The maid was supposed to wake me at 6.30, but didn’t. Luckily, by some miracle I woke up myself at 7am after clocking up a whole 3 hours of sleep. The maid was happily sorting out the washing downstairs, so I chose not to kick her in the shins. A shared taxi with some random locals and a lovely girl from America called Gillian across the border. What a breeze after yesterday’s shenanigans! Thank you Chile, thank you Peru!
So now I’m on the bus to Lima. Everyone seems a little sketchy as to when I will arrive, but you know, 6 countries, 5 days. It’s all good. And there may be the possibly of a bus straight through from Lima to Caracas – but I’d have to be very, very lucky to get my timings right. If only I could check in my Lonely Planet…
To the left of me is the Pacific Ocean; to the right is inhospitable desert that reaches the foothills of the Andes. Once again I’m the only English speaker on board, the bus is too hot, I’m really cramped, I’ve got pins and needles in my right foot and the driver is crazy like Bo Diddily crazy. But the road is good; it’s got yellow lines like in Mad Max and fine sand dances across it in waves. From my seat at the front I’m seeing the Pan-American Highway stretch out in front of me in a straight line all the way to the horizon.
I love the desert. I couldn’t be happier.
Got into Lima at 8am this morning. It was a rollercoaster ride last night, if you tried to stay awake it was just a non-stop cavalcade of terror as the crazy bus driver drove at break-neck speed while overtaking on blind corners on narrow mountain roads with a sheer drop just metres away. Not a single vehicle overtook up through the whole 18-hour journey – our driver managed to overtake over 200. Best just to shut your eyes and hope for the best.
Now in Lima city centre, spent the morning trying without much luck to find a new copy of Lonely Planet South America. There are tons of riot police in the central square standing about, at least four armed vehicles with machine guns sitting… waiting… don’t know what for. Maybe I don’t want to know. My bus leaves for the border with Ecuador at 12:45.
Turns out that the machine gun toting military lot were there to police the crowd of axe-welding lunatic mothers and their terrorist-like children with sharpened teeth who had turned out to celebrate the festival of the arrival of the three kings with their Gold, Frankenstein and Grrr (la fiesta des tres reios I think). Overkill perhaps? Hmm…
Anyway, before long I was back on the bus and heading north to Ecuador. The sunset into the pacific to the left of me, and the foothills of the Andes rose to the right. This job ain’t so bad.
Got to the border bright and early this morning, and tried to find a bus to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. There was no central bus station, each coach operative had their own depot scattered around the small town of Tumbes.
Don’t forget – I’ve got no guidebook so I was completely winging it. In the first bus depot I found an Irish lad called Alan who assured me that this was the bus to get if I wanted to go to Quito.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t. I thought the bus was just going to take me over the border, but it was taking me to a place called Guayaquil some seven hours away. Alan said it was on the way to Quito, but I couldn’t check in his guidebook as some French girl was reading it. All I needed was to look at the map!!
By the time I wrestled the book off the Frenchie (two hours later) I made a horrific discovery. Guayaquil was not on the way to Quito. It was a good few hours out of my way.
Cursing my own stupidity at having lost my guidebook and then trusted somebody instead of checking the facts first; I got off at Guayaquil, waited an hour for another bus to Quito, which was supposed to get me in at 10pm.
It got me in at midnight.
Once a week, there is a direct bus from Quito to Caracas in Venezuela. No hopping on and off buses, no changing money every day, just lie back and let the bus take you up through Ecuador, through Colombia and all the way to the Caribbean coast.
It left at 11pm.
I retired to the nearest hotel to bang my head against the wall and have a little cry.
In this eight part series, I take THE GRINGO TRAIL through South America.
Starting in BUENOS AIRES, I have a quick look around URUGUAY and CHILE before heading up to BRAZIL just in time to miss the 2002 World Cup Final. But I didn’t miss the party afterwards!! Then I head over to Bolivia, the most BRILLIANT country in the WORLD (and I should know, I’ve been to a few!).
From the salt plains of UYUNI to the rivers of the AMAZON RAINFOREST via the Health and Safety-baiting Silver Mines of POTOSI and the CAMINO DE LA MUERTE (the Road of Death), Bolivia is just a powerhouse of nutty hilarity from beginning to end.
After hitting the INCA TRAIL to MACHU PICCHU, I head up through PERU and ECUADOR and end my journey in Bogota, COLUMBIA, one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world. Although I’m still here to tell the tale, so it probably isn’t that bad…! Finally, I find myself racing to get back to the UK for my cousin’s wedding in Dublin, Ireland: I’m cutting it pretty fine, you’ll have to watch the video to see if I make it or not! Enjoy!