Tuesday January 27th
We are on the plane from Panama to Ecuador and I am feeling some regret for skipping Columbia. There are several reasons why we decided not to go but I canÕt stop thinking that we didnÕt end up going primarily due to nervousness about our ÒsafetyÓ because of all of the bad press that Columbia gets. I donÕt like thinking that I backed down due to nerves and succumbed to fears imposed by propaganda and that that was a determining factor in the decision. To make myself feel better I have some excuses. We really didnÕt get affirming information from any one about how it is to travel there. Everyone we spoke to said either ÒDonÕt go your crazyÓ or ÒIt shouldnÕt be a problemÓ but no one stating this had had any recent experience traveling there. We didnÕt get any ÒYea I was there a week ago itÕs fineÓ or ÒI was there last month and it was sketchy, we almost got killed.Ó The best thing we had to go on was a story from a Panamanian man about a German guy he met whoÕs girlfriend had been taken hostage, and he was waiting to pay a third ransom to have her returned. Other than that no other first or even second hand accounts about recent travel there other than that the TV was running a story about some British and us travelers that had been taken hostage and just been released. This combined with the fact that we have a long way to go and a short amount of time to do it made us decide to skip it. If we did go through Columbia we would have had to drive straight through any way to meet ZackÕs friend Ziad who is flying in to Lima, in 14 days to travel with us to Santiago. There are lots of excuses why we didnÕt go but I cant help but think we should have gone as I look down from thirty thousand feet at the snow capped mountains meeting the dense jungle and sit comfortably sipping some Juan Valdez Columbian Supremo.
Wednesday January 28th
Flying into Quito was the most spectacular landing I have ever experienced from an airplane. We came swooping down through the clouds under the surrounding mountain peaks and into the city center. First we were looking at these snow-covered peaks from above and then from the side and then from below as
we descended between them. Underneath were little mountain farms nestled into the valleys with men herding sheep and women hanging out laundry, and then quite quickly as the terrain doesnÕt allow for much urban sprawl the city was below us. There were people getting on and off busses cars circling turnpikes, street vendors selling fruits and vegetables, stray dogs crossing the road and the hustle bustle of city life on the streets like a little model train diorama. It is exciting to be here. I am glad to have moved on from Central America to a new frontier.
We are riding on this bus to Esmereldas it is puking diesel and the smells coming in off the street are a combination of raw sewage and rotting vegetables. There is a lot of dust and women in excruciatingly tight clothing of all shapes and sizes. Men are lounging in the streets outside praising their bellies with their shirts pulled up over the top exposing their material mound of undigested red meat. Every five minutes the bus stops and a train of people selling sodas, snacks, baked potatoes fried chicken, empanadas and lunch plate combos parade up and down the isle until the bus stops they get off and a new group gets on pedaling the same. ÒOoof!Ó there went a whoosh of cologne. Earlier when we stopped in San Pedro the fellow behind me smoked a cigarette for us all to enjoy. Bless his heart. There is laundry on the roofs. Dogs and ducks are roaming the streets. One of the snack sellers is now sharing my seat waiting to get off at the next stop so he can undoubtedly ride the next bus back in the opposite direction to sell more of whatever it is that he has. Now he looks like he feels a little awkward sitting with a bunch that just turned down his sales pitch. I have a headache and the wind is blowing my shirt and that feels good. Oh there is the cologne smell again. We are approaching Esmereldas it is suppose to be a hole. I hope the car is there I hope our stuff is still inside.
Friday January 29th
Trapped in Esmereldas. The city is everything it is cracked up to be. A seedy port town with the appeal of an over ripe banana peel. We have checked into the Del Mar hotel on the beach next to the docks where the car is being held captive and begun the negotiations for its release. The vehicle came in on the Seaboard Pioneer as planned yesterday and has yet to be unloaded. We have contacted Seaboard MarineÕs receiving agent Julio Zanders Nav G. on this end to obtain the vehicle and they have jumped right to the task. Johnny Cabrera a stout cleanly dressed well mannered Ecuadorian man dawning a red Suzuki coupe with fat rims and tinted windows has been placed on the task and has escorted us to the Aduana to take care of business.
Ecuador is proving to be the hardest country so far to enter with a vehicle. The aduana has given us three options. First Use a Carnet De Passage, (pronounced Pa-sa-Hay) this is essentially a passport for the car issued by the country of origin. Before leaving on the trip we researched the need for a carnet and all the information we could find said that it was not necessary and donÕt bother. In the US carnets donÕt exist and we would have to have gotten one in Canada from AAA before we left. Our second option is to pay a guarantee of$4000 USD, which would supposedly be reimbursed, to assure the car will leave the country. Third option to have the police escorts us to the border of Peru. Having a police escort is not and option due to the fact that we cane to Ecuador to surf and we wouldnÕt be able to do that if the police was escorting us. The 4000-dollar option seems a bit ridiculous but they claim we will get the money back when we leave the country, although I donÕt want to count on that. And the Carnet option is no longer an option seeing as we arenÕt in Canada any more. Never the less we have to do something soon. The coffee here is terrible. The day at the aduana starts at 10am and the people there donÕt seem to do anything but stand around with both hands in both pockets play games on their cell phones, between 12 and 3pm they leave for lunch and then come back to close up at 4:30. We spend most of our days waiting and nothing really happens. So now it looks as though we will be spending the weekend in Esmereldas any way as the aduana closes at noon on Fridays and no one seems be to concerned with getting our car out in a hurry anyhow.
Being in Esmereldas isnÕt so bad. We found a pretty good pizza place owned by a local guy who surfs named Marco Polo and we have two new friends who we met on the streets of Esmereldas, Carlos and Watusa who I have dawned ÒThe ChavlitosÓ. Even though there in there early twenties they seem like such kids. Carlos rode up to us on the street the other night on his BMX bike and immediately engaged us. They are fanatical surfers, surf, surf, and surf it is all about the surf. They have the absolutely most beat equipment I have seen. Boards repaired with boat glass missing fins and so saturated with water that it is amazing they float. This doesnÕt slow them down a bit they have started a surf club with the other local surfers in town. They have a clubhouse they took us to. It was actually a pretty nice place. It was somewhat under construction but they had a TV to watch their surf videos exercise equipment and lots of photos and maps up on the walls. They are very motivated and excited to have guests to entertain they might even take us surfing this weekend and loan us a board
Sunday February 1
Today was an exercise in poor planning that created a small adventure, and thatÕs what we are looking for, right. Who wants to hear a story about a perfectly planned day that went absolutely smoothly? Nobody. ThatÕs why I have come to the conclusion that, good adventure starts with poor planning. I mean can you really count on random experiences alone causing good adventure? No. The probability is way to low it is essential to proactively plan poorly to truly count on good adventure. The dayÕs events have inspired this guide information to poor planning to good adventure.
2) DonÕt bring any food or water with you. (This will force you to experience the local cuisine and will also promote poor decision making caused by extreme hunger or thrust which could lead to hours of upset stomach time and precious moments spent hugging toilets in bathrooms you probably wouldnÕt normally set foot in or behind trees that you might otherwise miss.)
3) Never bring the proper clothing or footwear. (A story has to have pain and suffering. If your warm and dry this is boring soaking wet with bloody stumps on your ankles and covered in mud is much more interesting in fact if you can actually get mud or dust or sticks and crud in your teeth this helps for especially interesting photos during the slide show in your warm living room after a nice meal and a nice bottle of wine.
4) If you can at all costs donÕt pay attention to where you came from or how you got to where you are. If done correctly this could lead to hours of wandering aimlessly, waiting around back tracking to see things again you might have missed and interesting conversations with the locals about the area.
5) Finally donÕt pay any attention to current weather or other situation dependent conditions. This could be the single most important key to a successful epic. Terrible conditions imposed on the unsuspecting always leads to misfortunate adventure.
Done correctly you too could find yourself on an excellent adventure.
Tuesday January 3
I am sitting in this hotel room a week to the day after we entered Ecuador and this will be our seventh night here. Zack is a sleep the sliding glass door is open to the porch on our third story room and the thumping sounds of bass and other sound affects are filtering in from the Disco Tec across the street. I am sticky with sweat and some little bugs that I canÕt see are eating me to pieces. I wasnÕt created for the tropics. It has rained the past two nights and hearing the songbirds in the morning has been a refreshing change from the constant noise that exists through Latin America. Looks like we might finally get out of here tomorrow.
Thursday January 5
Free at last. We got the car out of the dock today and are headed down the road. The Chavlitos have joined us and we have made our way down the coast to the find surf although there is no swell right now. The Jungle here is spectacular. There are so many different kind of birds and plants I am on sensory over load trying to take it all in. The jungle is thick it is crawling up and over the landscape totally covering everything. It has been raining hard and the bugs are out in force. They seem to love my sweet gringo blood.
Saturday January 7
No waves and south we go into Peru with The Chavlitos in toe. They have been quietly occupying the back of the truck and getting directions when we get lost. TheyÕre very good at it they, especially Carlito call out with out hesitation or discrimination whenever there is doubt. Still no sign of surf. The banana capitol of the world is almost behind us. The preferred mode of transport in southern Ecuador is the pick up with custom wooden stake bed. I have yet to see one of these trucks without one of these hand made creations. Today the police stole my Machete. We were stopped at a routine checkpoint and the officer searching the truck made off with it. He actually ran off down the street with it and jumped in his buddiesÕ truck as they sped off. Say good-bye to the jungle we are heading into the desert fast and it looks like for some time. Ahhhh no bugs.
Flying into Quito is probably the most amazing entry to a city I have ever made in a plane. Quito sits at almost 3000 meters above sea level, and watching the city unfold in between snow-covered peaks of volcanoes is mind-blowing. The city is huge, and spreads out for miles and miles, starting with urban sprawl that slowly spreads into huge buildings. Scott attempts to film this amazing decent into civilization, but a grumpy steward puts an end to his fun, therefore meaning our fun, because if you ever want to see this, you are going to have to fly to Ecuador yourself, which isnÕt such a bad idea anywaysÉ Back stepping in time, we skipped Colombia. Well, actually we landed in the airport, and had a 3-hour layover, so I guess we set foot there, but I am feeling like we skipped something pretty important to South America, and American culture on a whole. The security is crazy though in the Bogot‡ airport, as our bags are searched and our bodies are patted down from head to foot, just to enter the international waiting room. I mumble something to Scott about the fact that I would not want to make the military officials who are doing the searching angry, which seems that it might lead to something a little more intense than having your body patted down. In my backpack they find a pair of pliers that are for removing hooks from the mouths of fish. I am asked the purpose of this potential weapon of mass destruction, and it is confiscated.
So yeah, sitting in the airport in Bogot‡, I am having regrets about visiting Colombia. I had just received three emails from different friends, two of whom are Columbian, and one who lives there, who all pushed for us to visit. Ironically, the two young men who are working in the hotel we stay at are also Columbian, and tell us that we are missing out by not visiting, but then again I have to wonder why they are in Ecuador.
As I said, Quito, Ecuador sits at almost 9000 feet, and the air is thin. We are just a few hundred miles north of the equator, and although the altitude is intense, the temperature is mild, and the sun is extremely strong. Both Scott and myself find Quito to be an interesting place, and unfortunately due to our beloved car, which is hopefully waiting for us in customs in Esmereldas, we have to leave Quito rather quickly to go and pick it up. Before leaving we have a nice meal at a breakfast place where we drink Nescafe and eat eggs and toast. When it comes time to pay, I pull out some cash, as well as random change to pay the small amount. Ecuador also uses US dollars now, but like Panama, it uses its own coin system. I pay the woman the $2.75, but fail to look at the coins I use for the 75 cents. As I turn to walk out, she stops me and bluntly explains that the 25-cent piece I have given here has now value here. I look at the coin and begin to feel rather stupid, realizing I have given her a coin from Panama. The mistake is pardoned, but Scott and I become determined to try and unload our sencillo, or small change from Panama on some unexpecting Ecuadorian. Good luck!! Even the pennies are scrutinized, and what becomes a game always ends with, ÒHey!! Estas monedas no tienen valor aqui!Ó (These coins have no value here!) Its kind of fun though, trying to pawn of strange pennies on unsuspecting store clerks.
Up early Monday morning, we head to the bus station where we pick up a ÒBus DirectoÓ to Esmereldas, which we have been told will take about 5 hours. 8 hours and countless stops later, we arrive, proving that in Ecuador ÒDirectoÓ must mean something else. We get to Esmereldas at 5:30, exhausted and too late to get to customs to pick up our car. We are guessing we will be here in Esmereldas for a couple of days, but hoping we will be on our way tomorrow. By chance in the street I spot a kid with a surfboard, and stop him to chat. Turns out there is quite a crew of kids here who surf, and there are waves as well. He explains that the waves were fun today, and encourages us to join them in the morning for a surf at the local beachbreak. I explain to him that my boards are stuck in the car, which ironically hasnÕt arrived yet, and we have work to doÉ
Luckily for us, the shipping agent who has been so unfortunate to receive our car is a great guy who is more than patient and more than helpful in our pitiful situation. Way way back we had read some information regarding a document called the Carnet De Pasage, or Libreta de Paso, which is basically a visa for your automobile that allows you to roam freely from country to country in South America. We had been told by two different people that it was necessary, yet the one case that told us that it wasnÕt convinced us, as the fee is quite steep for this document, so we shined it. Fast forward to sitting in customs wondering why in the hell we didnÕt shell out the 400 dollars for this precious piece of paper. The customs officials in the Aduana in Esmereldas are dumbfounded by our situation. They canÕt seem to figure out what we need to do to get the car out of customs without this document that is soooo very important. We go to countless offices and talk to person after person explaining our situation, yet there seems to be no solution, other than put down a deposit of 120% of the value of the vehicle. Two days have passed now, and we are still in the same state of affairs we were in when we arrived. Everyone at the Aduana doesnÕt like to work it seems, because the person who we need to talk to can never be found, and everyone seems to prefer to sit around and drink coffee and talk smack rather than do anything productive. Not to say these people are bad, because although they are quite inadequate at what they do, they are extremely nice, and quite apologetic for our situation, yet seem to have no solution.
Finally, we decide after four days of running in circles that we will put down the deposit on the car. We are told they want 4,000 dollars in cash. HUH!! Are you joking? This has us once again scrambling to somehow acquire this mysterious Carnet. Finally, after Julio our agent in Esmereldas does some talking to the Aduaneros who have decided on this absurd amount of money, we have a reduced price of 1,300 dollars. Although this is a lot of money, itÕs more reasonable, and we agree to put it down just to get us the hell out of Esmereldas. With the help of Julio, who has agreed to write the Aduana a check, we are allowed to free our car from customs. I intern have to write Julio a personal check, and hope he is as honest as he seems, and doesnÕt cash it. After almost 8 days of battle in Esmereldas, our car is free, and we are granted 30 days to circulate in the country. We had scheduled two weeks for Ecuador, and now 9 of those days are gone, and we are in a bit of a rush to meet my friend Ziad who is scheduled to meet us in Lima, some odd couple of thousand miles away in less than a week. Oh well! We have to scratch our plans to see the volcanoes, but still have some time to explore the coast, which is fine by me.
Although our time spent in the Aduana in Esmereldas as well as the office of Julio Zanders adds up to nothing but frustration, we are blessed with the luck to have met some really cool young surfers who live in the town. They have a surf club, and are really interested in shaping their own boards. The equipment they have is lacking to say the least, as the best surfer of the bunch is riding a tiny little board that weighs twice what it should. These guys are so cool to us, as they lend us boards to ride, take us around the town, and show us a really good left pointbreak two hours south. One night while eating dinner in the restaurant of one of the local surfers, I joke with our new friend Carlos and say that he and his friend Watusa should come with us to Peru. He thinks about it for a second, and decides that this would be a good thing. He tells his friend Watusa, and now four are heading to Peru.
These guys are classic surf bums, proving to me that surfers, regardless of age, race, sex, what ever, think alike. Both are 21 or 22 years old, neither of them have a real job, just something to do when the waves are no good. The few days before we leave, both scrap to make a little money to fund their Peruvian vacation, and finally its time to leave. Amazingly, we have the car, which is packed up, the Ecuadorian groms are stuffed in the back, and we are ready to leave Esmereldas. Off we go, south in search of surf and of course Ziad, who will be in Lima in about 5 days, which is still about 2000 miles away.
Our first stop is a left point break that we visited the previous weekend by bus with Carlos and Watusa. The surf is small, but unbelievably well shaped, warm and clean. We surf, although there really isnÕt much to ride, but relish in the beauty of the setup, as well as one of the last sessions in warm water. One day here, and we are ready to go, driving the roads covered with Polica Muertos (Topes, or speed bumps) heading towards the border and Peru, where we hope our surf luck will change for the better. We head south through some amazingly thick jungle which slowly turns from lush, to sparser grassland, to finally dry and more desert like than we have seen in quite a while. Highlights of the drive include actually crossing the equator, where we stop and take photos in both the northern and the southern hemisphere, jumping back and forth like kids for a minute or two, and head on. Woo hoo! We are now truly in the southern hemisphere.
Exiting Ecuador is a bit tricky, as the legitimate Aduana is closed, yet the official at the border is claiming, ÒNO PROBLEMA!ÓÓ I can do your paper work right here!!Ó We cancel the documents, make a bunch of photocopies, and cross into Peru expecting the worst, as we have been told that they will also want a deposit of some sort for the vehicle to guarantee that we wont sell it. The border is hectic, but not like some of the other borders we have experienced in Central America. There are a lot of people running around, trying to get you to change money, but at least there arenÕt the floods of ayudantes who are determined to baby-sit your border crossing for a Ôsmall feeÕ like Central American countries. We exit Ecuador, and immediately enter a building on the Peruvian side to do the paperwork for the car. The elderly man working there is extremely pleasant, asks us to fill out some painless documents, make photocopies of the title and registration, and sign here. He asks us how much time we would like in the country, 30 days, 60 days, or 180 days? We explain that 30 days are plenty, but he insists on giving us 60 just incase we want to stay longer. He gives us a sticker, and a piece of paper, and sends us on our way. ÒThatÕs it?Ó I ask the border official. ÒNada mas senor?Ó ÒAsi esÉÓHe tells me, and we are on our way. No deposit, no scary stamp in the passport that promises that you will be detained if you try and leave the country without the vehicle, no nothing. Super easy, and painless. We cheer, shouting and celebrating, and the Groms feeling our celebrative energy cheer as well, but are not really sure why. Maybe they are just happy to be for the first time out of Ecuador. We say goodbye to Ecuador, wishing we had more time, and say hello to Peru, and the real meaning of desert.