April – Puzzle Pieces
Last month I was fortunate enough to visit the Galapagos Islands. 600 miles into the Pacific Ocean and largely uninhabited, they are a remote outpost of the garden of Eden; the animals do not fear humans. Although you are told to stay at least 6 feet away, their curiosity makes this impossible to abide by.
It was a wonderful trip, spent with wonderful people. However, one huge surprise wasn’t the islands themselves, but Guayaquil, a city in mainland Ecuador that serves as a gateway to the islands. With a day to spend wandering around, I took a tour with a local guide. Before, all I saw a very poor city. It lacked the history and romance of Paris or Charleston, or the natural and cultural beauty of Rio. The buildings were a tan mishmash of low-end concrete architecture, and the one impressive structure was being torn down. Our guide, however, opened our eyes to its beauty, which, in some ways, was every bit as thrilling as the Galapagos.
When our guide picked us up at the hotel, you could tell that he was bursting with pride in his city. He was thrilled to show us what we had overlooked. The first thing he pointed out was how clean it was. There wasn’t any trash in the gutters, graffiti on the walls or even gum on the sidewalks. Although so much poorer, Guayaquil is Singapore clean. And in a city with relatively little money, that can come only from the people taking pride in where they live.
From then on, the tour was a parade of hope and growth and improvement. Some features were subtle, like the citywide sidewalks that are covered to keep you dry and cool. You don’t realize how hot you could be until you step out from under them. Some features were more obvious, like the beautiful waterfront promenade. The final stop was a former slum that was becoming a lively commercial district that was owned and operated by the former tenants. Given an opportunity for something better, these people were taking it and doing the best they can.
On that tour I learned to not judge a city by its architecture, but by the people that live in it. And I also learned that the people of Guayaquil love a tasty turkey sandwich! Who knew? Every street corner had a little stand with two or three roast turkeys that they would carve fresh and pile into loaves of bread.