Mar 2-6, 2014

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Approaching Peru

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Due to illegal smuggling, all Ecuadorian gas stations close the border are heavily guarded. Gas is also in short supply.

Getting into Peru is not easy. Or rather, it’s easy – but if you’re with a car, it’s going to take half a day. Driving to the border, I pass more amazing scenery. When it comes to views, Ecuador is truly one of the most beautiful. Before entering Peru, I plan on filling up my gas canister, since there’s a $5/gallon difference in price. Gas however, is surprisingly hard to find, and every little town I pass, is out of it, is waiting for it or has only one pump working (and you have to wait behind 30 cars). Another thing I notice is that they’re all guarded by heavily armed police. When I reach Huaquillas, a dirty, crowded, pot-holed misery of a town, I find a gas station serving only 97 octane at $4/gallon (gas is usually $2/gallon). I fill up since I’m now running on empty and I re-tie my gas canister to the roof rack, empty. The attendant watched me take it off, only to tell me afterwards that he’s not allowed to fill it.

I pick up two hitch-hiking girls on the side of the road outside of town, confirming something I’ve now noticed for awhile: girls traveling alone far outnumber guys. They also seem a lot younger than the guys. If you asked me when I was 18 if I wanted to go hitch-hiking through South America, I’d probably say you’re crazy and ask you to leave. Alison is from Chile and Loretta from Mexico. They met on the road while backpacking. Their backpacks are enormous. One starts making bracelets and the other falls asleep in the backseat. When we reach the border, which is a pleasing combo of both Ecuador and Peru in the same office building, it’s apparent that this is the most modern and well-kept border crossing so far.

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Aaand that’s where the beauty ends. We get the passports stamped and we’re directed to customs, where after waiting in line for 15 minutes, I’m told I need to go back out of the border crossing complex, drive to a little house 3 miles away and get my car inspected and exit permit stamped. For almost an hour I try to find this house, while being pointed in different directions by everyone and their cousin. I find it and wait in line again and get the permit stamped. No inspection. I return to customs and go back in line. The customs officer starts the paperwork only to be told by another officer that since this is a US car, I need to go see someone else. In a different room, I wait again in another line. This other officer is older and pleasant, switching between eating carne asada with a spoon and typing my info into the computer, one letter at a time.

After a logistical nightmare of a day, we finally make it to the beach as the sun sets. Right outside the village of Zorritos, I have a reservation at an “eco-hostel” for two nights. What’s an eco-hostel you might ask? It’s a partly self-sustaining place that recycles and uses found materials to build everything from your bed to the room you’re in. What it really means, is that in order to flush your toilet (which is disconnected from the main water pipe), you grab the bucket from under the sink that hopefully has some water from brushing your teeth or washing your face. The owner, from Spain, is supremely friendly and accommodating, and since there’s not a lot of people staying, she upgrades my bed to a cabin right on the beach. She has a pack of some of the ugliest dogs I’ve seen in my life. Think Resident Evil, minus the bloody eyes. Go ahead, google “Peruvian dogs”. I’ll wait.

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The girls shower (praise Jesus) and at night we walk in pitch black darkness to a little restaurant on the side of the road, where we order huge ceviches, huge fried fish and huge beers. We dance and take some of the beers to go. In less than an hour, I will turn 30. Depending on how you look at it, this can be either good or bad. We get back to the hostel and go swimming. The water is warm and the biggest moon you’ve ever seen is clinging to the sky. You can see most of the Milky Way, and I try to find some of the stars I know, but it’s a little more difficult than usual. Everything’s upside down and there are constellations I’ve never seen before. The tide is out, and in its place, the wet sand is a dark, perfectly flat and reflective mirror. I’m not even drunk, but walking on it, feels like I’m walking on stars. Now I know where Ang Lee got his inspiration. Short of a tiger, I’m basically in Life of Pi. Midnight comes and goes, and I´m still me. 30 is not that scary after all.

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After two more days, we get back on the Pan-American, and reach Trujillo, where we spend the night. In the morning, we say goodbye. Driving through the North of Peru is not that exciting. Vast, vast distances through desert landscapes, with gas stations hundreds of miles apart. A lot of road repair and a lot of big trucks. The majority of the road construction workers are women. They apply their makeup at roadblocks and tell each other jokes. Driving, driving and more driving. I reach Lima at night, and it’s raining. If you’ve never driven in Lima, imagine giving a bunch of 5 year olds car keys and waiting to see what happens. So far Peru (especially cities) has the worst drivers. Yes, worse than Panama City.

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The outskirts of Lima

I only spend a night in Lima, and leave early in the morning. Some might consider this a crime, but I’m fine with it. These big cities are really starting to lose their appeal. That, and I’m still angry at the drivers from the night before. Next stop: Nazca.

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I’ve heard and seen pictures of these lines for a long time. Tour companies will have you believe that you can only see them from a plane, but on the way into town, there’s a couple of observational towers, where for a nominal fee, you can climb up and get a pretty good view. The whole concept is pretty mind-boggling. Created between 400 and 650 AD by the Nazca, their purpose is still unkown. From Wikipedia:

“The designs are shallow lines made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguar, monkey, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 meters (660 ft) across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general they ascribe religious significance to them.”

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To be continued…

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These are the personal views and thoughts of the author, and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally LLC.