“If possible, cross at another border.”
This was the advice we’d received on the Huaquillas-Tumbes border from Ecuador into Peru. The city was described to us as a giant, chaotic market filled with pickpockets and cons, while the crossing itself would involve long waits and dodgy officials.
Well, advice-givers, you were all wrong.
There’s a brand new bridge that joins the two countries just outside of Huaquillas. It was our most uneventful international experience to date; in fact, it was kind of a letdown. We were the only customers over the twenty minutes we spent with two sleepy border guards in a little trailer on the side of a big, empty highway. Usually, a border offers a concentrated dose of what the country will hold in store. In this sense Peru is no different; it seems this place is really all or nothing, or rather extremes of peaceful silence and insane cacophony.
Northern coastal Peru is arid. Dry. Desolate. Inhospitable. Like Luke Skywalker’s home planet. We rode through cracked, dusty land for four days before reaching Piura. Part of this stretch of the Pan-American is snuggled up to our old pal, the Pacific Ocean, and we enjoyed a day of soft sea air and white beaches. The towns we’ve crossed have been action-packed, filled with speeding, honking 3-wheeled moto-taxis, hurried crowds, outdoor food stands and countless blaring radios. Noise, everywhere, all the time. As much noise as possible, for the mere sake of noise. It’s as though the towns have waged war on the reigning silence of Peru’s vast unpeopled expanses. Hard to say at this point who’s winning. We’ll keep you posted.
We celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary camped out in the desert. We enjoyed a great supper (home-made fries!), a bottle of wine and a show of sparkling stars grouped in unfamiliar, sub-equatorial constellations.
Most people we’ve met have been overtly friendly and generous. A couple of days ago, a guy rode up beside us on his motorbike and said “Hey, you wanna take a shower? I live just down the road!” Water is very hard to come by in this part of the world – we gleefully accepted. Yesterday we stopped for gas for our campstove, and the owner of the garage invited us into his home for coffee a full breakfast.
One third of the people on the highway honk and wave and give us the thumbs up. That’s a lot of people. Another third honk out of hostility and crowd us onto the road’s crumbling, rubble-strewn non-shoulder. That, too, is a lot of people, and a lot of honking. The remaining third of Peruvian drivers seem undecided about us.
It’s hard to offer a real impression of the country as of yet, as we’ve spent most of our short time here in the open, empty territory between towns. Here goes: The wild camping is awesome. Absolute tranquility, no biting insects, cool evenings great for sleeping and awesome scenery. There’s a notable headwind that bites deep into the southbound cyclist’s mileage. The roads are much worse than Ecuador or Colombia and the towns seem rougher, more chaotic and less affluent. It’s winter here, which means that while the thermometer might climb into the high twenties in the afternoons, the mornings are a brisk ten or twelve degrees Celsius at sea level.
We took the bus to Trujillo; the nearby town of Paijàn is plagued by a band of professional thieves with years of experience who exclusively target long-distance cyclists like us. Their last attack was a few scant days ago. Naturally Lucie and I are elaborating a vigilante plot against Paijàn’s bikejackers, but we’re saving it for our next Peruvian tour.
Our arrival in Trujillo signals the end the first stage (11 months, 12 countries, 17 000 kilometers) of our cross-continental expedition. We’re stashing our steeds in Lucho’s Casa Ciclista and busing to Lima. From there we fly to Montreal to see Lucie’s sister get married. On September 1st, we’ll be back in Peru to undertake the second stage, all the way to the end of the world in southern Argentina.