Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Typical highland countryside in Ecuador

On the strike-breaking back roads in Northern Peru

Lima's posh sea-front

What a palaver! Anyway, I got up hideously early so I could at least get some breakfast at the bus terminal. An interesting feature of this and many other public places are these glass boxes - sometimes very large - containing either a cherubic baby jesus or the Virgin Mary, with a little slot for you to put your prayers in. Perhaps needless to say they are tacky and kitsch in a way unsurpassed in Europe, even in rural Italy or Spain.

Another feature of the countryside round here - and north of Quito too - is airplants and mosses growing on the phone lines, sometimes almost obscuring them altogether. Anyway, another load of nice scenery, though a lot drier and browner, and several army checkpoints later we are at the last town before the border, where a fellow passenger - an Ecuadorian - explains to me something the bus driver had ommitted to. What my friend was saying, I think, was that there was a general strike in Peru, hence no transport. So after finding the vanished bus driver to get some money back, we got a truck to take us to the border.

By now the story was developing, and my friend kept using the word 'revolution', and talking about problems with the government and everyone having had enough. Suddenly it all looked a bit more like a dodgy banana republic in the throes of an armed uprising, but everyone still seemed quite chilled, even at the border, and as usual, all the locals seemed to be walking and driving through like it was not a border, so I decided to press on. We had been down out of the mountains for several miles now, and it was baking hot, so pressing on involved trying to find shade whilst waiting for this guy to find more people than just us two to get in his car. Eventually five more gringoes turned up, a swiss couple, a scottish couple, and a recently married Australian woman who had been travelling alone in Colombia, Venezuala and Ecuador for several months, which apparently her husband found hard. No! What was nice though, was that though these were all seasoned travellers, they didn't have the hard edge and the cocky attitude of the younger hard-core travellers. They were all around my age, friendly, confident, very well-travelled, light and all spoke Spanish, most better than me.

So all seven of us, and the driver made eight, got in this guy's car and sped off to the next town, some one-mule place called Las Lomas. By now we were clearer that it wasn't a revolution, but a strike of road workers, who were blocking all the roads and attacking public transport vehicles, hence why our guy would only take us so far. When we got to Las Lomas - which definitely did not look like the sort of place you wanted to chill for a few days - we found an American girl who one of our group knew who said that some people had been stuck in this place for three days by the strike. She herself had missed her flight home. Not good for meeting Erica in a few days I thought, us being nearly two thousand kilometres away from Cusco.

Anyway, where there is a will there is always a way, and where there are poor people and rich gringoes who need something doing, there is always a way too. So this guy was asking $10 US each - to drive us to this town two hours away called Sullana, which at least had hotels. Round here that is enough to take you for two days, never mind two hours, but eventually we gave in, so eight of us in a car again with six big rucksacks and several small bags, and off we go. This turned out to actually be quite good fun - except for the two in the boot, I claimed car sickness as meaning I needed to be in the front - as we went off on a series of tracks through the countryside to avoid the blockades. There may have been a brief moment of liberal anxiety about strike breaking, but not for very long.

The countryside was amazing though. Our driver said it had not rained for three years, and my fellow travellers said it was just like the Ozzy outback or African savannah. This was all very interesting and different until we got to the outskirts of Sullana and found it surrounded by blockades. So a lot of standing around in the blazing heat at a safe distance while our driver discussed with the protsters what was a suitable sum to demonstrate respect for the integrity of their political struggle and the size of their machetes. And when this very reasonable bribe had been agreed, we were allowed through. And off to the bus station, to get a bus to Piura. And for some reason this was allowed through no problem. It is not for me to understand. By the time we got to Piura, the others were shattered, and decided to stay there. Much as I was shattered too, and would have liked to hang out with them a bit, I was anxious about further problems, and got myself on the night bus to Lima. And some thirty hours after leaving Loja, here I am, by the seaside in foggy and posh Miraflores. One highlight of the bus journey - which nearly had the five Brits on board wetting themselves, was when we all had to play bingo, and the prize - believe it or not - was the honour of singing a karaoke track. This was both awful and painfully funny. I had won quite quickly for once, but kept my mouth shut. Shame the Peruvians didn't.

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