Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mancora to Cuenca is Bananas... B-A-N-A-N-..

Sadly it was time to leave the beautiful beaches of Mancora, the warm weather of Huanchaco and the sights and tastes of Peru behind. Little did we know how much of an adventure it would be to cross the border into Ecuador and get to Cuenca.

We had bought a 9am ticket for CIFA (the most recommended bus company for the border crossing) and arrived at the departure address at 8:30. Hmm, the place was closed. Maybe I misunderstood both the instructions we had received the day before and the address that was written on the ticket. We asked the tuktuk driver to take us a few blocks farther to where we had bought our tickets.

Hmm, that place was closed too. Ok, back to the address that was on our tickets, the bus would probably just show up and pick us up along the road.

"Tacna, Tacna, Tacna, Tacna," yelled a man hanging out of a collectivo (shared van) as he drove by us.

We ignored him, as there are always collectives with men hanging out, and they're always yelling.

A few minutes later, "Tacna, Tacna, Tacna," but this time the van had pulled over next to us.

"You going to Tacna?" he asked. "Yeah, but we're taking CIFA," we said and showed him the tickets. "Yeah, CIFA, Tacna" he replied, indicating that we were to come with him. At that point we realized that while we had assumed that we should be waiting for a bus, since we had bought a bus ticket and all. Instead there would be a van, which would take us as far as Tacna (the next big city) where we would be dropped off at the CIFA terminal, and THEN take the bus. Silly us.

After we had climbed into the van, the woman that had sold us the tickets the day before showed up and we were comforted by that fact. We were off. Since we still had a few free seats, we circled around town for a while with the ticket guy hanging out the open door and yellingi "Tacna, Tacna, Tacna". And then we were really off. We made random stops along the way, dropping off people and picking up others, but in the end we made it to the CIFA terminal. Sadly, our bus wasn't leaving for another 3hours we sat and waited in the terminal.

At 12:30pm our bus was off. There was only five of us, one German girl we had met in the terminal and two locals. We drove for an hour or so and then the ticket guy said "get off the bus, get off the bus". Hmm, the bus was still moving, and we weren't at the border. The bus slowed down and the ticket guy again said "get off the bus," this time really meaning it. We got off in a little dirt town, and walked across the street to a police station looking building. This turned out to be Peruvian border control. With our passports stamped, we were back on the bus and off again.

We crossed into what I assumed was the border town and then saw a sign welcoming us to Ecuador. The place was a zoo, with tons of people everywhere, walking around, shopping and eating at restaurants. Slowly the bus moved through the crowd avoiding running people over, and occaisionally waiting for a food vendor to move umbrellas to accomodate the bus.

"Get off the bus, get off the bus," again yelled the ticket guy. We were still moving. We rounded a corner and the bus slowed down. This time we got off the bus. We had been told we'd need to switch buses at the border to go to Cuenca, Ecuador. After we got off, we were led across the street to the other bus. There we were greated by their bus staff.

"Ok, leave your bags in the bus, and now you'll need to take a cab to the border control," said a woman working with the bus company. She flagged us a cab, and we climbed in. Unfortunately the cab was more expensive than she had expected, so we promptly climbed out. She flagged us another cab urgently and after instructing him where to take us, she said, "we'll pick you up at the border control." Again we were off. We drove for about 15 minutes far down the highway and eventually reached the new border control complex.

The building was still under construction, and even the customs section hadn't been finished yet. We went through Ecuadorian border control and were done in a few minutes. Now the wait began for our bus. Fifteen minutes passed, thirty minutes passed, an hour passed, and finally our bus lumbered around the corner and a ticket guy hopped off yelling "Cuenca, Cuenca, Cuenca."

And we were off! On the way to Cuenca we learned that most of the world's bananas are produced in southern Ecuador. I've never seen so many banana trees, and didn't realize the fruit grow in bags! More about Cuenca in our next post.

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