The drive between Cuenca and Loja wasn’t very far but it took all day. Lots of steep, narrow mountain passes and the blowing fog that reduced visibility to less than fifteen feet. A lot of the distance between Loja and Cuenca was idyllic looking, like some sort of mountainous Shire populated by elderly indigenous farmers wearing cowboy shalls and bowler hats.
We stayed in Loja for a couple of days. I really liked the city, and we needed to prepare for leaving Ecuador.
I managed to find Cephalexin and Baytril for Trek after searching the city for a couple of hours. The Cephalexin was easy since it’s a human medication and I found it at the first pharmacy I checked. However, the Baytril took a lot of searching until I finally found a veterinarian who had half a box left. I did get a great tour of Loja, though. I even went through the three-story, six-block central market which was incredibly busy. Before calling a taxi I stopped in a café to get an espresso (non-Nescafe coffee is something that can’t be passed up in South America) and a humita, a type of meatless breakfast tamale. The cafes in Loja were high-ceilinged storefronts which had been narrowly split into two floors at a height of about seven feet. You sat downstairs and ordered with at a cashier in the back corner of the store, who then climbed the ladder-stairs to the second floor to prepare the food. It’s a unique setup that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Plus, $2USD for an espresso and lunch is a great price.
Before I flagged down a cab I saw a guy selling holographic 3D posters in the main square. Deciding I couldn’t pass up a $3 thirty-inch holographic Jesus, I walked over to buy. Then, armed with a stack of antibiotics, a bag of eggs, and Spanish-English dictionary and my newly acquired meter-of-3D-Jesus, I flagged down a two dollar-taxi to Parque Jipiro. I don’t know if I had a particularly good accent or if it was just the Jesus poster and the medication, but I was only charged $1.50.
We went to Catamayo the next day and camped at a derelict gas station on the edge of town. We drove in the next morning to pick up a few things, namely US Dollars, water, and shoe glue, before heading into the desert. There were thousands of dead or dying insects around the town center, mostly huge moths and beetles. I was looking at an intact six-inch moth on the ground when an old man came up to talk to me. I asked him why there were all of the dead insects, to which he replied in a slow, dusty Spanish befitting of a five-foot septuagenarian bedecked in a shall and bowler hat, that “It was their time”. “But, is it from insecticide?” I asked as a follow-up question, to which he replied “Ah, si. It is.”
Macara is the Ecuadorian border town. In the “Dry Forest” region, it also seems to be a hub for rice cultivation. When we stopped there, it was in the low 80s with no wind, the stale air lending an almost claustrophobic feel to the place. About 12,000 people live there, but the town was dead. My dad and I caught a cab into town to an ATM, which happened to be out of service for the day. Then we left for Peru at about 4:00pm. Border proceedings took about an hour and a half, and by the time we were in Peru, it was forty-five minutes until dark. It was then that we had our first encounter with Peruvian police, when two officers pulled up in a 1989 Toyota Corolla Hatchback to ask why we pulled over. Late 80s Corolla Hatchbacks, it turns out, are extremely popular in Peru. In fact, it was the only make of car we saw for 120 miles besides motos and semitrucks.
We descended into the fringes of the Sechura Desert through half a dozen villages filled with goats. Thousands of goats. They were actually quite good looking goats, something I wouldn’t have suspected seeing as most goats in America (especially free ranging and/or desert goats) look awful. It makes me wonder if the obsession with purebred animals combined with a lack of care has made American animals poor stock. I don’t know any really good dogs in Fairbanks, they’re nearly all weird, unattractive and unhealthy, and poorly behaved. I found Lucy in Otavalo, and she’s a great dog and a stray. I have actually seen five or six great looking, well behaved stray dogs in the past couple of weeks. And that’s more than I can say for a year in Alaska, or even the United States in general. The same thing applies to goats, chickens, and pigs as well. There are massive chickens down here, and they look far better than the runs of whatever-we-would-buy at the Feed Store. It makes me wish I could import Peruvian animals into the United States easier.
We stayed in Las Lomas for our first night in Peru. In a gas station with a buzzing neon sign fitting of an Alternate Peruvian Route 66, the desert night made it feel more like Eastern California than an equatorial desert. My dad and I changed some dollars for soles at the gas station and bought water at a tienda across the street. The next day we got up and my dad and I took a moto into town to buy propane, a Claro SIM card and bread. Las Lomas wasn’t unlike Bethel in a lot of aspects—the same look to the houses and the way the people acted.
We jogged to the North to the Peruvian Desert Coast, all the way to Mancora, for a couple of days. We stayed in Cabo Blanco and made daytrips from a PetroPeru station. Deserts are home to refineries. I don’t really know why. It makes all deserts feel similar in a way, especially at night. Mancora is a large Peruvian beach-vacation destination. It was a really nice beach town, cheap and slightly idyllic in a touristy-way. I bought a pair of counterfeit Oakleys there for six dollars, and went to four different Claro stores because my mom needed the internet on my phone to work. I’m pretty sure one of the Claro people I stopped to talk to was drunk, because it took her four minutes to dial a phone number before her husband came out to help. Didn’t get the problem fixed though.
We also went to the desert beach, which, although vaguely reminiscent of a science fiction movie, was exactly what it sounds like. A beach, where it’s hot and dry, and there are desert mountains bordering the ocean. On the way to the beach I found an earthquake-ruined hotel complex that I was able to photograph while risking giant tarantulas and scorpions. I did get quite a few awesome photos that I have yet to process.
South to Piura, we stayed outside of town while my dad and I took a cab to the city center to fix the Claro issue and buy a USB modem. A Geo Metro would have put this car to shame. I was afraid to shut the door in case it broke off (Kiev is probably running out of parts for these things). At least two of the windows were broken, it looked like someone had tried to light the door on fire at some point, and the whole thing rattled violently whenever we hit a speed bump (which the driver took at 25mph). When we got to the Claro store, they needed our passports, so we took another taxi back. This one looked even worse than the first, as the windows that were still intact were stuck at awkward angles in their frames, and the seat belt was shredded and repaired like some sort of prison-friendship bracelet. We got the taxi to the trailer and back for twenty soles, the same price we had paid for a one way cab ride the first time.
Claro took two hours. Standing and waiting. Then waiting at the caja. Then fixing the iPhone. Then waiting. Then recharging the iPhone and waiting for the Visa to go through. Then more waiting inexplicably. Telecommunications is way more laid back here than in the US, so time is not anybody’s priority. After all, I’m sure Claro pays by the hour, and it’s not like you really have anything else to do that day. After Claro, we stopped at a grocery to buy bread, then hailed a taxi back. It’s almost like riding in one of those airport cars that drags out the luggage rack, but at fifty miles per hour through a crowded slum. Oh, and the last denizen of the cab presumably had a sack of day-old fish sliming the inside of the Soviet car.
Piura to Lambayeque. Peru at this point had turned from charming desert goat-land to a disgusting never ending landfill. Drifts of trash like sand dunes along the highway spread for miles in every direction. Every piece of scarce shrubbery, tree or grass was blanketed in white and brown tatters of polyethylene that had caught hold while being blown across the desert. There were walls everywhere, giant brick walls, eight to twelve feet high, and hundreds to thousands of feet long. All were whitewashed, then covered with some sort of advertisement . The way to dispose of trash in these towns was to sweep it into piles along the walls, douse it in gasoline, and set it on fire; leaving it to char the latex-based ads for petrochemicals. Because everyone knows how attractive brick walls are, especially when used as giant, oblong billboards, but when you burn trash fires on them to leave huge, peeling, scorch marks and puddles of melted plastic—that’s a whole new level.
The region around Chiclayo was thick with smoke and dust. The make shift landfills were always burning, and acrid black plumes from garbage fires in the cities and towns were a common sight. I saw at least three piles of burning tires on the side of the highway. And, on top of all of this, the sugar cane fields were being torched.
We stayed in Lambayeque for two nights. Most of us went to the Lord of Sipan museum the one day. I’m not very interested in anthropology or archaeology. We went to the other side of Chiclayo the next day. Driving on the hazy, empty highway past trashfires and endless advertising walls in the desert was postapocalyptical. I think a lot of it comes from not being able to see the sun; it makes it feel like you’re in a Ray Bradbury story.
We meant to go to the witches market in Chiclayo, but when we arrived the Central Market was completely shuttered. We walked around for a while, bought some groceries, and Jack and Max had their hair cut at a barbershop from 1958. The barber even had his licensing certificate for Chiclayo from 1958, and all the furniture and style types were in suit.
Chiclayo to Trujillo. More burning tires and cane fields, but it was getting better. Trujillo is where I’ve been for the past four or five days, on the beach. It’s not so bad, the center is beautiful. Better colonial architecture and cleaner than New Orleans. There’s a really fancy mall about ten minutes by car from where we’re camping at on the beach, with all the American stores.