And then we came crashing back down to Earth.
After the unrivalled high that was three weeks in the Galapagos, at the end of last week we embarked on the next stage of our travels. The plan was a four-day trip from San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, to Chachapoyas, Peru; that’s approximately 2200 km in planes, taxis and buses spread viscously over 96 hours.
We always knew it would be a challenge.
Back to the mainland
When you leave the Galapagos, the conventional wisdom of getting to the airport with ample time before your flight is excessive. Arriving with 90 minutes to spare had us sitting outside catching up on podcasts and books after checking in our backpacks. San Cristóbal Airport is only down the road from the town center, which would be been a much more pleasant area to spend our final hours on the Galapagos. Nevertheless, hours were killed and we departed without hassle.
We’d heard fairly interesting reviews of Guayaquil, both online and on our cruise, and upon arrival we really felt the contrasting atmospheres between 3 weeks in Galapagos and 3 minutes in Guayquil.
Thankfully, we had an overnight stay at the Courtyard by Marriott booked, which is about four miles from the runway. The hotel had a gym on the 16th floor – my goodness did it feel good to get on the treadmill – a pricey but well-serviced restaurant and our room had two double beds. We joked about it being the last decent night’s sleep for a while.
Absolutely jinxed it.
Crossing the Ecuador & Peru border
After a morning of packing and planning, we checked out, fixed the hotel printer, had our last proper meal for 24 hours and ordered our taxi to Guayaquil Terrestrial Terminal, which is the international bus station that is situated inside a shopping mall next to the airport (!?).
The hotel cab driver confirmed the location with his dispatcher and we were off! …to the wrong place. The driver confirmed the destination with a guy on the street and we are off! …shit, it’s not there either. One final confirmation from a second helpful Guayaquileno and we are actually on the right street. Evidently, Marriott guests don’t slum it on buses from the Terminal.
Acting out our best “we know exactly what we are doing” impressions, we arrived at the Terminal with plenty of time to spare yet still managed to flap around trying to decipher the gate system. “Tú hablas inglés?” Of course not. The bus terminal was 3-storeys tall, each with 20 gates, surrounded by shops and Ecuadorians enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Our bus was on the top floor, our bags went in the hold and we decamped. Easy enough.
Five hours, and one absolutely stunning sunset later, we were pulling into a car park that looked suspiciously like a land border. Our Cruz del Sur representative ushered us all to the front of the very long queue – much to our British embarrassment – and the chaos ensued.
One queue desk was for exiting Ecuador; done. The next queue and desk was for entering Peru, but we were told to wait outside. For more than five minutes we existed in no country. We’d exited Ecuador – we had the stamp and everything! Before the cortisol got too active, were taken to another building back towards the entrance of the border, which turned out to be the Peru customs for tourists. Odd. Forty-five minutes passed and we were still waiting in the customs building, wafting hats and books in an effort to deter the mosquitos.
All-in-all, our crossing into Peru was chaotic but we expected nothing less; in total, the experience was about two hours, but it never felt sketchy. The final slog to Mancora saw us arrive in the “Peruvian Magaluf” at 23:40. Bedtime was the day after we had left, and we only had 32 hours of downtime until we had to endure the second part of the journey.
A travel tip for Mancora: unless you are staying there to do day trips into the desert, or planning on surfing, just book the Guayaquil > Chiclayo direct service on Cruz del Sur. It didn’t help that there was a local election, which prohibits the sale of alcohol, but it’s a very quiet, very small town not particularly worthy of a stopover.
“That was the worst bus experience I have ever had.”
Oof, a major claim.
From touching down on mainland Ecuador to Mancora we had travelled 376 km by Cruz del Sur bus in the VIP section.
As is evident here, we had a lot further to go to get to Chachapoyas from Mancora, via Chiclayo. We had researched the main bus companies, with Oltursa seemingly the only one that had a direct bus between Mancora and Chiclayo; a 3:30 am arrival did not sit nicely with us so we opted for a day trip on three different companies that looked like this
- Morning – 3hrs – Mancora > Piura on EPPO
- Afternoon – 3hrs – Piura > Sullana > Chiclayo on Linea
- Overnight – 8hrs – Chiclayo > Bagua Grande > Pedro Ruiz Gallo > Chachapoyas on Movil Tours
We were led to believe that the bus agencies were in order of least good to best. What’s the worst that could happen?
That ended up being a total lie, and the worst happened.
To our surprise, the first two buses, while rough around the edges, were okay. We didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning, but we paid £20 between us for both journeys and the windows opened enough to circulate air in the coach.
Our stopovers – Piura and Chiclayo – both had their charming parts, too. We were decanted on the street in Piura, so crammed our backpacks into a 4 soles tuk-tuk to grab lunch at a place called Piqa, which was fantastic; spiced rice fried with beans, stuffed red peppers with cheese and some delicious, spiced, grilled beef. Fast-forward a few hours, we jumped off the bus in Chiclayo and walked with purpose to Cuatro Once, a craft beer bar. After indulging in more cheese, fried carbs and delicious, hoppy goodness we made our way to the Móvil terminal.
The issues started when we were led to believe our coach was going to Trujillo before Chachapoyas, which if you look on a map would have added 8 hours to our journey. Wires were crossed: the bus was delayed coming from Trujillo, which wasn’t too bad. Then our luggage looked like it was put on the wrong bus, which was too bad. A few Google Translates later we were told tranquiló, our bags were safe. Both buses were going to Chachapoyas anyway, so even if they had messed up we wouldn’t be far from resolving the issue. “They do this everyday” we kept telling ourselves.
Then we got on the bus; seats 41 and 42 upstairs.
What we didn’t know is that seats 41 and 42 are above the engine, and that our bus didn’t possess air conditioning that worked or windows that opened. Have you ever had sweaty eyes? We tried to sleep, but for 11 hours (we made an additional 3 hours worth of stops) we sweated, and sweated some more, and breathed air that felt like treacle. It was such an unpleasant experience, and one we will not be repeating; VIP for overnight trips is the plan now.
The cool Andean air in Chachapoyas felt like a crispy, autumnal hug when we arrived. Our luck had changed: it was 07:30 and our hostel room was almost ready.
24 hours here in the Andes and we feel very welcomed by the local community; handshakes, “hola”s and helpful advice from many different people. It’s a shame that the local square is under reconstruction (as per the title image!)
Finally, we aren’t in transit; this is the Peru experience about which we were so excited.
Until the next time.