Hi again, as we are stuck for an extra day in Piura, it seems as good a time as any to get up-to-date with our blog!
So from our hostal in Cuenca we taxi out to the bus terminal and find a bus leaving for Loja, another 5 or so hours further south at 7.45am so we grab two tickets for $7 each and wait for our bus to arrive. This time we're travelling with San Luis. All the buses look nice and new from the outside, but inside this bus its a bit run down and rattles when we take off like it won't last the journey. But it does and our driver is an improvement on the road rage prone driver from Santa buses. Also the toilet is unlocked and open for use which makes life easier!
Leaving Cuenca early in the morning we are soon in the countryside and see indigenous women doing laundry in creeks and draping it over stones and rocks for drying. We see children helping to milk the family cow by hand in the middle of fields. Life seems hard but simple in the Ecuadorian countryside.
We arrive into Loja at 1pm and as soon as we are off the bus we find the ticket office for Loja International and get a ticket to cross to Piura Peru on the first bus at 7am tomorrow. It all goes quite smoothly at the ticket office as I've written 'Piura, 07h00, manana' on a piece of paper! Just $10 each for a 9 hour bus ride. Again the bus company promises air conditioning and a toilet.
Bus tickets sorted we get a taxi to one of the hostals from the ever trusty Lonely Planet - La Orquideas. We manage to get a room, with twin beds and private bathroom for $18. We head straight back out to resume yesterdays quest for some Peruvian soles! None of the banks we try offer currency exchange, but several mention a cambio in the same direction, so we persist and eventually find it. Shut. So we head off to an internet cafe to book some accommodation for Lima, 65c for almost an hour. Ecuador seems ridicuously cheap, its going to be so expensive going back to live in New Zealand!
We manage to strike the cambio open and take the only 150 soles he has, in a $100 and $50 note. The first taxi drver we meet in Peru is going to love us when we want change from a s4 taxi ride!
We eat at a small cafe/icecream palour for dinner, a small pizza and a delicious club sandwich with crisps on the side. Not fries, crisps. That's different. We watch a movie on the laptop, already we've found it to be a godsend for storing photos, keeping in touch and entertaining ourselves with a movie occassionally.
We find our shower has no hot water and head to bed. Sadly our hostal room fronts the street and has noise insulation as good as a sieve! The noise from the street (and our hostal seems to be on a main street) in this provincial town just doesn't cease. To make matters worse, the internal walls of the hostal rooms are not full height to the ceiling and noise from the inconsiderate owners and other guests competes with the street noise, right through the night. We are glad to get up early and taxi to the bus station! We wouldn't recommend La Orquideas.
Our Loja International bus is the nicest yet, both inside and out. With the least rattles it seem the most roadworthy of the buses we've been on so far. The air con is actually from air vents above each seat, rather than by way of a window! Though again with the locked toilet. What's the point? There are several other gringo couples on the bus with us, and we all seem to have similar ways of dealing with a 9 hour bus ride - reading books, ipods (to drown out 9 hours of Spanish pop music!), sleeping and watching the scenery in turn.
Eventually there is a toilet stop around midday and shortly after we reach the border town of Macara where, with few exceptions, everyone but us gringos gets off the bus. The then largely empty bus takes us to the border, where we jump off, get our Ecuadorian exit stamp, walk across the border to the next office and get a 90 day stamp from Peru. Very low hassle. Back on the bus we motor down into Peru on some smoother, straighter roads now that we've dropped down out of the Andes.
We whip through shantytowns in the middle of a dry, dusty, sandy nowhere and hold our breath when we stop in one. But the bus continues so it wasn't Piura, phew. We get into Piura at 4pm and its a minor step up from the shanty towns we've passed through. The streets are terrible and in some places the side streets are just sand tracks. The main road we come in on is chaos with tiny beat up yellow taxis, tuk-tuks and long distance buses competing for space on the roads!
We find that we are dropped at the Loja International bus shed, rather than a central bus terminal. A taxi is somehow ordered for us and promptly turns up. I don't think it's passed a WoF this side of the millenium and there is no boot. We clamber in the tiny back seat and squeeze our packs and daypacks in on top of us and the driver squeezes the door closed on us. We rattle and bump our way to Hostal San Jose.
Its a litte unclear whether the guy who greets us knows of our reservation under my name, whether he understands me telling him about the reservation or whether he just books us into a spare room. Anyways the outcome is the same and we are given a double room with private bath on the top floor for 50 soles (roughly 2.8 soles per US $ for those back home). Our room has cable TV, a fan and incredibly the wifi signal reaches to our room, which is a first! There are a couple of staff members with some english who are very helpful.
We taxi back into the centre of town, not far from the hostal, and set about trying to book a bus to Lima for the following day, Sunday. Our first choice bus company, Santa del Cruz has no availability so we head to the main road in and out of town where the bus company's cluster. We try three more companies that have services going down to Lima, but all are full. It seems Sunday's are busy days to travel. We also try for any available seats on Sunday, just down to Trujillo, but the story is the same.
Resigned to spending a second night in Piura, we book seats on the first bus out of town to Lima on Monday afternoon at 3pm. We book with Cruz del Sur for $45 each or s270 total. We were asked what meat we want, so it seems we'll be getting a dinner and we've booked onto a cama (bed) bus so we can sleep through the night, arriving into Lima, all things to plan, around 6am.
Bus finally sorted we find some dinner, at a cafe just off Plaza Grau. Ryan gets a jamon sandwich and I order a club sandwich after seeing how good Ryan's club sanger was the night before. We get a vanilla milkshake to share but make a boob by gesturing that we would like a second straw, and instead end up with a second milkshake. Embarrased, we gesture more clearly to the straw and the second milkshake is removed and a second straw appears in its place. Oops.
My club sanger comes out and my eyes bulge. Its the biggest sandwich I've ever clapped eyes on, with about four slices of bread, with tomato, lettuce, cheese, bacon, ham, and shredded chicken. There's also an egg fried into one of the slices of bread. And to top off this massive sandwich which I can't clamp my chompers around, it comes with fries. Ryan's help is needed to polish off one half of the sandwich and we leave stuffed.
After a cruisy morning, on Sunday we decide to head out to a nearby town which is said to have a good crafts market. We walk up the street from our hostal and find out which way to Catacaos and flag down a minivan heading out there. These minivans are a cheaper alternative to a taxi or the tuk-tuks. They drive along with the side door open and a guy hanging out yelling out the destination. You flag them down and squeeze in. I was give a seat up the front with the driver and another guy, sandwiched in between them and Ryan squished himself into the back somehow. We bolt along the road, whipping around tuk-tuks while bigger vehicles whip around us, all the while avoiding (narrowly!) anything coming the opposite way. The minivan's are even less roadworthy than the taxi's. We pass another shantytown and a fellow passenger tells us where to get off and points us in the direction of the plaza and market.
Walking into town we seem to pick up a guide in the form of a local kid. No words pass between us, but he follows/leads/accompanies us to the plaza, helping us cross the streets, avoiding cars, bicycles and more tuk-tuks. We walk around the market stalls, but nothing grabs our interests, the crafts seem a bit thin on the ground. Food, fruit, cereals and seeds abound aplenty. There is some clothing and a row of hardwares. Disappointed we walk back to the main road and flag another combi minivan back to Piura, making the trip with as many as 20 people crammed into the van (plus the driver and assistant/fare collector), bags of vegetables and a live chicken in a carry bag!
The combi (1 sole each - like 20 british pence!) takes us into Piura from a different direction but a helpful passenger strikes up some sort of conversation with me, and shows us where to get off and points us in the direction of Plaza de Armas. We manage to get back to Plaza Grau and take a tuk-tuk back to the hostal. I'm not sure where the tuk-tuks fit into the road-worthy scheme, maybe alongside the taxi's. They're a motorbike underneath and a small passengers bench/seat and frame welded to the bike somehow. So with our trip out to the markets we've managed to fill in a day in this dusty desert town!
Looking forward to getting on the move again tomorrow!