Over the last few days, a combination of drunken weekend crooners, raging window-side roosters, and other environmental and social factors have collectively conspired to rob us of a good night’s sleep. These elements, coupled with extended hours of bus travel, have left us a little bit low on energy for blog postings, but we shall do our best to bring things up to date.
Lex is compiling notes for an end of the trip awards post, but I believe we may have already found an early winner for “Most Insane Border Crossing.” Last Thursday, we purchased tickets with the CIFA bus company for quite the combination of rides from Mancora, Peru, to Machala, Ecuador. A normal border crossing has some sort of demarkated zone between exit and entry zones. Not so between Aguas Verdes and Huaquillas, where a boundless sprawl of merchants flow in every direction.
After clearing the Peruvian migration office, we were unceremoniously dumped by the side of a highway, a few kilometers up the road, in front of the Ecuadorian migration office. Although this was a bit disquieting, we had it better than a few girls on our bus who were left back on the Peruvian side and told to leave their bags in the bus and take a taxi to the Ecuadorian side. We cannot figure out what separated us from them, but I do know that with luggage in hand, we considered ourselves the lucky ones!
Eventually, a runner for CIFA appeared in the parking lot and told us to carry our bags up the highway, where our connecting bus to Machala would meet us. Of course, there were no seats left, so we stood in the aisle for the final 90 minutes to Machala. Or at least I stood, as a kind gentleman offered Lex his seat.
The coastal planes in Southeast Ecuador outside Machala are completely bananas. Literally. Just as you might see corn and soy for miles on end in certain parts of the U.S., here it was all bananas. One after the other, in large monoculture plots owned by companies such as Del Monte and Dole. Not a pretty sight, considering the amount of chemical control it takes to produce bananas on this scale.
Machala is the capital city of the Oro province and seems to be flush with commerce from the bananas, shrimp farms, and mining operations in the area. It also seems to be flush with crime, as the city was under perpetual watch from a privatized confederation of armed guards. Even the Chinese restaurant we ate dinner at was protected by a pretty serious looking pistol-toting watchman. We left as early as possible in the morning, taking a collective van service to Zaruma, on the advice that it was comfortably air conditioned, traveled faster, and of course—least likely to be robbed!
Traveling east into the mountains and away from the battle scarred psyche of the Banana Capital, we began to see some of the Ecuador we had heard about. As you travel through the mountains here, every valley has a separate climate zone and all of them are breathtakingly beautiful. We spent a day in the quaint mountain town of Zaruma, roaming the narrow streets, admiring the views beyond, and enjoying the company of the very nice and easygoing townfolk.
From Zaruma, we headed deeper into the Andes, commiting yet another unwitting stayover in the provincial capital city of Loja. We had hoped to meet with a few environmental organizations there, but had overlooked the fact that it was Saturday and that nobody would be around to help guide our foray into the Parque Nacional Podocarpus. Loja is not as sketchy as Machala, but also not worth lingering in.
The following day, we took off for the lower sub-tropical portion of Podocarpus, located just outside the small town of Zamora. We enjoyed a fine day hiking in the ultra-lush rainforest. We didn’t manage to take any photos that capture the look and feel of Podocarpus, but I will say that it had a similar feel to sub-tropical zones in the Bolivian Yungas and was quite beautiful.
Today, thanks to what I believe may be the loudest, angriest rooster this side of the ecuator, we awoke a bit too tired to continue our bus travels. Instead, we took a day of rest to conduct research on volunteer and study opportunities and to write various contacts in Ecuador we had received from others earlier in our trip. More on that in the week to come.
Tomorrow, we head back west to travel north through the Andes to the colonial town of Cuenca and then into the famous “Quiltoa Loop” where we will tour the highlands following a route mapped out for us by a fellow traveler way back in Chile. Tonight, we rest early so as to beat the rooster to wake!
Those flowers seem from another planet! Unbelievably beautiful. Hope you lose that rooster,