May 23, 2004

Episode I: a new beginning

Well hey everyone, and welcome to my brand-spanking-new fancy shmancy weblog. As you may have heard, I´m spending the next 3 months or so in South America, so if you want to keep track of what I´m up to you can do so here. I thought it better to do this than to send out mass emails.

My first day here was nuts....I flew in to Peru on Thursday night...actually more like Friday morning, it was 1 AM. I had a flight out of Lima to Tumbes leaving at 7AM, so, along with a bunch of other homeless backpackers, I spent an enjoyable 5 hours lying on the concrete floor of the terminal, closing my eyes and feigning sleep. Ugh....

Tumbes is pretty much the furthest north in Peru that you can go, on the coast. So I´m in the terminal, which is all of thirty feet wide but still has a luggage conveyor which cycles your luggage around the fifteen feet or so of space where you could possibly be waiting for it, doing my best to tell the aggressive cabbie that I want to get to Cuenca, Ecuador, when I´m overheard by a Peruvian couple who are going to the same place. Sweet, now I´ve got a couple tour guides for the day. A cab ride later and I´m past the rice paddies and into a dusty third-world market with a big sign across the street, "ˇBienvenido a Ecuador!". No gringos in sight. Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the guy in the middle eastern market? Yeah. That was me.

It was at this point that I discovered the method of Ecuadorian driving. Basically it consists of going ludicrous speed and applying a liberal amount of horn. Lane markers are only a suggestion. Kid on a bike on the side of the road? Horn. Car driving innocently in the other direction? Horn. But it´s a quick horn, like saying "Hey", or "Careful, I´m going Mach 6 and this car hasn´t had a brake check since 1974", not like the long drawn-out Canadian "Heyassholeoutofmywaycan´tyoudrivebitchfuck" horn.

Three passport security checks, transfer to a hot sweaty bus, miles of banana plantations, foothills of the Andes and 5 hours and we´re still driving. Time passes quickly talking with the Peruvian couple. My Spanish is just about as good as their English, maybe better.....which sure isn´t saying much. We spent half the ride going through my Spanish-English phrasebook looking for good phrases and announcing them to the undeserving occupants of the bus in our broken second languages...."ˇExcuse me, I have a bad case of diarrhea!". "ˇHelp, my foot is on fire!"

Through a rainstorm and suddenly we emerge from the clouds into a lush beautiful green valley, bathed in sunlight, a rainbow arcing above. Unbelievable. An hour later and we´re in Cuenca.

Cuenca is an old colonial town, cobblestone streets and grand cathedrals. I spent yesterday just walking around town, taking in the sites. I was supposed to meet up with the Peruvians and head out to a national park outside of town, but I think I misunderstood their Spanish directions. Oh well.

Today went to Ingapirca, the most important Inca site in Ecuador. It was impressive, but nowhere near what Machu Piccu will be. Unfortunately Ingapirca isn´t isolated like Machu Piccu is, subjecting it to 500 years of looting before I managed to get there. All the walls are about 2 or 3 feet high - the other 8 feet have over the years been taken down to build new houses.

Posted by major at May 23, 2004 03:36 PM

Well jon, welcome to south america. The driving you experienced is not an Ecuadorian thing, it is all of south america. Sure there are slight variations, some places there is a little less horn than others, but everywhere has reckless abandon. I just put my faith in that my driver and every other driver doesn't want to die quite yet. Once you get to a reasonably sized city you will come to realize that stop signs and or lights are an unneccesary expense when you can just honk at intersections and hope for the best. This is assuming a nice 4 way intersection (if you are lucky two one way streets intersecting) but try a traffic circle or loose aproximation and you may end up soiling your cab's back seat (or just closing your eyes and screaming like sarah does). I kind of like to think of it as a cheap playland ride with higher stakes :)

Posted by: benf at May 24, 2004 06:32 PM
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