09.03.2013 - 13.03.2013 92 °F
I survived the 9 hour bus ride from Loja, Ecuador to Piura, Peru. It actually wasn't bad. After three hours, almost everyone including my own friendly seatmate got off in the last town of any size before leaving Ecuador. Eventually, there were just three gringos left to continue on and to cross the border into Peru. Typical of many travelers, we gringos did not acknowledge each other. I talked with my Ecuadoran seat mate who told me the names of villages and pointed out landmarks. The other two did not talk to their seat mates though it may have been for lack of Spanish.
The three Gringos:
There was me, of course. Then there was a Vietnam vet with peeling sunburned skin who ate for most of the trip. He had a plastic bag of sandwiches, a big bag of chips, crackers, cookies, bananas and who knows what else and chomped his way through almost all of it. When half the bus had emptied, he did not move; his seatmate remained trapped in the window seat with all her bags and boxes leaving her little room to move while the rest of us were already stretching out over two seats since there were only about 10 of us left on the bus.
The other guy had chatted me up a bit at the first stop. He reminded me of my old university days in Eugene, Oregon during the 70's. Eugene remains one of the hippy capitals of the world. He was skinny vegetarian with a full beard, lots of wild hair, and an embroidered shirt. He seemed to be traveling on an Israeli passport, but said he was living in a warehouse in London with about 50 other people and his parents were originally from Mexico. He did body painting and other art and was recently inspired by one of the women he had painted. She was a breatharian who no longer needed food.
Crossing the Border
By now, the three gringos are talking; after all, there is no one else on the bus. Mostly it's the two guys sharing recent jungle experiences (a subtle or sometimes not so subtle form of travelers' competition). The Ecuador/Peru border crossing was fast and easy. It was pretty uneventful except for having to show the Ecuadorian officials where my stamp into the country was. I had 40 new pages sewn into my passport before my trip because I was almost out of pages, but the expiration date was still quite a few years off. Yet, the official at the Quito airport somehow found a spot on a much older page to stamp. She must have had a hard day because at least a fourth of the stamp was 'off the page'. On the Peruvian side, I was simply asked how long I wanted to stay. Oh, what the heck? I randomly chose two months even though my whole time in South America will only be about four months total. (I have a ticket to Portugal for early July).
Final Stop: Piura, Peru
In Piura, the three of us went our separate ways. I was grateful to the vet for selling me enough Peruvian soles (5 soles for two dollars) to catch a taxi to a hotel I had finally found by digging pretty deep online. Piura doesn't get much tourism...in fact, most the northern portion of Peru doesn't get much attention from travelers. Piura is just a place to pass through. I had decided I would stay a few nights (partly because there was no tourism). While the bus ride hadn't been bad, it had required an early morning; it was ten degrees hotter in Piura so I was hot and tired. Several taxi drivers aggressively vied for my business. One guy was was not an official taxi, but he assured me that there was no problem because two of his sons were policeman. If he was stopped, he wouldn't need to show his papers. When I said 'no thanks' and started to walk away, he warned me that I couldn't walk around with a pack-- I would be robbed! He implored a woman nearby to back him up which, of course, she did. By then, I had a second taxi driver trying to get my business. He pointed out that he was 'official'. I didn't care for him either, but wanted to get away from the bus station.
Once I was in his cab, the official taxi driver tried to convince me to go to another hotel. The place I was going to probably wouldn't have a room and he knew lots of nicer places. He also generously offered to take me to the bank so that I could get some Peruvian soles. Ha! In his dreams! His persistence continued even after I gave him his 4 soles cab fare. He said he would wait for me as he knew they wouldn't have a room for me. I insisted he should not. After I was checked in and had dumped my bags in my room, I looked out the window to see what kind of view I had-- there he was down below in front of the hotel still hanging out waiting for me!
Actually, he was almost right. At first, the hotel desk manager told me there were no rooms, but on my insistence she took another look. She did have a room, after all but it was only for one night. Hot, tired, grumpy and hungry...one night was fine with me! I wasn't so excited about my introduction to Piura and a stroll around the Plaza de las Armas (the main square or park in most Peruvian towns/cities) was pretty much the extent of what there was to offer.
Next Stop: Chiclayo
The next day, I took a three-hour bus ride to Chiclayo. I had a taxi drop me off at the Plaza de las Armas (though here is was called the Plaza Principal) and picked up a map from the tourist office on the square so that I could get oriented. Within two blocks I found a hostal that might work. It was small (only 9 rooms) and well-located. It had internet, TV, private bath and lots of light. I asked if they could provide a fan and was brought one on a stand. Cool! I had found my place.
The best part of my stay in Chiclayo was that room! I thought the market was a few blocks away, but it turned out to be just two doors away. I rolled out of bed each day and had breakfast in the market. I ate so well, I think I gained weight during my stay. The other thing that I loved was the narrow one-way street below my second floor window. The rhythm of the street was fantastic. I wish now that I had filmed some of the action to share. I loved seeing the street go from quiet and empty in the morning to busy and full of people. A time lapse film would have been great. Activity started in the morning with the arrival of a guy that washed and parked cars. At night, it ended with a young boy who sorted through the boxes thrown out by the businesses and prepared them for someone who came by on a bicycle pulling a cart to haul them away. They were the first and last people on the street each day I was there. All day, the noise was horrendous-- constant honking, car alarms, blaring music, and the babble of the crowds. I loved it!...but, thank god for the fan and my earplugs when I needed a break.