31 March 2006

Travel to Mancora

We flew out of Cusco to Lima, and then from Lima to Tumbes near the Ecuadorian border after a four hour layover. At the Tumbes airport we opted against the 100 sole taxi fair to Mancora and caught a small bus going into the city of Tumbes. The bus waited for a couple airport employees, and because of this, we all suffered in dense clouds of mosquitos. My feet are still covered in bites.

In Tumbes we discovered that the taxi fare wasn't going to change, and I, determined not to be ripped off by the taxis took the invitation of the bus conductor to find us a cheaper ride. He took Cassandra's bag and walked us through town and to a weird little garage full of American sedans from the late seventies and early eighties.

This would be our ride. A thirty foot long black Lincoln with no regard for speed limits or reasonable passing. This particular mode of transport is called a ¨collectivo.¨ Like any ride in Peru, one feels in a collectivo that safety is perhaps not the highest priority. The main requirement for drivers seems to be strong desire to drive at least twice the speed limit at all times, and a long elbow for hanging out the window.

I was skeptical of the crowd of men standing around the entrance, hawking rides to Piura, a couple hours past Mancora. They seemed a sketchy lot. There was a young guy with a shaved head, and an older fellow who seemed to be the main salesman, and at least a few others of unkown origin or occupation. It was entirely unclear who the driver was, and when the bald guy took our bags and threw them in the trunk I must admit I was a little afraid I'd never see them again. But we were fresh from our robbery experience in La Paz and I wasn't going to let anything get by me.

When we left the lot and bounced onto the road we heard the trunk slamming shut. This made us nervous. Had our things been exposed this whole time? Who was that guy? and what was he doing with the trunk? We quickly came up with a pretense for stopping the car and taking a look. Cassandra needed her antihistemenes. I got out and looked in the trunk with the driver who apparently knew what was going on and took care to point out all of our luggage. Perhaps he didn't know the trunk closer either. Or maybe he was just reassuring us.

The drive was long, with an occasionally crying baby in the front, and C and I crowded in the back seat with two other people, a disinterested girl in small clothing, and a stoic man in a buttondown with a sidebag. They arrived separately, but before long were sleeping on each others shoulders.

The driver was not interested in the scenery. We passed every vehicle that we approached, and were stopped at every checkpoint. Once by the highway patrol who seemed very interested in the gringos riding in a collectivo and who wanted to search Cassandra's bag, and once by the military or something. Both stops were quick, but our driver was disconcertingly nervous both times. At the second one he rolled up all the windows and motioned for me to be quiet and said that he'd roll the windows back down when we were past.

We made to Mancora in the middle of the night, and wandered around for a while looking for a place to stay that was in our price range. It it a very touristy place. We've heard that the president, Alejandro Toledo, likes to spend a lot of time there. I guess when your approval rating is 20% you probably need a break. He wasn't there this time, and we found a place to stay called 'Arena Blanca' and went to sleep.


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