Macara to Piura: The desert bit and a Top Gear finish...
Following our arrival in Macara, the border town with Peru, we left you with these words; 'all being well we might even cross the border in the next few days'. It took rather longer than that - a week to be precise - in which time Nick travelled nearly 500 miles in search of endless certificates, licenses and other paperwork which were required by the border bureaucrats. Sadly it seemed that their appetite for fresh paperwork was greater than anything we were ever going to be able to satiate so we were forced eventually to sell our horses in Macara... Fortunately however, we have been able to buy strikingly similar horses just over the border in Peru.
Despite an extremely frustrating week the immense generosity of our hosts, the Barriga family, in Macara meant that we were clean (occasional hot showers!), well-rested, and extremely well-fed. The heat and humidity had been fairly hard on the horses however later on in the week Phil started taking them up to the airstrip which runs down the centre of the town (but only receives one plane a week!), where they had excellent grazing and a bit more breeze during the day.
The next target destination was Piura, in the desertic north of Peru. In a Top Gear style finish ourselves, Ed and Quita would all be converging on Piura from Macara, Guayaquil, and the UK respectively. Ed (the Stig) looked to be comfortably in the lead... As for the others it was still anyone's game! For Nick and Phil there was an added complication. While the route wasn't to be particularly complicated the only map we had for Peru was a small tourist map (see photo) which we had pulled out of a tourist guide in Macara. Similarly with no Peruvian GPS data gauging locations/distances was going to be problematic at best. They had also opted to give the easyboots another shot in these drier conditions. All the horseshoes had been removed in Macara (most were worn to breaking point anyway) and Nick had done his best to trim the hooves as well as he could with a rasp and hoof knife.
They set off from Cachaquito, just over the border, after three breakfasts courtesy of our kind hosts, and the gentleman who had recently sold us our horses. Having averaged around 2,000m altitude thus far the heat at 100m was suppressive. Forunately on the first day there was just a touch of breeze and a little haze in the sky... bloody hot nonetheless. Reports from everyone, including the Peruvians themselves, have warned us that Peru is likely to be more dangerous than the rather better-off Ecuador. By the time we came to look for our first camp spot we were starting to feel a touch nervous. People's reactions to a pair of mounted gringos had been cooler so far that day and we felt more like we were being eyed-up than we had done in the mountains. The first farm we stopped at couldn't have been friendlier. They had comparatively reasonable grazing and even dug out a camp spot! How much could we pay? Any payment was voluntary. To top this off a friend who had advised us at the border drove past just as we were leaving the road. He screeched to a halt and ran over brandishing a bag full of food, drinks and loo roll just for us! Yet another guardian angel.
We enjoyed a quiet night (despite news about an abundance of tarantulas in the vicinity) and were up at 5am the next morning to try and set off in the cool morning. Desperate to avoid the worst of the heat we would ride from 7.30am until around 11am before stopping for a long graze in the shade (if available) until 2.30pm. If we were near enough to a town, Las Lomas in this case, one of us would hop in a tuk-tuk to go and pick up food and drink. Sadly we were rarely able to find anything suitable for sandwiches - bread rolls with condensed milk was about as close as we managed! That evening we surrendered to the heat at about 5pm and asked a lady if we could keep the horses behind her house over night. Initially she said it was far too dangerous but then agreed that so long as they were close enough to the house for her dogs to hear things might be ok. An offer of 10 soles (about 2GBP) made the situation considerably safer!
The safety of being so close to a house was rather less of a consideration when, at 2.30am, the cockerel kicked off. Somehow the tent manages to amplify these noises and when the infernal thing is two yards away from your head there is no sleeping through it. Phil has decided that he will now happily go to a c*** fight given the opportunity. Apart from this another early start was interrupted only by Phil's discovery of a tarantula under Nick's hat... We are now officially in boot-checking territory. The highlights of the morning included Carpicho, Nick's horse, taking exception to a cactus (the 100th of the morning) and nearly putting him in front of an on-coming truck, and the donkey attack... out of absolutely nowhere a loose donkey came charging down a hill towards us, braying loudly, and, in its efforts to introduce itself to the horses, quickly became tangled up in various lead ropes leaving Phil with quite a mess to sort out. Snakes, spiders, and savage donkeys. We've survived it all now!
While travelling in the 'wet' season did make for an impossible start to this trek it has recently proved to be a blessing in disguise. Thus far in areas that are widely deemed 'desert' there has been pasture/grass/alfalfa/cane grass available, if at a price. Mercifully the same was true of much of the desert area we crossed in the Piura region. Best of all, as there is no fodder for most of the year, there is very little livestock. What there was was usually freely available for the horses! This didn't help the heat and thirst though and the last four days have probably been the toughest of the trek so far, but we can now say that we have crossed a desert - and we weren't putting the horses at too much risk in the process.
We stopped for lunch near Tambogrande. At this point we were getting nervous about the upcoming town of Sullana. We had heard nothing good about it and had been advised by several people to take a police escort past the town. Also nervous about having to bribe our was through checkpoints, and that the next few days would be even hotter than anything we had encountered so far, Nick took a tuk-tuk into the town to see about the cost of trucking the horses directly to Piura. A discussion with the (thankfully) honest truck drivers in the market at Tambogrande suggested that, to get to our destination in Piura, we could comfortably avoid Sullana and that it may even be only another day and a half riding (we had allowed for another two at least). Uncharacteristically we accepted his estimations of distances and decided to press on as planned.
We had a good distance to cover that afternoon if we wanted to stand a chance of arriving in Piura the next night so we pressed on until quite late. Water was starting to become a problem now and quite late on, around 6.30pm (sundown is around 7pm), we were scouting a dry riverbed a few hundred yards from the road. We had managed to find a reasonable pool of water and decided that, as we were currently out of sight and we didn't think anyone had seen us leave the road, we'd have a look for a campspot. A stone's throw away Phil found a perfectly secluded patch of grazing out of sight from the road and any nearby villages. Shortly afterwards there was only moonlight to see by and, given we'd be leaving at 6.30am we were unlikely to have any trouble from any passers by... all the more so as that evening's South American World Cup qualifier match was Peru vs Brazil.
Expecting a 40 to 45km day ahead of us we were off shortly after first light. It was perhaps fortunate that we couldn't get going any earlier as Nick's hat had once again attracted an unwanted visitor - this time a scorpion! Phil had already walked a good stint in the last few days so planned to walk for the morning to rest the horses, and to ride in the afternoon. Nick had been rather lazier and decided he'd better walk the whole day to spare a rub on Capricho's whithers. It was to be a long, long day. After hundreds of miles intermittently following the Pan American highway we were finally able to bid it farewell at Cieneguillo, a 'lemon town' safely short of the dangerous Sullana. We had already walked 25km so stopped look for lunch. We were in luck - between a couple of stores we found bread rolls, quite fresh, a bit of 'ham', some tomatoes and some mayonaise! Topped up with about three litres each of water and gatorade (we probably got through about six litres each that day) we were well set for the afternoon. However, without decent maps we had absolutely no idea how far we still had to go... local estimations varied from 5 to 40km! Over the last 10km the relatively abundant grazing had all but vanished and over the next 15km the landscape really did turn into one of a white-sanded desert scrub (outwith the irrigated lemon groves that follow the canal much of the way to Piura). We had already ridden/walked 50km as it turned dark, fortunately with a bit of a breeze and a cooling evening. We did start to wonder whether we would be able to make it that night at all. With absolutely nothing available for the horses we didn't have much of a choice. Shortly before 8 o'clock Ed, who we hadn't seen for over three weeks, appeared in a taxi! He told us it was only a couple more km to the Association of Peruvian Horse Breeders yard where the horses were to stay. 15 minutes later we were washing down the horses in a spacious corral and Ed had even managed to bring a load of alfalfa from the market in Piura. The final tally for that day was over 55km. Nick was struggling to move his legs within half an hour of stopping and yet the horses were in great shape, if a little hungry!
Having tucked in the horses we still had to complete our Top Gear finish... and it really was worthy of Top Gear status. We took a taxi straight form the farm to the airport and within four minutes of our arrival who should appear at the front gate of the airport to find the gringos smugly sipping their imaginary pints? The Gringita herself, Senorita Quita Collard. What a finish!
THE ED LINES HEADLINES: After receiving the all clear with the doctors I was delighted with victory in the race to Piura. The final stitches will be removed early next week and then I shall be back on my horse.
I met, for the first time, THE Bruce of Bruce Organisation and his wife (and charity president), Ana Tere, who came to Piura briefly to check on a school they opened in 2008 in one of Peru´s poorest areas. I joined them in the visit and was delighted to see the material form of people´s generous donations from home. It was very basic, with a tin roof and reed based walls (see photos) but it provided a friendly learning environment with colourful posters and exercise books and gives the children an opportunity they would never have had.
Afterwards the teacher, who evidently takes a lot of pride in her children, took us to a major elementary school in the city that now has many ex-pupils of Bruce Org. Many are a year ahead of their age due the previous teaching with Bruce.
In the evening I couldn´t have been happier to be reunited with Nick and Phil after three weeks of separation. I have been truly lucky to have been looked after by the kindness of the Miranda family but there hasn´t been a moment where I haven´t been dying to be back with the others. After the three of us had our manic rush to Piura airport and Quita walkeed out the Arrivals doors I felt an intense aura of happiness; the Inca Riders were complete again.