Guayaquil Hilton


     The taxi has no suspension, the interior is beat up to nothing, the motor is small but loud, the ride is bumpy and the smell of diesel exhaust is all around in the warm, humid air. I am in Guayaquil.
     Two dollars – the currency here is the U.S. dollar – gets me to the Hotel Kennedy, a small hotel for Ecuadorans primarily, a block off the main commercial boulevard, Avenida Francisco Orellana.
     The staff knows me by now, and the place is comfortable. But it is six in the morning and I am exhausted, after a Texas-size thunder storm shut down the Houston Airport for much of the day, delaying my flight from Houston to Guayaquil by five hours.
     Luckily, I have always been able to sleep long and easy in the tropical climate of this principal port city of Ecuador, with its long history of piracy and trade. The people are for the very large part what you might call peaceful hustlers.
     They are trying to get ahead in a generally poor society, while mercifully free of the intellectual, anti-Americanism of the capital Quito, high in the Andes.
     The men adopt a dress that I move quickly towards, in order to blend in, of long pants and a loose, short-sleeved shirt. The women wear either office uniforms, as though you were in a city of flight attendants, or, off work, tight jeans and cheap jewelry.
     They almost all have dark hair and a skin tone I would call ashen, different and duskier than the golden tone of, say, Brazilians. As a result of the juxtaposition of black hair, dusky skin and brazen sense of femininity, many of the women seem stunningly beautiful.
     Having slept well into the afternoon, I walk around the corner from my hotel, which costs $55 a night, to the Guayaquil Hilton, which costs four times as much, but which also has what I consider the best bar in the world.
     The bar takes up most of the lobby, with both a traditional counter-top bar and a set of great, concrete columns, holding up the hotel and the high ceiling, with sofas and comfortable chairs spread among the columns.
     In the early afternoon, I get a cup of black coffee at the bar, and read from the daily collection of newspapers the hotel provides, in English the Miami Herald and in Spanish, six more papers based in Guayaquil or Quito.
     The papers are filled with news of the dispute between Ecuador and neighboring Colombia over a Colombian raid that went into Ecuadoran territory to attack a camp of FARC rebels, with Colombian defense minister saying Colombia has a right to pursue the rebels and Ecuador’s interior minister saying Ecuador’s territorial integrity has been violated.
     It is the rainy season here, and clouds or rain often darken the afternoon. As the rain comes on and the afternoon lengthens, small back lights illuminate the bottles behind the bar and a set of recessed, overhead lights provide just enough light to give the whole area a spacious, comfortable obscurity, a bit like a big cave.
     The waiters are discreet while attentive, arriving quickly if you look up, otherwise remaining well in the background.
     An odd, carved mural takes up one big wall and I have often tried to figure out what it is supposed to mean. Two women dressed in vaguely Grecian outfits seem to be standing in roiling, red-colored clouds. They each have a white dove on the arm, and a receding line of birds wings towards a rising or setting planet, far in the distance, that is also set within surrounding clouds.
     It is the most astounding and strange mural and seems perfect, after the bar’s liquid offerings have been sampled more than once, for contemplation as to possible interpretations.
     There is a large, flat-screen in one nook next to the bar, with a sofa, a coffee table and two arm chairs in front of it. It is kept at a very low volume and easy to ignore if you like.
     Its fare is soccer games and soccer highlights from Latin America and Europe interrupted only by important political news corresponding to perfection with my interests.
     So at the end of long weekend, when I am on the sofa and asleep next to me is a woman from Guayaquil who I have long been friends with, and I am watching soccer highlights and drinking a second glass of excellent Chilean merlot that the discreet waiter has just handed to me, I think that every man has his heaven, but this is mine.

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