Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
34Trip End Apr 08, 2008
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Well I've finally landed in Huanchaco, Peru, a surfer town near Trujillo. The minute I see the water, the waves, and all the people just hanging around the beach, I know that this is a perfect last stop before heading back to Lima and then home to Syracuse. But it took quite a bit of effort to get here.
We spend 4 peaceful days in Vilcabamba ...not too much to do but relax in a hammock and eat good food and take a walk once in a while...and that's really good for the moment. It's a very small town surrounded by beautiful mountains and we stay at this perfect oasis in the center of town...luxuriant vegetation, hammocks outside your door, and breakfast served right to you on your porch. All for ten dollars a day. Keep thinking we should go hiking or something... but with the expansive view and the way too comfortable surroundings, we don't exactly exert ourselves. As much as traveling is a joy and generally pretty exhilarating, it is also exhausting sometimes. There's a need to always pay attention, to be considering what seems like a million things at once. Where and what you want to eat next, picking out a hostel, what direction/town to travel to next and how to get there, what to see once you're there, is your stuff safe and accounted for, are you safe and accounted for, are your intestines going to have a break down, and on and on and on. But Vilcabamba, nestled here in the mountains, offers regeneration and peace and beauty...we enjoy all three before heading our separate ways for the next couple of months.
But now it's time to work my way back to Lima. I'm going to leave a day earlier than I really need to because there have been so many landslide-causing roadblocks - this German woman told me it took her 19 hours for the same 8 hour drive I'm going to take. - and I keep hearing that if it rains hard at night they may just cancel the buses...so I leave Vilcabamba early on the 5th to make a late night plane on the 7th.
It all starts with a long and winding road through the Andes in the south of Ecuador....very long and very winding....and extremely slow. But the bus is relatively comfortable, and the views are great....this may be the most beautiful part of Ecuador that I've seen...but we do pass lots of landslides...like part of the mountain just fell down into the road. Luckily, they're all passable...a couple we have to go off the road and a bit too close to the edge to veer around the debris...in fact I think we're driving on the fallen materials just pushed over the edge...is it stable I wonder? I think once I'm done with all this Andean close-to-the-edge driving, I'm going too take a break from mountain roads....luck has been with me and I don't want to push it.
So after weaving and winding we get to the border...Ecuador to Peru. This is the point at which we all have to jump off the bus and get our passports examined in Ecuador and then cross the river to get them stamped again in Peru. And this is also the point at which it starts to downpour...and of course, if you get off the bus you have to take your bags with you so no one filters through them. So me and my stuff get good and saturated. This border crossing has lots of very militaristic looking men at it but it's hard to get too edgy about them when this whole outpost is pretty minute...doesn't look like it gets a lot of business...and every single office has a TV blaring in it....the guards are watching TV with one eye while they stamp your documents with the other. So we all get back on the bus for another 3 or 4 hours to Piura, Peru. The sun sets dramatically over the ocean beyond the mountains....and the earth levels off a bit, getting more and more flat as we proceed. It's kind of dark but I can smell some of the towns we're passing through...I don't know if its animal or human waste but it's quite stenchy out there. This is definitely not the pretty part of the ride.
We roll into Piura, a kind of hell hole of a town, around 9:30 at night...and aim for the Hotel Arizona, right amongst the bus terminals. Well that should tell you right there what kind of quality hotel the Arizona is....or we could just call it the 'rizona since the signs lights are not quite working...no A. The cockroaches in the bathroom scatter with the light, it's way too hot in the room and there's only one 50s style fan, and to top it off there's a slight smell of urine so you've got to sleep with the BR door closed. But it's close to the bus station and its way too late to go scouting around town with my possessions looking for another hostel - a fight breaks out on the street below while we are signing in... So I share a room with Mike and Kirsten, these folks from New Zealand that I met on the Galapagos. We hide our valuables (money and passports), and go in search of food....walking for blocks assures us that the only offerings are at the gas station so we share some cheese and crackers and yogurt and go in search of a bus for tomorrow. I find that the only buses available leave the next night...I'm a little panicked...I don't want to spend the whole next day in this nowhere town at a nasty hotel. So I improvise and with a few connections, I figure how to get somewhere else the next day. Leaving at 7AM...none too soon for me.
A hot, sleepless, noisy night. Things are biting my feet...I have to cover myself in the pure poly sheets in the hot humid night to keep the bugs from biting me. I'm sweating and sticking to the bed and being woken up every once in a while because the walls are virtually nonexistent. No doubt this is the nastiest place I've stayed on this trip. But the alarm rings and I'm out of there by 630 AM.
Waiting at the bus terminal I gently remove a tiny speck of crawling insect from my arm....and scratching the multiple bites on my right hip, I wonder if there were bugs with me in my bed last night. But I brush the speck away and focus on my luggage...can't let my attentiveness diminish even though lacking sleep...I've come too far to lose anything at this point.
Take a 4 hour ride to Chiclayo...not bad...except for the woman next to me who apparently doesn't realize that her right hip is sitting on my thigh. And her elbow keeps poking my side...I try to get smaller but she's a spatial hog...no matter how much I recede, the space between us continues to vanish... Well she seems nice enough and she smells good and it's not too hot in the bus so I grab some extra foot room and it's all ok for now. The land becomes more arid...flat and sandy.... Another hour layover and then it's off to Trujillo, where sand and beach and a fish dinner awaits me. So I squeeze into my next bus...a nice older gentleman is sharing my row.... But this bus barely has room for my legs and the temp is climbing outside, and I don't have a window to open....panic time!! And then to make matters worse, the oblivious young guy in front of me suddenly and maximally reclines his seat so that his head is about in my lap and my knees are digging into his kidneys. And then the tug of war begins....that quiet battle to push the seat back up a notch by digging my knees into the back and wedging the seat more upright. I mean I really have no choice because there literally isn't any room for my knees here. So I'm trying to not totally panic...as the temp continues to rise and I'm squished for hours. But my break comes 2 ½ hours into the ride when the guy in front gets off at a stop...I leap out of the bus and implore the driver to let me change my assigned seat....I point to my knees, try to look pitiful and yet demanding at the same time.... and he generously concedes...I am truly appreciative.
Until a new row mate appears...with about 5 members of her family. Ok there are seats for everyone...that is, almost everyone. This lady immediately parks her butt on my hip kind of like the other one, but this time there's a reason....it's so her pubescent 12 year old daughter can sit on her lap...and needless to say, on mine as well. Seems to be a thing around here. No kid is too old for the lap. I'm quite tolerant of young children...I actually enjoy sharing my space with them....but it's got to stop by about age 4 I'd say....and certainly by age 12. I even saw a teenage boy about 15 sitting on his mom or grandmas? lap...and she didn't seem to mind a bit. Well I do mind but I respond by opening my window wide so I don't melt down and I give in to the sweat. But it is a relief to have them off the bus before me. The last 20km I'm gloriously alone in my double seat....cool and comfortable. Aside from the guy in front of me who has decided to clip his nails for what seems like an eternity and the perpetually unanswered cell phone that chirps at increasingly louder levels, demanding attention, the ride is peaceful and spacious. And once in Trujillo I encountered yet another delightful taxi driver who shares conversation with me all the way to the beach. So that's it...I'm here by the water...tired, relaxed...eating great fish...itching a little bit...a lot really...and the hostel here is perfect... Tomorrow I head to Lima...the last leg...but tonight I listen to the strains of Peruvian music filtering in my window and feeling the full circle of my travels. Back to the first day in Lima 3 months ago...the music and the smells of the street drifting in my window then as well...so much more I'd like to see in this country , on this continent....someday perhaps....
One last thrill before I leave Peru....I wake up early at the hostel...somebody seems to have to hammer something at 6 AM...but that's good because I only have until about 10:30 before I have to get to the bus terminal. So I walk down by the water to find that the fishermen own the beach now...they're coming back with their catch ...they use these straw boats here (like in Titicaca), except the back half is cut off and they surf on them rather than sit in them....perfectly designed for what they do, a pre-sea kayak design. So as I'm walking, I see all these flashy silver steaks on the waters edge and looking closer, realize it's tons of small fish that got washed up on shore....well the fishermen start scooping them up, one by one, and throwing them back...and they yell to me and anyone else within range, to help. So that's exactly what I do...spend the next 45 minutes or so saving the lives of these teeny little fish. Seems almost futile except that these people rely on their catch for their livelihood so keeping it stocked is critical. And when I finally tear myself away, I feel compelled to stop every time I see those silver streaks and throw them back.
Eventually though I have to get my stuff out of the hostel and head in to town. And I'm lucky to get a bus with lots of room, a/c, a decent movie (although in Spanish), and these two middle-aged women who feel some responsibility in keeping track of me...which ends up being really helpful when we finally get to Lima and I have to get a cab to the airport. They screen the drivers in some rapid Spanish and set me up with a trustworthy one for the ride. So here I am now, safe and sound, just waiting for my plane. Pretty tired but on my way home...