectacular wedding of all time (even better than their wedding I’m sure! You can just imagine the glamour!) After lunch we stopped off at the cities best cake boutique and each purchased our favorite slice to go. We all curled up into bed and watched The Prestige while stuffing ourselves with cake. Before bed Flaca signed a few books, magazines and posters for us to take home.
In the morning I was entirely depressed to be leaving. I was now calling Flaca and Jeff my mother and father. We all gave big hugs and we were soon zooming off in Jeff’s car to the bus station. We waved goodbye and stood on a stoop waiting for our bus to board. We rushed to the doors and found our seats. We were near the back of the bus and in minutes were surrounded by about thirty nuns. As the bus drove out of the station I glanced over at a huge crowd of friends and family appeared to be sobbing. I instantly started to sob inside as I realized I would be spending the next 30 hours on this bus. More importantly, I would be back in Canada in less than two days! Oh my goodness this trip is almost over!