Sunday, 13 January 2008


As much as we were looking forward to exploring a new country, the prospect of a 24 hour bus ride is never really appealing. The Ormeño ‘Royal Class’ bus was truly luxurious in comparison to the other buses we have had the pleasure of using in Ecuador. A double decker bus with waiter service sounds luxurious, but when the leather is so cracked that it looks like crazy paving and lunch consists of beef (think shoe sole) rice and noodles the experience begins to lose its luster. Our fellow passengers were an odd assortment of Ecuadorian and Peruvian tourists, nuns and missionaries, with a couple of fellow backpackers thrown in for good measure. We happened to be sat next to a pair of young nuns, in full habit, for the duration of the journey. Not knowing the protocol on conversing with nuns, I restrained my curiosity to strike up a conversation and constrained my self to respectful nods and smiles.

As we made our way out of Guayaquil the landscape began to change. To the east, the foothills of the Andes were a constant companion rising steeply from the flat plains to over 1500m. Between the hills and the sea was a flat expanse of fertile land, at first cultivated with rice but later giving way to huge banana and cocoa plantations. Between the hacienda plantations were small subsistence farms growing fruit for sale by the side of the roads. The houses, often built on stilts, were ramshackle, single room, boarded affairs topped with mismatching corrugated iron roofs. As we approached a river you would find men, women and children selling bundles of purple crabs tightly bound together with string.As we approached the border we passed what looked like an abandoned refugee camp. I can only assume that this either housed refugees from some form of conflict or natural disaster or was a seasonal camp for migratory workers. The temporary shelters were still standing but not a soul was to be seen.

The border itself consists of an Ecuadorian exit control and a Peruvian entry control separated by a nomansland of several kilometers. Over this short distance a noticeable transition occurs. The omnipresent political posters and daubed slogans change, shops appear selling household goods and the streets become filled with strange three wheeled taxis. Like the ubiquitous tuk-tuk in Thailand, these trikes have a seating area for two people enclosed in a dome, however, the driver does not sit on a bench seat behind a windsreen but on the motorbike itself.

As the sun went down the constant chatter of the spanish language, pirated DVDs became louder in the bus. Thankfully, the extremely loud Latin American farce was replaced by a terrible copy of a Braveheart (amazingly, Mel Gibson has an even worse accent in Spanish). As I fell to sleep, Braveheart was being replaced by a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

I awoke to an altogether different landscape outside. The lush fields had been replaced by a desolate desert landscape. The mountains were still present to the East but were now barren and rocky with sand blown into large dunes at the base. Where irrigation was possible, small fields of carrots with fine, feathery foliage blew in the wind. However, the main staple of the Peruvian coast appeared to be fishing, mining and large industrial plants. Far to the east we could see the snow capped peaks of the high Andes but that was the only sign of precipitation in an arid desert.

After 28 hours on the road we began to roll through through the suburbs of Lima. The traffic and pollution here seems worse than Quito. We had heard that Lima was a dangerous city and to be on our guard and consequently our expectations for the city were low. However, the area we are staying in Miraflores seems very sedate and the evidence of expats and diplomats is obvious in the side streets around our hostel. After a marathon bus trip we decided to indulge ourselves in the shopping mall at the waterfront. After a coffee in Starbucks and a wander round the shops, we went to see a movie in English. We are only here for a day or so, so we made the most of what was on offer.

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