In getting from Ecuador to Peru, our goal was to avoid spending a night in Guayaquil altogether, as we had heard it was just a big dirty city. Instead of staying in Guayaquil, we stopped for the night in Puerto Lopez, about one hour north of Montañita. This was our last night in Ecuador and we wished we had more time to explore Puerto Lopez because we really enjoyed the town during the few hours we explored. But we decided to go to bed early, and after a good nights sleep we woke at six a.m. and embarked on what was to be the most difficult day of our trip thus far.
After hauling all our stuff to the main drag in town, we found a bus headed to Guayaquil, but it was first going through Jipijapa (pronounced “Hippy-Hoppa”), a town with nothing but a great name that was back in the northern direction. The bus driver assured us it would only take four hours–a little longer than traversing directly down the coast, but he gave us a good price so we were on board. After about five hot hours we were in the Guayaquil bus terminal, which resembles a United States shopping mall, minus Starbucks which we (shockingly) have yet to find in South America. We quickly were on the next bus to the border town of Huaquillas. Another hot and sweaty trip during which we spent five hours staring at millions and millions of banana trees and taking detours off the highway to stop every tiny village along the way. It was just about as boring as driving through the cornfields of the midwestern United States, only our ears were blessed with Latin beats not only from the bus stereo but also from two other passengers who had not yet discovered the magic of headphones.
In Ecuador, usually every time a bus slows to let off a passenger, someone climbs on selling stuff to eat. They bring on anything imaginable and to write the list of foods we have bought from these people would take up a whole blog entry in itself. Since the bus never stops for very long, the only way to eat is to buy whatever cheap amazing nonsense is hauled aboard (or pack something, which would just ruin the fun of the whole thing). This bus, however was the most crowded long distance bus we have taken yet. The aisle was packed full so that some people stood for over 3 hours. This unfortunate bus-stuffage meant the food vendors could not squeeze onto the bus, leaving us ravenous. We are not nice or happy people when hunger sets in…being hungry inevitably leads to being “hangry” (props to whoever coined that term) and speaking nicely to one another and our fellow passengers becomes more and more difficult. Finally we were able to throw some coins out the window at a man who passed us some ice cream sent straight from heaven.
We thought we would never make it to the border but out of nowhere, before we reached the last town in Ecuador, the bus driver yelled for us and told us this was were we needed to get our exit stamps. So we got off the bus, the agents stamped our passports and yelled “Ciao!”. We knew from our guidebook that it was 2km to the actual border, so we grabbed a taxi which dropped us off in a huge mess of confusion. The driver pointed to a ditch full of burning trash, telling us that that was the border and what we needed to do was walk across the bridge, on top of which people seemed to be having some kind of a country fair, and we would be in Peru. There was no border fence here, no men with machine guns, no customs with stupid questions; you just walk across the bridge. There were such a crowd and everyone was bumping us and we we worried about warding off pickpockets and such. New Peruvian taxi drivers were following us telling us it was 3km farther to the Peruvian immigration office where we had to get our entrance stamps. We never like to go with the first guy who bugs us so we followed the second driver, who seemed more polite, through the mess to his car. The guidebook said to only take “official” taxis in Peru but none of the taxis looked very official so we just let him drive us to the immigration office. The entrance process was the same as entering Ecuador: write all your information on a form, then the officials type it in a computer and pass out stamps as fast as they can, no questions asked. Our eager-beaver taxi driver was still there waiting to take us to the bus station in Tumbes (which we thought was close) so we changed what little American money we had left for Peruvian Soles. The money changers tried to rip us off the first time, giving us a horrible exchange rate, but as soon as we questioned them they gave us the proper amount. We threw our stuff back in the taxi/guy’s car and asked how much it was going to be to take us to the bus station. “20 dollars,” he said “Because it’s 40km away and there are no buses from here, no other way. Come with me and we will ask the police if there is another way. They will tell you the same thing!” The police were all his friends so of course they told us the same thing, but it was getting dark and we needed to get a move on; we didn’t know who to trust and didn’t have time to investigate before the sun set. (Border towns are not good places to be after dark, we’ve heard.) So after we acted like we were going to leave, Eager Beaver told us he would take us for $10 if his policeman-friend’s son could ride with us also. We passed busses headed to Tumbes from the border that “didn’t exist” according to the taxi driver and the Policia, but we were just happy to finally be away from the hectic border and on our way to the last bus of the day.
It was just two more hours to beach paradise, Máncora, where we would spend Christmas. But of course, this wasn’t the end of the fiasco. After what seemed like a lot less than 40km we entered Tumbes and the taxi driver stopped, directing us across the street to his friend’s van that was filling up to go to Máncora. We expected a nice cheap ride for say six Soles ($1= almost 3 Soles) but this van was super classy and wanted 40 SOLES EACH!!! Of course. Now we were stuck, exhausted; the sun was setting and we had no idea where to go but were refusing to pay almost $15 for a two hour ride. Eventually, after looking lost for a minute, a nice lady told us that since it was the holidays it might be hard to catch a bus at this late hour, but we would surley be able to find a cheaper van. This we did, for 25 Soles each and they even said they would drop us off right at our hostel. They actually dropped us off nowhere near our hostel and we had to take a mototaxi (motorcycle with an attached rear bench for two people) but WE MADE IT!!! The relief of finally being there was almost as strong as our frustration with all the scammers of the day. We already missed Ecuador. Not exactly happy with our first impression of Peru, we resolved to enjoy the beach for a few days and hoped for better luck in our next travel experience!