Cruz Del Sur is a Peruvian busline that is reputable and known for it’s safety. We’d spent a bit of extra money and had spent the last few legs using their services. They had advertised a new route, from Lima all the way up through Mancora, into Guayaquil in Ecuador and then even further up the coast to places like Montanita. As part of their on-road service, they played a video during meals of a sexy young latina splashing about in the waves of Mancora and Montanita beaches in a soft-focus frame, her red bikini bouncing around as she giggles coyly into the camera with an accompanying soft-rock soundtrack. What we’d gotten out of that lovely presentation is a few ideas for where to go next, and the assurance that we could continue to take Cruz Del Sur to get there.
So why we bought a ticket on Ecuadorian busline CIFA I’m not sure. Borders can be funny things and I guess we anticipated that the experience would be more-or-less the same. So we got up nice and early, argued with the hostel about having paid the bill (which we did the night prior..tss hippies..) and trudged up the street in search of desayuno. Breakfast was an oily two fried eggs and bread, coffee and juice, standard fare, said a quick ‘Necesitamos salir’ to the lovely old man and crossed the street to the tour company. We piled into the back of a nice mini-van and took off up the road in search of more passengers for the trip to Tumbes, the nearest, biggest border town on the Peruvian side. We must have done some 12 or so laps before the van was just about full and we could finally make tracks. I wasn’t overly impressed I must admit, though I understand the economics, those oily eggs were sliding around like a skater on ice.
If I wrote for the LP I’d say forget Mancora, where you wanna go is the coastline between there and Tumbes. Wow. It looks like there’s been an attempt at development in some areas, it has that haunted carnival thing going.. thatch beach umbrellas and an aging, incomplete attempt at construction. But the shoreline and beach were magnificent. Pristine, a tad greener than Mancora and not a soul around.
Things became obviously different when we hit the CIFA terminal in Tumbes. Where we’d been used to climate controlled, beautifully upholstered buses we were thrown into this iron floored, personnel vehicle with open windows and flapping curtains.. which I love actually, nothing like the fresh air in your face as opposed to stale air con. No problems there. But we took off and the young guy looking after us put on our movie, which turned out to be a violent Colombian gang drama, complete with knife assisted birthing scene and gratuitous nudity. We eventually tooted past all other traffic on the road, ran a few locals on bikes off the road and got to the border. Ushered to the immigration posts by our young host we crossed without any dramas and were soon back on the bus. Soon after, we begin picking up more and more passengers from the roadside. Generally in Ecuador this sort of practice is a bit dodgy, particularly at night, as groups of bandits have been picked up; rob everyone on board and disappear. But it’s also pretty standard. Our strategy to avoid such situations is going to be to take ‘ejectivo’ services where possible that don’t do this, and travel only during the day.
Scenery changes to rich green flora, palm and sugar plantations, steamy green mountains in the distance, clouds full of tropical rain. The setting is otherwise typically South American. Plenty of food vendors offering empanadas, fresh fruit, popcorn, etc.. open store fronts with hand-painted signage.
Guayaquil has an absolutely monstrous bus terminal. It’s about 4 levels I guess, very modern complete with food courts and boutique shopping. We transgressed it pretty quickly getting ourselves into a taxi, negotiated a $3.50 fare and struggled with the driver to find the precise location of our hostel. I got a bit frustrated actually because I’d told him the block it was on, the streets it’s between but it wasn’t precise enough so he put it out over the taxi CB radio, got nothing back and offered us another hostel instead. ‘Tengo una reserva’ I said.. and we did have a reservation, and he shut up.
Guayaquil is set nicely along the Rio Guayas, it’s not the capital but is the most densely populated and considered the commercial capital of Ecuador, as well as being the biggest port. Big ports in this region mean pirates and Guayaquil was attacked in the 1600‘s by French and English pirates. They’ve had outbreaks of yellow fever, liberated by the esteemed Simon Bolivar in the 1800‘s and then occupied briefly by Peru.
As we got out of the taxi and I handed the driver a 5 and asked.. ‘Tiene cambio’? ‘No..’ he said.. and then something about exit tariffs at that monstrous terminal. I gave him the ‘don’t ******** me’ look but he just turned, got back in his cab and took our $1.50 with him.
Once settled into our lovely B&B ‘Casa De Romero’ and taking local advice, we strolled the famous 9 de Octubre down to the river-front. Not a lot of people write back about Guayaquil but we found it pleasant enough. Broad streets, and plenty of noisy traffic of course but some beautiful plazas, palm trees everywhere and the buildings have changed. They’re mostly pastel colours, and have nicely painted framed shutters.
9 de Octubre ends at the riverfront, known as Malecon 2000. Sounds like a Prince record I know but it’s actually a built-up tourist promenade along the river. Lined with malls, restaurants and attractions for the kids, it’s a nice place to escape the heat; under some of the rich tropical trees that line the walkway. We were advised by our hostel to drop in at a local restaurant here and it was nice to take in a bit of local food.. lomo steak, rice, black-beans, salad and this dried up potato thing but it wasn’t all that decent for the 20 or so bucks we paid for the meal.
The next day we took in the beautiful neighborhood of Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana, which colorfully climbs it’s way up the the hill to a lighthouse which looks out over the river on one side, and the city on the other. Really a lovely walk. The surrounding houses tetrisise themselves down on top of each other and are nicely framed and painted in those summery pastel yellows, reds, salmon pinks and blues. Paved streets and narrow stairways wrap themselves around the houses and in amongst it all are artisan shops and galleries. Really a lovely place where there’s a cool breeze wrapping it’s way through the streets. Back in downtown there’s the central Parque Bolivar, full to the brim of Iguanas, not doing anything at all, lazing around, barely enough energy or will to lift an eyelid at nearby encroaching pigeons. Opposite the park is the beautiful Iglesia de San Francisco cathedral, kind of neo-gothic but painted in the typical pastel style.
We had some serious arranging to do here as well. We needed to fly out of Ecuador (Quito) into Colombia (Bogota) and so had to arrange airfares. We also need to fly out of Colombia into Panama as you can’t (or shouldn’t) go overland.. Google ‘Darien Gap’. Rebecca had done some tireless research and had managed to find the best possible fare available online however due to Commbank security requirements needing SMS to work properly (..and coverage has been patchy at best) we had to make our way down to the TACA office to book the fares in person. It would cost us nearly $1200 for both us for for both fares. Not cheap, but necessary. And it was of the morning of our departure that we completed the transaction, ran back to our hostel, grabbed our gear, jumped in a cab and headed back to the bus terminal, en route to Montanita, the beach-side party town we saw in the Cruz Del Sur videos. We were keen to be like that
coy latina.. giggling and splashing amongst waves. Now that the weather was hot; this was entirely possible. And in just 3 hours we’d know.