“I hadn’t been mugged, detained or anything close to that. Life gives you these jolts when you are all about smelling roses and glowing about your Instagram followers, and things work out fine, when you think of the worst.”
On the plane from Lima to Piura, I was silent for the whole 50 minutes. From the word go. All kinds of thoughts went on in my head, stretching and contracting to find their own space in the interiors of my mind, as though they were independent organisms going on with their own lives. Someone played reggae music behind. At some point, a baby cried behind me. The airhostess made her rounds with drinks, but ignored my row for some reason. These events, of course, were non-aligned. However, my anxious mind tried connecting the two events, going over the threads to find a common factor.
I wasn’t anxious for nothing: the moment the plane landed, I had to find a bus from Piura to Guayaquil that would take at least 10 hours. After the bus ride, I would have to catch a flight from Guayaquil to Quito the following evening. The whole reason to combine planes and buses was to save money, of course. If I would have taken a flight from Lima to Quito, it would cost me more than twice the amount I was paying now.
I called all of the bus companies and found that CIFA had a bus that would leave from Piura at 10:00pm, barely 30 minutes after my plane landed. My best bet was to leave that night and not leave anything to chance: I wanted to have ample time to catch the flight to Quito. Before my trip, I had read and heard numerous horror stories about crossing the border, that go like this:
- The bus leaving you at the border with your luggage, while you were bragging to the border agents about how their country was the greatest in the world.
- Some guy telling you about a blockade at the border, and offering you help, only to take you to a secluded location and ‘liberating’ you of everything but your boxer shorts and passport.
- Some other passengers walking off with your luggage.
- The border is a dodgy and sketchy place.
- Never, ever cross at night and CIFA is the worst bus company out there.
Armed with stories like these, you can imagine how I wanted to have a care-free crossing experience. My heart was pounding like a sledgehammer.
Of course, I didn’t have the luxury of taking it easy. I had the following options:
- Take a bus from Piura to Tumbes at night, and find another bus for Guayaquil the following morning. Transportes El Dorado has buses running from Piura to Tumbes from 6 am to midnight, for those who are ever in a similar situation.
- Grab my luggage from the trolley before they put it on conveyer belt, ask the taxi driver to drive like the motorcycle scene from “The Matrix,” catch the CIFA bus, and at the risk of being mugged or whatever, just DO it.
- In case I can’t catch the bus for CIFA, wait to take the next bus to Guayaquil at 7:30am, and go straight to the airport after arriving. If anything goes wrong, miss the flight.
In the end, without enacting the scene from “The Matrix” and without breaking any laws, I was able to catch the bus. The bus station was nothing much to speak about: the ticket cost me $15.00. The workers tagged the luggage, and soon I occupied the last seat on the bus. Wi-Fi on the bus didn’t work.
I slept on and off. The bus made stops here and there. Every now and then, the worker would unlock the bathroom for someone, wait outside, and bang on the door after 1 minute, yelling. Apparently this was to make sure you only peed. Been there and done it? Think again.
The bus arrived at the Peruvian border post at 3:20am. Half-dizzy, I made my way to the office and joined the queue behind the other passengers. There were two serious-looking agents scanning everyone’s passports. When my turn came, I handed the agent my passport and the piece of pink paper with my date of entry stamped on it, and said buenos dias (good day). He checked out the pink paper. and counted the pages of my passport. In the end, it took a good 2 minutes to get him to stamp the exit date on my passport and hand it back to me.
After everyone was finished, we boarded the bus right outside the office and the bus rolled around for almost 3 kilometers in Aguas Verdes (the official name of the Peru-Ecuador border) to the immigration office in Ecuador.
Two or three taxis waited outside the office, waiting for their passengers as they went through immigration. The office was a bit smaller than their Peruvian counterpart, and there were two guys working at the desk. Reggae music blared from a couple of small speakers as we all made a queue. The agents soon called out people with small children to come up front, and the queue steadily moved forward.
All kinds of scenarios started to play in my head. I asked myself all of the “what-if” questions. The agent asked me if it was my first time, to which I replied, yes. He then asked me how many days I wanted in Ecuador. To my knowledge, everyone got 90 days in Ecuador, and the question kind of threw me off. I answered that I wasn’t sure, but while I was coming up with a better answer, he happily gave me 90 days.
We finally boarded the bus again and I passed out, hard. Apparently, a couple of border police stopped the bus at one more check point and the helper opened the luggage compartment. At this point, I woke up. It seemed like a routine check.
As we left from there, I closed my eyes and thought about the horror stories I had heard one more time. I hadn’t been mugged, detained or anything close to that. Life gives you these jolts when you are all about smelling roses and glowing about your Instagram followers, and things work out fine, when you think of the worst.
I made it to Guayaquil at 8:30am and caught the flight to Quito that evening. Mission accomplished.
Have you ever crossed a border overland? Please share your experience in the comments.