Tuesday, 18 March 2014

15) Getting Fleeced at the Border

The bus arrived into Tumbes at 9 in the morning and it was already sweltering. We planned to get breakfast before finding a bus station to catch a ride to the other side, but a taxi driver told us he knew of a bus straight to Cuenca. We followed him out to his Tuk tuk, threw our stuff in the back and hopped in. He was fat and jovial, and quite talkative. Before long he stopped and told us we'd do the next bit by car, and that's when alarm bells should have started ringing.
The car we got into wasn't marked as a taxi, and there was already one guy in there but being the foolish gringos we were, we put our stuff in the back and got in. I felt a little uneasy and tried asking as many questions as I could, which he kept answering. He told us they would take us across the border because it was confusing to walk across and not very safe, and then for $50 dollars we would also get our tickets for the bus direct to Cuenca.
We got near to the border and pulled into a carpark, getting out he began demanding the fee. I  told him I'd like to have my ticket first but he said we'd need to walk to the ticket office, saying to follow a new man who'd appeared. It was all very unnerving so we grabbed our stuff close, handed over the cash and began following the new guy into the crowd, already sure we'd never see the ticket. 
The border between the two countries is utterly manic with busy cramped markets of mingling people squished between tall ugly buildings, so we kept close to the guy but all of a sudden we were told to follow someone else. He lead us to a new taxi and told us to take it to get our passports stamped but I'd had enough. He wanted us to pay the taxi man and I was having none of it since we'd forked out a lot of cash already. We started arguing and some nearby people got involved, but I couldn't really understand what any of them were saying. This drew the attention of a nearby policeman who came over to intervene. As I was explaining the situation, I realised that the man who we'd been following had melted into the crowd. We'd been bloody robbed.
The policeman showed us which taxi to get to go to immigration control and sent us on our way. Goodness knows where the other taxi would have taken us but I've a feeling we wouldn't have been left with our bags.
The border control area was 10 minutes drive away and in the middle of nowhere. It's a big complex, but was empty when we arrived pissed off and very sweaty. Jamie had outstayed his visa and had to pay an extra $12, luckily I didn't because I had no dollars whatsoever, and now no money to exchange.
We asked the taxi driver where we could get a bus to Cuenca, and he took us back to Huanquillas where we'd driven through to get to border control. The bus to Cuenca cost $7, considerably less than what we'd been expecting, foolishly thinking $50 would have been the going rate, but it was a damn sight better than El Sol and even air conditioned thank God.
It took us 5 hours to get to Cuenca and the journey was different to those in Peru. For one thing the driver was much less ambitious when it came to overtaking. The scenery was absolutely stunning; mountains all around covered in lush vegetation, and the occassional grand looking house nestled in the trees. Another instantly obvious difference to Peru is the lack of constant horns blaring, and the trip was oddly calm.
We found ourselves at the bus station with a line of pretty immaculate yellow cabs waiting patiently, and hopped in one to the hostel Alejandra (our PhD Student contact) had recommended. By then it was late Sunday afternoon, and Cuenca was mostly quiet. It felt considerably more developed than anywhere we'd experienced in Peru.
We checked into the hostel, it was basic but only $7 a night and so say had hot water so I wasn't about to complain. Admittedly the shower the girl had pointed to when she said "Always hot water" was different to the one across the hall, but I naively assumed it would be throughout. It was cold, very very cold. Someone somewhere was putting effort into cooling this water down infact, and it came out like a riot hose. Needless to say I left 5 minutes later gasping for breath but feeling somewhat refreshed. Trying to find a place to eat was quite difficult, and all the ATMs I tried failed to recognise my card which was really frustrating, but eventually we stumbled across a place called "Chicago Pizza" which conviniently accepted mastercard. I had a fantastic calzone (hardly Ecuadorean I know) and then we wandered the streets some more trying to find our way back to the hostel. Cuenca is stunning, even in the dark. The old town where we were staying is in a grid format like US cities, which should make it easy to find your way back but in fact, everywhere looks more or less the same. We passed several grand looking churches and many perfectly maintained colonial buildings along the cobbled streets, and after about half an hours aimless turning corners, found ourselves back at the hostel. It was only 9pm, but dark inside apart from a weird shrine in the corner with a candle lit. I wearily hit the hay and the bed was perfect, leaving me out like a light.


  1. I'm really glad you were ok after that - I fear you may have lost a lot more than your cases tbh - glad you got out unscathed and hopefully weren't too shaken from it?
    r x

    1. Yeah I'm thankful it was just our money that got taken! Not too shaken, just annoyed for falling for it in the first place :(