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Sun May 18 2014: Deepest, Darkest Peru

We're leaving Ecuador!

Heading towards the Peruvian border, we've got a choice to make: do we take the coastal road south or continue inland twisting our way through the Andes Mountains. On the one hand we love curvy, mountain roads, but the constant rains have really dampened (no pun intended) our enjoyment of leaning into corners due to dubious levels of grip. So we decide to head back to the coast, crossing into Peru and traveling along the the western shoreline of South America.

Taking the corners con gusto! But it looks wet up ahead...

Need I mention it? Rain. And helicopters!

Saying sayonara to the Andes for awhile

Stop for lunch, pose for a picture

As we reach the coast, the weather is instantly warmer and drier. It's hard to believe a couple hundred of kms makes such a difference. The lush green hills fall away and we're greeted by sagebrush covering the flat plains. We are headed towards the border town of Huaquillas, staying overnight to attempt the border crossing while we're still fresh in the morning. We've read that it's a good idea to fill our gas tanks up with cheap Ecaudorean gas because the availability and quality of the petrol on the other side of the border is a bit suspect. Not to mention expensive!

Neda falls ill!

Our plans to cross the next day are delayed. Neda has developed a very high temperature and bad diarrhea. We get very worried when the symptoms don't abate overnight so we call in a doctor. Poor Neda has to do all the communicating, and I feel somewhat better when I can do a prescription run to fetch the various pills and potions to make her well again. I have a feeling that her flu was brought on by our killer-hike in Vilcabamba. We're not used to that level of activity and I think that the exertion lowered our immune systems. I always seem get sick right after I just start working out after a period of inactivity.

I like blaming exercise and hiking for everything. It's just not good for you.

Our first time in Peru! For today...

The next morning, Neda is feeling up for an attempt at the border, so we prepare ourselves for the usual dance. Armed with dozens of photocopies of all of our documents, we pass an imaginary line on the ground and then immediately we're plunged into a chaos that's very un-Ecuadorean. This is the Latin America that we had last seen in Colombia and Central America - the roads crumbling beneath our tires and being surrounded by countless street vendors calling out to us and every tourist that walked by. Yes, walked by. We seemed to be the only vehicles driving through the border. Strange.

We rode around the Peruvian side of Huaquillas for quite a while trying to find the twin offices of Migracion and Aduana to stamp us and our motorcycles into the country. Nothing. No signs or any indications that we should be stopping. We rode further down the PanAm past the city limits. Still nothing. So we doubled back the way we had come from and asked a guy wearing an official-looking uniform where all the border offices were.

Our police escort through Peruvian Huaquillas

The official talked to Neda and told us this was not the official border crossing. Which was weird because this *was* the Pan American highway. I found out much later the problem was that we had actually stopped in Huaquillas. Most travelers bypass the city and cross the border at the official crossing, which was a few kms before the city.

We asked for directions to the real crossing but the official told us that it was unsafe for us to be riding through Peruvian Huaquillas alone. Huh?!? We had been roaming around for half an hour all over the area looking for the offices! It didn't seem unsafe at all. He told that he would radio for us a police escort to the real border. Alarm bells started going off in our heads. Why do we need a police escort to the border? We had never had one before? We tried to gauge how official this guy was, was he setting us up for an ambush somewhere?

In the end, our trusting natures prevailed, and we waited patiently until a couple of policemen riding two-up on a small 150cc motorcycle pulled up to us, talked to the official and then motioned for us to follow them. Seemed legit. *shrug* We followed them.

Our circuitous route to Peru, back to Ecuador and then to Peru again

We rode through Huaquillas on the Peruvian side again. Still didn't seem very dangerous... I watched my GPS as the policemen took us south to the city bypass and then back into Ecuador at the border crossing. We thanked them as they waved goodbye to us. This was probably a very common problem.

Looking back, I never wondered why they led us all the way around until I drew the map above. Then I realized: we stopped inside of Peru to ask for directions and our escort was Peruvian police officers. They weren't allowed to be in Ecuador! So they had to take us all the way around the Peruvian side down to the highway, and then to the border before turning back.

If we had stopped a few hundred meters away in Ecuador and asked an Ecuadorean official, it would have been much simpler!

Our second time in Peru... today.

Because we were entering Peru from the wrong side (from Peru), there was a huge mixup in getting our bikes stamped out of Ecuador. The Aduana was actually several kms past the border on the Ecuadorean side. It took us another hour to find this out, and we actually rode across the border back and forth several times looking for the office. This border crossing was taking forever!

I thought about all the cheap Ecuadorean gas we were burning up and felt a bit sad. Neda thought about the small breakfast she had over 6 hours ago and she felt a lot hangry. All the scary Peruvian gangsters in Huaquillas pale in comparison to Neda running on low blood sugar...

Riding in Peru! Not so deep and dark...?

The actual border process was quite simple once we figured out where all the buildings were. We fed the Dragon (Hungry Neda) and then all at once everything seemed well with the world. We were riding in a new country, the weather was nice and sunny and over the intercom we made plans to research all the things we wanted to see and do in Peru.

Personally, I only know two things about Peru: Paddington Bear (I used to watch this all the time when I was a kid) and Machu Picchu. I did a search on my GPS for "Deepest, Darkest Peru".

Our first stop in Peru

We decided to find a nice beach-side town to reward ourselves for making into another country. Because that doesn't happen too often when you travel as slowly as we do! The northern coast of Peru is lined with many such towns. The largest and most popular one is Mancora, less than 2 hours south of the border. It's lined with plenty of stores, surf-shops, restaurants and hostels and has a great hippy vibe to it. We find a cheap, yet nice place just outside the city and settle in for a couple of days.

Nice place to relax

Sharing the beach in Mancora with a line of fishing boats in the distance

Surfing is very popular along the northern shores of Peru

Typical tourist fare

Panama Hats made in Ecuador, sold in Peru

Sunset on horseback

Mancora was a great place to hang out and chill. Our first few days in Peru have been quite relaxing, although it was quite clear how much more clean and affluent Ecuador is after crossing the border. And how cheap the gas was as well!

Back on our way to find Deepest, Darkest Peru!

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