Delicious Ecuadorian Epicurean Tour with a Side of Security

Days 9-10, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Sunday and Monday, Oct.15-16, 2023, Guayaquil, Ecuador

“Is it safe to walk around town on your own?”

This is a question we all ask at some time or another on a long cruise. We are visiting unfamiliar places and don’t know what to expect. Some of the most popular tourist cities (Barcelona, I’m looking at you, among others) are beset by pickpockets. The standard precautions are usually enough – don’t wear jewelry or flash cash, make it a “frontpack” instead of a backpack, only take ashore what currency and cards you really need, and always be aware of what’s going on around you.

During the summer the U.S. State Department reissued its travel advisory for Ecuador, suggesting Americans reconsider travel to several provinces, including that of Manta, and most of Guayaquil due to increased crime. In addition, it advised “do not travel to” the southern part of Guayaquil, where the port is located.

Of course, this resulted in some chatter on our cruise social media sites about whether we would still visit these two Ecuadorian ports. But we didn’t hear anything more, and I forgot about it. At least, until a few days ago when the captain announced that while we would arrive at the Guayaquil port as scheduled at 4 p.m. on Sunday, no one could go ashore until the next day.

Sunday was national election day in Ecuador, and in addition to the general crime situation, there were concerns that unrest could develop after the election. But Sunday night the losing candidate graciously conceded, and as far as I know things remained calm.

I’m not sure what passengers would have done Sunday evening anyway. The industrial port is a good 30-minute drive from town, and I doubt there were many activities on a Sunday night. On board many passengers enjoyed the special Octoberfest celebration in the Lido and around the pool. I enjoyed a nice dinner in the Canaletto specialty restaurant with other clients of our travel agency.

This morning I joined a Holland America “foodie” tour, meaning it was offered in partnership with Food & Wine Magazine. These tours usually have fewer participants and are more expensive, but I enjoy them and have booked several on this cruise.

We first visited the Sauces IX market, which was large, clean and relatively cool under its cover. A few of our group purchased some of the colorful fruit. As many local people may not have refrigeration, and certainly not the large units found in most American homes, they shop frequently in small amounts. We moved from the produce to grocery staples such as cinnamon and rice, through household goods to fish, poultry and finally flowers.

I’ve been to similar markets from Fiji to Japan, but what set this one apart had nothing to do with the merchandise or the vendors. It was the “paparazzi” that we soon realized was following us as we wandered the aisles. Not only did a cameraman tape us almost every moment that we shopped, but a half dozen other people with digital cameras and smartphones were constantly taking our pictures. One in our group agreed to an interview.

It turns out that the Zaandam is the first cruise ship to visit Guayaquil this season, and our tour will make the local news. I had a small taste of what it is like for a celebrity to try to act normal while cameras are all around.

We also were shadowed by our police escorts. Two officerf dressed head-to-toe in black rode a motorcycle alongside our bus and walked with us through the market. Other passengers reported similar escorts, and those who took the free shuttle to a square in the city said there were police everywhere. I felt totally safe the whole day, but I don’t know if that was because of the security around us or not.

After the market we went to the beautiful Wyndham Hotel in the city center, where executive chef Rafael Hernández led us through making ceviche.

The delicious shrimp appetizer served as our starter, leading to a delicious lunch and dessert.

Before dinner I joined the singles and solos reception, where about 25 passengers mingled. It’s a nice change to get to know fellow travelers and perhaps even make plans for dinner or exploring future ports.