Editor’s note: Jason Reed is in the Galapagos, where he is participating in the School of Journalism and Communication’s environmental writing program.
The taxi pulls up to the house four and a half kilometers out of town. Chained to the front wall, a guard dog with large jaws gives me an evil stare. Five or six nefarious looking men huddle around a seedy conversation. I’m nervous. I know where I am but not what to expect. There’s no bright neon sign blinking “Whore House” out front, but the smell of greasy men with hard-ons and empty beer bottles lets me know prison composure is needed to survive here.
The front room is dark and the crowd looks sinister. The bar, lined with stools all draped in sex-hungry men, is littered with beer bottles and shot glasses. Salsa music bounces off the walls and drowns out the chatter, while one red light bulb provides the brothel a weak sexual illumination.
I knew the “chongo,” prostitution house, would be sleazy, but this place makes filth palpable.
More than 40 men packed into this small three-room house, now used for carnal desires, sit leering at women in mini-skirts small enough for little girls, tight halter-tops that invite eyes to get lost in cleavage fissures, and thick clear plastic stilettos. The comedian Chris Rock once called this the “hooker’s uniform.”
For this group of men there are four to nine girls all depending on how many have been taken into the back rooms; $14 is the going rate for full-service sex.
These chongos are pervasive in mainland Ecuador, and have made their way out to the Galapagos Islands as well. The most populated island, Santa Cruz, has three of them. The names are not so important as you only tell the taxi driver how far out of town you want to go and he knows what you mean. For example I asked the taxi driver to take me to “quatro y media,” four and a half kilometers, and I arrived at “Platanal.”
At first I thought the code to be some secret cipher, a way of dispelling the shame associated with prostitution. But here in the Galapagos Islands these chongos aren’t seen as a den of sin. There’s no evil connotation following prostitution around like a cold and wicked shadow.
I ask a nature guide about the chongos. He only smiles and laughs because to him it is funny that a “gringo” should be interested in such a dull place when there are beautiful volcanic islands home to rare endemic species surrounding us. Taxi drivers don’t even blink twice when directed to these places, they just ask for the $2 fare. One tells me he asks if the customer wants him to wait outside for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or to come back at a certain time. Another taxi driver says he drinks a beer and watches the women while he waits inside to make sure he gets the business back into town.
To me, prostitution conjures up cheap and sordid images. I feel sleazy even watching “Cat House,” a reality show aired on HBO about the famous Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. But here in the Galapagos, prostitution is devoid of guilt and embarrassment. Even sex in general is not as permeated with the tawdry taboo it has in the U.S.
One local woman tells me most men here have a wife or fiancée, and one or two or three lovers on the side. A guide on Isla Isabella tells me many women enjoy the same situation and will have a number of other lovers. One woman I met cheated on her husband with another man. A good friend of the husband was present, and I watched him as he merely turned around, walked away and jovially skipped down the empty street in the full moon light.
Human anatomical laws command that the body follows where the head leads it. In the case of human males, the body is often led in two different directions. Many times I have heard women cackle and complain that men think with the wrong head, leading then in devious directions.
Sitting at the chongo bathed in red light, alcohol and uneasiness, I can’t help but think these women are right. Have men been cursed and given two brains to listen to, one in there heads and one in their pants?
I have never seen a brothel where men walk around in thongs serving beer to desperate women willing to pay for sex. Beer commercials constantly repeat young girls in bikinis subliminally suggesting that buying their brand of beer will get you laid. Magazine covers sell fantasy with sultry women stripped of all clothing except bikini bottoms, but a guy in a Speedo is either repulsive or comical.
I want to defend my male brethren of all species and races, and argue our behavior stems from some sort of instinctual survival technique. Nature here holds the proof of this claim. The male sea lions here in the Galapagos Islands hoard their harem of females, fighting off other males for copulating rights. Sea iguanas roam the rocks in packs to protect females from falling prey to other males or danger.
Perhaps we’re hardwired from the scrotum to the cerebrum and must act on these desires of lust.
I was not at the chongo for sex, but there for the article(s). However I can’t help that I sometimes take my eyes off the subjects of my study, the men following the brains in their pants, and glance at the woman wrapping her body around the pole in the middle of the room like a snake winding down a tree. I have a girlfriend whom I love, and I also want to keep my 14 bucks, so I listen to the brain upstairs.
The drool escaping from the gaping mouths gets deep in the chongo, and I decide I’ve taken enough notes for the night. Walking out of the front doors, past the seedy fellows still congregating outside and by the sleeping guard dog, I decide to agree with those women arguing men are led by their pants more than their heads. I don’t want to sell out as a man, but age has taught me that in most cases the women are right no matter how much we argue with them. Even though I’m not one of them at this moment, I have been before, many times before.