So as all travelers know, when you enter a country they give you an amount of days that you can stay within the country. When I entered Peru, I was awarded 183 days. That’s right one hundred and eighty-THREE. I lil winking goes a long way. Well, these 183 days have almost expired and so it was time to …cross the border, Ecuadorian style.
So I began reading my guide book and noted that the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border crossing, specifically Aguas Verdes, is considered the worst border crossing in all of South America. Grrreeeaaat. Exactly what I want to hear. But nonetheless, it had to be done. Thankfully I would not be taking on this journey solo. My lovely Latin boyfriend, Leo, would be assisting me.
So we bought our bus tickets, the cheapest and best way to travel in Peru. Eight hours in an overnight bus and we arrived to Piura, a city in the North. The buses were surprisingly comfortable, but does this mean I slept? Naturally, no. I was so jacked up on nerves, I only got about two hours of sleep. When we arrived in Piura at six in the morning, we had to find a van to take us to Tumbes, which is where we would cross into Ecuador. For those of you who know me, I am not a big fan of vans. I get a lil motion sickness. So imagine being in a van…with nine other people crammed in…driving on curvy mountain roads. I didn’t have to imagine. This was my reality. Oh did I mention we had to sit IN THE BACK. Talk about hell. At least the views were spectacular. Driving along the coastline, we could see the crystal clear waters calling out. We passed through Mancora, THE party beach town in Peru. I nearly jumped out of the van, but I remembered my mission. Four hours later we arrive in Tumbes.
As I got out of the van, I couldn’t help but notice the suffocating heat. This had to be one of the hottest places I’ve ever been to. Oh…but it’s winter. So no big deal. Only about 100 degrees. How these people live here without any form of air conditioning is an enigma to me. I suppose my pale freckly skin was not meant for this place. At the travel agency we met a young man named Roberto, who told us he knew people at the immigration stations and could take us over the border and back safely. This is a tricky situation. There are many chorros in Tumbes, or thieves, looking to steal your passport. But in order to get six more months on your passport, and in order to do it quickly, you need a guide. I trusted Leo’s instincts in this situation. He knows how to read people here…me not so much.
So we hop into Roberto’s moto-taxi, the most popular way to get around here. Forty minutes later we arrive at Peruvian Immigrations. I immediately start to get nervous because Roberto and Leo start quickly telling me all the things I can and cannot say…in Spanish. This quickly became a very overwhelming situation. After filling out some papers it was time to go to the Ecuadorian side. We park the moto taxi and walk to cross the border. After bribing some Peruvian border guards we smoothly pass in to Ecuador. But we have to change our currency. Ecuador obviously does not accept soles. Ecuador’s currency has devalued so severely the last year that they now only except American dollars. How do you exchange your money? Oh…totally normal. Just approach a man with a silver suitcase and give him soles…hoping he´ll give you REAL American dollars. This is when my mind when into protective mode and just sort of turned off. I felt like I was doing a drug deal..handing money to a man in a suit, with a silver suitcase handcuffed to his hand.
After exchanging our money, we made our way to the Ecuadorian Immigration Agency. After another bribe or two, I quickly got my two stamps saying I had entered and left the country. Now back to Peru to get my six months. So now we have to find a taxi…another tricky, potentially dangerous task. Many taxis will take you to where they have friends waiting and rob you. So we precariously approached a taxi, got in, and locked the doors. We get out at the border crossing …the guide walking in front of me, Leo behind. In the twenty seconds when it looked like I was walking alone, five men bombarded me. This was a trip that coming alone would not have been an option. We finally arrive to our final destination. Peruvian Immigration. In order to get six more months on my passport instead of three months or even fifteen days, you have to…you guessed it…give a bribe. The problem is there are cameras everywhere in this building so you have to do it underhandedly. Leo, the smooth man that he is, went to shake hands with the Immigration Agent and slipped him 20 soles. Problem fixed. Next thing I knew, I had six more months on my passport. Que alivio!
After lunch, I realized that we would not be catching a bus back to Trujillo that night. So, Leo and I headed to Zorritos. A small beach town about forty minutes away because I refused to stay any longer in Tumbes. Three hours was all I needed for a life time.
So, advice I can give to future travelers: go to border crossings with a native of that country. And always be super aware of your surroundings…and maybe do some drugs so you’re not as stressed out as I was…just kidding…or am I?