Cuenca (Ecuador) to Tumbes (Peru), Day 19

wall mural, Cuenca, Ecuador

We’re off on the road to Tumbes across the border in Peru…

We leave Cuenca reluctantly and with a last few lingering glimpses of its beautiful architecture, churches, and markets.  We have a long day of traveling ahead of us to reach the coastal town of Tumbes in Peru before nightfall.  This involves changing buses in Machala, Ecuador’s fourth largest city.  While we wait for our connection (CIFA International bus #76) we eat lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant.  And it is a truly incongruous moment using our pigeon Spanish to order chow mein from a Chinese waiter.  The border crossing is, according to the Lonely Planet Guide to South America (our bible), the worst on the continent.  Great.  Now I’m extra nervous as I disembark from the bus and step into the chaos that characterizes every land border I’ve ever crossed.  Christi and I are, at least, carrying our day packs (which contain our money, cameras, and important documents), but our backpacks remain in the hold of the bus…which immediately disappears in a hail of stones and exhaust fumes.  Well fuck-a-doodle-do.

We have no choice but to complete the immigration process, which (despite the dire warning in the LP guide) is surprisingly easy.  And then we sit on the side of the road wondering whether the bus will ever return.  Buses zoom past all the time, but we don’t recognize any of them and we can’t remember whether our bus was #67 or #76.  And was it CIFA or FICA?  Thirty nerve-shredding minutes later a bus pulls up, literally on our toes, and we are ushered aboard.  The driver is off again before our bums have even found their seats.  We’re out of Ecuador, but have to go through similar immigration procedures to enter Peru.  And this time we keep a wary eye on the bus.  The driver revs the engine impatiently, desperate to be on his way.  Peruvian immigration is equally kind and efficient and our bus is soon racing towards Tumbes with our border stamps still wet in our passports.

We arrive at a hot and sticky Tumbes bus terminal at 5 pm and are inundated with offers of help from moto-taxi drivers (Peruvian equivalent of tuk-tuks).  These vehicles are manifestly too small to carry us and our packs, but where money is involved, ingenuity always finds a way and we head into town with our packs on the roof swaying precariously as a thin twine strains with the effort of keeping the bags in place.  Downtown Tumbes is a dive.  We’re so disappointed, but the moto-cross driver has an idea…

 Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes. 

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