Blow-outs, Buses and Booze
Peru to Ecuador
South America is not normal. I think we can all agree that travelling from other parts of the world and arriving in South America is a bit odd. I mean, things happen here, out-of-the-ordinary things that, should they provoke the expected amount of bewilderment in locals, would possibly be easier to accept. But people in South America seem to be blissfully unaware of how, most of the time, we walk around with our mouths hanging open muttering, “..but…isn’t that…why did he just…shouldn’t someone…?”
My Christmas holidays in the north of Peru were no different. A couple of friends and I decided to head north from Mancora into Ecuador to the promised land called Montañita! With our secret agent-like, inconspicuous 65-litre rucksacks we staggered to the main road and hailed a cab. Having had months of practice at haggling for fares we managed to beat the guy down to 5 Soles each to take us to the bus station; little matter that at this price he’d lose money, be forced to sell one of his kidneys and pawn his wife in order to feed his kids that night. It’s a cruel world.
With no rear visibility our driver decided that going very fast would avoid the need to worry about anything behind us that didn’t have afterburners to keep up. We were elated at getting out of Mancora after almost a week of doing nothing but eating pancakes and chocolate brownies (poor babies) and we started to plan our adventures in Montañita.
It was during our conversation that I noticed my friend Owain had gone quiet and was looking a little perturbed. I observed him for a moment and watched him look left and right and sway from side to side. I couldn’t just let him be weird without explaining himself.
“Mate, what in the name of Satan’s underpants are you doing?”
Suddenly everyone was listening. I asked the taxi driver to mind his own business and look at the road and we turned back to Owain for some pearl of wisdom.
“Well, we seem to be rolling a lot. I think he’s got a flat tyre and at this speed that’s not really very….well, good.”
With perfect timing our rear right tyre exploded and brother Schumacher fought bravely to keep us upright and on the road. Luckily, we weren’t on a bend which was when he usually decided to overtake things whilst asking us where we were from for the tenth time. Alive, we pulled onto the side of the road and awaited a stream of apologies from what we expected to be a shaken Peruvian Formula One hopeful. Not a chance. “Gitface”, as we now dubbed him, beamed a wide smile at us and hopped casually out of the car to change the tyre. A moment of European outrage flashed around our regards until we remembered where we were and decided we might as well get out and help.
The tyres appeared to be related to Kojak in some way yet we couldn’t quite work it out….oh yes…THEY WERE COMPLETELY BALD! We couldn’t speak, we had a look at the other tyres and calculated that should our journey be more than another 45 minutes we would surely die in a ball of flame, screaming like stuck pigs. The tyre change took no time at all, he’d done it before. Naturally the tyre he put on as new was also bald and had no air in it but he assured us that there was a petrol station a few kilometres down the road. We just nodded.
Arrival at the bus station was greeted with much elation and, after changing our underwear and burning them, we caught a bus to Guayaquil in Ecuador. From Guayaquil we went to Montañita, a journey that required a change of bus in a small town along the way. This cost us two dollars per bus. Rather craftily the first bus company charged us for both buses and then they just slipped the driver of the other bus company a dollar at the changeover point and off we went as he stuffed his profits into a back pocket.
To say I was surprised when the bus left the ground would be untrue. An almighty smash and shearing of metal disturbed me briefly from my book as we flew the few feet over the bonnet of a black Toyota and landed on the other side of the crossroads. A fraction of a second later I was back to my book realising that we’d totally destroyed someone’s car and would probably be stuck in this junction for hours. My friends looked up and grunted, not at all surprised. South America just makes you so cool sometimes.
The car was f***ed and as everyone else clambered off the bus and ran over to check for loose body-parts we hailed our next ride. This bus was completely full and this meant we all achieved a lifelong dream. We rode the roof. The smiles on our faces as we clambered up the ladder remained with us for the next hour and a half. We were pigs with unlimited pools of shit to roll around in, we were kings, we were Gods, ….we had two bottles of very good Chilean red wine. The first bottle lasted less time than it took to open the second and by the time we got stuck into this we were a hopeless mess of laughter and stupidity.
We had a crack at bus surfing, tree shaving, unrolling rolls of toilet-paper in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert style and getting far too close to power cables. Every time we passed through a town we shouted drunken greetings to everyone we could see and to our great delight everyone waved back with broad smiles on their faces. We had suspicions there was a low bridge ahead. As the sun set over the sea to our left we sat in silence for awhile. True, we were completely hammered on red wine and our wind-chapped faces were glowing bright-red in the fading light, but everything seemed perfect.
If you travel in South America you’ll probably have an accident or two, but what’s certain is that if it’s not a fatal one, you’ll absolutely love it.