2002-12-10 - 11:07 a.m.
So, there is an easy way to get from Ecuador to Peru, and there is a hard way. We chose the hard way. I tried to explain the concept of the road less traveled to Melchior, and how I was much more likely to be found on the road more traveled, but after over a week of rest and relaxation in Vilcabamba (after a two-day trail ride on horseback, our group moved to a much more luxurious hotel, Madre Tierra - ten dollars got me my own cabin with a bathroom, and breakfast and dinner included), I think we were both up for a little adventure.
Our trip was delayed for a day when I got sick to my stomach (after weeks of anticipating it). It was fairly mild, I suppose - for about twenty four hours, I went to the bathroom about twenty four times. I also had some chills and a mild fever (or so I was told - Melchior's thermometer only reads in Celcius). Marianne and grande Esther were also sick (Marianne worse than any of us), so there was a lot of sitting around and rehydrating in close proximity to bathrooms. Mine only lasted about a day and a half, and by Tuesday morning, I felt well enough to travel, and we caught the 9 am bus from Vilcabamba to Zumba. The trip took about six hours, through mountainous unpaved roads. Zumba wasn't quite the metropolis we had hoped (you know you're in a small town when, as you walk down the one main street, a little girl starts chanting "Gringo, gringa, gringo, gringa" as we walked by). We did find a hotel room for four bucks for the both of us, and after walking around town and figuring out that there really wasn't anything to do, spent the rest of the night playing gin rummy. The next morning, we caught a Chiva (an open-sided bus) to La Balsa, where the immigration post is. The trip took about two and a half hours (also on unpaved road), but by the end, we'd made a few friends, all with advice on the best way to get where we were going. They were particularly happy when we pulled out our maps.
It turns out La Balsa is the most relaxed immigration post anywhere - one man sitting behind a desk who seemed more interested in examining the stamps in my passport from other countries than in stamping it himself. It was so relaxed that noone seemed to notice when I left my passport on the desk and walked away - I didn't notice myself until five minutes later, while trudging through the mud (past the whistles and stares of the construction workers who are building a bridge across the river) to the riverbank. I had to trudge back through the mud (and past the workers) to get it - it was sitting right where I had left it. The only way across the river is by a tiny oil-drum raft, navigated by one person (Melchior and I clung to our backpacks, hoping they wouldn't be swept overboard, as we crossed the river). And then we were in Peru! where we found another man sitting by himself at a desk, who kindly stamped our passports. We hopped onto a colectivo (a van, basically, for places where there's not enough people to warrant a bus service - if you ask what time the colectivo leaves, the answer is always the number of people required to fill the van, and never a time - consequently, as many people as possible are crammed in) that took us to San Ignacio. That's where we learned that most towns in Peru don't have a central bus station, just small offices througout town that serve different towns at different times. Luckily, our van driver knew that we were trying to get to Jaen, and dropped us off at the appropriate place. It only took an hour before the colectivo was filled to the driver's satisfaction, and in three hours, we were in Jaen, a town big enough to actually have paved streets. The next night - one colectivo and one shared taxi later - we were finally in Chachapoyas (a small town on the edge of the Andes). Tales from Chachapoyas to follow (I'm running out of time on the computer, and Melchior and I are trying to get out of town today).