The Road To Gauyaquil

19th February 2023 |

I’ve been reading my old notebooks again and enjoying the memories. There is so much that never made it into the book. Sometimes the story is written out in enough detail so that I could lift whole episodes straight onto the computer as I did a couple of weeks ago, with the story from Sri Lanka. At other times the notes are very brief but I can reassemble the story from memory. That is the case with my visit to Gauyaquil.

Forty-eight years ago this week I was still travelling in the company of Bruno, a young Frenchman with a much-battered white Renault van. His own companion, Antoine, had left him to fly back to Paris from Lima. Now we were making our way up the coast of Peru towards Ecuador and we had just spent two glorious days on a perfect beach, feeding off the sea.

Without the fish the impoverished people living on this arid coast could not survive. It never rains and water has to be delivered by tanker. But the sea off the coast of Peru was said to be among the richest fishing waters in the world, and we took full advantage.

Not that we caught anything ourselves, for all our efforts, but two fishermen who had brightly painted boats anchored there were happy to sell us a big, beautiful sierra and another fish they called a lenguada which we grilled and ate with tea and cigarettes.

The beach was scarcely visited but as I was packing up to leave three men and a woman came down to the sea. I was some distance from the water’s edge, just able to see their faces, and I saw the men ducking the woman in the water.

She was fully dressed in a short black skirt, a yellow blouse and a pink scarf round her hair.

She scrambled out of the water and appeared to be laughing, but they threw her in again. I went on packing but every time I looked up they were doing the same thing and as I rode off the last thing I saw was the men throwing the woman into the sea again. Needless to say I felt uneasy.


It took us two days to reach the frontier with Ecuador, passing through an oil field at Tumbez where we ate enormous oysters, and suffering a hot, sticky mosquito-ridden night at Puerto Pizzarro on our way. The border at Aguas Verdes was extraordinary – quite unreal. On one side, everything was dry as bones: on the other side a profusion of humid vegetation as though nature had conspired to create this barrier between two nations. Thick banks of tall grass interspersed with banana trees extended from the roadside into the surrounding hills, making any thought of camping difficult, and rising up from the grass, here and there were wooden houses on stilts, some quite lovely, all wreathed in air misty with moisture.

The road left the coast and climbed up into the Andes again, but there were wearying police controls, six of them, before we got to Durán and the bridge that took us back down to the coast and the important port of Guayaqil.

Quite why we went there escapes me now. Perhaps Bruno was hoping to do something useful with the French consul. We found a hotel that rejoiced in the name of a five-star Parisian hotel, the Crillon, but there the resemblance stopped. As I entered my room I heard the stampede of cockroaches making a dash for the shadows, and the ceiling plaster over the shower had fallen away to reveal the plumbing of the shower above. Even so, with the help of a Sanyo Widemaster fan I spent two nights without too much discomfort.

Before leaving England two years earlier a friend who was also an Olympic yachtsman had told me that if I should ever find myself among sailors the mere mention of his name, Tony Morgan, would guarantee that they would take me to their hearts. I noticed on a folder for tourists that there was a Yacht Club in Guayaquil so in the afternoon we trod the boards of the port to find the massive carved door of the club firmly shut. I persisted, ringing and knocking, until a porter came to open it, and I explained that I wanted to meet some yachtsmen. He appeared to be bewildered and it took him a minute to register. Then he said, “Señor, there are no yachtsmen here. Nobody sails. They only come here to drink.”

We were equally disappointed in our efforts to find the beautiful part of old Guayquil promised by the tourist flyer, and after tramping around some mouldering but far from charming neighbourhoods we thought we would at the very least find the lobster that had eluded us since Lima. We found a restaurant with lobster on the menu and paid a rather high price for lobster that was not especially good. Furthermore, there was no wine. It must have been all these disappointments that made me particularly vulnerable. When a boy of about 12 came to the table to offer me (and it’s interesting that he chose me and not Bruno) a bottle of Dubonnet at an absurd price. At first I laughed at it, but as the price began to come down to something almost reasonable my scepticism dissolved in the pool of my greed and I bought it. As soon as I’d given the boy the money I opened it. The seal was in perfect condition, but by the time I’d tasted it he had gone. It was a bottle of vinegar.

I was mortified by my gullibility, but Bruno was outraged. He dashed out of the restaurant and seizing two of the boys always loitering in the streets he charged them with the job of finding the miscreant for a reward and sent them off in opposite directions. They came back after a while and both said they’d found him, but one was more credible than the other. Bruno followed him, but instead of a boy he found himself facing a man who looked so villainous that Bruno decided justice could wait for a more worthy object.

The following day we met a man who thought our “wine” was delicious. But that’s another story.