I had taken an overnight bus to get from the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador to Aguas Verdes, on the Peruvian border, but the checkpoint was closed when we arrived around midnight. The bus company had not mentioned this until we got to the border and the bus driver seemed to be surprised, so maybe it wasn’t normal. With no other options, I waited in the bus and tried to sleep a bit. I groggily arose from slumber at 3am to join a crazy long line that had developed while I was sleeping. Awesome.
The line started moving slowly around 3:30am and although it seemed like much longer, it probably only took 30 minutes get to the entrance to the immigration area. Luckily the room was small, so once I’d made it to that point, there wasn’t much more of a wait. The interesting thing about this border was that both the exit from Ecuador and the entry to Peru were processed at adjacent counters, which made things pretty quick.
I was running against the clock by this point, as I’d been more captivated by Ecuador than expected. This meant I didn’t have time to travel overland all the way to Cuzco as I’d originally planned. So I’d found myself a last minute flight to Cuzco out of the tiny northwestern Peruvian city of Tumbes, just over the border from Ecuador. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It’s a pre-Incan settlement named for the native tribe of the area, the Tumpis.
With a population hovering around 100,000, it’s fairly small as far as cities go, which was why I was so surprised when the people from the bus company insisted that the place was dangerous. They tried very hard to convince me that I shouldn’t walk around by myself, but I couldn’t see anything about this town that indicated someone was going to jump out of nowhere and mug me, as people had suggested. Still, as I normally do, I kept my wits about me and had no problems.
I didn’t get far on my walk before a worried Tuk Tuk driver insisted that I ride with him, even after I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money. He decided to drive me around the town and take me on a mangrove tour to an island with a crocodile park, for free. I, of course, asked him a thousand questions about life in Peru and came to the conclusion, after he offered to pay for my flight to Cuzco, that Tuk Tuk drivers make the big bucks.
Rax, the Tuk Tuk driver had to get some maintenance done on his vehicle, so he dropped it off at the Tuk Tuk repair place. He didn’t know how long it would be before it was ready to drive again, so he said that he wanted to organise a lift to the airport for me. I declined as I’d reached my limit for sitting down by that point. The airport was only 5km away, which is a comfortable walking distance for me.
Little did I know, that this walk was the start of a whole new adventure. As happens in many places, I had taxis and Tuk Tuks stopping to offer me rides, which I politely declined. After a little while, I came across a roadside stall, run by a sweet older man, selling all kinds of homemade Peruvian treats and refreshments. He was the first person I’d met in the town who hadn’t told me it was dangerous. He was actually quite interested in how I’d ended up there.
When I told him I was walking to the airport, he said it was 10km away, which was weird, because my map was saying it was only 3. He suggested that I should get a taxi, but after I informed him that I wanted to walk a little more, he wished me luck and I went on my way.
About 2 minutes later, I was stopped by 2 people who were sitting in a stationary car in a bylane of the main road. They did their best to assure me that they were the good guys and they weren’t going to hurt me, not that any thoughts like that had even crossed my mind. It turned out that they were off duty police officers. They showed me their police IDs so that I would know they were genuine. By that point, I was getting the idea that locals think there are a lot of dishonest people in their city.
When I told them my plan to walk to the airport, they said it was 10km away, just as the man at the stall had said. I was still puzzled by that, as my map had never steered me wrong before. Maybe Peruvians have no concept of distance? They insisted that they would drive me and they simply weren’t taking no for an answer. Less than 2 minutes later, we were at a gate which serves as the entrance point to the airport compound. Yes, the airport is in a compound.
We arrived at the airport building shortly after and it was tiny and empty. The car park was empty except for a security guard walking around with a gun. A gun? I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe or scared. He asked to see my flight confirmation then told me that I needed to quickly go inside because it was dangerous outside.
There were only 2 shops inside and they were both closed when I got there. The place was almost completely empty except for some cleaning staff. It was then that I found out that the airport only has 2 flights in and out each day, then it’s closed for several hours in between. I had gotten there a tad early because I wasn’t expecting a lift, but it wasn’t long before the cafe reopened and I was able to grab some food. Unfortunately there was no WiFi, so I’d have to catch up with the real world on my stopover in Lima on the way to Cuzco.
Check out my adventures in southern Peru in my next post :o)