Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ecuador to Peru border crossing. (South America Omnibus 3)

We wake up in the morning and walk out in the freezing morning of Quito. Harsh is very desperate to check his office emails but cyber cafe may not be open yet. We have a cup of coffee and have long walk towards airport and watch the airplanes landing. At 10 am we find a cyber cafe open.
Harsh works for a U.S. defense establishment and he has a bad news.

Santa Anna city

Their database is hacked and he is the database engineer. They summon him to return to Washington immediately. I also get a sort of bad news.

Santa Anna city in the mountains.
The relay I designed for 11 kilo volts, governments wants my certification. I instruct the engineer to make my signature and emboss my seal on the design. He cannot locate my seal. I instruct him to look at this or that place and I tell him that I will email him again tomorrow. I have a character of not taking just anything seriously in my life.

Pigeons and Lizzards in a plaza
We walk to out hotel, Harsh has to leave immediately. He will catch just any first flight to USA. We have no time to have breakfast. At hotel he packs up and we catch a taxi to airport. A jetliner is scheduled to Miami in just 40 minutes and he disappears from my sight.

Rickshaw of Ecuador
I return to my hotel, I also pack up because we were scheduled to go towards Peru border. I am on my own now. Border is 500 kilometers and I decide to spend a night in some town on the way. I take the bus, it makes its very scenic descend from the heights of Andes and the pacific ring of fire. Bus passes through several active and inactive volcanoes at the both sides of the road.

A mountain woman with Llama
The Pacific Ring of Fire, or just Ring of Fire for short, is an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. It is sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt or the circum-Pacific seismic belt.
In several hours bus touched the bottom of the Andes Mountains.

A local family
With each turn, road became more scenic. Mountains were now turning lush subtropical green as we have in Nilgiris in South India. One could see clusters of wild flowers everywhere. Equador stays poor country but also very expensive because its currency is US Dollars. Rich are becoming extremely rich and they go to Paris and New York for shopping.

Narrow Gauge railway line along the road
Poor are becoming poorer because they pay in dollars for just every essential commodity. Town and villages on the road are very primitive shape.
As bus hits the bottom of the Andes, here comes Banana belt of Ecuador. Ecuador is the biggest banana exporter in the world. In USA most of the banana comes from Ecuador.

Andes mountains
Jet-loads of banana fly from the airports in the coastal areas, straight to USA, Canada and in Europe. One can see miles and miles of banana plantains and hundreds of banana processing yards. Now roads are full of trucks carrying banana to airports.
At each bus stop I see the people selling roasted pork on the tripods, like it is done in India. Pig’s flat nose is kept at the side to showcase the health of the slaughtered pig.

Rail-bus on a small mountain town
At many places where bus makes a stop in the wilderness at some crossroads, I see guinea pigs, frogs and rabbits being sold and slaughtered on demand and cooked on demand. Guinea pigs are called cue-cue here because when slaughtered, they make “cue-cue” sound. Several people on the bus buy the freshly roasted meat. Passenger sitting next to me is wondering about why I am not interested in these yummy foods.
It takes the bus whole day to reach Machala. Machala is a coastal town and here one can feel the hot and humid of equatorial region.

An alpaca on the road
At Machala we are 300 kilometers in the South from the equator.
Machala is the capital of the El Oro Province and located near the Gulf of Guayaquil on fertile lowlands. It is the fourth biggest city of the country; and the second most important port, it has been referred to as the Banana Capital of the World.
After taking a bath in my hotel, I come out to explore the town. It appears just any mandi town in India with lots of agriculture equipment selling and maintaining establishments.

Andean landscape
Markets is also full of pesticide and fertilizer shops.
Next morning I catch the bus to Huaquillas. This is barely 70 km. It is a town in western El Oro, a province of SW Ecuador.
This is on the infamous border with Peru with rampant criminal activities and murders.

A chruch in a small town
An international bridge that goes over the Zarumilla River connects it with the Peruvian town of Aguas Verdes. Both towns have an intense commercial life and many formal, as well as informal street sellers that sell goods both in US dollars, the only currency in Ecuador, and in Peruvian soles. Mostly people from Ecuador come to Peru to make their purchases because things are expansive in Ecuador.

Native Indians
I have to cross the border from Ecuador to Peru. Huaquillas is located on the border with Peru. An international bridge that goes over the Zarumilla River connects it with the Peruvian town of Aguas Verdes.

A Native Indian woman.
This border crossing turns out a most dangerous. Not just dangerous but very complicated border crossing. When I arrive in Huaquillas, there in the town center I am told that immigration office was 2 kilometers before I reached Huaquillas. So I begin walking back and many taxi drivers and immigration touts begin badgering me. I keep walking in the chaos of crooks and crowds around the border and reach at immigration office to get my passport stamped. After this I share a taxi with a couple from Canada. I want to walk but am afraid of the bad people crowding the border area.

A Wedding procession at the Ecuador Peru border
Everybody seems unemployed and wants to make some money from people who don’t belong here. Taxi costs 2 dollors. If you want to risk your life for a dollar, there are also guys who will take you on the back of a motorbike for $1.
So I arrive in the town again. Huaquillas is not a lovely town. Again I find surrounded by very pushy people offering to change money at excellent rates, or take me through the border zone to Aguas Verdes, Peruvian Migraciones, or to Tumbes.
Whatever they say, I ignore them because their money is all bogus, their calculators are all tempered and the rest are con men of one breed or another.
The way to the international bridge turns straightforward, and everyone knows it. I am simply walking and find myself over the bridge and other side is the Peru
So, now I am in Peru again.

Ecuador Peru Border
We arrived in Lima 3 weeks ago and now I am alone returning there to catch my flight to New York in a week. Peruvian immigration is two kilometer down the road. I walk these two kilometers and arrive at the crowded immigration office. I am told that all people surrounding the office are crooks and then all immigration officers are also crooks.
As I am waiting in line, same Canadian Couple comes out after their passports are stamped. Man says that immigration-officer said that their passports are not in order and demanded money but he begin shouting and he got scared and stamped their passports. When my number comes to the immigration officer, I am taken to another room and officer says that my passport is not in order and I plainly refuse to give him any money. He threatens me and I begin shouting loud and he stamps my passport.
Again I don’t change any money here because of bad and pushy people everywhere. This border area is infamous; one can buy just anything in the black market, including guns and drugs. I want to wait until I will get to Tumbes that is a good sized town and is 30 kilometers from here. I resume my walk to get out of this mess and find some trustable transportation and there I see the Peruvian Airline office. I have to get to Lima that is 1300 kilometers from here. It is all the way desert till Lima.

A village in Ecuador near Peru Border
I walk into airline office. It is noon. They say that airplane to Lima is about to depart in half hour. There are two pretty ladies; one younger one wants to issue me ticket and other older one is resisting. Other is worried that I will miss my flight and face un-necessary hassle to obtain the refund etc. Harsh was fluent in Spanish but he is not with me anymore and my Spanish is limited to only few words and I am unable to take part in the conversation. Finally the younger one issues me the tickets, saying to the other that she does not care if customer catches the flight or not. She minds her ticket selling job.

Ecuador Peru Border
Other is now gravely worked. She is equally pretty and around 40. She is also looking at her watch.
I grab the ticket and run out of the office, in the market full of crooks and criminals. Behind me this lady comes running to me. She is very worried and it appears that she is a born worrier. As I am hailing a taxi but she stops me and tell the driver to go away.
“Este controlador es un criminal,” she says. (This driver is a known criminal)
She holds me with arm and begins dragging me till she finds another taxi and there she pushes me in it. As taxi is about to move, she sits with me in the taxi saying that her shift is over and she needs to get to airport, she will pay me her share of money. Whole way she is looking at her watch and wiping sweat from her face. She is pushing the driver to drive faster and faster.
I tell her to calm down; it is just a flight or airline ticket. I tell her not to worry much. Worse come worse I will get a refund and spend a night in Tumbes. She asks me where is my wife and children, in India or in USA. I tell her that I am single. I ask her if she is married, she says not.

6: Ecuador Peru Border
She tells me that she is responsible for her large family and only she got a job in the family and life is tough. Well I fall in love with her but we are on the run to airport.
Taxi comes to screeching halt at the terminal. She has the money ready and pays the driver and grabs me with arm and begins pulling me to the building. The lone Airbus air-plane on the airport is already being pulled by the aircraft-puller on the taxiway.
She pushes me through to the x-ray machine. She screams at a man having a handheld radio. The man begins talking on the radio and airplane comes to halt. She is again pulling me to the gate and screams at the man who is pushing and bringing back the airstairs back to the terminal.

Ecuador Peru Border
She along with that man begins pushing the air-stair to the airplane and I also help. As stair is near the aircraft, man tells us to get off because he himself is licensed to attach the stairs to the craft.
As stairs are attached to the plane, the door opens.
She shouts, “Señor, por favor, ve y entra en el plano”
But I don’t want to go in the plane. I want to stay. She is single and I am single and I am in love with her.
Who cares about a petty airline ticket fare?
“For God’s sake what is your name?” I shout, panting.
“Isabel. ”
“My name is Praveen.”

Ecuador Peru Border
But she cares too much about just anything.
Airhostess is looking at my face about why I am hesitating to get abroad now, after making that crazy run.
Isabel takes away my backpack and begins pushing me on the stairs.
“Señor, Praveeeeeee por favor avión inteh,” she shouts, “Adiós amigo.”
She makes sure I am inside the airplane. Then she tosses my bag also inside. Airhostess shuts down the door and puts the latch on it. Airplane is half filled and all people are staring at me meanly because I am the cause of their delay. I see from the window that airstairs moving away from the plane.

Police checking for drugs at Ecuador Peru Border
Airplane also begins moving.
I am looking at her running back to the terminal and my heart is now like a fish just pulled out of the water.

Bridge on the Ecuador Peru Border

Motor Rickshaw of Peru
And then I remember that she paid for the taxi. In this whole hurry, I forgot all about it.
This adds insult to injury.
I say to myself, I won’t let her go.
She is a keeper.
To be continued. . .

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