Border Crossing No.1
By Deia Schlosberg
Sept 23, 2006
This stretch takes us from Catacocha, Ecuador to Chachapoyas, Peru. At long last, in Peru ... The hike out of Catachocha was going along splendidly until a curious pain struck Gregg´s heel. I investigated what was originally thought to be a blister, and after some probing, a small eruption of tiny, white oval-shaped objects occurred. Oh, goodness. These were definitely very egg-like. Luckily, we were on a dirt road and were able to hitch the eight winding kilometers back to town to get a professional opinion before any hatching was to happen. A small outpatient surgery of sorts ensued at the local hospital, and the doctor informed us that, indeed, Gregg had worm eggs in his foot, and had we waited longer to remove them, they would have hatched and proved quite annoying. We will be avoiding standing water more adamantly now. After a night spent camped in the schoolyard, we picked up where we left off the day before, which was on a high ridge looking south over a ponderous valley. Down we went. Switching back and forth for hours through desert-like conditions, we hiked toward the south and toward water. 4000 feet of knee-screaming descent left us arriving at the river well after sundown, where we found ourselves a site in the now jungle-like valley floor. Surrounded by papaya, lemon and guanabana trees and stalks of caña, we did some munching between swatting myriad insects. The next morning we hiked along the north bank of the river for several kilometers before we finally reached a bridge over the swollen current. Only to be expected after descending all that way, it was of course necessary to go right back up. Exceedingly hot, exceedingly long, we climbed steadily without water until sundown. Throughout this valley, and nowhere else that we´ve seen, are the most beautiful trees, seemingly out of place, with bark of bright green and trunks that swell in the middle, definitely a highlight of a very tough day. Our final night camping in Ecuador was spent on a very dry but gorgeous ridge top. Making our way over steep cow trails to a dirt road the next morning, we were severely dehydrated and hoping to find a small town soon with a small store in which we could buy some libation. No luck there. However, we did come across an Ecuadorian geologist looking for veins of K-feldspar and magnetite in the road cuts, who was exceptionally kind and gave us each a bottle of water and good wishes on our hike. Great people, geologists. Our 15 km dirt roadwalk was not exactly the most dramatic ending to a country, but at least, in true Ecuadorian form, we had several other lovely encounters with locals and a final, steep bushwhack to get to our border road and be officially done with country one. THAT, was a good feeling. Despite, or maybe partially because of, thorn cuts, dehydration leg cramps, and a fair share of mental fatigue, stepping onto the road that marked the end of Ecuador gave us a high that is beyond the scope of description here. Macará, the border town, as the guidebooks say, is a small, rather unimpressive city. Macará also turned out to be very good at making simple things ridiculously difficult. It took the better part of a day to get some cash from my own account and retrieve a few packages from the post office. I talked to probably sixty people about where the post office was, ultimately being sent to a radio station where a man wrote down a doctor´s name for me to ask around town for, who, when I finally found him playing guitar in an empty building, took me around the corner and rang upstairs to a woman who let me up and into her kitchen, where, in the corner, our packages were sitting. Go figure. Apparently people aren´t big letter-writers in Ecuador.
Crossing the border into Peru consisted of filling out a half slip of paper and getting a stamp, a two minute process, though quite significant to us. The city of Piura was our launching point, where we cleaned ourselves, resupplied, and got a bus east to the mountains where we would begin Andes Trek Phase II. There were, immediately upon crossing into Peru, noticeable differences between the countries. The first one we noticed is that Peru seems to have more diversity, which automatically takes away our novelty status so often felt in Ecuador. It´s nice to be able to blend in when it´s desired. The city of Piura, with colourful rickshaws everywhere and many more people, vendor stalls and vehicles packed into a small space, definitely let us know we had changed locales. Plus, Peru has not gone through the dollarization that Ecuador has, and retains its unit of the Sole.
Our bus to the sierra left us outside a lone building in the country at three in the morning. The residents of which were soon on their porch with grease lamps investigating their late-night visitors. We asked if we could camp nearby, but they would hear nothing of it and were soon leading us up to a bed in our own room. Gregg´s question of¨"I wonder who had to leave this bed for us to sleep here?" was soon answered as we noticed small shoes on the floor and heard a coughing child in the parents´ room next door. I am still sneezing and blowing my nose perpetually as a result, but their generosity is appreciated none the less. Starting south, Peru´s physical differences also showed themselves in the steepness of the slopes and the pointiness of the peaks. As well as one completely cherished difference: better, more consistent trails. Over the next several days, we were able to walk pretty much straight south on trail the whole time, something we stopped even hoping for in Ecuador. We still had our epic climbs and desents, but not fighting through vegetation makes everything quicker and tons more enjoyable. Beautiful views, lots of miles, genuine interactions and a few unexpected little paradises made our first Peru section go smoothly.
I am still thinking a lot about what we´re doing with this whole project and what will come of it and what I will do with the experience when it´s over. All questions that I can only wait and learn answers to through continuing and appreciating every day. I feel very close to many people in my life because of communication that has been reopened through doing this trip, and for that I feel I have been given a gift. We have some friends planning to come down to hike with us for a while, and every day makes us more excited about their visits. Thanks to everyone who´s been keeping up with us and sending their support; it really means a lot to us.