PERU - North to Ecuador

We found out that the next transport out of Tingo would be a truck at about eight o'clock in the morning. Then three days' after that a bus would come through. We decided that we should move out in the morning and look for somewhere a little more comfortable to relax our weary bones.

Leaving next morning, we sat in the back of a small truck and received the shake treatment for a little over two hours. We knew that we could get a connecting bus at Chachapoyas that would take us back to the coast. Just outside of this town our bus screamed past us on its way out. We scrambled around, chased it, and eventually caught up with it. We waved it down and boarded.

Once on board, we would find that the bus was full, no seats left. This was just the start of yet another entry in the "Classic-Rides" book.

First up, it was four hours mixing standing with sitting, bumping our posteriors red raw, on the floor of the bus. Then we secured seats as two people got off the bus. This was short-lived comfort, as some time later we were ejected from one of these seats to a previous booking.

We had also neglected to ask how long the ride was in terms of hours, but events soon showed us that this would have been a waste of the vocal chords. We had stops for roadworks, a stop for the clearing of an all-too-common landslide, then we duplicated an action of a previous "classic" when a truck tried to get by us on a tight pass, and we became stuck, wedged together. Then the battery gave out. Add to this a world record to the longest period of crying by a baby, the sick lady who was sitting next to me and the guinea pigs that found their way loose from the hessian bag they were in!

We were in a mental state labelled "stupid-land! The fatigue of the last four days of trekking had caught up and overtaken us. As far as twenty-one hour bus rides were concerned, this was an epic, and you can easily picture the two dirty pieces of inactivity that sat fazed on the park bench in the Plaza de Armas (central square). We were now somewhere beyond tiredness. A sense of drugged stupor. We tried to talk, but it was like talking in time-lapse with lots of words just not wanting to come out. Jaw muscles had gone to bed and the vocal chords had become mutant. So we just sat there. It was five thirty on a Sunday morning.

The hotel we needed for the purpose of lengthy sleep had its doors bolted, and after much knocking we raised a man who told us that we'd have to wait until after nine for a room. We didn't even care, just so long as we'd get a bed that day. We went back across the road to the Plaza de Armas and sat again, watching the sun rise, the waking activities of the town's central square.

Sundays were Plaza days in South America. It seemed as though every town had its central plaza. It was a place where they sold ice cream. Men with old-time box-brownie cameras on wooden mounts would stand, with the cloth over their heads, and take your picture for a dollar. The photo of the picture taking process being of worth. They would often have oddments to have your picture taken with, such as stuffed llamas or would manoeuvre you beside some colourful bush and demand the cheeziest smile you could muster. Yes, ..... the dreaded Hollywood smile!

It was a place where the post church families walked together, pretty young girls walking arm in arm, to the delight of the boys, who would gather in larger groups and make whistles or manly type nods toward their passing loves. Pride always maintained that the plaza would be between well-kept and immaculate. Trees and shrubs, cactus and, occasionally, flowers. Miniature fences guarding mantle piece lawns.

Right throughout South America I would make recognition of the different plazas and the part they would play in peoples' social lives. Statues, grandiose and magestical would occasionally centre such a plaza. It was a fairly safe bet that it would be Simon Bolivar, or another of the independence heros.

Gradually this plaza was becoming a hive of activity and, by nine, it was teeming with people. There seemed a lot of soldiers present so, upon questioning, we found that there would be a military parade at nine. Because it was already after that time, we assumed it would be soon. It was an excellent scene! Brad and I settling there on the bench seat, looking as rugged as two early pioneers. The jeans were more a light fawn colour than the blue they should have been, the hair was greasy with a slight tinting of dust. The added hair on the unshaven faces. Baggy tired eyes handling the bright sunlight with Clint Eastwood squints. The packs stood propped up next to us. A small pile of eating bits, crusty bread and peanut butter, a Swiss Army knife between us on the seat. The general coating of brown gave us, at least, some sort of colour coordination.

A parade started on the far corner of the plaza. We decided that another hour before we hit the sack couldn't make us feel any more tired. So we just sat there and watched, two dusty manequins brought in to fill the seats! There was a great buzz of energy and excitement in the air, as the badly out of tune military band started. I was sure this was some contemporary music standard, titled "Death of the Atonal". Squeamish noises. Integral to the scene. We watched the parade, people watch us, a joyous swirl of the sublime right before our very swollen eyes. We may have lost our energy, but certainly not our senses of humour. We sat there picking on snippets, whilst trying the impossible ...... to laugh loudly and wildly while not moving or changing the morose looks on our faces. Anyway, such military pomp and grandeur deserved little respect as, in my mind, it was directly associated with so many human rights' violations.

It was a sizeable march with formations of troops and a few armoured cars. More than average commitment to the day of respect. The big knobs stood proud on a small raised platform. They had multiple decorations and made officious salutes and gestures as the troops paraded. Then a band and some slick marching. Some gun juggling drills by a small group of seven. It was all building in tension, heading for some unknown peak, which was soon to become apparent.

Deadening silence and a drum roll, salutes from the highly regarded, those with rank. Three men passed, giving the John Cleese' "Department of Silly Walks" a challenge, the middle man carrying a flag. Things became a little suspicious when I saw the flag bearer tying multi granny smith's knots. The tension mounted and mounted. The tense moment. He slowly hoisted the flag, it started to unfold. "Oh, no!" ...... the upside down Peruvian national flag! It was perfect. A scene worth its time in any comedy sketch.

This was enough and was becoming a little embarrassing as we both sat there with wide grins on our faces. We made off "like a thousand startled gazelles" finding a path through the thickened crowd. We secured a two dollars a night deal with the hotel manager and at eleven a.m. had bedded ourselves down to engage in the heavyweight sleep championship of the world. We would wake up some time in the evening, have a snack and drink copious bottles of mineral water, and then batten down for more slumber.

From Chiclayo we travelled north to the border with Ecuador. An uncompromising landscape interrupted rudely with oasis-like farms. Rows of orange trees greeting enclaves of bananas. A rare mix. A smooth and uneventful border crossing (our first) and finally on to Guayaquil, the major shipping port for Ecuador. It was the typically grimy port town. You expect to see galleons at the wharf, pirates decking the bars. Thick humidity kept the pollution low. We were sensitive to this after so long in the sweet air of the Andes.

Down at the port, rimmed in by the water, lived an energetic market, selling everything. This would become our daily haunt to buy supplies of bananas (one cent for two) and other fruit, a welcome change for our unbalanced diets. I was now suffering from constant diarrhoea and needed to get back 'together' in this department. We would fly out to the Galapagos Islands in a few days.

Guayaquil seemed like a dusty mid-western town implanted by the sea. It's colours were in a spectrum from blue through grey and on to black. Men wore woven white cowboy hats and "guayabera" shirts, with a sixties flaired-trousers look to mismatch. People ambled in droves, the pace of life rusty with the oppressive humidity. The pursuant weather seemed to magnify the intensity of traffic and noise. Street hawkers selling everything from a single cigarette to transient roadside carts full of tropical fruits. I tried mango, paw-paw and several one-offs that seemed to have unknown English equivalents. After our time in Peru we were beginning to feel a lessening of the theft and culinary sickness phobias that had seemed to weigh on us. Ecuador, equator, the tropics. Greener pastures, plenty of rain, rich farming lands.

Time passed quickly. Writing excessive numbers of letters and postcards, getting photos developed and some basic sightseeing led us through four days of complete nothingness rest. Always seemed a funny thing that, to be resting from travelling!