Grey Skies and Skeletons: Montañita down to Peru

Grey Skies and Skeletons: Montañita down to Peru

Some of you got a sneak peek of this post a couple days ago when I accidentally published it. Here it is for real this time! – Jayne

Ever since she arrived in Cartagena, Kelly had been desperate to get to the beach. Phil and I had just spent weeks in Panama and before on beautiful beaches, but Kelly was coming directly from Canada and she wanted some hot beachy goodness. When we finally made it to the beach on the 28th of October, 2013 it was a bit of a disappointment.

Aside from our time in the Amazon, Ecuador proved not to be nearly as warm as its name suggests. Kelly said several times that she thought the country’s being on the equator guaranteed hot weather. How wrong that proved to be.

After our freezing fiesta in the mountains at Laguna Quilotoa we rode down 4000m in elevation and when the sun set, we made an overnight stop in a beach town that time forgot, Puerto Cayo. We were the only guests in the hotel, and the owners were extremely helpful, even walking us down the street to help find a restaurant that was open.

Our own private hotel for the night

Phil and Jugs with the very helpful hotel owner.

The next morning we wandered down the deserted beach and ate breakfast in the only place that was open, then headed further south down the coast to a beach town that had been recommended to us several times. Montañita.

The Ecuadorian beach party town,  Montañita has a selection of restaurants and tourist shops catering to, and priced for, gringos. (Here in South America the term “gringo” has evolved from meaning Americans, to meaning foreigners in general.)

It was low season, and the hostels were competing for business, all that was, except for the one we first stopped at. The lady at the front desk was one of the least welcoming and most unhelpful people we had run across in a long time.

While we were parked outside, a skinny, dodgy looking character called Mike came over to chat. He soon revealed himself as one of the local drug dealers. We told him that we weren’t interested in what he had to offer, we were just looking for a cheap hostel. He told us he knew just the place.

While Phil and Tom investigated a couple of the other places along the street, Kelly and I went with drug-dealer Mike to check out the place he was recommending. Phil was slightly unsure that he would ever see us two ladies again.

Following Mike, we soon came to this road:

You want me to ride through that? I can’t even walk through it!

I flat-out told him that there was no way that I was going to attempt to take Cricket through all that mud! He assured me that the hostel was just a little further, and that there was a different, better road to get to it.

Drug dealer Mike might have been dodgy, but he came through. The Paradise South hostel was $7.50 each per night for a room with two bunk beds and a private bathroom with hot water. There was wifi and a really nice courtyard to park the bikes in. And there WAS another road, that whilst still muddy, was nowhere near as bad as the original one he walked us down.

We spent two nights in Montañita, and we really tried to enjoy it as much as the people who had recommended it to us. It didn’t help that the constant grey skies were not good beach weather.

Who goes to the beach in jeans and boots? We do!

It seemed like every second building in town was under construction

Overall we found Montañita very disappointing. We did have a couple of nights out. One where we spent a long time being talked at by an older lady who talked extensively of her days as a paid escort.

The lady of the night, well into her monologue.

The next night we met an Aussie guy who’d been in town for quite a while. He showed us the best cocktail stands, and where to buy burgers on the street for the best price. Even with this inside knowledge, we just didn’t feel the vibe, and we left the next day.

Kelly and our Aussie friend, hanging in the hostel courtyard

We decided that our time in Ecuador had come to an end, and to make a beeline for Peru. We’d heard the Huaquillas/Tumbes crossing was terrible, busy and corrupt, but that was the one closest to us so we decided to chance it.

We stopped for the night in Naranjal, for no other reason than that it was where we happened to be when it seemed the right time to stop. When we woke up the next morning, it was the 31st of October, 2013. Halloween.

In Latin America the Day of the Dead (Nov 4th) is much more celebrated than Halloween is, but we decided to paint our faces as skeletons and cross the border that way. Surely that would make the busy, corrupt border crossing much better?? It’s not like anyone would be comparing our faces to the pictures in our passports or anything…

Skeleton Kelly painting skeleton Tom

Our masterpieces, before they were attacked by our helmets.

The Ultimate Skeletons

Ready to cross the border. Are you scared?

The ride to the border was hilarious. Almost everyone who looked closely enough at our faces did a double take and then burst out laughing.

At one traffic light I slowly looked around at two schoolgirls in the back of a rickshaw, and one of them screamed with fright. We all melted in hysterics.

The riding dead.

When we neared Huaquillas Phil decided that he wanted to find a bank machine and take out some more US dollars to save for Argentina. We stopped at the only place we saw that had a bank sign, but it was some kind of customs checkpoint, and there was no ATM. We rode another 4km or so until it was clear we were about to get to the border which is when Phil and Kelly left Jugs’  paperwork with me, and went back towards town in search of a bank machine.

Tom and I rode to the border, or what we thought was the border, and asked where the customs office was to clear our bikes out of Ecuador. They told us we had already passed it, it was back down the road on the right hand side. Remember the customs checkpoint with no bank machine? Yep – that was where we had to clear the bikes out. Luckily they didn’t notice that I had paperwork for three bikes, but we only actually had two bikes there.

Tom and I rode back to the “border” which turned out not to be the border at all. The same guys who had sent us back to the customs place, told us to keep riding down the road to get to the border.

We rode for a few minutes and then saw this sign:

But we haven’t left Ecuador yet…

Wait. We haven’t had our passports stamped out of Ecuador yet. Have we missed yet another checkpoint? There was no way to turn around, so we just kept going into Peru. Soon we pulled up to a group of buildings with a big Peru sign on the grass in front of them. Tom and I pulled up to the first building, looking for Phil and Kelly, who surely must be there by now?

I asked the guy standing in front of building number one if he’d seen a tall hairy man with a face painted like mine. He hadn’t. He did however want to take a picture of us and our scary faces. Soon all of the customs officers had come out and they all wanted pictures. With me, with Tom, with us both, in groups, individually, the photo shoot went on for at least 15 minutes, but there was still no sign of Phil and Kelly.

One of the many pictures taken with the customs officers

They just couldn’t get enough of us!

When there were no more pictures to be taken, we asked if we were in the right place. They told us to pull up in one of the many empty parking spaces, and pointed in the general direction of the other buildings. Just after Tom and I had parked, Phil and Kelly pulled up to the customs guys, who, of course, took one look at their faces and knew they belonged with us.

Easy parking at the Peruvian border.

Kelly and I gathered all our passports and headed across the road to the building pointed out to us by a bored security guard, who also told us off for not using the crosswalk. I found this very surprising as no one anywhere since Mexico has paid any attention to crosswalks, and especially not in a traffic free place like that was!

In a wonderful display of cooperation, we had our passports stamped out of Ecuador at one desk, and in to Peru at the desk right beside it. Far from our painted faces causing trouble, the immigration agents loved them, and spent the whole process laughing and joking with us. They did insist on seeing the boys though before they would stamp their passports too.

Kelly enjoying the border crossing experience

We then had to return to our friends the customs agents in building number one. They were thrilled to welcome us back, and clamoured to help us. We were the only customers they had and so we had them all helping out. There was a bored lady at an insurance stand who sold us a month’s insurance for $35. Pretty expensive we thought (It was only $5 in Ecuador), but we wouldn’t be allowed into Peru with the bikes without it.

Tom and I working with the most helpful customs agents in the world

I got two whole customs agents to myself!

Paperwork complete, a few more pictures with our new friends, and we were free to enter country number 13. Far from being the terrible, difficult, corrupt border we’d been warned about, the border into Peru was one of the nicest, quietest, friendliest borders we’ve crossed.

Phil and I saying goodbye to our customs friends with one final photo (or five).