that's what the huge, cranberry and gold banner says
hanging over the road as we de-board the bus - and walk the no man's
land between the peruvian and ecuadorian borders. that's the way they
do it by land. no airports. first de-board and line up to see peruvian
immigration, get stamped "out", then another hundred meters
by foot (fortunately they have enough mercy to allow your bags to stay
on the bus), then over the border - usually a river - to get stamped
"in" by ecuadorian immigration.
course this usually works smoothly and without incident for most gringos,
europeans, unkempt backpackers, and the like. but when your passport
is - indonesian - well that's another story. fact is, they haven't seen
many indonesians. so when they do (ie. wati), they suddenly look up
from their assembly line, nervously pull out their lists, consult officiously
with each other, have us wait off the line while the rest of the tourists
go back to the bus, and finally - when we're lucky - do the pfft pfft
pftt - you know that very particular sound of immigration officers stamping
your passport, your entry visa, your exit visa - and the internal smile
in the pit of your belly that silently acknowledges that you've been
allowed into another foreign country. that somehow you've fooled them
again. that somehow they've missed you, your history, your eccentricity,
your anti-political-social-religious essence. they're made another bureaucratic
booboo and - somehow - allowed you in.
as i said, that's when you're lucky. peru to ecuador. ecuador to peru.
but bolivia? mea culpa! i forgot to call the bolivian embassy in LA.
didn't plan on going. so naturally, whereas i did call both the peruvian
and ecuadorian embassies and neither require a visa from indonesians,
of course bolivia does. this we find out after they've already stamped
wati's passport, we've walked over the bolivian border, and now we're
buying some snacks for the bus. when out of the shit happens blue, getting
back on the bus, the driver anxiously asks, "espanol espanol
indonesia?". "si." "lo siento, la senora necessita
una visa." "shit!" we're now supposed to wait at the
border for 2 days to get her one. shit shit. never mind, the bus driver
indicates, just get back on the bus. everything will be fine. okay..........
what about coming back to peru 3 days later? no problema. no problema,
he smiles. okay, if you say so -- on to copa cabana, bolivia ............
when we do come back across the border 3 days later with no entry visa,
si, hay una problema. we once again hold up the works while
the heffes consult with each other. how did she enter with
no visa? "lo siento, senor, no se." i didn't know we needed
a visa. lo siento mucho. they consult. we wait. they can't
let her out of the country when they didn't let her in correctly. but
the bus is waiting. they consult. ok, okay, turkeys. pfft pfft pfft.
move on. hasta la vista, bolivia. hola otre ves, peru........
and now we're finally in ecua-dor - 3 or 4 weeks later. having spent
6 weeks of our 9 in peru. much longer than i expected. but when i find
out that our ecuadorian connection, sancho ponty, from my new york clown
troupe -- and the reason we came to south america -- isn't going to
show ("mea culpa, mea culpa") -- i decide not to rush north,
but instead to take our time in peru where we can graciously stay with
servas hosts about 50% of the time.
now we've just crossed ecuadorian border and immediately started climbing.
back up into the andes of southern ecuador. for some odd reason called
the "austro". in my mind, sounding like - "austria".
and for some strange reason - after the surprising wet, green rice fields
just across the border, the more we climb, the more these wet, green,
rolling southern ecuadorian andes do look like switzerland or austria.
si. the alps of south america. or so my euro-centric mind wants
to say. but no, these are the andes of southern ecuador, full of brightly
dressed indigenous tribes, changing costumes every few new villages;
cows, not llamas here. sheep. the ubiquitous sapono andean
pipe music again. we're finally in ecua-dor!
it's about an 8 hour haul from piura, peru to loja, ecuador. we arrive
at dusk and instantly decide that instead of waiting 'til the next day
to take another mini-bus to the highly touted little town of vilcabamba,
that we'll ford the rain, and do it now. so in we go - into the local
collectivo. "an hour" to vilcabamba. they tie our
muchos "maletas" (bags, now expanded from 4 to 5)
on top of the van and cover them in plastic to protect them from the
rain. an hour and a half later, it now completely dark, our collectivo
is hurtling down the mountainside (after painfully climbing it at say,
15 mph) towards vilcabamba, the mucho tranquilo best kept secret
of southern ecuador. all the locals have gotten out, the rain has just
subsided and i'm able to pay the driver and extra dollar fifty to take
us directly to the hosteria las ruinas de quinara. translation?
i'm not exactly sure. but the place is anything but a ruin. get this.
the place promises clean room s with private baths, breakfast included,
free internet, bicycles, swimming pool, billiards, badminton, jacuzzi,
turkish baths, horse rental, tourist info ad infinitum -- all for 7
bucks a night! and if you don't like what you see, the owner drives
you back to the central plaza to find another place. needless to say,
we like it. our maletas survive, miraculously unscathed by
the jubio, and we stay several daze - mucho tranquilo.
except for the horses, of course. now what can i say? me and horses
- we just don't much get along. between my balls taking a beating in
every saddle i've every trotted, cantered, or galloped in, and every
horse i've ever ridden knowing full well who was completely in charge
(not me), let me just say, horseback riding is not one of my favorite
past times. but hell, we're in vilcabamba - and all the tourists do
the horse thing -- and young wati really wants to do the horse thing
- so who am i or my balls to say no to the horse thing. now wati and
i, she reminds me, have done this before - in java - we've "ridden"
horses up into the crater of an active volcano in mount bromo. and it
was spectacular. and we had a good time. but -- i point out to her -
those horses - walked up the crater - at about 1 mile and hour. but
young wati insists; she now has "experience", so simply put,
"let's just do it!". well......... we do, and of course me
and mi cujones take the usual beating, while young wati, after
nearly being scared out of her saddle with the aforementioned trotting,
cantering, & galloping, is by the end of our 2 hour tour, now riding
one handed, laughing and squealing like a happy child. while i, of course,
am holding on to the saddle horn with all my might, just waiting for
the glorious and interminable ordeal to end and mercifully return me
to the swimming pool and jacuzzi.
we discover that vilcabambans regularly reach the ripe old age of 100
and more. people say it's the mineral-laden water that they drink, the
diet of low fat and high fiber, the regularity of steady exercise (mountains.
mountains.), and mildness of the climate. well, we’re hip to the
diet, climate, and exercise, but our guide books tells us yet again
not to drink the water. we deliberate. nah, better not. besides, neither
of us has the time to reach a hundred -- so we push on. oh, and it's
seven bucks - each. and 22% tax. 12% to the government, 10 to the employees.
ah, c'est la vie. en enspanol....
cuenca next. reportably the most beautiful and gracious city in all
of ecuador. and we will not refute the claim. cuenca is cool. full of
old colonial churches, spanish balconies, cobblestoned streets, good
restaurants, cheap hotels, excellent tourist services, and lots to do
and see. we stay at “el monastario” bed and breakfast, right
near the central park, blue-lit main church, flower market, and san
francisco plaza. the plaza, it turns out, is a great place to find fresh
fruit juice in the morning (papaya, tomado, melon, pineapple, and the
ubiquitous sugar cane), buy eggs for 10 cents each, and to see the locals
gather in the morning to look for work. like the hardware stores in
LA and echo park. but lots more people here. one day we hear a commotion
and look down from the monastario's balcony and see - the entire crowd
up in arms about a runaway thief. about fifty men are running through
the plaza - through the streets - after the culprit. the crowd is buzzing,
rumbling - things settle for a moment, and then about ten minutes later
we hear another roar - when the 50 men have caught the bandito and are
now dragging him back through the square where, men, women and children
are kicking, hitting, and spitting on the poor wretch - who now apparently
is going to be brought to the local policia for official punishment.
reminds me of jean valjean, les miserables, some other folksy and more
primitive kind of justice.
we go to the nearby cajas national park, now completely off the gringo
tour circuit and bussing our own way through the andes. only problem
- at an unexpected 4000 meters, wati gets soroche again - altitude sickness
- and our well intended hike is limited to about a 300 hundred meter
walk - where we find a local meadow and she sleeps - while i burn in
the too close to heaven beauty of the glacial lakes and surrounding
tundra. we hitch a ride back into town where, after quickly recovering
quickly due to the reduced altitude, we are able to make it to "paseo
barranco", the three generation museo, workshop, and gallery
of rafael paredes e hijos, maker of handmade and fine torquilla
straw hats. escuche. listen to this. did you know that panama
hats aren't made in panama? that's right. they're made in ecuador. right
here in cuenca. turns out that the name came from all the ecuadorian
workers who came to panama to work on the canal - wearing all those
fine, sun-protecting sombreros. pronto. the "panama" hat.
well, thusly informed, we tour paseo barranco and gobble up
as many panamas as our budget - and maletas (now 6!!) - can
you will catch us wearing one or two - back in LA - not much more than
a week from now...
in the meantime, we bus and bump northward….
mucho maletos –
don enrique y dona wati de ecua-dor