Cuenca, Ecuador had the strangest weather going on. During the morning and early afternoon it was warm, hot even. Come late afternoon it was clouding over and then raining. The temperature dropped and we were shivering in our jeans and sweatshirts. We thought, “This is no way to spend Christmas!” Instead of sticking out the intended 3 weeks in Cuenca, we headed off to cross the border into Peru.
The direct, international bus to our warmer destination was full so we jumped on another bus headed to Machala, the “banana capital of the world” on the coast of Ecuador. The ride started out normal enough until the paved road turned into dirt road hanging on the side of desert canyon. Dusty and I both thought we might die on this ride. The bus driver literally had the door open so he could see if there was still road out there.
Many times we had to stop at a point to let buses and cars pass on the other side. This dirt death trap lasted about a half hour as we wound around and around from the top of the canyon to bottom. Finally as we returned to pavement, we began laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. I mean, this is a major thoroughfare!
After that it was nice and easy to Machala. As usual for us gringos, the bus assistant motioned to us to get out when it was time. We jumped out and no later than 30 seconds went by and we were whisked onto another bus to the border town of Huaquillas. These transactions happen so fast sometimes that I verify the destination 15 times to be sure. Perhaps that’s why they always look out for us paranoid people. Anyway, this 2 hour bus ride was full so we had the luxury of standing up the entire time. Ecuadorians are quite used to this mode of travel and quite used to being smushed up against each other. Often times families of 4 will occupy 2 seats. I’m okay with standing when I see that. I hope they only get charged for 2 seats.
After our two hour ride the bus pulled over and kicked us out at Ecuador Immigration to get our exit stamps. It was easy enough. Always where there are tourists there are people there to “help”. When we get off a bus somewhere someone “helps” us find a hostel or a tour. They’re looking for a tip always, but sometimes they are actually helpful. This day we were weary of it since we were dealing with a border crossing. After receiving our stamp, we were “helped” into a cab by a man who, in English, told us where we needed to go next. It’s always unnerving when the helper gets in the passenger seat of the cab. That means his “helping” isn’t over. Grrrrr.
Once at the border he showed us the bridge and took us to a person who would exchange money for us….out of a suitcase. Needing Peruvian soles for the next taxi and bus, we reluctantly exchanged just $35. The “helper” said, “That’s all? Where’s the rest of your money?” Uh huh. So, next the nice “helper” hooks us up with his amigo with a taxi on the Peruvian side. “Any souvenirs or money for my help?”. Uh, no. Unfortunately your suitcase exchange friend didn’t give us any change. Poor planning on their part, I’m thinking.
We walked across the bridge and presto we were in Peru! Next on the list was going to the Peruvian taxi driver’s car. It was a beat up blue piece of crap with no signs of being an actual taxi. We went to the police to verify that he was a taxi driver and low and behold he was. So, off to the next stop, Peru Immigration. Smooth sailing with stamps in our passports, we were off to Tumbes in our taxi to catch yet another bus. Along the way our taxi driver asks for his payment of $20 so he can get some gas. We agree and he pulls into the gas station. The gas station attendant won’t take the US Dollars, nor will he make change for our 100 soles. They decide our driver will come back and pay later. Next our driver starts spouting off about “NEVER exchange money on the street! NEVER! They’re thieves!” and is now convinced we have been given a fake bill even though his amigo is the one who gave it to us. He decides that he won’t accept the US or Peruvian bills either so he takes us to an ATM to get more money out. At this point he has also lowered his rate. What!? Maybe for our trouble?
Finally satisfied, he dropped us off on a street in Tumbes where no buses are to be found, only minivan transports. We pay for a minivan transport to our destination and wait an hour. We board our mini van exactly as scheduled and sit there waiting for the dudes to sell the last 3 seats which takes 45 minutes. There are now 15 of us in a minivan for a 2 hour trip. Finally, FINALLY, after 2 buses, 2 taxis and a minivan, we arrive in Mancora…the beach destination where we will spend Christmas 2010!