Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peru – Border jumping, taking the road less traveled

This must be the quietest border
crossing in all of South America
All good things must come to an end. Our ways separate after exactly 50 days. We never thought that we would spend this much time in the country of the Incas. Our stay was longer due to some hiccup's in Cusco with our aborted, then rescheduled Salkantay trek and then the miner's strike and border blockades in Puno that delayed our travel into Bolivia. Then once back in Peru we stopped in Arequipa for longer than planned to re-charge our batteries that had run dangerously low in Bolivia.

We enjoyed traveling in Peru, especially Cusco (before the high season madness) and the few stops north of Lima. We didn't get to see the Peruvian jungle either and maybe should have focused more on Northern Peru? But after weighing our travel lust scale, Peru is not on the Must-Return-To list. Peru has become rather touristic and lacks the charm of some other countries on this trip; and seeing Machu Picchu once is certainly enough. We leave having enjoyed the visit but not longing to return.

We are getting ready to leave for Ecuador and leave the Gringo Trail: We have 2 days of numerous shared taxi rides and "dirt road Rodeo" ahead of us before we reach Vilcabamaba our first stop in Ecuador.

Fellow travelers click here to get a summary of the transport times and cost

Segment I is by shared taxi from Chachapoyas to Bagua Grande which despite its name is a small town that is not really worth to stop at... unless you are catching another Taxi to Jaén but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Even Miguel Zapatero needs
to stop at a construction site
We are taking a shared taxi as there is no bus until 11am. Shared taxis are common in Peru; you basically go to a destination-specific taxi terminal from where taxis leave as soon as they are full. Two men are already waiting when we arrive, and before we know it, we are already on the road. The drive to Bagua should take about 3 hours, but our driver is called "Miguel Zapatero" and must be a distant cousin of a guy in Germany with the same name, you may have heard of him before: Michael Schumacher.

Miguel drives like a maniac and we spend more time on the other side of the road passing all vehicles ahead of us. Miguel manages to get us there in 2 hours, wow!

Segment II is rather uneventful. Except for the fact that our driver loads 2 people on the passenger front seat and is very nervously inquiring with oncoming drivers if there is a police checkpoint ahead. Shortly before our destination in Jaén he's offloading one of the two into a moto-taxi and even pays his fare. He coments: "This is cheaper than getting a ticket." Guess what half a kilometer later we pass a Police check and our driver is smiling cheek to cheek – we're only the allowed 5 people in the car now.

Is this the Moto-Taxi
version of a sleeper bus?

Segment III is a short moto-taxi ride to the other side of Jaén town to catch yet another shared taxi.

Segment IV, the last for today is to San Ignacio, the last major town before the border. This time we are. 5 adults, a kid, 5 guinea pigs in the back and the driver all packed into the car. A couple is sharing the front seat we're in the back with a woman and her 10 year old. The car is tiny and we feel like a bunch of sardines in a can. An hour or so into the ride our driver wants to pickup 2 more adults and squeeze them into the back with us. No way! We protest and refuse to move. He seriously thought that we could be 5 adults and a kid in the back sometimes you just need to stand (or sit) your ground! And yes, there aren't any police controls on this route.

After 6 hours we are already in San Ignacio – thanks Miguel Zapatero!

San Ignacio has better views
than Karaoke singers
This is our last night in Peru and we are kept awake for most of the night by an alternating concert of honking moto-taxis and the guys in the room next door that try to prove that they are indeed the worst Karaoke singers in all of the Andes – what a farewell!

We get up early (after finally being able to fall asleep in the wee hours) for Segment V: San Ignacio to the border. This time we are not so lucky in our timing, the shared taxi is empty. We have to wait for 20 minutes until we have two guys on the front seat and a mom with her baby with us in the back. Just as we are pulling out of the terminal another woman wants to squeeze in with us in the back, we protest again (especially since the second woman is very well nourished).
Here we are: at the
Peru-Ecuador border

Patrick gets out of the taxi and insists on the maximum 5 passenger limit that we were promised and ask to either ditch the 6th passenger or give us our money back. It worked, the woman was pretty pissed off at us but at least we didn't have to endure 90 minutes of rubbing hips on a bumpy dirt road. We are finally in La Balsa at the Ecuadorian border. There is actually also a small hostel here where we could have stayed. But that would not get us any faster to Vilcabamaba as there are only two buses per day to the next bigger village. The first one leaves at 12:30pm.

Stay tuned for Segment VI and VII in our next post from Ecuadorian soil.

Bye bye Peru, we are leaving you now!

Behind this bamboo barrier lies unexplored territory