Wednesday, 19 November 2014

0144 Macara, Ecuador to Lambeyeque, Peru

11th Nov 

Today was just another of those amazing days when you do a trip like this where you haven’t got a clue what to expect, what you have read about it turns out to just not be what you find, and you keep getting surprises all day – I think one of the most common and frequent things we say is “I don’t know quite what I expected from such and such a place (or thing or country), but it wasn’t anything like it actually is !”.

We woke up in our little hotel 3 kms from the Peruvian border, found that if you waited long enough the water really did come out of the shower hot, and then had a delightful little breakfast (included in the $15 pp hotel fee) of fresh juice, coffee, cheese (local) toasted sandwich, and then a little bowl of scrambled egg.  We left the hotel very content with its service – It really was a great little hotel in the middle of a little country town – Most unexpected while we had been driving round in ever decreasing circles looking for it last night !  We left town by driving through the middle including the main square and the church – Quite a nice little town.

Off down the road towards the border, we decided to top off the fuel tanks with $1 a gallon ($0.30 per litre) fuel while we could, even though we had only gone 100 kms since we had last filled up.  As we drove into the petrol station there was a policeman there who seemed keen to stop us getting fuel – Was this another situation where the Ecuadorians don’t like foreigners filling up on their subsidised fuel and then running over a nearby border ?  Would we be arrested for filling up when we were already swimming in 180 litres of nice cheap fuel in the car ?   Not at all – The policeman just wanted to know whether we needed petrol or diesel so he could direct us to the correct pump, and then asked which side our tank was on so we went to the correct side of the pump !!  I never did work out why it took a policeman to do this, but, hey, this is South America !!  When the petrol attendant wished us a “Buen viaje” or good journey as he shook my hand as we left, and meant it, it typified the whole South America thing – People are just so polite. 

With a whole $3.50 worth of extra fuel in our tanks, we set off to the border – And promptly drove straight through the first (unmarked) post, only to be waved back as we had to exit Ecuador (passport wise) before entering Peru.  Once we had backed up through all the cones, nearly knocking down half of them, we went in, filled out the required customs forms, after which they duly stamped our passports, I told them how much we had enjoyed their country (it is superb), and off we went across the bridge to Peru.  Once more flagged down, we were told to park our car and which shed to go to (just a bunch of huts).  We duly did this, filled out more forms, and got our passports stamped into Peru.  In the next hut the policeman went through all our papers then asked for our local Insurance, which we hadn’t yet purchased, so he directed us back 100 yards and pointed at a hut on a small hill.  Off we went, and had to climb up some steep metal stairs (almost a ladder) to a restaurant.  All closed up. Not looking too promising, I thought.   “Excuse me” I called out “can we get SOAT insurance here ?”.  “Round the back” the man replied in Spanish, and Janet and I proceeded to go round the back of this hut on a twisty and narrow mud path between pretty dilapidated old mud brick buildings so that we really wondered how this could possibly be  an insurance office.  But when we had eventually got to the back, and past the two dogs that greeted us by barking non stop, there were two men in an office.  “SOAT ?” I asked tentatively ?  “Next door” came the reply in Spanish, and when we went next door we found ourselves in the back of the same restaurant that we had started off at !!  The restaurant owner greeted us (again) and sat behind a little desk that obviously was his “insurance office”, and proceeded to inspect my passport and registration papers, ask a few clarification questions, and then hand-write out an insurance form, and charge us $8 for one month’s 3rd Party coverage.  Interestingly my Toyota Landcruiser is classed as a “Jeep” in Peru under “Type of Vehicle” !!  I handed him a $10 bill, but he only had one dollar change, so rather than go wandering around looking for change, we told him the $1 was a propina (tip) and that he should have a cerveza on us tonight – He thought this was wonderful and we left him with many handshakes and smiles and “mucho gustos”, and headed back to our policeman. 

Once back there, it was really just an hour of waiting around while he filled out all the required forms on the computer so he could give us the permit to import the car to Peru.  We filled the time by watching people crossing  the border – One car backfired SO loudly it sounded just like a gun shot and had all the police getting ready to return fire – And then laughing their heads off when they realised a beaten up old pick up truck was the culprit !   Then there was the lady chatting to the cops under the tent checking cars, with a big turkey in her arms – More of which later.

Eventually got the piece of paper allowing me to import the car, did our “Muchas gracias” dance to all and sundry, and left, stopping at the tent to make sure we really could go.  While there, we asked about the turkey which was now lying (legs trussed) under a policeman’s chair, while the lady and original owner had disappeared.   On asking, we found out that the policeman had bought the turkey off the lady for $20, and reckoned he had got a bargain.  I promptly offered him $25, and they all thought this was hilarious, and resulted in another few minutes of people saying things in Spanish and English that opposing parties couldn’t understand, but nevertheless caused everyone to double up laughing at what was obviously a huge gringo joke – Imagine us going off in our car (with the steering wheel on the wrong side ha ha ha), with a live turkey in the back ha ha ha.    I think we are going to like Peru !!   Totally zero charge to enter Peru, beating even the $1.50 photocopying charge we had paid entering Ecuador !  Or maybe we are just getting better at this ?  To be honest, I think by now the cops and customs etc know we have now already done this so many times that we know all their tricks so they don’t try them on us anymore ?  And maybe it is more likely that I will be made to eat those words at the next border crossing ??

So off we went – We just can’t believe we are actually driving down the road in Peru in our car !  We say this in each country was we enter it, but the further we get, the more we mean it !!  VERY deserty and dry here in N Peru, as it was yesterday in S Ecuador, but more so.  And LOTS of rubbish by the roadside, whereas Ecuador, while not spotless, seems to have their problem more under control.  On through the bustling little town of Tambogrande, we got some local currency sols from a bank in the bigger city of Piura, where the traffic was CRAZY.  Lots of tuk tuks and local buses have absolutely NO rules at all – Turn left from the right lane, turn right from the left lane, do a U turn where it says no U turn, and ignore all stop or give way signs and just push your way in.  Hmm – OK.  It took me about 5 minutes, but soon we were turning left from the right lane (yes, we really did !) with the best of them !!  Troopie is just big enough and has enough bars around her to make people think twice about pushing me around.  Anyway, it was a relief to get out of Piura and head down the road across the desert.  Initially there were a lot of waterways / canals carrying a LOT of water – They have a major irrigation programme going here, and there was rice and lots of mangoes growing beside the road.   Gradually the land got more and more desert-like, ending up in sand dunes and zero trees.  But the roads were good and also straight, which after the twisty mountain roads of the past few weeks was not only refreshing, but enabled us to suddenly make very good time. 

This is the land of tuk tuks, and as we have journeyed south, their design changes from country to country, and even from city to city. In N Peru they were the “stretched” design as we had seen in parts of Ecuador, but instead of the extra seats, they have a luggage tray on the back where the passengers can put their sacks of stuff from the markets.  And while you keep seeing them tipped over, it is not from accidents, but rather because it is easier to tip them over to wash the wheels than it is to bend down to wash them on the ground !!    We then got out into the real Deserto de Sechura, as it is named, and it is weird.  The houses have rough wooden fences around them like corrals, and the houses themselves seem to be mostly made of reeds or long grasses, sometimes covered in a mud daub to seal them.  Lots of goats and donkeys beside the roads, and obviously a very poor area, it looks very “African” as we head into the sandy desert, and is nothing like we expected to see in Peru !!  We stopped for lunch on a road side space (nice to find these here for the first time for several weeks of “no where to stop” roads !) and put the awning up not only to shield us from the sun, but also to dry it out after our wet stop 2 nights ago in the Podocarpus NP.  Then it was off across the increasing dunes and often treeless stretches of desert as we headed south towards Chiclayo.  We had details of a little lodge  just north of Chiclayo in a place called Lambayeque where camping might be possible, so we put the coordinates into the Garmin and followed the directions down the road.  Now remember that at the best of times on our journey the Garmin has not exactly been reliable – It tends to get lost at crucial moments and dump you in dead end roads or in quarries !!  And in Ecuador it had never even found itself – There are no maps from any supplier available for Ecuador for some reason – So it was with some misgivings that when it told us to turn off the main road down a little dirt side road between buildings, we did so.  And it then got worse – telling us to go straight when there was a T junction ahead, and pointing at a green place when all we could see was buildings and narrow lanes – There were a lot of comments like “this can’t be right” and “we really ought to turn round and get out of here” and “this doesn’t look too safe down here to me” being thrown around when, suddenly, straight ahead of us, was the Mamita Helmita Eco-Hostel we were looking for !  We were stunned.  I will take photos on our way out tomorrow, because we were too worried to take them as we came in.  Anyway, drove in the gates, and an elderly gentleman came out, and when we asked if we could camp here he said Si.  Where ?  Right here in the car park ?  Si.  Will it cost us anything ?  No.  We couldn’t believe our ears – In a lovey little hotel / resort type place, with rooms all around and a swimming pool in the middle.  When we asked about a bathroom and shower he gave us the keys to one of the rooms to use when we wanted.  And all this in the middle of an area where you wouldn’t normally think of driving into !!

So here we are all set up for the night.  A very nice couple from Uraguay came over for a chat while we were setting up – Fernando and his wife who are here on vacation – So we had a chat about our trip, and they gave us a few ideas for the best way to travel in Southern Chile and Argentina, and showed us where they live in Uraguay – As always, it is chatting to people like this that makes our journey so special.   Tomorrow we will plod on towards Lima which is still over 700 kms south.  But for tonight we have an unexpectedly great little spot to camp, and after enjoying some bangers and mash (S American style), we turned in for the night. 

Photos here

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