Two days on an extremely muddy dirt road through the Ecuadorian highland jungle and we were finally there; the most remote, laid back and just flat out laziest border crossing we had been to yet. The exit out of Ecuador was easy enough and the palm tree gate blocking the bridge across the river, the only sign that this was the border, was quickly lifted for us. We drove across the bridge to where we met another hand-built stick gate blocking our passage into Peru. We stopped and waited for someone to come lift the gate for us or ask for our passports or something, but 15 minutes and several honked horns later we realized this wasn’t going to happen. There were no signs directing us to go anywhere and no names on any of the dilapidated shacks in front of us. We spotted two men sitting out front on a porch, who had been sitting there watching us, and decided to go and ask them if they knew where the immigration building was. This is when they begrudgingly got up and told us to follow them in to one of the little shacks, and this is where we learned that they were both, in fact, the immigration and Aduana officers. Who knows how long they would have let us sit there on the bridge or wander around the seemingly deserted town before they told us who they were. The rest of it was pretty simple after we got them working. They didn’t want to ask us any questions. They just wanted to fill out the paper work so they could get back to their front porch sitting. The hardest part was breaking up the afternoon soccer game to get the police officer to come check us in. We liked Peru’s work ethics already!
We spent the next few days exploring Peru’s Northern highlands, picked up a spectacularly bad bottle of homemade liquor being filtered right off the side of the road, and then decided to make a b-line for the desert and the coast..
This turned out to be a great decision. Jed and I hold a fondness for the desert and it had been more than six months since we were last in it, in Baja. Out our car windows the thick green, steep rolling hills we had become accustomed to seeing over the last week began to thin out while crumbly rock walls and cactuses took their place. The closer we got to the coast the less and less vegetation there was until eventually all we saw was wide open nothingness, tall rolling sand dunes and, weirdly enough, miles and miles of rice plantations along the riverside.
The thought of how rice had become such a staple in the Latin American diet had crossed our minds a few times throughout our journey. Everything else on their plates we pass by regularly; fruit plantations, corn fields, yuccas, potatoes, chickens, pigs, cows, gunuiea pigs, you name it. But rice, the one thing guaranteed to be on every plate ordered; we had not seen anywhere. The last place we expected to find it was in the desert of Peru.
We hit the coastline, and after a couple months away from it, it was really good to see the ocean again. There is just something calming about watching the ocean, something, more than anything else that promotes relaxation. Jed and I have spent countless hours on this trip just staring out to sea.
We found some great, secluded beach camping spots as we tried to piece our way down the coast by solely driving on the beach and through the sand dunes. We were practically out there alone for three days, only occasionally bumping in to fishermen heading out to sea in their tiny reed boats. Once a day we would typically come across a small, dumpy fisherman’s village where it was hard to believe that one could live and survive.
Traveling through Colombia and Ecuador we had become used to seeing small towns with clean streets and people who obviously had pride in the place they called home. So it was definitely a noticeable difference to find the towns of Peru, who’s houses themselves were hardly distinguishable between those of nearby Inca ruins and people who just threw their trash to wind from their front door.
We made it to about 150km north of Huanchaco before having to hit the pavement again. Sand covered and out of propane, we took the Panamerican highway to meet up with our first ever internet friends, Home on the Highway. James and Lauren are another couple currently on the same trip as us but about 5 months ahead. We had followed their blog from the beginning and often conversed with them over the internet. Lucky for us they had stopped to work for a few months in Huanchaco, Peru and we were able to meet up with them.
It is always easy going meeting other overland travelers and this time was no different. We spent a fun couple days together. James and Jed spent a male bonding morning out tinkering over the Toyotas, of course. I checked out the surf and found it to be some of the most fun waves since Baja. They showed us to the best restaurants in town and we also cooked some good ol’ American food, chili and nachos. Plus the consumption of lot’s of beer and wine, a beautiful beach just out the doorstep and a crazy kitten to laugh at makes it hard not to have a good time.
Jed and I had very much enjoyed being back on the coast and making new friends, but we were also anxious to move on towards the big mountains of Huaraz, Peru, which we had been dreaming about since we left the US. So with the promise to try and meet up again somewhere down the road we said our goodbyes and headed southeast towards the infamous Canon del Pato.