Peru/Ecuador Border

I returned to Nazca from Cusco by the same means that I had gone there, bus, and the second trip was no better than the first. I was pleased to see Bridget again and gave her a wash, then took her into town and found a garage that would weld repair her exhaust. That done I was ready to get back on the road towards Ecuador.

Driving has become so much less stressful now that Bridget is running properly. I have decided not to visit Lima as I have had enough of major cities for now, particularly Capitals that are not at all representative of the country as a whole.

The Pan American highway seems, if anything, to be getting even better. The scenery continues to be interesting although it is changing from the southern half of the country and must be far more fertile as commercial agriculture is very evident here.

As I get nearer to Lima the traffic gets worse. Congestion has rarely been a problem in South America compared to Europe, or Asia for that matter. Today however I have been noticing a number of similarities here to India. Firstly the amount of traffic, then there is the driving standards and the free-for-all tactics used at congested junctions. Also the reason for the congestion at junctions in the first place is the congregation of buses, and all types of taxi dropping off and/or picking up passengers. In a bay designed for two vehicles there will be anything up to a dozen and if that means stopping and blocking three of the four traffic lanes, then so be it. This results in the moving traffic, and I use the term loosely, trying to funnel into a single lane with the resulting chaos and bad temper seen throughout India.

As we neared Lima cruising down a relatively clear road, a lorry and trailer pulled out from the side where, I eventually realised, he had been waiting for his chum in an identical HGV. I pulled into the outside lane to avoid the first truck only to be confronted by his chum pulling out of a junction on the left into the outside lane and boxing me back in behind the first HGV. The second HGV then decided to pull behind his mate ignoring completely that was where Bridget and I currently were. There are times when an anti-tank gun on a mounting in the passenger seat appears a good idea.

The Pan American highway actually takes you more or less through the centre of Lima and here the traffic was extremely heavy. I positioned myself in the centre lane whenever I could, to make it as easy as possible to move left or right. Undertaking as well as overtaking is quite normal in South America, and so I had vehicles moving and jostling on both sides of Bridget. We were just entering an underpass when suddenly a wheel careered out from underneath a taxi and crossed the road immediately in front of me. I was watching the wheel and trying to decide where it would go and at what speed I would need to do to avoid it without swerving into the path of another vehicle. I was also trying to anticipate what other drivers would do when they noticed it. Anyway I managed to avoid hitting it or anybody else and as far as I could see it did not cause an accident.

During the day I have had to stop twice for fuel, eight times for toll booths, the first I have seen in Peru, and six times at police checkpoints. The final checkpoint was manned by no less than a dozen officers. The one that waved me down shouted to his colleagues and approached the window to speak to me. I knew from experience exactly what he would want but I always pretend to be puzzled. He greeted me in Spanish and I returned the compliment in English. I have learnt never to use anything but English where officials are involved. He eventually made it clear he wanted to see my documents which I retrieved from my briefcase. Then he wanted something else but it genuinely wasn’t clear what he wanted. I checked that I had given him all the usual things. Then he removed his wallet and showed me his driving licence. This was the first time I had been asked for my British licence after I had presented my International one. He was now happy, but a shout went up from one of his colleagues who clearly was not happy. He came over to join us and waved a small book under my nose pointing to a particular item. I put my glasses on and peered at his book, but it was all in Spanish.

Once more I said “I don’t understand Spanish, only English”. Then he started tapping on the steering wheel through the open window and was saying something else in Spanish in the hope I would understand that. When I didn’t he repeated it twice more so that I would understand. Impasse. Whilst he thought about how to approach the problem differently I had time to re-collect something that I was told only yesterday; it is technically illegal to drive any vehicle with a right-hand drive in Peru. However the border officials still allow such vehicles into the country.

Then the officer took out a notebook and proceeded to draw the inside of my car with the steering wheel on the left. This he thrust under my nose, so I took it and said “No, no, no, it’s here look.” and crossed out the steering wheel and drew it on the right. The officer was flabbergasted. He clearly concluded that I must be one of those inbred Englishmen incapable of comprehending even basic Spanish. With ill hidden feelings of frustration he suggested I go. Suddenly I understood and said “Thank you, goodbye”.

This is not the first time that I have found it helpful in achieving the desired outcome by denying any understanding of what is being said. People usually give up in frustration and allow you to continue doing whatever it was you wanted to do.

Thursday 18th June and the weather in Northern Peru is overcast with occasional light rain. It has been another day of beautiful but changing scenery. Glimpses of the coast, at times spectacular, interspersed with desert and multi-coloured mountains. I have never seen mountains quite the same as the ones today. The colours range from a rich brown to pale yellow and a peculiar sort of olive green hue in some areas. At times some of the mountains look almost like a patchwork quilt.

It appears that the further north we go the worse the driving standards become. I have had several occasions when I have been faced with an oncoming HGV in my lane and had to take avoiding action. The condition of the road surface started poorly but once north of Chimbote it was brand new and excellent, and for a second time I have had a police officer trying to explain that Bridget is illegal.

We have reached Trujillo and I have started to try and contact shipping agents to arrange the sea trip from Quayaquil to Panama. All things being equal we should cross the Desierto de Sechura to Sullana tomorrow which will put us right by the Ecuadorian border.

We made Sullana without trouble. My only concern is that every garage around here has only 84 and 89 Octane fuel and we need to refuel very soon. I only hope if we fill up with that we don’t cause Bridget’s engine any upset.

The final part of the journey to the frontier was fairly straight-forward, I think. I’m a little uneasy about it for some reason, nothing I can pinpoint but a number of small things don’t seem quite right. The road to the border was fairly poor compared to the usual Pan American, and at the crossing point it appears to be all locals backwards and forwards. There are no international travellers here and almost no heavy goods vehicles that you normally get at a crossing. Also the customs and border guards seem unsure of how to treat me.

There was a small problem over the paperwork leaving Peru. Someone at the customs entry point had put the car down as a Toyota!! Obviously the exit customs were not happy about the fact that it is an MG. Eventually we got to the bottom of the problem, it seems that the entry customs selected Toyota on their computer because MG is not in the software’s selection list of cars!

The Ecuadorian authorities seemed equally unsure of what paperwork should be done, but eventually let me in. I have received a couple of warnings about the danger of landslides so we will have to see how things go. I had hoped that the landslide ‘season’ had finished. There is a warning on the UK Government website about this problem so we will need to keep an eye out.

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