We are writing from the lobby of the Hotel Hilton Colon, located in
a zone of recently constructed high rises on the outskirts of Guayaquil,
Ecuador. Of course, the Dowbrigade is not staying at the Hilton.
but as many penny-pinching adventurers know, luxury hotels in third world
countries are repositories of all sorts of useful resources, including
free maps, English language newspapers, travel agencies, clean, well-provisioned
bathrooms, poolside buffets, Wi-Fi access points, classy embossed stationary,
travel tips, directions, abandoned paperback reading material and shuttles
to and from the local airport. They are also great spots to do some serious
people-watching, if the people you want to watch are international jet-setters
and the local social and economic elite.
All you need is an American face or duds and a certain
insouciant confidence to walk right in as if you owned the place, and
take a seat among the privileged and pampered ruling class. If you have
the balls and situational morality to go a step further and scrawl a
room number and indecipherable signature on chits and receipts, a panoply
of goods and services are available for the asking.
The ostensible purpose of our presence in the Hilton
today is to track down some concrete information on the events that brought
us to Guayaquil in the first place; a series of preseason confrontations
between our hometown New England Revolution and some of the top local teams in this soccer-mad nation astride the earth’s midrift bulge. Turns out that the second
phase of our Three-Sport Pre-Season Tour has become a bit more
problematic than we had anticipated.
We learned over a month ago, via the excellent reporting
of Boston Globe ace soccer correspondent Frank Dell’Apa, that the New
England Revolution were planning a two week pre-season trip to Ecuador
and had arranged friendly matches against four of the Ecuadorian First
Division teams, including the two strongest and most popular sides; Barcelona
Football Club and Emelec. The attraction for the Revolution was the year-round
summer climate, the high level of club-team play here, and the cheap
prices. In fact, it was this news that inspired the Dowbrigade to book
his own trip to South America for the same dates.
However, it proved difficult to pin down confirmed ticket
information on the Ecuadorian end. We called several close friends and
football fanatics and asked them to pick up tickets to the Barcelona
and Emelec games. They reported back that not only were tickets not on
sale, nobody seemed to know anything about the games or the visit of
the American team. Of course, we realized that Ecuadorians were famously
disorganized, and loved leaving things for the last minute. Besides,
our airline tickets were non-refundable, and we were locked into the
By the time we arrived in Guayaquil, two days before
the first game was supposedly scheduled, we were beginning to wonder
if the games were the athletic equivalent of vaporware, all rumor and
no reality. So our first morning in country, we headed down to the local
strip, or at least the upscale version, to try to pin things down once
and for all.
Calle Victor Emilio Estrada is the place to see and
be seen in Guayaquil. Aside from the new mega-malls dotting the outskirts
of the city, this is the street most like Miami in the entire country.
A drunk waking up from a three-day bender with temporary amnesia would
have trouble believing he was not in a swank shopping district in some
Hispanic city in the States. Small, name brand boutique shuffled in between
American chains and fast food joints. KFC, Burger King, Dominos and Dunkin’
Donuts (the only place in Guayaquil to get a real bagel). The Mac Center,
where we replaced our iBook’s power adapter when we crushed the plug
in the dark on our last trip. Travel agencies, fancy Scandinavian furniture
stores, banks, bookstores and bars on every block. On Friday and
Saturday nights the scions of Ecuador’s richest families cruise slowly
up and down the avenue in late model 4x4s, looking for girls, parties,
or something out of the ordinary to do.
It also features some of the most accommodating pharmacies
in the free world, a great place to find exotic, discontinued or withdrawn
drugs unavailable in the United States. International pharmaceutical
companies have long used South America as a dumping ground for expired,
deregulated or potentially dangerous drugs they can no longer legally
sell in closely regulated markets in North America and Europe. Some
of our old favorites and all-time hits, long since vanished from drug
shelves at home, are still available, no questions asked and no prescription
With our traveling first-aid kit replenished, we wandered
into the local headquarters of the Barcelona soccer squad, which in addition
to team offices and reception rooms, features a street-level store front
selling tickets and team gear. We sauntered up to the receptionist and
identified ourself as an American reporter in town to cover the preseason
games of our local professional soccer team, the New England Revolution.
For our efforts, he attractive young salesgirl gave
us a blank stare. "The Revolution?" she asked, as though we were asking
to sign up for an armed insurrection against the Ecuadorian government,
"I don’t know anything about that. Do you mean the Metro Stars? I think
they are coming for a match in June."
The mention of the New York team, arch rivals of the
Revs, bothered us more than her lack of information on the games we wanted
"No, no, the New England Revolution. A much better team. I
know they are in Guayaquil RIGHT NOW. They arrived Friday, and are supposed
to play a friendly match against Barcelona on Thursday."
"I don’t know anything about that," she answered dismissively.
We were not about to be dismissed. "Please, I’ve come
all the way from Boston for this game. My editor confirmed the
dates directly from the team officials. Isn’t there someone who
might know? Perhaps a local soccer kingpin, someone with their fingers
on the pulse of everything soccer-related in Ecuador. If I go home without
the story, I’ll lose my job!"
She said she’d make some calls, but that most of the
team directors were in a very important meeting upstairs and were not
to be interrupted.
While we waited we looked around at the team gear on
display; caps, mugs, banners, towels, lighters, T-shirts, visors and
trays, all in Barcelona’s canary yellow and displaying the BSC logo.
We decided to purchase an adjustable mesh baseball cap,
not because we were in any way a Barcelona rooter, but in a good-natured
attempt to curry local favor and get in a dig at our wonderful wife
at the same time. Upon her arrival in the States, Norma
Yvonne became a vociferous fan of the hated New York Yankees. She
claimed it was because all their gear featured her initials (NY), but
it was only because of the horrified disgust on our face whenever she
walked into the room in her Yankee gear. She couldn’t be less interested
in baseball as a sport. She was, however, a lifelong fan of Emelec,
Barcelona’s arch-rival and a team nicknamed "The Millionaires." Tit
Finally, our young friend got off the phone and informed
us, "You were correct. Barcelona will be playing the Revolution on Thursday.
The meeting going on right now upstairs is to decide whether the game
will be played in Machala or Portoviejo."
This was not particularly good news. Machala is
four hours to the south, and Portoviejo five hours to the north. Only
in Ecuador, we thought, would a team wait until two days before and
international match to decide where the game would be played. But at
least it confirmed that the team was in Ecuador. She gave us a phone
number to call later that afternoon to learn the outcome of the meeting.
Before leaving we took a flyer and asked if she knew anything about the
game against Emelec the following day.
She looked at us as if we had wandered into PLO headquarters
and asked where we could get a good kosher meal. We decided to quit while
we were ahead and left.
We were not done yet, however. Jumping into a
taxi, we asked to go to the Hilton Hotel, on the theory that even if
the team was not staying there, there would be somebody who knew about
the games. Neither the doorman nor the front desk could help us out,
so we headed for the bar.
The Hilton Guayaquil is a typical third world luxury
hotel, with a 12 story atrium, externally exposed elevators, fake Chinese
porcelain statuary and Persian rugs. The barkeep was happy to talk
about soccer, although he seemed surprised to learn that they even played
"Fut-bowl" in the US ("You mean American futbowl?").
When we informed him that the US side was ranked in the top ten of the
world, and that they could take the Ecuadorian national team with one
leg tied behind their backs, he looked as if we had just accused the
Pope of being a communist pedophile. By this point our frustration was
starting to show.
Suddenly, on the seven-foot projector TV set up against
the back wall of the bar area, we saw the news we most wanted to see
flashed across the screen in four-foot red lettering, like a message
Tuesday, 7pm, Estadio Capwell
Not to be missed!
There was going to be a game in Guayaquil! The next
day! We had a time and a place, and were sure, since nobody knew that
the game was even on, that there would be plenty of tickets available.
We felt redeemed, rewarded, vindicated. We thanked the bartender, paid
for our beer (resisting the temptation to sign with a room number), and
headed out into the gathering darkness of an equatorial evening. Once
more, the game was afoot, the ball was in play, and we could look forward
to a night of top-level international soccer featuring our favorite home
team and Norma Yvonne’s binky. Little did we know.