Feeling of insecurity.....

Trip Start Oct 10, 2001
Trip End Feb 19, 2002

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, January 20, 2002

Some days, I feel invincible. Some days, I feel vulnerable. In my travels, I often feel more invincible than insecure, and vice versa when I'm at home. Invincibility is the thrill of the unknown that tickles my feet to move further as my instincts heightened at their peak when everything that surround me is new. Today, however, was one of those days that my invincibility cape failed its purpose.

We woke at exactly 6am. The streets was still dark. Lights were dim as we walked out of our hotel, and all of the shops were still shut with iron gates. We quickly found a taxi that took us to the bus terminal. We asked around for any buses that goes to the "frontera", without any luck we decided to take the next bus to Machala, the closest city to the Peruvian border.

The ride was cold at first when we left Cuenca. The bus was old but ran smoothly as we descended the Andes. The morning sun was beginning to rise above the distant peaks behind us as the bus headed towards the western pacific coast. Vegetation was still sparse with highland pine growing on the hills beside the highways and the distant view of clouds hugging mountains was amazing. We continued our descent passing through the clouds, heavy fog blanket our bus as it twisted through the highway. Then the sun disappeared once we were below the cloud cover and soon the vegetation disappeared into dry rocky hills. The change of scenery was amazing in such a short time; the moisture from both the eastern highland and western pacific coast did not reach this death valley. Another hour past before some cactus started to grow on the side of the road, then grass, then short bushes, then trees, then as the grade of the road was almost flat we reached the pacific coast of Ecuador and banana trees were everywhere. Bananas is Ecuador's number one export. Wearing my Levis and a long sleeve shirt, I felt the heat that had escaped my memory since Panama.

We transferred to another bus at the outskirts of Machala among endless banana plantations. The bus to the border was crowded and we arrived around noon. Just another border crossing I thought, but this one was chaos, more so than Penas Blanca in Costa Rica. As soon as we got off our bus, we were surround by money changers like vultures on dead meat. Did we look wealthy? I did't think so. Perhaps we were just foreign enough to guarantee a profit. In the moment of chaos, we forgotten to get our exit stamps. So we took a taxi back to the Ecuadorian immigration and got our passport stamped. The taxi driver overcharged us but we had no time to argue. A young man got in and rode with us, still paranoid from Panama, I was scared we were in a scam. I have heard stories of sharing a cab and get robbed then kidnapped or worse. The heat was getting to my head, I didn't panic, just a little paranoid.

Back in Huaquillas, before we cross the border we had to exchange some money with the vultures as there was no banks in sight. After some manipulated calculator work by one of the money changers, I got stressed. I was surrounded by 4 guys, my backpack felt like a ton and my day pack between my legs while holding about US$100 cash in my hand. I worried that some of the Sol (Peruvian currency) was fake or these guys just making up numbers. In a moment of panic I changed only enough to get us to the Peruvian side and prey for a bank there. "Gracias" I held on to Juliette hand and we left the vultures. One man followed us trying to act as a guide. He tried to communicate something in Spanish, but mostly me and Juliette just wanted to cross the border. On top of everything, the international bridge was an open "mercado." I just hoped the pickpockets were busy bothering others. After crossing the "frontera", our nice guide wanted to take us to his taxi in waiting. I started to worry as more stories of kidnapping and robberies fill my swollen head. Juliette followed me and we took a chance on this "guide". His taxi was unregistered, and his partner, the driver, looked very suspicious, so we reluctantly trusted them as our taxi speed away toward the Peruvian immigration.

After we got our entry stamp for Peru, our taxi had to stop for fuel. Suddenly I realized the reason for their nice hospitality, they wanted 60 Sols for their troubles, (US$20) ten times the normal charge for a collectivo. It was all the money I exchanged at the border. I felt stupid and angry that trying to bargain was of no use. These two men had us at our mercy. I didn't want to get into trouble as Juliette was sitting next me, then calmly I chose safety over the color of money. "Sesenta! No Mas!" I yelled. They smiled as if their scam had guaranteed a week's wage. After refueling, we speed away.

When we arrived in Tumbes's bus terminal I took a deep breath and thank the traveller's saint that we were okay. We paid in US dollars for our bus ticket to Lima. No even considering the second class bus we book the double-decker luxury bus for the 24hrs long trip. We made it through another crazy border crossing, I overcame my fears again, but this time we were bloody lucky we didn't get robbed.
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