02 October, 2012

Day 88, 370km: Welcome to the madhouse

Today, two things!
First, drive down the Andes towards Ecuador's southern coast.
Second, cross into Peru and make it to somewhere near the sea for the night.

Cool view going down the mountains
So it started by going down the Ecuadorian Andes, towards the Pacific coast where Ecuador turns into Peru by the magic of a border.
(If anyone's reading this as part of historical archives unveiled during the exploration of a pre-historical data-center, first I'm sorry for the quality of the writing. Second, you have to find archives of Wikipedia. Third, borders were artificial land divisions created by humans; remnants of former conflicts, they were the primary constituent of the nationhood concept and a great pain in the ass for travelers.)

A surprisingly dry landscape
Climate and landscapes changes so quickly in Ecuador it's truly amazing. In 50 kilometers one can drive across green pastures high in the mountains, deserty plateaux, lush valleys and tropical seashores.

A cloud barrier marks the proximity of the sea
It was really cool stopping to make this photo. After a week driving in the mountains I opened the helmet and smelled the sea. Still 50km away from it, wind blew eastward to where I was. The smell of the sea is apparently mostly due to dimethyl sulfide, a by-product of phytoplankton activity and dictyopterene, an algae pheromone.
So yeah it's a mix of plankton farts and algae sexy perfume, think about it next time you're at the beach with a loved one. Or on Sunday night when you're back at home and cuddling in bed. "Oh honey, your hair still smells like that mix of plankton farts and algae genitals."

Based on the above I'm only half-surprised that no one has manufactured a "sea shore breeze" spray (yet.)

The landscape becomes greener as I enter the westernmost range, the one facing the Pacific. Amazing to see the massive effect this has on the landscape, fauna and flora.

Southern Ecuador, a massive, uninterrupted banana orchard
Southern Ecuador was quite literally bananas. Kilometers after kilometer of banana orchards, interrupted by Caribbean looking villages.

Eventually made it to the border with Peru! Brand new offices, or rather shall I say "border complex" as the thing is so massive. And massively empty too, it took some time to find people to talk to.
Although the place looks very well thought. Ecuador exit booth next to the Peruvian entry booth, customs on the other end of the building ... and even a small cafeteria across the street.
"Oh but you are looking for the Ecuador customs exit? Well no it's not here, it's behind you, drive back where you came from for 10 kilometers. Nah we didn't move it, but we will, eventually. Some day. Maybe."

So after a bit of backtracking, here is the Ecuador customs where you can cancel your temporary import permit at the Huaquillas border with Peru.
This done I was back at the first building. I saw two interesting cars on my way. Both had banners across their windshields. The first one read "Texas Ranger", and the second one "Fuck you man".
That's really brutal. Driving around in a car labelled "Fuck you man" really takes balls, or illiteracy, or both.

This border took me 2h30 (one standard border expected waiting time; SBEWT - "one sboot") partly because I arrived right as a tourist bus was parking, partly because the Peruvian customs officials were apparently as new as the building they were into and not quite fully aware of how things work yet.
Luckily the "supervisor", a 60-something Peruvian man had some time to spare between two calls to his girlfriends. So with a bit of patience and a lot of smiles, I was able to enter Peru for once and for good.

And boy what a change that was. The first change on the road was pretty cool. Lots of people waving at me in villages and towns. I guess they don't see that many motorcycle travelers.
The second change was that people really are shitty drivers here. Back in Mexico driving was made intense by the testosterone-fueled constant dick contest between drivers ("I won't stop at that red light, look at me I'm going across ... *brakes hard at the very last instant*")

But here it feels like people have simply no idea what it is that they are doing. They swerve without looking in their mirrors (if they have some) and generally seem to have no control over their vehicle. The many memorials and white crosses along the road are here to attest that people really don't know how to drive here.
Plus they throw all sorts of trash out their windows without consideration for nearby cars. I'm keeping my distances with all forms of buses now after a near miss with a bowl of noodles and a baby diaper (seriously.)

Northern Peru coast
So driving is definitely more intense here. In retrospect, Ecuador really is a polite, mannered and civilized place for driving.

Found a hotel near the beach, checked-in at the terrace and burst out laughing when I saw a young couple riding on ponies. That reminded me of Hua Hin so much.

Then off to bed for a windy and chilly night. The pacific is cold!


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