Border crossings have always been a source of fascination for me. I remember as a child being rendered almost speechless by the wonder of crossing over from my state into the next on family trips – something which I now find kind of adorable and pathetic in equal measure.
It’s possible that my frontier glee is due to the fact that Australia, being an island, shares no borders with other countries. In Thailand on my first grown-up jaunt we swung by The Golden Triangle - not a juicy (if disease-ridden) South East Asian red light bar, but the union of Burma, Laos and Thailand. Had it been possible, I would have rolled right down the hill and spent a very joyful afternoon jumping like a 4-month-old Labrador between the three lands, singing the entire time. It was like my Queensland/New South Wales childhood border crossings on steroids.
Now, I’m no longer quite such a spectacle (read: blithering mess) when given the chance to skip happily into another country – though I do get a ridiculous kick out of getting new passport stamps. Yep, if one is in possession of visas rather than drugs (and does not look unfortunately like Osama Bin Laden), making your way over land borders is as easy as pie.
Normally. But not when trying to go to Ecuador.
Here’s a blow by blow account of how Pablo and I finally made it from Máncora (Peru) to Huaquíes (Ecuador).
1. Meet the reggaetón-loving and beyond entertaining Serafín in Máncora and note down the route to take when using public transport.
2. Memorise our plan: To travel from Máncora to Huaquíes in three steps: Máncora – Tumbes (by van), Tumbes – Aguas Verde (by van or taxi) and Aguas Verdes – Huaquíes (on foot).
4. Throughout the 90 minute journey, exclaim regularly at the gorgeousness of the beaches and arid hills surrounding them. Do finally get tired of squealing, and doze a little instead.
5. Arrive at Tumbes at 3pm in a flurry of other passengers. Are promptly accosted by a motor-taxi driver suggesting that a demonstration on in Aguas Verdes would make crossing into Ecuador a hairy and unsightly experience, and that we should immediately leave with him – lest we are to arrive in pieces.
6. Hand van driver 50 soles (USD$20) for our fare. Nod absent-mindedly as he says he’ll come back with change.
7. Realise that Mr Chatterbox-Motor-Taxi is not giving up on his now very large spiel offering his suspicious transport services. Begin to wave him away.
8. Look at each other in shock as van drives away, sans driver and our change.
9. Notice how Mr Chatterbox-Motor-Taxi has suddenly disappeared. Curse selves for falling into such a freaking classic gringo trap.
10. Locate a policeman and go with him to the driver’s agency. Spend another 90 minutes trying to get those people to admit some sort of responsibility for the fact that at least one of their drivers is a cheating son of a…
11. Get nowhere. Watch the grossly rotund workers flirt and frolick outside their office. Begin comparing them to the pigs in Animal Farm.
12. Notice how occasionally, one of them will pass money to another and to various randoms lolling nearby. Decide that something is definitely off in these parts.
13. Give up on the idea of any sort of justice. Locate a second van going to Aguas Verdes (2 soles each). Take backpack into van as feel suddenly very suspect indeed of all things public transport related. Spend the journey in the company of two Peruvians with astonishingly green eyes. Feel more than slightly hypnotised. Regularly strain to stop staring at them.
14. Arrive at the Peruvian exit – a nondescript building sitting on its lonesome just off the highway. Are stamped out without dramas.
15. Catch a 10 minute, two sol motor-taxi to the Aguas Verdes/Huaquíes border. Walk across the “border” – no more than a busy market street separating the two countries.
16. Expect to find Ecuadorian immigration right there on the other side. Are told it’s a 10 minute walk away.
17. Are found 45 minutes later, walking through a very dodgy neighbourhood where nothing suggests government buildings, immigration or anything legal and everything suggests unemployment, crack heads and broken limbs. Begin wondering why Ecuador would want a traveler’s first thought in their country to be “How can I wriggle out of a death grip?”
18. Find that not only is the immigration building an oddly unprofessional looking affair, but that it had closed an hour before. Are told to take a taxi (US$3) to another office located near yet another Peruvian/Ecuadorian border.
19. Find it to be open and functioning. Marvel at the wonder of such organisation after a day of messy madness. Line up with a couple of jugglers and three US girls being informed that they’d overstayed their 90 day limit. Stamp ourselves into Ecuador.
20. Note that from actually walking across the market place border to being handed back our stamped passports at the second immigration centre, 90 minutes and a loooot of questioning of the locals had passed. Look at each other in surprise and mild shock at how long it took to complete the supposedly quite routine task of legalising oneself in Ecuador.
Does the country actually not want us to be legal in its fine land?? *Sniff sniff* - doesn’t it love us AT ALL???
21. Wonder if Ecuador is way too lax, or other countries way too brutal with their immigration systems? Feel that Australia is definitely the latter.