No Man’s Land at 4 a.m.

For the second night in a row I’m up most of the night sick. No idea what’s gotten into me but it’s a nasty bug. Farting all night in the vicinity of Murphy and Drisdelle would normally be hilarious but I honestly feel sorry for the French girls sharing our dorm room. After not eating all day yesterday perhaps I shouldn’t have broken my fast shortly before bed with a bean burrito and a large Coke. The boys are up for breakfast but I’m not budging – I toss out the idea of hanging back another day to recover more while they make distance, catching up by puddle-jumper if necessary, but Murphy convinces me to go find and slam back some meds first, then reconsider my options. An hour later I’m feeling slightly better but I’ve still got a bad feeling about getting on a rocky bus ride in my state.

We taxi it to the bus station and find that the earliest bus to Piura (the first town in Peru we’re headed to) doesn’t leave until 10 at night. Scanning the schedules we find a bus leaving in a few minutes to Loja – it’s in the right direction, so we jump on it. Murphy and Drisdelle sit mid-way through the bus but I move to the back, next to the shitter, both for ease of access and to deflect accusing glares. When the bus begins to fill up and a local woman sits next to me, she isn’t fooled – as soon as an empty seat becomes available, she takes it. Other than my issues, the drive to Loja is gorgeous but familiar from our previous few bus rides, steep but veg-covered Andean cliffs ringed with clouds.

The terminal at Loja is small but our fingers are crossed that we can find something to Piura. Unfortunately it’s the same deal as Cuenca, no buses leaving for something like seven or eight hours. Macara, the border town we’ll be crossing at, has a bus leaving in an hour. Done. I grab our ticket, shove it in a pocket of my cargo shorts and we chill at a restaurant to kill time.

Five minutes before departure time we walk out to the buses. Like all of the bus stations we’ve seen in Ecuador, we have to pay a terminal tax before loading onto our bus. but unlike the others it’s a dime – exactly a dime, and only a dime. Two nickels gets a response from the gatekeeper – “No!” Alllright. After a couple minutes of digging through bags and getting change we’re through.

I pull the ticket out of my pocket and start asking bus drivers whether we’re in the right place. Nope, nope, nope. Hmm, that’s weird. A passenger waiting for a different bus with some grasp of English tells us we have to wait, it’s the next bus coming. We watch all the buses roll out and at the spot we’re expecting to see our bus, no bus comes. Hmmm. We do some more asking around and confusion only increases. No idea what’s going on. I look closer at the ticket and there are several anomalies – the company name is different than the name over the booth that sold it to us and the time is different. I take it back over to the booth where we bought it and try to get some answers – I’m promptly told (by a different woman than the one who sold it to us) that her company didn’t sell us that ticket and that it’s not her problem.

What the hell? Did we just get ripped off by a greasy bus company employee, passing off a bad ticket to a bunch of gringos at the end of her shift? “I think we just got worked, goddammit.” Or… Wait… Is that another ticket in my pocket? *dig dig dig* Ahhhhh crap. I’d been flapping around a ticket from several days ago, confusing the shit out of everyone, while the real ticket was buried in my shorts the whole time. Well, I’m an idiot.

Let’s try again. First I check to see if we can swap the old ticket for a new one and I’m not surprised that the answer is no, so we find another bus company leaving for Macara in about 45 minutes for the same price. Buy the ticket, kick around doing nothing and load up as the sun’s starting to set. As we leave the bus terminal we catch some Alpacas organizing a short field soccer match. Browns vs. Whites. Practicing for the inter-american farm cup match versus the Salvadoran cows. (link back to cow post?) The ride is mostly uneventful except for a half-hour stopover in a little nowhere town, the three-way intersection that seems to be the center has a giant fruit of some kind, perhaps a peach. We take a moment to film the sequel to James and the Giant Peach:

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Roadside vendors are selling chicken on a stick with optional spicy aji sauce and a hot freshly-squeezed fruit drink, both pretty decent. Very different than the previous places we’ve seen in Ecuador – a lot more dogs running around in the street mainly, including one that puts on the puppy dog eyes hard when he sees us scarfing down chicken. It’s too delicious to give away to random dogs but he decides to follow us around despite the snub, apparently in hope that we’re unskilled in the ways of eating streetmeat a la stick and drop some. His dreams of aji chicken remained unfulfilled when we saddled back up onto the bus.

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Macara is a really small place. Dark and dumpy. The bus station has space for about four buses max and when we unload it’s only us, about four other stragglers, half a dozen people hanging around the bus station, and maybe three employees. There’s one really sketchy, no teeth dude, probably about 4-foot-11, who looks like he’s been huffing spraypaint for 30+ years and wearing a “Security” shirt. He just kind of stares at us and rocks back and forth as we walk around him. He’s breaking all Guinness records for longest public ball scratch in gym pants. Let’s get on a bus across the border ASAP.

“A las tres, en la manana.” The next bus to Piura is at three in the morning?? We have to hang out here for five hours? Gotta be another option. Are there other buses to other towns? Nope. What if we just cab it across to the other side. No buses on the other side either. Can we leave our stuff here while we find a place to hang out for almost five hours? Nope, bus station closes at 11 and doesn’t re-open until 7. The 3:00 bus just rolls past, apparently. Fucking SaChrix, i’m sorry about the gnome in Banos, ok!

We walk around town for a while to evaluate our options. Not a bad town, really. Quiet but it doesn’t feel sketchy at all, and the cathedral a block down from the bus station is nice. Despite our advice to the contrary we try to flag down a couple of taxis about rides to the border. Some take two looks at us and just keep driving without even asking us where we want to go, they know our type. Another driver tells us the border is too far for a taxi, which is strange because Murphy’s already picking up the Peruvian mobile network on his phone.

Our options are limited and we don’t want to sit on the sidewalk with all our shit in the middle of the night, advertising; the town might be nice at 11 but who knows if it’ll stay that way. Let’s find a hotel. The first one we find tells us it’s full, which is likely bullshit, the place looks empty, the dude just doesn’t want to deal with extranjeros. When we hit up the hotel next door a guy lets us in then quickly runs upstairs. What’s he doing? Two minutes later he comes down with a girl in pajamas who seems to be tucking her shirt into them. Strange. She jumps behind the desk and asks what we want. After a trying sequence of miscommunication we score a three-bed room for $21, Wi-Fi too. You get what you pay for though. Lying on the beds we start to feel itchy, and I’m pretty sure I get bit a couple of times in the first few minutes. “Hey Drisdelle, do you think that thing on the wall is blood, snot or feces?” “Uh, I think it’s bloody snot.” I think he was correct, but I’m fairly certain all three substances were variously smeared in one place or another along the wall next to my bed. Pretty sure I’ve been bitten a few times laying on top of this bed, and I’ve got glitter on me that wasn’t there before. Whatever, I nodded off pretty quickly regardless.

Awake again sooner than I’d like and we’re re-packing all of our electronics that we’d been charging for the last few hours. Drisdelle’s the first one out the door and he quickly comes back saying he’s pretty sure he heard a bus go by, but we should still have fifteen minutes to catch it so we don’t panic. We get over to the station with almost ten to spare and there’s no bus around. Hmm, maybe Drisdelle heard something else.

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Three a.m. passes and no one else is around until about five past, when a pickup marked with the name of a bus company parks in front of the station. The name of the company includes some derivation of the word “frontera” so we figure this guy must be waiting for the bus as well, let’s just hang out. While we wait we’re treated to the soundtrack of roosters going off all over town and dogs begin impersonating the roosters. A bus rolls around the corner at about 3:25, yeah! The guy in the pickup is moving, yeah! A guy jumps out of the bus to open the gate to the bus station so we ask him where he’s going… Loja. What?? Señor Pickup asks if we’re trying to get to Piura. Yes! He tells us to throw our bags in the back and jump in. He doesn’t need to ask twice. As we’re pulling away from the station he yells something out the window to a woman getting off the bus… It seems like he was waiting for her, not for the Piura bus.

He slams it through town and we start seeing signs for the Puente Internacional. We reach the river that forms the border between Ecuador and Peru in two minutes tops (knew those cabbies were full of shit!) See a few guardhouses on our side of the river and some pylons blocking the path, an older guy in camo comes out with a flashlight and Sr. Pickup hyperspanishes something about the bus and the frontier. The guard moves the pylons and we go across the bridge. Wait – now we’re in Peru without our Ecuadorian check-out stamps… Fuck it, go go go! We turn a corner and see the Peruvian Buildings of Officialdom but no bus. We 180 it back to Ecuador and Camo tells Pickup that there’s another bus at 4 so we jump out and pull our shit out of the bed, thanking Pickup for his help. Give-me-money mime. Alright, fair enough, we pool our loose Ameribucks and come up with $4. Give-me-more-money-mime. No tenemos. He sighs and looks at us like we’re assholes then punches it back to town.

Since it’s 3:30 in the morning and we’re hanging out on the border we figure we might as well get some paperwork done. We saunter up to Ecuadorian migration, fill out some customs forms and get our check-out stamps in a couple of minutes, super-easy. Maybe we should walk across to the Peruvian side and get our check-in stamps? I talk to Camo about this for a minute and he advises against it, he says the other side kind of sucks, Ecuador’s side of no-man’s land is a better place to wait. We walk around the bridge for a while, looking at commemorative plaques and such, until a truck rolls up going the same direction as we are. He looks a bit unnerved to see three gringos walking up to him as he’s stopped at the pylons, but Camo asks him to jump out and do a quick inspection. We briefly consider asking for a ride but jumping into the back of a truck with no windows (and locked in from the outside) would likely end up with us sold into white slavery in international waters, sorting fish guts during the day and playing Russian Roulette at night, leaving you without this blog to read, so we opt to wait for the bus.

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Since we’re already stamped out of Ecuador we’re officially in No-man’s land. We talk about starting our own lawless society under the donated Japanese bridge filled with gambling, prostitution, and other seedy underworld activity. We could get all of the confiscated drugs and alcohol from the border guards and they could offer some protection for a cost. We’d call it the Bolivarian Republic of DistanceFromNormalia (or Ecuaroo) and the flag would have the double crossed guns of a female bukkake warrior and alpaca soccer players in each corner.

A little after four in the morning another bus rolls up. As people jump off to get their official Ecuadorian scratch-and-sniff passport stamps we toss our gear in the lower compartments and snag some sweet seats in the back. Putt-putt across the bridge and we jump back out to do Peruvian stampwork. Fill out an immigration form and get it stamped. Take it to a police booth next door. Police officer stamps it. That’s it. Just as we’re about to jump on the bus we notice a Peruvian ninja sitting under a canopy, all blacked out and balaclava’d, pretty badass.

Back on the bus and we all fall asleep pretty soon…

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