After my unplanned, but most enjoyable week, in the city of Cuenca I started the three day journey to the Galápagos Islands. My first worry was finding a driver I could actually trust to take me on the 125 mile journey to the airport in Guayaquil, my second was how to avoid being robbed en route and my third was the notorious mountain pass I had to cross in the El Cajas National Park.
The hotel recommended a ‘safe’ driver who turned up at the correct time, which was promising, and I told him I was going to the Holiday Inn at Guayaquil Airport. He looked at my blankly then said with a with a huge smile ‘Si! Si! Holida Yin!’ Relieved he knew where we were going, I settled down for the trip, momentarily.
I have actually no idea how the hotel could describe old Carlos as a ‘safe’ driver, he was a total nutter, and that was just through the busy streets of the city. When we hit the main road he floored his 1200cc banger and attempted to overtake every vehicle in sight. There was one big problem looming, the 4100m mountain pass…
As we started to climb up into the mountains the thick fog descended as predicted, and Carlos’s driving became more and more erratic. He swung out into the middle of the road at every opportunity to see if he could overtake anything from interstate buses to lorries full of pigs. On one occasion we nearly wiped out a whole family traveling on one motorbike in the opposite direction.
Moments later we encountered a large landslide which had partially blocked the road. Just as I was considering our options, Carlos veered right and drove round the huge mound of rocks with inches to spare from the sheer drop below. He then calmly told me that it was just at this point that a coach load of football supporters had plunged to their death last year.
I closed my eyes and debated whether the zero visibility was going to be a good or a bad thing when we had a head on, or just plummeted over the edge. I did scream on numerous occasions ‘Peligroso’ (dangerous) and ‘Yo estoy timido’ (I am afraid) but Crazy Carlos just hurtled on. He explained that he had to make the three and a half hour journey to the airport and back as quickly as possible as he had a birthday party to go to that night. I was going to suggest that the only party he would be going to was his own wake, but I had absolutely no idea how to say that in Spanish.
After one particularly terrifying encounter with a lorry full of bananas on a hair pin bend I screamed in my appalling Spanish ‘I want to live, I have two children!’ He ignored my cries and overtook the truck anyway then calmly replied ‘I want to live too! I have THREE children!’ The rest of the journey I spent in silence, writing my own obituary in my head. Needless to say when we did finally arrive at the ‘Holida Yin’ I did not give Carlos a tip.
As Guayaquil is such a dangerous city I knew that once I had got to my hotel there was no way I could venture outside before catching my flight the next day. 118 prisoners had been stabbed to death or beheaded by feuding drugs gangs in the local prison that week, and even walking down the pavement, as a solo white female tourist, was simply out of the question.
Fortunately the good old ‘Holida Yin’ had an excellent coffee shop and a roof top restaurant where I could sit and watch the planes taking off, and thank my lucky stars that I had made it that far.