I find it supremely odd that I befriended 4 people in Guayaquil and half of them guards. Years ago Guayaquil was known as a somewhat seedy port city where wealthy tourists needed to pass through en route to the Galapagos, and opportunistic thieves responded in kind. A city regeneration project created beautiful areas if the city, swarmed with guards as both a reassuring safety net and a disturbing reminder of the need for so much policing.
I started my visit walking along the Malecon, a popular riverbank where you see families and young couples strolling along, vendor carts, stores and parks. A guard stands every 100 feet and apparently a loud yell of “auxilio!” will send one of them running, something I luckily did not have to try.
Up the hill in Cerro Santa Ana 400 numbered steps lead to a fabulous 360 view of the city and guards patrol the lighthouse, guards who were apparently fascinated to meet a foreigner. They said that most foreigners come and have no interest in chatting with the locals, or can not for lack of language skills. And that mugging happens because clueless tourists come flaunting fancy jewelry watches and designer handbags. being one of the only friendly foreigners I suppose, I then had my own personal volunteer bodyguard in uniform to escort me to my bus stop, off the clock.
Personal safety is something I never thought so much of, but now I guess it will be added to the laundry list of things I take for granted… Compiled here is the multitude of advice I received from multiple people to avoid pick pocketing and taxi mugging …playing it safe or slightly paranoid?
1. Wear your purse or backpack on your front.
2. Don’t take any taxis that have a license plate not beginning with the letter G.
3. Don’t walk alone at night outside the heavily policed streets.
4. Don’t trust anyone
5. Don’t take a long distance bus if you have a suitcase – a shared van is less likely to result in missing luggage
6. Take a picture of the license plate, registration card of your taxi and email it to yourself, notify your driver you have done so.