Monthly Archives: July 2018

Protected: The Midnight Train

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4am in Máncora

The bus arrives at a dusty stretch of road at the loneliest and most hallowed of hours, long after most decent folks have gone to sleep and well before most will wake in the morning. A flash of unwelcome light spreads throughout the bus as the fluorescent overheads come to life, rousing any passengers from the last meagre remnants of their slumber. After eight hours and two stops at the border crossing between Ecuador and Peru, we’ve arrived in Máncora, home to endless waves and a popular stop for travellers making their way through South America. A friend of mine had been here months before and told me I had to visit.

The timing wasn’t my choice, but then again, there are only so many buses running between Ecuador and Peru. It’s either a day wasted on the bus or else a night spent in discomfort. This time, it comes with a 4am wake-up call.

Much has been made of four o’clock in the morning in our culture. It’s referenced in the songs we listen to, the movies we watch, the books we read — a universal shorthand for the hour at which no-one wants to be awake, an hour which I vowed never to see again after working early mornings in the past. And yet, here I am, brain half-functioning, stepping off a bus into the dark and quiet streets of Northern Peru at four in the morning.

The tuk-tuk drivers descend on our bus instantly. As far as I can tell, they’re the only other people awake at this hour. They hold laminated leaflets with hotel options in town, promising to drive us anywhere we need for $5 USD — a bit of an oddity, as Peruvian soles are the default currency here. It’s close enough to walk, but the drivers are telling us it’s not possible — either for safety or accessibility, I’m not sure — and it’s too late to argue at this hour. I confer with the other backpackers on my bus and agree to share a ride with a German girl headed to the same hostel as me.

The ride leaves the main road for dirt laneways moments later, and we shuttle past stuccoed homes where dogs roam the streets and glass shards form deterrents atop fences made of brick and mortar. A right turn takes us to a longer dirt road, where fences morph to wooden walls too tall to scale. We ride for another minute or two, until our driver announces our arrival — he points to a door ajar in the wall. I collect my bags in a daze as the tuk-tuk speeds away, off to collect another fare. The German girl and I look at each other and shrug.

The hostel grounds are quiet, except for the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. A trail of footprints leads through the sand to a building that would likely serve as reception during reasonable hours of the day. A pile of beer bottles is clustered at a round table by the open-air kitchen. Nearby, a row of hammocks sit empty.

I’ve come to this hostel because of the dogs. Back in Cuenca, a pair of Australian sisters raved about the place, telling me there was a litter of puppies to spend time with. They’re nowhere to be seen at this hour, but I spy my first pair of dogs on my tour of the grounds, blocking the path to reception. I worry about the greeting I might receive, but they yawn and let me past without so much as a murmur.

My newly-made German friend tells me she’s heard we can sleep in the hammocks until morning, when check-in begins. We come across a staff member cleaning up in the kitchen, and he confirms what she’s heard. We let our bags drop to the floor and collapse into the hammocks, too tired for words.

I look up at the sky for the first time and see a thousand constellations, my first starry night after nearly two weeks of cloudy weather. Four o’clock in the morning, and all is well.

Things I’ve seen:
1. Laguna de Quilotoa

2. Waterfalls in Baños

3. Sunsets in Máncora

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Lost in Translation

In Quito, the clouds arrive at your doorstep. In three days in Ecuador’s capital, the second-highest capital city in the world, they signal the day’s arrival as surely as the sun crests over the mountains each morning. From my view out the sliding doors of my friend’s living room in lofty Guapulo, the fog rolls in until nothing is left to see of the valley below. It’s dry season now, but you wouldn’t know it from the forecast; I’m greeted with showers often enough to be on a first-name basis with my umbrella. I learn the words for rain (lluvia) and cloud (nube), words I’ll repeat often in the days to come.

I arrive in town on a brisk Tuesday — although to be fair, the temperature doesn’t change all that much; near-constant highs of mid-teens to low twenties are pretty much the norm here, with single-digit overnight lows. From the airplane window, I look down at a country carved with deep valleys and sheer rock faces, as if at any moment, the very Earth might fold in upon itself. Tall, skinny trees line the roadside, and giant cacti cling to cliff edges as though hanging on for dear life. Most everything is bathed in rich hues of green, fitting for a country famous for its biodiversity.

To travel in South America as an Anglophone is to undergo a crash course in language learning. Unlike other places where tourists are found, English is less common here, and you either learn to adapt or fall behind. The adjustment isn’t without its growing pains; on my ride into Quito’s historic centre, I tell my taxi driver that “I want the mountains,” although really, I wouldn’t know what to do with them if I had them. I’m made aware of my foolishness just hours later, when my friend explains the difference between yo quiero and me gusta.

Undeterred, I produce my own “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment a day later. Strolling through Quito’s Parque El Ejida, I come across what appears to be a bathroom, but in order to make doubly sure, I ask a woman standing at the doorway: “Soy un baños?”

Ecuador: 1, Pride: 0

Things I’ve seen:
1. Historic Quito

2. Otavalo

3. Cotopaxi


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