Finally, and I mean this in the best possible way, today was the day we were able to drive into our 12th country; Peru. We had fantastic experiences in Ecuador with the most astounding generosity displayed towards the team, but between the shipping, fire and crash we had been delayed enough and we really wanted to move on! So with this in mind, we left early from Machala and headed for the Ecuador/Peru border; our first unassisted land border since going into Panama some month and a half ago! I say unassisted because between Colombia and Ecuador we had Sebastian and his legion of contacts helping us out, so today we were to be retested on our border skills!
The 70km to the border was a very easy drive with smooth roads. Almost the entire way the road was lined with banana plantations; apparently this area is a major world exporter of bananas. However, even in this 70km you could see a marked shift in the landscape and climate, from tropical vegetation and hot humid air in Machala, to a more arid and drier scenario as we neared the border. In fact, the rapid change of landscape is something we have noticed a lot on this trip, particularly so in Colombia and Ecuador where within just a few miles you can pass through a range of climates due to the altitude and mountain influences. It makes for a thrilling drive I can assure you!
Anyway, onwards we drove towards the frontier, following the road markings to Peru, when all of a sudden a sign indicated that we had left Ecuador and that we were very welcome in Peru! It distinctly reminded us of the Alaska/Canada border where there appeared to be no controls whatsoever. However, we knew that it could not be this easy, especially as we have certain paperwork pertaining to the vehicles going in and out of Ecuador that needed to be stamped by various officials. Indeed, our passports needed to be stamped too so we were a little perplexed as to what to do!
However, after technically driving into Peru, we noticed a few roadside huts with border guards outside. Asking them what the story was revealed that we had to go back into Ecuador to get our passports and papers stamped. After being given the directions, we arrived a few minutes later at the customs building where we could get our exit stamps for our passports. Of course, someone came up with the cunning idea of putting a toll booth just before this building so that everyone leaving Ecuador has to pay to pass through it; that’s Latin America I guess!
Arriving at the customs building revealed another side of Latin American bureaucracy; there were 4 windows, 2 for people exiting the country, and 2 for those entering. Nobody was staffing the exit windows, and we were told that we had to stand in the entry queue to get our exit stamps. This long queue was needlessly long as the second entry window was staffed, but the guy was just refusing to do anything, so everyone for both exit and entry were queued up behind one window! Despite our best sweet talk, the lazy customs guy was not going to stamp our passports, so we were forced to wait an unnecessarily long time.
Upon reaching the window and getting our passports stamped, we were told that the vehicle papers had to be completed at a building about 4km up the road. Why everything can’t be in one place is a big mystery for us, but nonetheless we had no choice and we raced over to this other customs building! Fortunately we met with very efficient guards here and in a matter of minutes all the vehicles were cleared to leave Ecuador and we were on our way to Peru, for real this time!
Arriving at the Peruvian stretch of border huts a few minutes later revealed a slow but fair process to allow the vehicles into the county. We were the only people there, and the guard took his time to check through all our paperwork, but without much hassle, everything was signed and stamped off and we were free to enter Peru! The whole border process had taken a little over 2 hours, an hour less than expected, and with a super smooth road stretching out into the desert, we continued deeper into the Southern Hemisphere!
It seemed that the country border also seemed to be a landscape border because almost immediately after entering Peru we found ourselves driving through real desert. Quite a change from the tropics in which we had been in for the last 2 months, but beautiful nonetheless! Before long we found ourselves driving along the Pacific coastline where we stopped for a delicious seafood lunch right on the beach. We had heard from numerous people about the great seafood in Peru and we certainly weren’t disappointed!
Back on the Pan-American Highway after lunch, we found ourselves driving on a straight road through a few small fishing villages before hitting a twisty desert mountain road. The mountains weren’t actually that high, but they were dramatic with deep gorges and plunging cliffs. The views of the sea from the road were unbelievably spectacular and, once again, this drive topped many we have had in the past. Claudio managed to get some great shots for the documentary, the weather and the road was absolutely perfect, and we continued on into the sunset.
The whole drive would have been absolutely trouble free had it not been for a problem with the car that we had noticed whilst driving since the crash. For some reason, the car seemed to be using about 20% more energy than normal whilst cruising. Naturally this took a big hit on our range, and while we had enough juice even with this diminished range to complete the 250 mile leg without any worries, it was still very perplexing. We suspect the prime culprit is the front splitter which is slanting down slightly on the left hand side; an effect of the way it was fixed after the crash. Over the next few drives we intend on finding out what is the problem by experimenting with different aerodynamic setups, wheel alignments and anything else which could be causing the problem.
However, leaving this issue to be sorted on another day, we happily drove on into the sunset, by now on perfectly straight and smooth roads. It was easy driving at its finest, and barring a few rough patches, we arrived in Piura after a very successful driving day. We were finally able to rack up the miles once more!
Upon arriving in Piura, we met up with our contacts here. They were volunteers in a program called Ayni where they teach poor Peruvian children English, help with micro finance projects to assist families in starting self supporting businesses, and generally do good things to help lift this community out of poverty. We were due to go and see some of their work the next day, but for now we needed to get the car on charge, eat, and spend some time with our very friendly hosts.
Our hosts, all from the US and Canada, had kindly organised the use of a garage at one of their friend’s house where we would be able to charge the car. However, upon arriving there we realised that their circuit was simply not enough to sustain the power we needed to charge the car. While the circuit breaker was rated correctly, if anybody in the house was to use an appliance, the breaker would trip and cut off all the power; not a desirable outcome either for us or the occupants of the house!
So now the search was on to find a place for the car to charge. We tried several hotels but all to no avail; none of them were prepared to entertain the idea of a sporty electric number charging in their car park! While we were searching for hotels, we were also in contact with a sponsor in Lima, and she was trying to get her contact at the local university to find us. Completely by coincidence, Toby bumped into her at one of the hotels he was viewing, upon which she then explained that we would be able to charge at her university with no problems. Great, we thought, charging problem solved!
Not quite so, unfortunately, as we were led to a car park without any electricity supply…someone clearly hadn’t thought this through properly. By this time is was late, around 12pm, on a Friday night, and we still didn’t have a place to charge. However, after scouring the university and having them call in their electrician, we managed to find a point where we could charge off. As there was no plug, just wires from the mains, this took a while to set up, and it was only at around 1.30am that we were able to leave with the car charging.
From the university we went to grab a bite to eat, and then we headed to our hostel to get some very needed sleep! However, to top the night off, the hostel had ever so kindly given away our reservation, which probably could have been avoided had we called ahead to tell them we would be late, but nonetheless meant that we had no place to stay. However, our hosts were really helpful and offered us to crash at their place.
And so it was that on Friday 15th October we ended up sleeping in a random house in the desert city of Piura in Peru. It topped off a long and exciting, but occasionally frustrating day, and we were glad to finally get some sleep, albeit at 3am in the morning! However, all these little mishaps are part of the adventure, we love the unpredictability and spontaneity of it, and we are so happy to be doing a trip like this!
Thanks so much to Hannah, Jessica, Troy, Christin and Lauren for helping us out so much…we really appreciated not having to sleep on the streets!