Trujillo and Chan Chan, Turned Away at Ecuador?

The Garua fog conditions would be with us now more or less until we left Peru. The ride north to Trujillo, our next stop, took us along more desert coastline mainly in light fog but with occasional excursions into the sunshine where the road climbed to crest headlands or coastal mountains. We spent a day in Trujillo, where we visited the vast ruins of the pre-Inca Chima civilisation at Chan Chan. Built entirely of mud, the ruins stretch along a road for 5km and resemble a sprawling lunatic sandcastle. The main Tschudi temple complex was worth seeing and a lot of it is being restored, with incredible detail given to the patterned borders and friezes around the various dwellings and courtyards. However, the dull grey background of the ever-present Garua was ultimately depressing, dampening even the brightly coloured buildings around the Plaza de Armes in Trujillo and we rode on to Ecuador. Our last images of Peru were the gorgeous beaches along the final stretch of coast up to the town of Tumbes and on to the border.

Exiting Peru at Aguas Verdes took 5 minutes at immigration control, but we had to decline the services of local guides who were keen to take us through the border proceedings. We then rode on to the bridge across to Huaquillas on the Ecuadorian side of the border. To date all our border crossings have been quite straightforward with formalities taking no longer than 30 minutes to complete, but it would be different today. The border town of Huaquillas is certainly a colourful place with hordes of people thronging back & forth, some of them carrying impossible and improbable loads, across the bridge that marks the border. It is a fascinating place and the most remarkable border crossing to date although it was certainly a place to keep an eye on the loaded bikes. Thrown into this melee is a huge market selling everything from bananas and pineapples to pirate CDs & DVDs of the latest albums and movies for $1 a piece right outside the customs offices. In fact throughout Bolivia, Peru & now in Ecuador we never saw a legitimate CD/DVD shop – there are mini stalls everywhere running these bootleg copies. Regarding our entry into Ecuador, we ran into problems immediately when the Ecuadorian customs guys asked for our Carnet or Libreta de Passage. We had neither of these documents, which act as financial guarantees that we won’t sell the bikes when we enter the country. They can be expensive things to obtain and impossible to organise out here. Furthermore, all of the travel books & guides had suggested that such things would not be necessary in South America, so we didn’t bother but here we were being asked for them for entry into Ecuador. We ended up in the main customs office where it was simply explained by the civilian customs people that we could enter but not with the bikes! At least not without a Carnet! Mags waited outside, entertained by the crowds of passers-by in the streets and keeping an eye on the bikes.

Inside I put on my best, most pathetic look of desperation trying to drum up some pity and support in the cool customs office that was due to close for the day in 45 minutes. I was wary of a possible bribe or scam but fortunately this was not the case. I asked if we would have to return now to Peru. The uniformed guy from the border was sympathetic and obtained the support of a helpful army officer who with his chef, a Captain sporting an immaculate white naval uniform with the badges of a submariner, sorted us a 45-day temporary pass for the bikes. They were really lovely people and were simply trying to help us to bend their own customs rules that clearly stated we needed a Carnet. It took 4 hours to organise it all as special papers had to be typed up and we ended up leaving Huaquillas, as it was getting dark.

We rode for about 30 minutes during which all the warnings against riding out here in the dark were capably demonstrated – cars & trucks with no lights, lunatic cyclists in the middle of nowhere and the scariest moment, when two huge cows materialised out of the darkness at the side of the road inches away from the bikes. It was enough and we put into Santa Rosa the first small town on the road where we found a dingy hotel for the night with no breakfast or hot water on offer. Outside the town itself was fairly grim. We walked the streets around the hotel looking for an eatery that would fit the description of a half decent café never mind a restaurant. We passed on several street vendors that had Salmonella written all over them and were about to give up when we found a less run down establishment on a corner offering fresh barbequed chickens with rice & beans. It was delicious! Once again what looked like a day of adversity and failure had turned to success. We had gained entry to Ecuador and found a bed and hot substantial food at the end of the day.

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