During the flight from the Galapagos Islands to Quito I was plagued by a sickening feeling of having to wind up the remaining tasks from the stolen money belt debacle on a Friday afternoon. The sensation changed to despair at the thought of having to wait in Quito until Monday to pick up the passport upon recalling that we would lose an hour with the time change upon arriving at the mainland. We hurriedly called the embassy from the airport, and Abi was fortunate enough to reach someone there, even though it closed about thirty minutes earlier. Normally when she gets special treatment down here I attribute it to her blonde hair (and accuse her of winking at the hombres), but this time she only had her silver tongue at her disposal and they agreed to leave the new passports at the guard desk for us. A little while later we were relieved to find our replacement Visa card had arrived in our absence, so we were back in action at last.
Saturday morning we hopped on the bus to Baños (carefully guarding all personalty this time), and arrived without incident. On the advice of a fellow Galapagos traveller, we decided to rent bicycles for the afternoon for a ride (nearly all downhill) on a partly unpaved road clinging to the side of a valley following the Rio Pastaza. We had spectacular views of several waterfalls dropping 30+ meters into the river on the opposite side of the valley, that is when we weren't enveloped in dust clouds stirred up by buses, trucks and taxis speeding past.
For a dollar each we had the opportunity to put life and limb at risk and get an aerial view fifty meters above the riverbed, as we boarded a two foot by four foot metal crate attached to a cable stretched from one side of the valley to another--we nearly wet ourselves when the motor first caught and set this jerry-rigged cable car out into thin air. On the other side we hiked to the precipice of one of the waterfalls we saw from the far side, and Abi scrambled down to the bottom with the aid of a ratty blue rope (that I didn't fully trust) tied to a tree at the top. In addition, just before we reached the top of the fall, our "guide" (trail maintenance man) brought out a plastic soda bottle filled half way with orange liquid. He poured himself a cap full, downed it, and poured one for Abi, muttering something about appeasing the river gods (I'm not joking). Abi politely took a sip, and went cross-eyed and gasped for air. I declined, but the "guide" felt he should drink my portion lest the river gods feel cheated. So ultimately I didn't descend all the way to the bottom of the waterfall, but, between the substandard climbing gear and my declining the sacraficial grog, I felt justified.
We made it back to the bikes in one piece, and coasted another thirty minutes along the river to view a magnificent, two-tiered waterfall plummeting down a narrow gorge. By the time we hiked back up to the main road it was starting to get dark. We had planned to catch a bus (the bike agency said they'd let us put the bikes on top of the bus), but Abi's blonde hair and batting eyelashes landed us a ride back to Baños with a couple of veterinarians finishing their rounds for the day.
We got up early on Sunday, and caught a morning bus to Ambato where we hopped on another bus to Cuenca (about eight hours on the bus that day). Although the guidebook described Cuenca as the prettiest large city in Ecuador, it was nearly dusk by the time we settled in, so we didn't get to explore much. We would have liked to spend more time there and in Baños, but with the consequences of the theft we were already over our allotted time in Ecuador.
On Monday we were determined to make it to Peru, and left Cuenca at 8:00 AM. We made it to the border around one o'clock in the afternoon, and (in my opinion) the planners in Ecuador and Peru need to bring in an efficiency expert to streamline the immigration process. First, we had to get off the bus about five Km on the near side of the Ecuadorian border town of Huaquillas to get our exit stamps to leave that country. Then, we had to flag down another bus to take us into Huaquillas. Next, we had to run the gauntlet of money changers, knick-knack peddlers and taxi drivers for 100 meters on each side of the border. We then had to find a cab to take us two Km into Peru to go through the procedures at their immigration office; however, there are no regularly scheduled buses traveling from the border on the Peruvian side to Tumbes or any towns beyond, so we had to find a mini-bus to take us on to the next town (the story of paying for the mini-bus is a story that I'll only bore our dearest friends and family with). We caught a regular bus from Tumbes to Piura, got there mid-afternoon and found out that the only buses south were overnight buses. Not wanting to lose an entire day in Piura, we summoned all of well-worn travellers' endurance and made arrangements to take the night bus to Trujillo (arriving at 6:30 AM, over 22 hours of buses and transfers).
We both slept well on the overnight bus (likely a combination of crashing from the sugar high of eating snacks all day and sheer exhaustion), and picked the lesser of various grungy evils presented to us as hotel choices. After a much needed shower and shave, we wanted to actually see some stuff after being on buses forever, but first we thought we should just double-check bus schedules to Huaraz. Come to find out, our only option was a night bus again. We decided that we could see what we wanted of Trujillo in a day and that we'd be bored with two days here, so we booked the night bus for Tuesday. We'd already paid for our hotel room for the night, but my silver-tongued companion managed to get us a rebate of half the amount.
After vacating our hotel room and dropping off our packs at the bus, we toured the several archeological sites of the Chimú people who lived in the area before being conquered by the Incas around 1470. The main site, Chan Chan, has one primary temple that has been excavated and partially restored, but crumbling walls of the former city of 60,000 spread out for miles. The steady temperature and lack of rain here has preserved these mud brick buildings remarkably well, and art work on the lower levels that was covered by sand prior to recent excavations is in very good shape.
We're off for a two week trek near Huaraz, Peru--check back for the next installment.