From one grimy room to another, via first class.
From one grimy room to another, via first class.

We wake up to a car alarm blaring just before the phone alarm clock goes off, at 3:30 am, in a roach-infested hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

To get to the airport, we hail what Aaron called the jenkiest cab we’ve taken yet.

The airport experience is pretty normal until boarding the sweet early board of first class, thanks to our frequent flyer credit cards.

I sleep most of the flight but as we descend through cottonball clouds over the emerald and turquoise waters around Panama’s hills, brilliant rainbows appear, round, double rainbows streaking across views of the city nestled in the verdure.

Rainbows streaked across the sky as we descended through cottonball clouds.
Rainbows streaked across the sky as we descended through cottonball clouds.

The layover is fairly non-eventful – a good opportunity to describe our night in Guayaquil.

We left our bags in room 108 of the hotel, which was indeed roach-infested – but it was only one roach, and that roach was tiny.

Silently I prayed we could find some vegetarian food. The first place we stopped, I asked the woman if she could fix a plate of rice, beans, and a salad.

“What salad?”

“Vegetables.”

“Vegetables?”

“Yes, vegetarian.”

“No,” she said flatly.

We moved on and turned right onto the main avenue and lo, across the street, there it was – Chinese food.

I ate a plate full of stir-fried vegetables and we strolled toward the river.

A crowd was gathered around a hot air balloon getting inflated; children took carousel rides; bakers sold cookies and cakes; I photobombed a group dressed in traditional costume, whose picture will feature my gringa face grinning stupidly in the background.

A crowd watched a hot air balloon inflate on the riverside path that transformed into a Saturday night fairground.
A crowd watched a hot air balloon inflate on the riverside path that transformed into a Saturday night fairground.

Our circuitous meander led us to a park in front of a beautiful church. Aaron was perplexed by the signs, “Do not feed the animals.” What animals? Then we came upon a tree that was full of iguanas. Iguanas dripped from its limbs like fruit. Then we realized there were iguanas everywhere – on the yucca, on the hedges, on the statuary. The place was lousy with iguanas. And in the pond in the Virgin’s grotto, what Aaron initially took for a bunch of rocks, were what must have been hundreds of turtles. The place was lousy with turtles, too.

An iquana relaxed in a city park that was lousy with iquanas.
An iquana relaxed in a city park that was lousy with iquanas.

Guayaquil for a few hours was really cool – beautiful colonial architecture and a bustling nightlife. An offensive chain fast food restaurant called “Beans of the Black,” with a blackface logo. A leprous woman begging on a dark, hidden corner. Adults once malnourished children, selling trays of cigarettes. Bundles of humans finding snatches of sleep on grassy roadway medians. Just hours, and the grandeur and wretchedness of human life on display within a three-mile walk.

Our flight is called. For the first time in my life of many flights, I am the first person on the plane. Aaron will have crab cake and Argentinian sauvignon blanc for lunch. “I couldn’t resist airplane crab cake,” he says.

On our first-class flight to the Amazon jungle, Aaron enjoyed crab cake and sauvignon blanc, and I had aubergine and sparkling water.
On our first-class flight to the Amazon jungle, Aaron enjoyed crab cake and sauvignon blanc, and I had aubergine and sparkling water.

We booked this luxurious flight from a dusty, loud, grimy little room in a little town in Ecuador, and our destination will probably be a dusty, grimy room in the Amazon. From the plane, all I know is I look down and see absolutely nothing but uninterrupted forest for miles and miles and miles.

Life never stops surprising me with its richness.

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Written by Ada Kase (Kulesza)

Ada Kase is a freelance journalist and photographer from Philadelphia. AJKTravels is her personal travel blog documenting her adventures with her husband, journalist Aaron Kase.

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