Border Crossing: Ecuador to Peru
My imagination was running wild as I invented the least ideal outcomes of our predicament. Was I going to be forced into an uncomfortable interrogation?Have my papers ripped to shreds before my eyes? Be shipped off in handcuffs and dumped into a remote jungle or desert?
We had only realized about a week prior, that my travel documents in Ecuador were completely out of sorts. Not surprising really. Ecuador is notorious for screwing up paperwork. And then, trying to cajole foreigners into paying for corrections, expediated treatments, or other bribes.
We finally suceeded with the dual citzenship of our kids, the updated i.d. for my husband, and the paperwork for the dog. And then, there is me. Now without the promised marriage visa, I stand at the border having overstayed by 90 days visa to Ecuador. Not just a few days, weeks, or even a month. But, I have now overstayed a whopping 19 months!!
We carried our passport worries in the back of our brains, as we entered the terrain of the worst roads we had seen in Ecuador. The first hour of the day was characterized by fog, rain and narrow dirt lanes that were poor excuses for a highway.
Just when we thought the worst of it was over, we snailed around a mountain to find it’s innards slopped right onto the road. Before we could react, we heard the sickening sound of the mud suctioning over our tires. My husband leaped from the door, hopping around to engage the four wheel drive that is located outside the car.
He jumped back in, only to fight with the truck with a battle of wills. The tires spun and sunk deeper in. My eyes were glued to the melting mountain just an arm’s length from my window. He jumped out again, two times more, fiddling with the gear that wouldn’t cooperate.
Meanwhile, I started thumbing through the contents behind my seat, searching for my boots, the kids boots…a bottle of water. Whether it was panic or prep mode I’m still not sure. But, I’d be darned if I was only going to let that mountain push the car over the cliff with any of us in it.
I told the kids to get on the opposite side of the vehicle so I could get out and pull them down. I sure that Carlos would come and help us wade through the mud. My eyes scanned for a safe place to take them that I couldn’t find. But anywhere would be better than the car that would surely become our coffin.
Just as I started to crawl across to other side, my husband opened his door again and nudged me back over. From his seat, he lurched the car into action. Mud flew everywhere catapulting clods straight at the mountain in rebellion. I clenched my eyes and held my breath, hoping that Magma would go in the direction he had planned.
After a lot of noise, mess and ruckus on the outside, all of us were silent on the inside. Nothing to say. Just deep sighs of gratitude as we looked back in our mirrors at the horror that almost was. We were only halfway to the border.
The Final Stretch
The next two hours were an improvement from the first. If you count weather conditions and scenery. The final glimpses of the Ecuadorian Andes, long stretches of remote noman’s land, and truly not a single other car. It was starting to make a lot of sense why La Balsa is known as the quiet border crossing. But, it was hard to relax. We were waiting every moment to come across another surprise landslide.
The second half of the last road in Ecuador was uneventful but slow. We arrived in the teeny, tiny border village of La Bolsa. By, teeny tiny, I mean about 10 houses and 3 corner stores. The border itself was a road that led to a bridge, with a pole weighed down by concrete blocks made from a 5 gallon bucket.
It wasn’t clear where the immigration office was. But, a fat man in military camoflauge leaning against a wall raised his eyebrows at us. He exchanged a few words with my husband. Carlos let out a long chuckle before leaning forward and mock-banging his head against the steering wheel. It was noon on the dot, and the whole office was out for a 2-hour lunch break.
We had to wait with absolutely nothing to do. Except to sit in the car and eat over-priced stale candybars we bought from one of the local shops. At about 5 minutes before the expected return of the office personel, a big, noisy tour bus pulled up alongside our car. Carlos jumped out to save our place in line, before a hundred tourists could funnel out and budge in front of us.
Only 3 people wound up getting off the bus, but as least we didn’t get stuck behind them. Finally, our paperwork was in progress. Absolutely nothing interesting came out of it. I basically got a slap on the wrist for overstaying my visa. We didn’t get a fine, but I was issued a 9 month ban for re-inetry into Ecuador. If for some reason we needed to re-enter before the ban was lifted, we must pay a fine of around $160.
Peru or Bust
Finally, we were going to Peru! We searched all around for some sort of marker or evidence of our first border crossing. Perhaps a “Bienvenidos a Peru!” or “Gracis por tu visita a Ecuador” sign somewhere. But, there was nothing. The fat man in the camoflauge simply raised the weighted pole blocking the bridge to Peru without a further glance.
We shrugged it off and drove onward, hoping that maybe the congratulations were on the other side. Instead, we drove about 100 yards to be greeted by another weighted pole blockade. We sat for a few minutes waiting for someone to come lift the barrier. When no came out, Carlos got out of the car and started looking on foot.
He came back with hands in the air for surrender, and a twisted look on his face like. It seemed he couldn’t make up his mind if he should laugh or holler. The immigration offices for the Peru had just left for lunch. They would return in approximately 2 hours. We couldn’t enter Peru without being stamped, and we couldn’t go back to Ecuador ( I have a 9 month ban!!). So, we had to sit on the bridge, next to our car…waiting.
Of course the crossing guard was a crook of all colors. Politics obviously won’t be changing much in Peru. We had a lot of trouble finding out how to insure our car in Ecuador for the country of Peru. But, of course we were supposed to have the insurance before we could legally cross. Since we did not, the slimy officer thought we ought to pay him to look the other way…rather than to help us get the insurance! Carlos was somehow successful in his refusal to pay up. I would have loved to hear what he said! He has a real way with words in situations like this!
After the very long, double lunch hour, we were finally able to get to the actual business of crossing started. It must have been at least another hour before the weighted pole of travel chasity was finally lifted! And, we were in! Only to find ourselves in the Peru border town that was even smaller. Only a few cafes and a very lonely looking hostel. And, no, there wasn’t a welcome sign to be seen.
So, as long as this day had already been (4 hours of driving and 5 hours at the border), we still had another hour to go before we could rest our weary, 2-country traveling heads on our pillows!
But, we had a survided a land slide, an expired visa, a fat guy in camoflauge, two ridiculously long border lunch hours, a slimy crossing guard, no proof of insurance…and a rather bland, but definitely offical arrival in Peru!