A 2 day border crossing adventure
Tue 11 Dec 2012 - Wed 12 Dec 2012
Vilcabamba to Zumba
Danny and I are up and packed ready to leave our hostel at the ungodly hour of 5:30am (the bus is supposed to arrive between 6-6:30am). It is transfer day, but not just any transfer day...it's border crossing day. Neither Danny nor I have ever overlanded between countries before, so we had no idea what to expect. The plan was to catch a bus to Zumba and then onwards to cross the border via the La Balsa Border, which from what we read is supposed to be the most relaxed and chilled crossing of the three from Ecuador to Peru. At the bus stop we met two other travellers who were also overlanding to Chachapoyas, Peru as well, so we decided that it would be easier to stick together. Strength in numbers! The bus arrived at 6:20am and we got settled for the 6 hr ride. The bus started off full but within an hr, most of the locals got off - there were only about 6 of us left on the bus. Yay 2 seats!
And so it's true...in Ecuador, it is very common to find yourself sharing a bus with animals. In this particular case, the man sitting in front of me was holding on to his chicken haha.
Just as described on other peoples blogs, the pavement ends about an hour into the ride, and we would not see pavement again until a day and a half later.
An hour or so into the ride, the bus stops. I wake up confused, are we there already? There apparently is some road block ahead. The bus driver gets off to investigate and comes back to tell us that the road is closed due to construction.
Bus Driver (in Spanish): "Road closed until 12pm"
Bus Driver: "Yes 12pm."
Me (eyes wide open): "12pm?!?"
Bus Driver: "Yes!"
Me (on the verge of a freak out): "It's 8:30am!!"
Bus Driver shrugs and leaves to go sit on the side of the mountain with the rest of the drivers. Haha nice.
4 hr delay due to road closure...
...Chris is not happy!
And so we wait...
At noon the road opens and we are back on track (well, 4 hrs behind schedule). The next 4.5 hrs were spent maneuvering through muddy mountainous roads (and I thought regular paved mountainous roads were bad...). The distance from Vilcabamba to Zumba is only 100kms, but due to road conditions and our 4 hr delay, the whole ride took us a gruelling 10 hrs.
Horrible road conditions
Zumba to La Balsa
The original plan was to catch a ranchera (open side truck) from Zumba to La Balsa where we can cross the border into Peru. But it is already 4:30pm and it's still another 2 hrs to get to La Balsa. Decision time. Should we spend the night in Zumba, or try to cross the Border to Peru today as initially planned. The last ranchera was at 5:30pm, so there was still time. However, that would mean doing the border crossing at night - I was nervous enough doing the crossing during the day, but at night?! No one was sure what to expect, and we were not sure if there would even be collectivos from the border of Peru to the next town. But where would we stay in Zumba (it's not exactly a touristy town), and besides, we might not make it all the way to Chachapoyas the next day. No one wanted to spend 3 days overlanding, so we decided to head for Peru.
Ranchera arrives right at 5:30pm and off we go.
Danny: "Cool, isn't it just like a Disney Land ride?!"
Me: *rolls eyes*
If we thought the last 10 hrs was bumpy, we did not know bumpy until now - the next 2 hrs was more windy unpaved mountainous roads in a wooden open sided truck. As we rolled through the mountains, the sun began to fade. The scenery was actually very spectacular, the sun setting around the mountains, only I was a little too anxious to enjoy the view. It got dark fast, and we were still not at the border yet.
We finally arrived at the border at 7:30pm...we look around, er, where exactly IS the border? All we see is a makeshift bamboo bar where children are volleying a ball over. We asked around, and sure enough, this is the border.
Finally arrived at the border!
The 'border gate' haha
We were led into an office, where a guy filled in our departure forms. We took several photos of the homemade border gate and walked across the bridge - Hello, we are in Peru!
Once again, we looked around, er...where is the immigration office? After some confusion, we finally found the office and filled in our entrance forms and was granted 30 days in Peru. We exchanged for some Peruvian soles and we were good to go! Hm not nearly as painful as I thought it would be...but getting here was only half the battle...
La Balsa to San Ignacio
Luckily there was still one collectivo left. So we all hopped in and began our ride to San Ignacio (not before our driver took one last swig of his beer with his 2 buddies at the bar haha) - sigh of relief, we would not be sleeping at the immigration office tonight! 40 mins later, car stops. Uh oh, what now? Of course, more road construction. Luckily we only waited 15 mins. We only enjoyed 15 mins of pavement before the road turned back to gravel. At least we weren't in the ranchera.
We finally arrive at Hostel La Posada in San Ignacio at 10pm! This dreadful long day has finally come to an end, and we can finally relax...WRONG! When we returned back to our hostel after dinner, we found a few not so welcomed 8 legged visitors in our room. Cockroaches! And this was supposed to be the best hostel in town?! As you can imagine, we had a very restless night.
Even Danny is NOT impressed!
DAY 2...so the journey continues
San Ignacio to Jaen
The 4 of us check out and head off to the find bus station. Surely enough, 10 mins later, we walked to an intersection where people started shouting "Jaen? Jaen?" at us. We stood in the middle of the intersection trying to decide which company was the least sketchy...we ended up randomly picking one since they were all equally sketchy haha.
About an hour after we left San Ignacio, we finally hit pavement again! I swear I will never take asphalt for granted ever again.
Jaen to Bagua Grande
Arrived in Jaen and quickly grabbed a 3 wheeled taxi to the 'other terminal' where we could catch a bus to Bagua Grande. Once again, as soon as we arrived at the terminal, people started shouting at us again: "Bagua Grande? Bagua Grande?" After much negotiation, we finally settled on a collectivo and were on our way. This was probably the most comfortable ride yet. We sped thrugh the roads while the driver blasted Ecuadorian music, and he even bought us sugarcane to snack on.
An hour later, we arrived at Bagua Grande, and a van was already waiting for us. We took a quick bathroom break, stretched our legs, and climbed into the collectivo for the last leg of the trip!
Bagua Grande to Chachapoyas
3 hours later we finally arrive in Chachapoyas!! We made it!! Haha
So in summary, it took us nearly two full days from when we left Vilcabamba to arrive in Chachapoyas! Was it painful? Not as bad as I thought (but then again I always assume the worst haha). The border crossing was way easier than I thought (we read from other blogs/travel books that some immigration offficals refuse to give entry stamps unless they were paid off, or travellers getting their packs stolen while trying to catch taxis). The road delays were more or less expected, although we were expecting 1 or 2 hrs...not 4 hrs! But we were still able to make all our connections and arrived in Chachapoyas safely..so I would consider this border crossing a success!