This evening marked the end of my long and much-loved time in Peru, and the beginning of my time in Ecuador. After making it to Tumbes — the northernmost major town in Peru — I embarked upon a 5-legged, night-long journey, from the border-crossing at Huaquillas, all the way into the heart of Ecuador. The next morning, I found my first introduction to this country being the lovely (if tourist-infested) town of Baños. It was a long and bumpy night, but I've made it.
When Einat and I reached Tumbes this evening, we managed to rendezvous with two people there. The first was Patrick, the Belgian guy with whom I wanted to travel from Máncora, but who I couldn't find when we were leaving (he managed to hop on a bus, around the same time as we got our combi). The second was Uri, a Colombian friend of Einat's (I know, it's an Israeli name — but he ain't), with whom she wanted to have a reunion in Máncora — but Uri never made it there, as he got delayed. The four of us were all happy to have stumbled upon each other, just in time to cross the border together.
There are two main ways to cross the Peru-Ecuador border: by international bus; or by combi / taxi. The former is highly recommended, as the latter involves getting your passport stamped yourself (not by the bus company staff), and crossing the actual bridge (that forms the border — about 20m to walk) on foot, which can be dangerous. It's also not recommended to travel at night. As we were very late, and as we were unable to get a ticket on an international bus this evening, we ended up breaking all the rules. We crossed in a taxi, and we did it at night. Living on the edge, eh? :P
We found ourselves a ramshackle old taxi — an old Mustang affair, looked like something out of Grease — to take us to the town of Aguas Verdes, on the Peruvian side of the border (about 1 hour's drive). Once there, we went into the Peruvian immigration office, and got our exit stamps put in our passport, and our tourist visas collected. Then, the taxi took us another 5 minutes or so, and stopped right next to the bridge over the border.
It was about 10:30pm by the time we reached the border, and the area was pretty quiet. We were warned that the border itself can be unsafe to cross on foot — due to the possible presence of robbers — but we made it across the bridge just fine — Sunday night is probably one of the safer nights to cross. Thus, we exited the town of Aguas Verdes and the country of Peru, and we entered the town of Huaquillas and the country of Ecuador.
We stepped into Huaquillas, and we found another taxi waiting to take us further, as well as money-changers who were waiting to exchange our soles for US dollars (which have been the official currency in Ecuador, since the fatally-inflated sucre was abolished in 2000). We grabbed the taxi for the 5-minute ride through town, over to the Ecuador immigration office, where we officially entered Ecuador, by getting our passports stamped, and receiving new tourist visas.
Once again, in Huaquillas we were unable to find any tickets on a bus to take us further. So, we had to share another taxi, to take us an hour further north, to the town of Machala. From there, we were virtually guaranteed to find a bus onwards to most places (e.g. to Quito), as it's a major transport hub. So, although it wasn't as cheap as we'd have liked (we bargained it down to $6 per person), we took the taxi up to Machala.
I was told that the geographical difference on either side of the border is big: completely brown and arid on the Peruvian side; and green and wet on the Ecuadorian side. Unfortunately, it was too dark to actually see the difference; however, we already started to feel it on the drive up to Machala, as it was raining the whole time. We also had a police checkpoint on the drive up, where the cops stopped our taxi and did a quick sweep of the whole vehicle, apparently checking for drugs. This was the first time I've experienced such a checkpoint: never got stopped and searched for drugs anywhere in Peru or Bolivia. Ah well, I guess that's how you know you're closer than ever to Colombia!
It was dark and drizzling with rain when we arrived at Machala, at midnight. As with Huaquillas, there really isn't much to see here (even in the daytime): it's just a place that people pass through, on their way north or south. We were very lucky with our transport connection: we literally got out of the taxi, and five seconds later, a bus headed north all the way to Quito stopped behind us, and offered to let us on. We gladly accepted.
Once on the bus, the four of us (Uri, Einat, Patrick, and myself) all had to decide exactly where we were going. Uri and Einat decided to take the bus straight up to Quito. As we were hoping to be able to go to Baños before seeing Quito — and as we were eager for a chance to be rid of Einat — Patrick and I decided to get off at the town of Ambato, from where we could get another bus to Baños. It was a six-hour ride to Ambato, and ten hours to Quito. I slept most of the way, through the dark and the rain.
The bus made it to Ambato right on time, at about 6am. Patrick and I hopped off — saying a not-at-all reluctant goodbye to Einat and Uri (poor ba$tard: he's stuck with her now!) — and then waited on the side of the highway (in the light drizzle), until we managed to flag down a bus to Baños. Ambato was yet another one to add to the collection of towns that we'd arrived at in the last 12 hours, that have nothing to see except a connection between two buses (along with Tumbes, Huaquillas, and Machala).
Only one more hour of bussing (our fifth leg in 12 hours, since leaving Máncora), and then we finally made it to Baños, at around 7:30am. Just in time to find a nice basic lodging, to crash for a few hours, and then to get a nice brunch once we'd recovered, and worked out where the hell we were. Oy: what a long, convoluted, and dreary trip it's been. Don't want to do a combi-taxi-bus marathon like that again — at least, not anytime soon.