27 October – 3 November
JC decided today that he ought to have some sunglasses. He doesn’t normally bother but the bright light and the thin air is even making him squint. Off we went to the mall and, following the directions of his old mate Steve Tranter, he decided on “Ray Ban”, but when he saw the price at $240 he promptly put them back, went outside and bought a fake pair for $15 from a street vendor! Typical Yorkshireman!
During our wanderings today we found a Korean veggie restaurant and had a very good 2 course lunch for only $5 each – are we turning into a pair of skinflints with all of this hanging around?
Another day, another delay – we went to pick up the Toyota at 1pm and were told it wouldn’t be ready until 4pm. This time they ordered a taxi and paid for us to go back to our Hotel. The taxi drivers here must be go to the “Formula One School of Driving”, weaving in and out at great speed – no indicators they just toot their horns along the way. My hair gets greyer every time I ride in one – I’ll be glad when I have my usual driver back in his seat!
We were back at the garage at 4pm prompt and didn’t get away until 5.15 with a request to run up to the Equator tomorrow and then bring it back so that they can make the final checks. As we drove away JC realized that the speedo wasn’t working. I think I am going to re-name our website “Troubles with our Toyota”.
Next morning we were up at 6am, dressed, packed, breakfasted, checked out and at the garage by 9am. By 10.10, the problem still wasn’t solved and we were beginning to wonder if we would ever get moving again. It was 11.40 before we left the garage and we still had to fully test out the new Turbo, so we called the Hotel and booked in for another night. On the drive up to the Equator, the Toyota was flying, whizzing along and even passing vehicles on the uphill runs! At Mittad del Mundo (middle of the world) we parked up and took the usual photographs with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere after chatting with a guide there about the huge sundial there atop of the plateau. Ecuador is the only place where the Equator runs over the high land. We certainly felt that we have made progress over the past six months having made it this far – half way there!! Heading back we saw Anna and Chad in Mango heading in the opposite direction. I am sure our paths will cross again along the way.
Back at the workshops the vehicle was tested, tested and tested. Dr Diesel (Juan) is a perfectionist and we thought we would be there all night. Finally she was ready (or so we thought) and we all said goodbye with Juan saying he would never forget us for a very long time!!!
As I said “we thought she was ready” – this morning all packed and ready to be on our way – the Toyota wouldn’t start! You will all be able to imagine how we feel – yet another delay and a concern that this will happen again once we are en route and miles away from Dr Diesel! JC is back at the garage and I am waiting in the hotel to hear the latest news.
Just when I thought we were stuck here for another night, at 11.30 JC was back at the hotel and we could leave. Seems that it was drawing air from the water trap that JC had insisted he had fitted originally. He wishes he hadn’t bothered now! Dr Diesel by passed it, checked all the settings again and sent us on our way. Out of Quito and now on the Panamerican Highway heading South, we made our way to the Quillatao loop from Latacunga to hopefully see the beautiful emerald lake inside of a volcano crater. Outside of Pujili, a small town where the indigenous people are famous for their costumes and dancing, the road started to climb with switch backs, sharp bends and some landslides. It started to rain, the clouds closed in and at 3,844 metres you could barely see a hand in front of you. Deciding that we probably wouldn’t be able to see the Lake in the cloud cover and not wanting to spend a night up in the Andes in the dark we turned around and went back down to the highway.
The rain and cloud followed us so we were unable to see any of the volcanoes that run along the side of this road. We made it into Riobamba in daylight, where we stayed at the Marquez de Rio Hotel. A new place – only been open for 2 months, secure parking, clean rooms, good food with very helpful staff, particularly the receptionist who was learning English and wanted to practice as much as she could. She gave us lots of information on Ecuador and a set of beautiful post cards. Sadly our delays at Quito means that we have to “jab on”, as JC would say, in order to reach Guayaquil before the weekend and get our container deposit back and head for Peru, otherwise we will be stuck in the city until Monday and we have had enough of cities!
As we left Riobamba the weather was better 16C but lovely sunshine to set off in. We were amazed yet again at the farming on the high terraces in the Andes – all done by hand and the wonderful scenery!
As we dropped down towards the coast again the cloud cover came in and the temperature went up to 26C. The road seemed to be worse than it was on the way up – looked like they have had some rain and it was a matter of picking our way through the potholes very slowly. We took 3 hours to do just 100kms and then we got stuck in roadworks where we bought our lunch from the vendors running up and down the queue – lovely cheese empanadas. JC said I had picked the wrong vendor, I should have picked the fat guy – there would have probably have been even more cheese filling!
Just to keep our trucking friends happy some more photos from the road.
Eventually we were back at sea level and could make better time, arriving back into Guayaquil at 2.30pm. Expecting to walk into the agents, pick up our cash and walk out again, we were frustrated to say the least to find out that firstly, Maersk had made additional charges for cleaning up an alleged oil leak in the container –( no way!) and that they wanted to give us a cheque for the deposit. We argued about both – what use was a cheque to us, particularly as we had given them money in cash and we were definitely not going to accept the additional charge from Maersk! This meant that we spent a couple of hours there as they sorted things out. As usual, Xavier came to our rescue. The charges and the cheque were cancelled and a new cheque made out to Xavier who took us to a bank, cashed it and handed over our money. It was all so very frustrating but we finally felt that we were not longer at the mercy of shippers or agents and will not be again until we get to the end of journey and ship home. All other frontiers from now on will be on land and as frustrating as they are the longest hold up we have had so far has only been four hours! We celebrated by spending the night at the Sheraton – luxury!
After the best nights sleep in a few weeks – nothing to worry about except our route into Peru, we finally left Guayaquil for the last time. The traffic as usual was mayhem – don’t know why they have lane markers here – no one takes any notice of them. Stuck in the traffic we watched in amazement as the young guys putting up the Christmas decorations, clambered on metal frames over the highway with no safety harnesses whatsoever – rather them than me. It still seems strange seeing the decorations, it doesn’t feel like its coming up to Christmas to us, although yesterday when we bought some satsumas from a vendor at the road side, the smell did made us think of Christmas!
Today our route to Machala – “The Banana Capital of the World” took us along wide flat plains at the base of the highlands and we saw very different farming methods than up in the Andes. We were amazed to see a combine going at this time of year, watched the vehicles loaded with sugar cane roll by and spotted a “strange” tractor working in the paddy fields. The closer we got to Machala, we could see why it is so famous for bananas – we have never ever seen so many bananas anywhere else before. All along the road at both sides there were many Banana Haciendas with the odd coffee crop. Small villages selling bananas with everything – even roasted guinea pig – an Ecuadorian speciality – thankfully JC didn’t stop for any this time.
Acres and acres of bananas........................................................................ Plenty of cane juice but no guinea pig......
Well tomorrow we head across the border into Peru, that will be the Toyota’s 42nd country in 2years and 1 month since it first went on the road! We are very very pleased to be back on the road again and enjoyed our first picnic for weeks, amongst the banana plantations today. Quite fittingly, our hotel tonight was a former banana plantation – Hotel Oro Verde where JC feasted on a mixed seafood ceviche and the best sea bass he has ever had in a stew with squid, octopus and shrimps – Chris Wray eat your heart out!!!
We were up an away early to face our first land border for a while and I guess we were both feeling a bit apprehensive - making sure that all was safely locked up in the back. At Huayaquillas the border – everything was in different places. We stopped 2kms before the border to get exit stamps in our passports, where we met a family from Guayaquil who gave us some tips about not changing money until we get into Peru and where the best beach for surfing was! Then we headed into town to find the place where we could exit the car and the actual border. It was absolute chaos in the town with a market on every street selling everything from clothes to fresh??? meat. There were people everywhere. The border is actually a bridge in the centre of town with the Ecuadorian customs for exiting the vehicle on one side of the bridge and the Peruvian for importing the vehicle on the other side. There were market stalls all across the bridge too and crowds of people doing their Christmas shopping!
We took our friend’s advice and didn’t change any money and then one guy tried to get us to pay $5 to drive over the bridge. He was very persistent but the locals told us ‘DON’T PAY ANYTHING” – so we gave him back his ticket and headed on our way. He tried to get at us again when John went into the Peruvian office – but the guard there pushed him out of the way!! I waited in the car whilst all this was going on. On the bridge amidst the clamour of people selling anything you can think of. I saw two men approach each other – one was trying to sell socks to the other and, not to be out done, the other one was trying to sell him underpants!
The passport office for entry into Peru was about 3kms drive from the bridge but aside from it all being a bit disjointed we were through in around an hour with JC helping the guys to complete the Carnet for us – and NO additional costs. A big difference from some of the rather intimidating borders we have used to date, although I think Rick and the classics might have a problem with parking here.
As Juan had told us, once we were through the border, the bananas disappeared and we were into desert. The road was good, we had had an easy border crossing and we were feeling quite smug until we realized that there was a peage up ahead and we had not changed any money!!
Well our luck stayed with us – for some strange reason they were only charging people travelling North out of Peru – don’t know why but we were pleased. The other strange thing was the Central Customs Post which is about 50kms away from the main border and stuck in the middle of the desert. The officers there were very friendly, as most officials had been so far, and welcoming us to Peru, took a quick look at the carnet and waved us on our way.
The road eventually dropped down onto the coast and then we headed back inland on a long straight road through the desert. It was like being on the road to Salalah through Oman again. It was All Souls Day and the many graves along the sides of the road all had fresh flowers – wonder where they grow these in the desert.
Stopped for the night at a small hotel – good clean rooms with air conditioning, pool, and cable but no hot water – only cost 35 pounds for both of us so we didn’t complain and were up an away by 8am the next day – now he is back on the road there’s no stopping JC! With few private cars in this part of Peru, every village we come to is filled with brightly coloured tuc tucs ferrying people, freight and sometimes animals back and forth between villages. The small homes are along the side of the highway which is the only paved road. Between the houses the paths are just sand and dust. Looks like most of the living and cooking is done outside and, as we see water deliveries being made, they obviously have no running water. Despite this the housewives are fighting the sand and dust getting into their homes by dampening down the frontages with buckets of water.
With few road signs in the towns we did lots of stopping and checking the way. After mile after mile of desert with not much traffic, we came into Chiclayo – once again no signs and we had to keep stopping and asking until eventually someone said “just follow that truck”. We were a bit worried, as we seemed to be going in the wrong direction but soon saw a sign for “Diversion Lima” and it certainly was a diversion – it took us on to a gravel/sand road, over a rubbish tip with buzzards hovering above – doesn’t make you feel very safe, and over a very narrow rail bridge – one lane traffic only. There were many heavy trucks on the track all kicking up loads of dust, men filling holes with sugar cane, rubbish and anything they could get their hands on and when we reached the rail bridge one of the sugar cane trucks had to park up whilst they lopped some bits of his load – he was too wide to get over the bridge!!! All good fun – the diversion was about 35kms, slow going and unless you could see the puff of sand from a vehicle in the distance, sometimes confusing but we made it and were glad to get onto tarmac again when JC stopped and checked all the tyres before driving off – much to the amazement of the local policemen.
Thankfully, we were back on the Panamerican in a short while and conditions improved dramatically. Running as it does through the desert, it is really well maintained and well policed. The police stopped us several times along the way but all were very friendly and wanted to chat, one pair even let us take photographs. All asked where we were from, where we were going to and wished us a good trip. A very pleasant change from the police we had met in Central America! One thing became apparent though is that they don’t know the Union Jack very well over here. We have it on both sides of the Toyota but still they think we are either American or German – one was even forecasting “Obama for President”!
Although this area is mostly desert, there are small valleys filled with agriculture – mostly rice, asparagus, sugar cane, potatoes and some fruit and what is quite amazing to see is the experimental farming, where they are actually growing crops in the irrigated sand. Its very strange to see vast swathes of sandy desert with small fields of crops! Further South there were huge chicken farms – I didn’t like the look of them at all and downwind the smell was not very nice to say the least!
No not being arrested for having bad hair - just friendly policemen! Experimental farming........... Chicken farms in the distance.....
That night we headed into Trujillo looking for accommodation. The one listed in Rough Guide had disappeared and been replaced by a rather grubby looking place with no bar (disaster), no restaurant and more importantly no secure parking. We headed out of the city and back on to the coast – no hotels, no campsites. We followed a sign 2.5kms off the road and eventually found a hotel which was closed!! As it was getting dark we headed back to the highway and JC was in his element as we backed in between two Volvos to put the tent up and spend the night on a garage forecourt. With the tent up we went in search of supper and a beer at the restaurant but it seems it was restricted to “truckers” only and we couldn’t convince them that JC actually was one. So it was an early night and food from our stores.
We were away by 6.30am. The trucks were still there. I had to stop himself from going around and knocking the drivers up – “its Monday morning and they should all be on their way by now!!!” Coxy’s men will remember what he is like! Desert again today folks by the time we reach Lima we will have done over 1000 kms along this road but the desert changes all of the time. The shifting sands change colour from yellow to red and green. The road goes up and over the dunes, sometimes dropping down to stunning views of deserted beaches with the surf rolling in and sometimes covered in a sea fret. We have seen many trucks carrying sugar cane but today for the first time we watched them harvesting and loading it.
We spotted another “Brit” heading North today in a converted 4 wheel Scania – he’ll be wanting one of them next. Maybe that’s why Paul was in Coxy’s yard last weekend – checking one out for conversion?????
We made it into Lima, through the manic traffic – I never thought I would say this but we have found a place where the driving is worse than Mexico city!!! After getting lost amongst the narrow “calles” we finally flagged down a cab and followed him to a Hotel with safe parking, good food and HOT HOT water – luxury.
Paul - Eyeing up a Scania to convert???? Coming into Lima...........................................................
Thanks for all of your messages. Not sure how often we will be able to update the website from now on. Particularly, if we have to spend any more nights on garage forecourts!!!!
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