If Ecuador was a giant craphole, Esmeraldas was the steamiest turd.
Not that all of Ecuador was bad, but most of it wasn’t good. I headed out of Santo Domingo de los Colorados on a bus heading to Esmeraldas. This leg of the journey was planned to visit someone who had reached out to me after reading my blog. He seemed like an interesting guy and I had no other plans for Ecuador. Throughout our email chats he had informed me that he lived in Esmeraldas and gave me some good advice. When I told him I was heading to Ecuador, he offered to buy me a beer if I swung by and that was all the encouragement I needed.
Arriving at the bus station I caught a cab to the center of town. I told the cab driver I needed a safe hotel with hot water. Everything else was open to his judgement. We passed by several shady looking hotels and I was starting to get the feeling this guy was going to take me to a nice place.
He dropped me off at the shadiest of the shady hotels in downtown Esmeraldas. It was $16 so I said screw it and took a room. I immediately went to take a shower and get ready to meet this guy at the bar. No hot water? I had only stated two requirements: safe and hot water. The lack of hot water did nothing to help me feel like the place was safe.
[pullquote]Where the hell is Atacames?[/pullquote]
So I packed my valuables in my backpack and headed out. I hopped in a cab and told the driver to take me to the Hotel El Marques where the meeting was planned. The driver took me to an eerily deserted part of town. I paid the driver and stepped out of the cab before realizing that this hotel was not the one I asked him to take me to. He assured me that it was the same hotel and that the restaurant had a different name than the hotel. As I approached the hotel entrance the driver took off. Then a woman approached the building and tried to enter. It was locked and the entire hotel was shut down.
So there I was on this four lane road with no cars and only a few straggling crackheads. None of the establishments were open and there wasn’t another cab in sight. So I called the guy up and gave him the WTF spill. That’s when he asked if I was in Atacames.
“Where the hell is Atacames?” was my response.
“Oh, you’re in Esmeraldas.”
It was at this point that he explained for the first time that he wasn’t actually in Esmeraldas, but a small beach town 20 minutes away. No worries I thought. I’ll grab my stuff, catch a cab……
My normal routine when checking into a hotel is to grab a business card to give to cabbies when I’m ready to come back. This hole in the wall joint didn’t have business cards, but the keys had the hotel info on them. Originally I accepted that as a good enough way to find my way back. I had totally forgotten that the girl demanded I leave my key when I left the hotel and I now had no way of finding this place again. At this point I should have at least taken my own travel advice and marked my location on my iPhone map!
I walked back towards the center of town until I found a cab and had him take me to the town center. I spent the next half hour walking around the center of Esmeraldas watching people stare at me and listening as some whispered “whitey.” Others had no intentions of whispering as the screamed “Whitey” at me. Finally I caught a cab driver who looked like a trustworthy guy and explained to him my predicament. He called me an idiot and agreed to help.
Luckily, despite not remembering the name of my hotel, I was able to describe the hotel and it’s surroundings well enough for the guy to figure out where I was talking about. Three wrong stops and ten minutes later I was back at what was being passed off as a hotel.
I collected my gear and caught a cab to Atacames.
So, let me have it. I deserve all the names you can come up with for this mistake.