It's visa time again. I opt for the border crossing = 3 free months in Ecuador. Two countries to choose from, Colombia, which I loved, but charges $100 extra for Canadians (what did we do to them??) and Peru.
Nervously I start planning the trip to Peru. I'm engrossed in my guidebook, getting it all mapped out. Which is the tiniest, least troublesome border crossing, and a small town where I can ride out the 24 hours. Maybe in the jungle. Definitely playing it safe.
So, with my one stuffed MEC bag (successful experiment in packing light), a few scribbled hostel names and not a single Peruvian sol, I get on the bus. We'll be going through the Huaquillas crossing, the one with the most complaints and bad experiences on travel websites. Here goes.
We speed through the darkness, around the curves of the mountains, and finally to the flats. Fields of banana trees silhouetted. City lights somewhere in the distance. I drift asleep.
We have to change buses just before the crossing, they shove us into a hot room in the station with one fan. People are lying all over the benches, the floor. I ignore them and watch insects zigzagging across the tile floor.
Finally our turn comes, and our bus arrives at the border. Sleepy eyed, trying to fill out slips of paper, waiting in the long line of those who arrived before us. It's completely uneventful, nobody trying to kidnap me or steal my passport... so much for the reviews. At 3 am we are finally stamped in. Turns out I miscalculated the date of my visa expiry, so I will be staying a few extra days in Peru. Back on the bus. No sleep now, too excited as I catch glimpses of open water, ghosts of breakers on the shore.
5 am I am unceremoniously dropped off in Mancora. It's still dark. Thankfully a moto-taxi is waiting. I tell him to go to the first hostel I can think of. It's not far, and I see "24 hour service" written outside. Everything sorted out, I crawl into an upper bunk in my private room and fall asleep blissfully. Safe and sound.
Later that morning i wake up to shafts of sun through the woven thatch roof. I'm loving this start, the first real holiday I've had in a couple years. I slowly get ready, change some money in the hotel, and find a little breakfast place. Eggs and cheese on the best bread I've tasted in South America. Then I start walking.
I get out of the main street and walk up the hill, through the back of the town, away from the tourists and the surfers. The houses are painfully rickety, made out of cane, or crumbling brick. It's pure desert here. The sun beats down. The sandy road takes me up to a lighthouse. More bare hills in the distance, and a cluster of fishing boats in the port. A beautiful wind whips around it all.
Another morning I take out one of the kayaks. The waves are higher today, crashing onto the beach. The boat owner asks, "are you sure you want to go out?" "Yes!!" I reply. "It's my last chance." He tells me the pattern of the waves. Seven large ones roll in, and then you paddle as fast as possible before the next set comes. I make it out, happy, and spend a blissful hour and a half on smoother waters, chasing pelicans, spotting a sea-lion ducking between the fishing boats. It's tempting to go further and further and never stop, but my time runs out and I head back to shore. I see the large waves rolling in ahead of me. Looks good, so I start paddling quickly towards the beach. The owner signals something with his hands, I can't tell what. It's too late, a wave creeps up behind me and tosses me unceremoniously into the water. I thrash and spin, wave after wave catching me from behind. The boat glides serenely to the shore. I drag myself out slowly, clothes heavy, hair smeared across my face. Two men stand watching on the beach, "You scared us!" they say. I grin.
This was probably the best way to get over my fear of falling out of kayaks...
So I spend the rest of my time drying out, walking in the evening. I find a music booth and spend a delicious half hour chatting jazz with the vendor, listening to samples of Dizzy and Coltraine, walking away with two Miles Davis cd's. I miss this.
In the nights club music blares from the hostel next door. I get used to not sleeping until 2 am. But tonight I hear a live band starting their set across the street in a small venue. Covers of rock tunes in english and spanish. I lie awake, listening, then on impulse I throw on my clothes and cross the street. Virgin mojito in my hands, happily dancing along to familiar songs. I slip a request for Soda Stereo into the hands of the guitarist, and they nail it. Soon they wrap up for the night. I dash back to my room. Finally quiet.
There are so many more moments I would love to write about. But the biggest joy was all the moments of connection. I thrive on travelling solo. I love the challenge, the freedom, the aloneness. But there had been a shift somewhere. I found myself seeking interaction. Craving it instead of avoiding it.
Maybe that's what being away from home soil for so long does to you. Makes you realize you're not invincible, nor an island.
So, I made it home to Macas with my visa, exhausted from the travelling, but happy to sleep in my own bed with one cat, no crickets. The sunsoaked feeling has lingered, and I have to say, unexpected destinations are the best. Unless of course it's in the trunk of a car in the Peruvian desert.
Signing off, from rainy Macas...