Peru – on the way to the Amazon

I had flown intoGuayaquil, Ecuador from Panama City on Christmas Day. I had already lost 5 days ( I was scheduled to leave Panama on Dec 20) and I wasn’t about to waste any more time. As soon as I arrived I was off to the bus station where a bus took me to the border town of Huaquilles. I had decided to cross the Peruvian border that same night ( as recommended by the guide book) but by the time I got there I was knackered and thought it best to call it a day and spend the night there. A good choice!

The next morning after a very filling lunch-like breakfast I was on my way to the border. It was the first day of my anti-malarial course and I had been advised to take the pills after a fatsy meal if I didn’t want to be sick. Hence the mighty breakfast! I was about to cross into Peru when a man came up to me trying to help me. At first I didn’t want him to help me as I’d had too many ‘helpers’ before who’d charge quite a bit of money but when he said he didn’t want any money, I was happy to let him carry my bags. He asked whether I had gotten my exit stamp and I shook my head, indicating that I hadn’t. I thought the immigration office was down the street. It turned out to be a few kilometers away from the border and we took a taxi back there. Exit stamp in passport – done! Another taxi back to the border where the guys took me to his car parked on a dusty field behind the market. He told me he would take me to the border. The car looked nothing like a taxi. It was just white. That’s when I said I wouldn’t get in and I’d rather walk.
– But why the mistrust? – asked the guy.
– One could never be too careful, particularly as a solo female traveller! – I replied.
He explained all taxis in Peru were like this and showed me his registration papers. It looked legitimate and I got in. He said we would pick up more passengers on the way so it’s cheaper and that we would ask the police to confirm his legitimacy. So we did and we were on our way to Peruvian immigration. Again a few kilometers away from the actual border. This is due to conflicts between the two countries had in the past. As a result the immigration offices were separated and never moved back.

The Peruvian immigration officer asked how many days I wanted and I said 15. He gave me a month and send me on my way. Before we got back into the car I asked the driver where we were going and how much it would cost. He said we were going to the bus terminal and that it would cost $5. I thought it reasonable compared to a $1.50 colectivo. Half way through the journey the farce began! The driver turned around and said he would charge $40 each (there were two of us) at which I exclaimed: ‘What?! That’s way too much!’. He said it was 45km away and it would take an hour to get there.
-Still – I said – $40 is too much.

He brought it down to $30, $25, and even $20 thanks to my persistent complaining and nagging. I asked why he didn’t let us know of the price before hand and I pointed out he had said he’d charge $5. He made up a story, tried to turn it into a misunderstanding, blamed it on the expensive petrol. I sat there unhappy with what has happened and kep quite for a while. We were left with no choice. He’d let us know halfway through the journey making it impossible to take a bus or get of as the road has been famous for robberies. We were stuck. I was furious.

The Ecuadorian man I was sharing the taxi with was of no help. He just tried to avoid confrontation and tried to shush me. He apparently was happy with being ripped-off.That’s when I told them the señor could pay whatever he wants but I wasn’t paying the asking price as it was a rip-off. I had never paid that much for a taxi, not even in Europe. I was convinced it was a rip-off when we reached the town in about 15mins and the ride turned out to be a lot less than 45km. I knew I wasn’t paying the $20. Someone had told me a taxi ride cost about $10 and that’s exactly what I was paying. We stopped at a cash machine (big mistake on his behalf as I managed to get small bills) and I got the equivalent amount in soles (local currency). The driver wasn’t happy and said I was bad and that it would be on my conscience. I was happy to burden my conscience with it. The other guy paid $20.

I got on a bus to Chiclayo, still buzzing with the sweet feeling of victory. I had forgotten how long it takes to get places when the lady at the ticket desk told me it would take 8h to get to a place that was less than 2cm away on the map. The luxury of Central America’s short distances was gone. The bus went along the Pacific coast and then through the desert. In Chiclayo I changed to an overnight (14h) bus to Tarapoto. From Tarapoto it was a 3h drive to Yurimaguas – the gateway to my Amazonian adventure.


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