Things have been going just a bit too smoothly for us so far on this trip. Giving credit where credit is due, a large part of that is due to the voracious consumption of information for planning. I think we all know who is the general driving force behind this. I mean, if you exhaust and explore every possible option from every angle, it’s hard to make the wrong choice too many times. But alas, on our border crossing from Peru to Ecuador, our over-preparation was our greatest weakness.
We were in Huanchaco, a beach town near Trujillo, looking to get across the border. There are two main routes from here, the coastal route via Tumbes, Peru to Machala, Ecuador, widely regarded as a busy, thief infested, scam ridden border crossing, and the inland route through Piura, Peru to Loja, Ecuador, which is much less used, has a direct international through bus, and our guidebook alleges is a much more pleasant experience. Needless to say, it was pretty clear which way we would be heading, especially since we also wanted to visit Vilcabamba, a pleasant gringo-haven town just south of Loja (more on Vilcabamba to come as we are currently here).
So off to Piura we headed on an afternoon bus, complete with a 4 feature Jean Claude Van Damme marathon (in Spanish!). We hoped to then hop on the TransLoja International bus the next morning. Unfortunately, neither we nor our various gold mines of information accounted for unhappy agricultural workers. I mean, I’m sure they’re unhappy, underpaid and overexploited, but do they have to go and close down the highway as their protest?
These striking agricultural workers meant our bus to whisk us across the border was not running, had not run for the previous two days and its status for the next few days depended on the positive resolution of the strike. Everyone assured us this would happen, but as we awoke the next morning and called the bus company, they told us no buses that day, and as the Latin American cliche goes, maybe a bus would go “manana”.
With the uncertainty of the buses, we decided to take matters into our own hands and to hop a bus to the nearby town of Sullana where collectivo taxis run to the border. Surely these guys would be up on the latest developments or know ways around these wily farmhands.
Arriving at the collectivo stand we quickly learned that yes, the road was still blocked, but yes, there was a way around; it just cost twice as much and took twice as long. Skeptical, I started asking some of the other local passengers waiting just the same and found that (shockingly for all the other “negotiating” we’d done with taxi drivers in the area) we had been told the honest price. While this meant not getting to the border until only a few hours before dark, we eventually filled up a car and headed out. And by filled up a car, I mean eight close friends and luggage in a five passenger station wagon.
So it was with that backstory that we found ourselves bumping along a badly maintained dirt road, clearly anyone’s distant second (third? tenth?) option for travel. No one was surprised when the car rolled over yet another bump, a strong hissing started, and within 100 yards we were stopped repairing a flat tire. Eight people piled out, several went to urinate (neither of us, for the record, we were preoccupied trying to get dirt out of my eye that had flown in earlier), and the driver set about fixing the tire. Three hours after leaving Sullana, we made it half way to the border (on what is normally an hour and a half trip up the highway). Fortunately, the rest was on the highway, and we found ourselves finishing the trip going a little too fast.
As advertised, the border crossing was a cinch. We were the only ones and everyone was helpful and friendly as we walked to Ecuador (my first border crossing on foot!). On the other side, we got a taxi to the the town of Mancara, where we hoped to catch a late afternoon bus to Loja for the evening. Unfortunately, the next bus was an overnighter at 11 pm. It was currently 5:30 pm. So, already exhausted from the day’s adventure, we found some dinner (having not eaten since a morning pastry) and sat around the bus station for five hours as the rain started outside.
Upon leaving the station, we discovered that I had the “wet seat” just below the air hole on the top of the bus. While closed, it sure wasn’t impermeable to water, as a steady drip set in. Fortunately, we found two seats in the back of the bus right next to the toilets (normally the worst seats on a bus, except that night). Even more fortunately, nobody decided they needed to use the toilet during the course of our five hour ride. We passed out as best we could, and got off in Loja at 4:30 in the morning. We found tickets to Vilcabamba at 5:30, slept through that hour ride, and stumbled up to our hotel, where we promptly passed out in hammocks until we were allowed to check in.
Thus went our trip into Ecuador. I hope those farmhands held out for the motherlode.