A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

God Smiles On Little Old Ladies

Having met up with my friends from New Zealand and England in Mancora for a sound bit of well-deserved rest from our travels, we decided to travel together to Ecuador. We knew it would be an adventure, but...

We started with a collectivo ride (a tiny make-shift van bearing 18 people, when there's really only room for 8) that took us to the border town of Tumbes, a forgettable cluster of roads and buildings. There we negotiated for a taxi to take us to the immigration office, but when 3 large, gold-toothed men climbed into the car with us, my warning lights went on. What we soon discovered were a series of strikes, riots, and border closings, which would have effectively kept us in Peru.

The taxi looped around through the chaos which worsened after we got our exit stamps. For those that haven't gone through this - you must get a stamp in your passport from the country you are leaving and then get an entrance stamp from the country you're entering. Usually this means getting a stamp, walking across a bridge or down a segment of road, and getting the next stamp. From Peru to Ecuador, once you got your exit stamp, you had to make your way about 15 kilometers to the entrance station in Ecuador. The problem, as I'm sure you're envisioning, is that once you are stamped out of a country, you are, effectively, no longer in the jurisdiction of that country. So, countryless, we set off across the town of Aguas Verdes, a lawless, noman's land where murderers and thieves sit on the stoops like vultures, in a taxi with shady men.

We had to access the situation rather quickly and determined that we stood a better chance in the car than making it out of there with our backpacks and our health. As we went, the taxi man (and his friends) decided to raise the price of the fare. From 5 dollars, to 10 to fifty, until suddenly, a car ahead of us, rolled out of the way and let us into the shadiest, abandoned dirt backlot in all of Latin America - glass-strewn ground, wind whistling through the yard, and somehow in a non-city of tens of thousands of people, there wasn´t a witness to be found.

Visions of the old west came to me. An unscrupulous man wandered into the lot. And then another. Another. Soon there were 6 men. One car. Two men backpackers and two women. Our bags in the trunk which they refused to open.

Things had gone from bad to worse to 'this only happens in movies'. But we were cool and knew we had to play it smart. Ester had the best grasp of Spanish, and did her best to negotiate a better price playing good cop, whilst I played the bad. I, however, wasn´t acting. I was ready to throw down. But somehow in between trying to convince her for more money and trying to placate me, our technique worked and then agreed to a smaller sum, with the understanding we would pay them more when they led us to a bus station.

With that, we took our bags and marched across the border to the next border town of Huaquillas where I immediately noticed a difference. Unlike the lawless Peruvian side, the Ecuadorian side of the border was peaceful and non-threatening. The men flanked us to a bus station where they tried to buy onward tickets for us. At this, I had taken enough and while using my intermediate Spanish to tell the men to back off, bought the tickets for the 4 of us. A heated exchange took place. (insert your own image here) But the locals were on our side. Other people in the station began berating the men for extorting money out of us while one little old lady took us outside and pointed the way to the Ecuadorian immigration.

We took the taxi as the men stomped off angrily. Immigration into Ecuador went smoothly and our bus left on time.

Ester summed up the experience quite accurately: 'If it had been a James Bond film, someone would've been shooting at us.'

Very surreal, but incredibly real at the same time. This is an example of how difficult it can be out here on the road. But also its a testament to character and to the overall good nature of people, like the little old ladies in the bus station.

So, I´m in Ecuador, safe and happy in what I must say is a really wonderful country, with friendly people, beautiful scenery, clean streets, proper roads, and some of the best beachfront I´ve ever seen.

- C


  • At 2:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Having read this blog entry now three times, envisioning the "scene", and having just returned from Europe myself, I still say...

    I love America.


  • At 12:53 PM , Anonymous Jamie said...

    I could not read fast enough! I was envisioning the worst. THANK GOD you all made it ok. Little old ladies....... or guardian angels? :)


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