We were up early and moved out of the dunes and onto the sand road where we pumped up the tyres. We made good progress and once we had crossed the Sechura desert we got to enjoy some great sea views en route north toward Tumbes. We love all the little taxi trikes (both pedal and motor) and saw this one in one of the coastal towns...
We stopped and had lunch at El Brujo restaurant in Zorritos. It had a a terrific sea view and a pleasant cool breeze was coming off the ocean.
Michael tried ceviche, a traditional Peruvian dish of fresh fish marinated in a spicy lemon sauce, served cold with onions and fresh hot chillies and sweet potatoes. It was tasty, but too much in one sitting. I had a delicious local fish called lenguardo grilled with lemon butter and served with rice and chips - delicious! Afterwards we went down to the beach and swam (I got caught in a tumbling wave and wasn't very happy) and then relaxed on the beach (Michael in a hammock) in the sun for twenty minutes. It was a fabulous break in the journey!
The other unusual thing we saw were loads of rice paddies, often surrounded by desert conditions. Apparently some of the water comes from the Amazon basin through irrigation tunnels over 11km in length!
The formalities for the border crossing on both sides were easy and the officials pleasant. The atmosphere in the street, however, was absolutely chaotic. There is pretty much a free flow of pedestrian traffic over the bridge between the two countries and it is one giant market that stretches for blocks, selling all manner of things from stationery and sunhats to fresh juice and carcasses of meat. Onions are obviously much cheaper in Peru than Ecuador because I must have seen at least ten carts loaded with twenty 25kg bags being pushed by sweating men across the bridge to a truck parked 100m away, where they loaded them all on!
We passed a big Love Motel just after sunset and decided to investigate it. We have been told by other travellers that they are generally safe places to stay and always have parking facilities. We asked to see a room to get an idea of what you get for your $1 an hour. It had a double bed surrounded by a raised, carpeted platform and a ceiling mirror too. The bathroom had a big shower and looked quite clean. We told them we really didn't need a room, but just a safe place to park the vehicle for the night, so we could sleep in the top. they said it was fine and we parked at the end of the row of rooms.
There were loads of mosquitoes about so we retreated upstairs and read. A bit later we heard lots of people talking outside and saw we had an audience. Nelly and America ( the ladies with whom we had arranged the parking) were leaving and the new shift was starting. Michael went down to chat to them and they said they'd like to look inside. They were very impressed with the tent when they popped up to look. They told us the next shift would look after us and that we should have a safe journey!
We made an early start and the Love Motel was deserted. We had to retrace our steps twice when we started heading in the wrong direction. The frustrating thing is that as soon as you enter towns any form of directional signage disappears altogether (not that there is much on the main roads to speak of either). So we often find ourselves prescribing large circles through town and stopping to ask numerous people en route to check we're still getting the same advice!
The houses in this area are very different to Peru - wooden on stilts. They poke up out of the thousands upon thousands of acres of banana trees. There was also more of a Caribbean feel to the area. There are also parts which remind us distinctly of Africa. Then we started climbing into mountainous terrain again, but with a jungle feel to it...
It got quite chilly up in the mountains and we passed a few snow capped peaks. Unfortunately as we got closer to Cotopaxi (highest active volcano in the world at 5897m), it was covered in cloud. We found a lovely place in Lasso to spend the night called Hosteria San Mateo (www.hosteriasanmateo.com). It had beautiful gardens which made a nice for me to do my first run (half walk at 3000m) in absolute ages. For dinner we ate the best steak we've had in a long time! They served it sizzling on a hot-rock, with pepper sauce and chips and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We also had terrific hot showers, which were much appreciated.
It wasn't cheap to camp at $4 each (reduced from $5 because we ate in the restaurant), but then the whole of Ecuador is expensive compared to other South American countries! The owner, Juan was very friendly, helpful and spoke good English.
We started the day off well with a great breakfast for $4. Fresh fruit juice, hot bread rolls with farm butter and pawpaw jam, then fruit salad, followed by scrambled egg, bacon and toast, rounded off with hot chocolate! Our stay was worth every penny and we would recommend it.
We were on the road by 09h30 and drove through Quito which was actually enjoyable because it was relatively quiet, Sunday traffic and we had fun recognising the places we'd been to with Lance and Susan back in 1999. We tried going to Calderon where they make lovely nativity ornaments out of dough, but there was a market on and the streets were too crowded and then we got caught in a one-way system which lead us away from where we needed to be so we gave it a skip. Besides we wanted to cross the border in daylight...
For old-time's sake, we stopped and had lunch at Puerto Lago which was quite dear, but we both enjoyed our corvina (sea bass) which was grilled and served with vegetables and rice.
It was mountainous terrain for the remainder of the journey, which put Nyathi through her paces. We past the equator and were back in the northern hemisphere again...
The Ecuadorian border formalities were quick, easy and the officials very pleasant. The Colombian side, however, posed a problem. They told us visas were required for both Irish and South African passports and that could not be issued at the border, we would have to return to the Colombian Consulate in the town of Tulcan where they could issue the visa in the morning. Despite our pleas, there was no changing their minds, so we returned to the Ecuador border. We spoke to the immigration official who had given us our exit stamps and he said it was no problem, we should keep our passports, go to the consulate tomorrow and then we could leave for Colombia. The customs people were just as helpful and let us camp in their compound which was secure, but unfortunately lacked any bathroom facilities! Unfortunately, this was just the night we both needed them, as we both developed our first severe cases of 'Delhi Belly'.
Today has NOT been a good day. We were both up in the night feeling bad (poor Michael particularly) and then when Michael caught a taxi back into Tulcan (5km away) to get his visa from the consulate he had no success. The woman first said no visa was required and Michael said the border officials had said there was. Then she wasn't particularly helpful and after a period of indecision told Michael he did need a visa and it would have to be sent to Bogota for approval and that would take ten days! Michael came back to tell me what was happening and we both went back together to tell them we had phoned the embassy in London and they had informed us no visa was necessary. After a period of waiting... we got to see the consul and he said that his assistant had already explained the situation. Eventually we persuaded him he should call either Bogota or Quito and he told us to wait in the lounge. To cut a long story short, he came back with the same answer.
So unhappily we headed back to the border. We went into immigrations to tell them we would like a new entry stamp. Sadly, the chap we dealt with the day before was not there and we encountered an obnoxious, self-inflated idiot who decided he would make it his job to make our life very difficult. He told us we were not allowed back in as we left yesterday and didn't have the stamp cancelled. I left Michael dealing with him and I went to look for the customs guy who allowed us to stay overnight in the compound to see if he could help with Mr Obnoxious, just our luck, he wasn't there either. However, the customs guy I spoke to was really helpful and said there was no problem, he would stamp our Carnet de Passage without any problems, but he said there was no way he could help with immigration as they were a completely separate entity. So I went back to Michael and Mr Obnoxious was still giving us hassles, while his colleagues looked on sheepishly. I spoke to one of the friendlier looking officials and asked if Mr Obnoxious was more senior than the rest of them and then he said no. He asked for our passports and about five minutes later came back with them with the exit stamp cancelled and a new entry stamp for the 6th. We thanked him and left swiftly. (The annoying thing is that I only realised in the middle of our sleepless night, that we didn't get our exit cards back, which is going to cause loads more hassles)!
Anyway, we got in the vehicle and headed south, deciding it might be better just to ship from Guayaquil. I felt absolutely awful all day and Michael wasn't feeling great either, but he drove the whole seven hour back to Hosteria San Mateo. The journey was one of my worst ever. Not only had the 'runs' well and truly set in, but my entire body ached from my kidneys, up my back and chest and all the way down my legs. I felt very hot to touch, but was shivering and felt freezing. I lay in the passenger seat wrapped in a blanket, but I was aching so much I could keep still for more than ten minutes!
Our return through Quito was slower than we would have liked and wasn't helped much by the demonstration they had either.
We were both so relieved to stop for the night. Sadly Juan had no spare rooms available (so no nice bathroom) and we had to use the staff facilities, which weren't so great. We crawled into bed at 19h00 about 30 minutes after we arrived. I was still sore all over and so was Michael, so we both tossed and turned for ages...
Not a good night's sleep, we kept waking up every hour or so. We spoke to Juan (whose friend in the Colombian consulate is unfortunately away at the moment) about our visa options and he called around trying to get information for us. He spent at least two hours on and off phoning people on our behalf (including trying to et out exit card faxed, to which they replied that it was impossible and we should return immediately - 7 hours! - back to the border to collect them).
We decided our best best was to catch a bus into Quito and see if we could still get the Colombian visa and then we'll exit through the same border where we left our exit cards - two problems solved at once. Annoyingly we arrived at 13h40 and the consulate closes at 13h30. We convinced the security guard (Juan had got a contact name for us) that we were told to come back later and see the appropriate person.
We went and had a pizza for lunch (we ate only half of it and felt ill). We went back and waited at the consul for our 'contact' who never arrived, but we did get to speak to his assistant who told us the visa would take between 6 - 8 day and would cost $40. At least we had some accurate info. We went to the internet cafe and I deleted all our spam - 5 messages out of 147 were messages we wanted! We caught the bus back and arrived home at 19h45, after overshooting our stop with me shouting to the bus driver to stop and being flung forward toward the windscreen.
No dinner for us thanks... bed!
Up early and on the bus by 07h40. The views of the food en route (especially this half-pig) made us feel even less up to eating than before...
The receptionist at the consulate was extremely friendly and helpful, but the requirements to get a visa are ridiculous! We had to make two copies of everything, which included EVERY page in the passport with a stamp or details on it, the double-sided application form, credit cards (with numbers scratched out) and a letter explaining (in Spanish) why Michael wishes to visit Colombia, that he is travelling with me, that we will be shipping from Cartagena etc.
So off we raced to the internet cafe where I typed a letter in my best Spanish and we asked someone to check it for us, while Michael filled out the application form. Then we spent ages making all the relevant copies, some more passport photos and got back to the consulate at about 12h00. We took a ticket for the queue and then one the the security guards noticed we were going through all our papers and asked us if we had everything already, after which we were bumped up the queue and about 20 minutes later we went in to see the Visa Consul who was very pleasant and said there shouldn't be any problem with the application and we should know in about 5 working days. So now we just have to wait...
We went to a Chifa (Chinese restaurant) for lunch and had a set menu for $3. We ought to have shared one, because although it was tasty we did it absolutely no justice. We didn't touch the fruit salad starter, ate about a quarter of the soup at most and about a third of the rice and vegetables (eating only one or two pieces of the chicken). We asked for take-aways and gave them to a very appreciative disabled lady on the street outside.
We stopped in at the internet cafe briefly and then caught the bus back home. We did not fancy anything for dinner, but spent a pleasant evening swapping travel stories etc. with a group of American tourists.
We thought about going travelling for a couple of days, but we decided that as our 'runs' still had a pretty firm grip on us, it was probably better to just stay put for a while.
I spent the morning sorting out all our contact addresses we've collected in Africa and South America. Then I addressed the envelopes and sorted all the photos we'd promised to send to people in Africa. It took most of the day, but I felt better organised (and less guilty), although now I have to write all the accompanying notes to go with them.
We both had delicious lunches. I had spaghetti bolognese and Michael a toasted sandwich. Sadly, the food doesn't stay with us for too long, but at least we get some nutrients from it! For dinner we shared a small hot rock steak and chips, which was, as usual delicious.
We slept OK, but not the best. We spent most of the morning in bed. In the afternoon we played table tennis (about as energetic as we can get). I spent ages making Michael a valentine's card complete with photo of him in Nyathi. We had an early dinner and then spent the evening watching telly.
We decided to make an effort, get 'spruced up' and spent the day in Quito for Valentine's day.
Michael tried to sort out our Freeserve problem, but to no avail. We shared a small take-away Chinese for lunch, neither of us feeling up to eating much. In the afternoon we saw The Last Samurai which was great. We really love the opportunities we get to go to the cinema in major cities.
Quito is obviously big on Valentine's day because there were load of people wandering about with boxes of chocolates, teddy bears and flowers. Ecuador is a major flower exporter and we saw an offer of a dozen roses for $1! There are lots of rose farms all around Hosteria San Mateo and the roses are among the most spectacular we have ever seen.
We saw a beautiful diamond and emerald ring and earring set in a jewellers. I tried it on, but we decided we'd have to think about it, because it isn't exactly ideal buying it now! Michael was peckish at about 17h30 so we got him a sandwich and muffin and caught the bus back to Hosteria San Mateo (getting front row seats for a change - all the better to see the 'enthralling' video with Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking Spanish!)
We spent the day relaxing, doing journal entries, reading and playing table tennis.
There was a big protest today in Latacunga (about 15 minute's drive from where we are) and in Quito, so we stayed in all day. I understand the campesinos are protesting to the government that all the funds are channelled into Quito and Guayaquil leaving inadequate support for the rural areas. Transport into Quito was badly affected. We only hope the protest doesn't go on for too long, because as soon as Michael's visa comes through, we want to get on the road!
Michael is feeling much better today and ate a big breakfast and a pepper steak for dinner. I ate a bowl of popcorn and a a small plate of chips today - keeping it bland. I lazed most of the day reading and then watching telly in the afternoon. Michael played Civilization and read.
I also played telephone tennis with the post office trying to redirect our mail in the UK.
We both had breakfast this morning, which was great. I couldn't eat it all, but am feeling fine. The protest is still going strong and is meant to be worse today than yesterday, so we stayed put for the day. Michael checked the oils, brakes and shock absorbers (one of the rear ones was dead so he replaced it). I wrote journal entries and sorted out the post redirection problems (had to send another fax) and did emails. Juan phoned the consulate for us, but still no answer from Bogota. They have said it should be ready tomorrow (yeah, yeah we've heard that before).
I washed Nyathi's doors, windows and windscreen and put Rain-ex on. Then we put our South African flags on the doors. We thought it would be prudent to have some identification while travelling through Colombia (as there is a pretty strong anti-American sentiment there).
We had a heavy rainstorm in the late afternoon and we retreated inside for an early dinner. Because of the cloud cover, we haven't seen great views of Cotopaxi volcano, but she did expose herself for us once...
It seems like I spent most of the day on the phone with the Colombian consulate. They wanted to know where the Ecuadorian entrance stamp was in Michael's Irish passport (we suspect they have only just started to process his visa - a week after we handed it in). I had to explain to the visa consul that Michael has dual nationality and used his SA passport for Paraguay to Ecuador. He said we'd have to put the application in for his SA passport and that we would have to start the process all over again. I explained that we can't get visas for his South African passport for Panama unless we go back to our home country, so it is vital we get the Colombian visa in his Irish passport. I felt a bit bad because I could hear he was trying to be helpful, but I let him know that they should have picked this up straight away, because we declared the dual nationality on the forms!
We've decided it is better to go into Quito tomorrow morning, rather than trying to fight it out over the phone. We spent the evening looking at other route possibilities, even skipping Canada and Alaska, which we really don't want to do. We felt frustrated and angry - perhaps we could have already sailed from Guayaquil by now! In the evening we sought escapism in the TV, watching Black Hawk Down.
Up and at 'em! The bus we caught into town was worryingly empty; we didn't know if we were going to drive into protests along the road. However, as usual the typical roadside fare was on display for all the hungry people passing by (raw on the left, cooked on the right)...
All was fine and we were at the Panamanian consulate by 10h15. They confirmed we definitely do not need visas for Irish and UK passports, but we do need a yellow fever vaccination certificate, which we have, so that is good.
The visa consul at the Colombian consulate said that he had sorted it and we could have the visa in the Irish passport. he made a copy of the entrance stamp in Michael's SA passport. He said the visa could be ready this afternoon (after we explained it was a two our journey to get into Quito from Cotopaxi), and that we should call at 14h00 to check.
We went and had some chifa (although I still didn't do it justice). Frustratingly when we called the consulate back at 14h00 nothing had come through from Bogota yet and then we got cut off. So we went to the cinema to see Mona Lisa Smile. Straight afterwards we phoned the consulate again, but still no word from Bogota! Then the visa consul dropped another bomb that Monday and Tuesday next week are carnival so the office will not be open. So, if the visa is not confirmed from Bogota tomorrow, we will have to wait until Wednesday! Bloody hell - we have had enough!!!!!
Highly hacked off, we caught a bus back home in the pouring rain. We had a really annoying, garrulous salesman on the bus (a common occurrence on the buses here - they sell all sorts from sweets, to educative booklets and bangles). This guys was selling a natural 'wonder drug' which could cure / help prevent anything from period pains to cancer of the prostrate - superb! ;-)
We watched Armageddon on the TV, while eating toasted sandwich and chips for dinner.
I spent the morning writing journal entries and reading. Michael finished his book and then tried to send the email to our shipping contact in Colombia (through Camilo on the Horizon's Unlimited website, who has been fantastically helpful).
I phoned the consulate just before 12h00, but the vice-consul said he still hadn't heard anything and he would call me in about half an hour. HURRAH! At about 12h45 he called back to say he had the approval for Michael's visa and we should be there before 17h00 - I told them we'd be there at 16h00. We were absolutely thrilled, because the idea of waiting until Wednesday filled us with dread.
We showered and packed up the vehicle. Juan had some pisco sours made for us to celebrate!
In fact, it was sad to say goodbye to him and his team. Despite the wait being frustrating, we almost felt like Hosteria San Mateo was home. We could sit and watch TV or work on the computer at the tables whenever we wanted. In the evening we always had a complimentary hot drink made with fruit and cinnamon - delicious, and sometimes popcorn in the afternoons! It was a terrific place to stay and Juan was so friendly and helpful, particularly with phoning the consulate and all sorts!
We got to the consulate just after 16h00. The vice consul arrived at about 16h30 (now I know why he suggested before 17h00)! The visa took a further hour to be issued, but I have to say that the staff were all very pleasant and helpful (I think despite the long wait, they went out of there way to get the visa issued today) and they gave me a lovely guide and map too!
Feeling ridiculously elated we drove out of Quito and headed north. We camped the night at a friendly fuel station.