Crossing the Border in the Wilderness and the Journey Back to Civilization
Namballe Travel Blog› entry 26 of 84 › view all entries
From Vilcabamba south towards Peru most maps show a road going only as far as Zumba, a 5-6 hour bus ride away. In fact, there is a road, or more accurately a dirt track that runs south from Zumba to La Balsa, which sits at the Ecuador-Peru border. So I was in fact going where the roads do not go, at least the paved ones.
The bus ride from Vilcabamba to Zumba was a slow one, the road was unpaved but in rather good condition, despite the few rivers and waterfalls that flowed across the road at a few points. The scenery was really beautiful with steep green cliffs and mountains and lots of interesting cloud forest type vegetation. We stopped a few times at towns which never made it onto any map, and were so isolated that I was surprised that some had electricity.
When 5:30 came the rancherra was loaded up with sacks of rice, gas cylinders, and other luggage and we headed south on the rough dirt road, crossing several rivers and there were some great views of the wilderness. After another military checkpoint where they pretended to search the rancherra the road branched off and we headed to an isolated town near the top of the mountain to drop some people off before proceeding to La Balsa. By the time we arrived in La Balsa it was a little after 7:30pm and most of the people had already gotten off the bus so there were just a few of us left, of those few only me and one Ecuadorean guy were actually headed to Peru, I have no idea where the others went, they just sort of disappeared into the night. There wasn´t really anything in La Balsa, it isn´t even really a town.
We had to wait a few minutes for the immigration officer to appear and then he quickly stamped my passport without asking any questions and I was on my way to Peru. I went around the bamboo blockade and was in no-man´s land on the dimly lit bridge over the river, the only piece of pavement within a hundred miles in either direction. On the Peruvian side I had to wait for the immigration officer to finish eating dinner before I could get my passport stamped.
This night also happened to coincide with the new moon and despite the few underpowered street lights it was incredibly dark outside. But once we left the relative civilization of the border area it was pitch black outside and more or less totally silent except for the car motor. When we reached Namballe I knew that I made the right decision as it was literally falling apart and didn´t have anything to offer, save for proximity to the border. Another 90 minutes later and we reached San Ignacio, with much more signs of life and promises of infrastructure and links to the real world. I had the driver drop me at some hotel that he recommended, of course I couldn´t pay for the room because I hadn´t been able to exchange any money since everything was closed so the man said that I could pay him in the morning.
The next morning I set out to find an ATM to try to get some Peruvian Soles and avoid having to change money. It didn´t take me long to find an ATM, however, it wouldn´t take my card so I had to wait in line at the bank around the corner, the only bank in town. After waiting in line for 15 minutes the man at the bank told me that the bank doesn´t exhange money. What bank near a border doesn´t exchange money? He told me there was someplace to exchange money a few blocks down and to the left. After walking for 15 minutes I couldn´t find it. Then this women who had seen me in the bank asked what I was looking for and offered to take me to the exchange place. It was a good thing that I took her up on the offer because the money exchange was this man who worked at a furniture/electronics store.
Lukily we made it safely to Jaen, despite riding crammed in with 17 adults and 6 kids in the minivan over the roughshod road.
Pictures to come when I get to an internet connection that is fast enough, which in these parts may take a while.