Friday, April 30, 2010
Cuenca Ecuador Mancora Peru
Cuenca: Currency US $
Bus Banos to Cuenca - $10.00 - 8+hours - 1 transfer
Hostel Cuenca: $12.00
Bus Cuenca to Machala - $4.50 - 4 hours
Having to watch yet another Claude Van Damme movie in Spanish - Priceless
Bus Direct Machala - Ecuador to Tombes - Peru $4.00
Peru: Currency Sole - $1 US = $2.83 Soles
Collectivo Tombes to Mancora - $6 Soles - 2 hours
Hostel in Mancora: $32 Soles
Surf Board Rental: $10 Soles
Bus Mancora to Trujillo $35 Soles - 10 hours
I left Banos on the 11am bus, you know you ask if it's direct and they always smile and say yes. A nation full of professional poker players in the making. Surprise, not direct and our driver got lost twice, the locals had to tell him were to go. My pet peeve about Ecuador buses is not the crazy driving, the getting lost or the constant stops.. No it is that they love Claude Van Damme movies, Patrick Swayze bad ones are also a favorite. The one that he plays the trucker in and of course Road House. I guess it is partly because there is not a lot of dubbing or acting talent needed. But really, did Knock Off really need to be seen by a wider audience?
The bus change went rather smoothly, myself and a British Couple who have been on the road for a year were in it together. Our next bus arrived in 10 minutes and off we went, again really nice scenery while it was daylight, it gets dark pretty early in the Andes, 5:30ish, we got into Cuenco at around 7pm. I decided not to do the night bus and try to get to Mancora early in the morning. I had heard that Cuenca was a nice place so I decided to spend a night and check it out, the center of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. I did check for tickets out to the border before I left the bus depot and there were several going out in the morning, good I had choices.
I read in the Planet about a hostel called El Monastario that was right in the town square block, it was cheap and convenient, the taxi from the bus depot was $2.00 and took about 25 minutes. The taxi dropped me at the door which was in an alley, the door was a gate with a buzzer, the hostel is located on the 6th floor. Yea an elevator! Haven't see one of those in a long time. I dropped my stuff off and I went for a walk went around the corner and to my horror discovered that the hostel was part of the church, you would think I would have figured it out with the name and all but I can be a little slow sometimes, I had nightmares about nuns all night.
I check in, get a private room, with bathroom and TV, kitchen and with free WIFI and coffee at a cost of $12.00 US. I drop my stuff and off I go to check out the town, found a coffee shop deli place right on the town square so settled in for a Latte and fruit crepes with chocolate, em em good. I then went for a wander around the 5 block radius about the town square, I was also searching for non itch stuff, on my hikes in Banos I forgot to use the insect repellent and I got a few bites that were driving me crazy. Forgot to look up the word for itchy before I went out and left my dictionary in the room so had to pantomime the whole thing out for the folks at the pharmacy, unlike ours everything is behind the counter and you have to ask for it.. Look out Academy, but got what I needed in the end and it worked so what is a little humiliation? Cuanca is an old colonial town, got to say they are nice but I have pretty much hit my limit on colonial towns. They are in a rivalry with Quito old town, as Cuenca is smaller I think it has the edge, more of a village kind of feel to it, some really great buildings. That was pretty much the extent of my time in Cuenca, the impression I got was clean, safe and interesting.
6:30am my alarm goes off, a coffee and I'm off to the bus depot to catch the 7:45 bus which should get me into Mancora at 6ish. I have to make a transfer in Machala for the direct bus into Peru to Tombes. This time a double feature the Patrick Swayze classic were he is the long haul trucker & the Claude Van Damme futuristic one were he is up against the big weird eyed guy, what a treat. This bus driver is suicidal, steep cliffs, sharp corners and he is playing to win. The locals were terrified and yelling at him, calling him loco, I actually watched both movies in order to avoid watching the road. If it's your time to go may as well go out watching bad B movies.
Made it to Machala and had to kill 2 hours before the direct bus over the border. There are other buses that just go to the Ecuador border but I had heard it was a pain in the ass and 3.5 km between it and the Peru border that you need to get a mototaxi for so I figured I would save myself the hassle. The bus stops at the Ecuador border, you get off it waits, you get back on it goes to the Peru border, it waits and off you go to Tombes. I have to say it was one of the largest market borders I have seen, the Ecuador side was just tons of street stalls and so many people selling stuff they were blocking the road to the border. If only I had a bigger pack sigh...
I did have a bit of a problem, a couple of guys on the Peruvian side tried to tell me there was a $20 charge to enter Peru. They station themselves in the actual immigration building and dress up in "official" outfits, but they are not officials they are scam artists. There is no charge to enter Peru, it is FREE which I knew, they dropped the price to $2.00, I declined their assistance. Then there are the money changers who are also located in the immigration building but they are not official. I had checked online and knew the Sole was at $2.83 soles to $1 US dollar so I figured I would change $5.00 over so I would have cab fare and to pay the collectivo to Mancora. The guy offered me 10 soles, totally unreasonable and I tire of people thinking I'm an idiot so I didn't even try to negotiate, told him I knew what the exchange was and walked away while he was yelling out his new rate. So I had no Soles and they don't take US $'s in small towns in Peru. The bus company has it's own depot (CIFA) and that is were the bus drops you. I caught a mototaxi and had him take me to the ATM then to where the collectivo's are that go to Manocra, I was in luck one was leaving for Mancora right away and was it ever packed. 14 of us in there for the 2 hour ride. The driver knew where my hostel was so he dropped me off right in front of Loki.
I had found Loki Hostel in Mancora online, it is new and looked good, a bit of a party place but I didn't really care, it had WIFI was on the beach and free coffee, I am such a whore for the gratis caffeine. Little did I know what I was getting myself into, champagne backpackers. The kind that have suite cases with wheels and they have truck loads of makeup, blow dryers and they dress up for dinner, a new outfit every night the smell of Axe wafting through the halls. Totally not my kind of place and the average age was about 23, but the people watching was great. Unfortunately by the time I figured it out it was too late, I had committed to 5 nights, lesson learned. It was clean, there was a pool and the staff and the guys that run the place were very nice. It is like a Club Med or Sandals for backpackers, lots of organized fun, again not my thing but the kids seemed to like it. That being said I need to mock.. A different bikini every day, really? At a beach town but never leave the side of the pool? Huge suite cases with wheels, and some of them were guys. These people wouldn't know a chicken bus if it ran them over. Okay I feel superior now. If you are not the type of person described above then the Loki is not for you. There are 2 other hostels on either side that are 1/2 the price both looked very nice.
There are lots of street stands for artisans, I bought a few things from the artisans and the prices were reasonable, I didn't even try to bargain for a better price.
I did meet some artisanos and hung out with them, more my kind of people, got to love anyone who juggles fire. Mancora is a nice town , they are doing some major renovations on the waterfront so at the moment it is not looking so good but give it a few months and it will probably be beautiful. They do have an issue with trash, as in they just toss it where ever they want so the beach would be much better if they stopped doing that. The locals at the stores, artisano stands and restaurants are great, very nice people.
The town does attract some bad people, lots of the folks on the beach are looking for anyway to scam the tourists. I got nailed, a local surf instructor that I had talked to in passing for a few days sat down at my table on the beach, I was having a beer. He helped himself to it, there wasn't much left in the bottle so I didn't really care. He left and came back with a couple of more bottles and told me he bought them. Turns out he didn't he put them on my tab so surprise when I went to pay and he was gone. Live and learn. Next up the mototaxi dudes, they quote you a price that is double what the locals pay which I am okay with. I don't expect to pay the same as they do, why should the fact that they have tourists drive up their cost of living? Most of them don't make much money so for me $.50 doesn't make much difference. But when they go to drop you off they want to charge more money. I had heard about this from other tourists so I made sure I had exact change if I need to take a mototaxi. I only took 2 my whole time there and both times they tried it. I handed them the amount we agreed on when I got in and just got out and walked away. It is really not worth arguing with them, you would be there for hours. This only works if you have exact change, if you need change from them you are screwed.
I rented a surf board from the Loki surf shop, the reception folks told me it was $10 Soles for 1/2 a day, they charged me $10 Soles for 2 hours and I am pretty sure he just pocketed the money, I didn't fill in any paperwork. Mancora is know for it's surfing not that it would make any difference in my world, I am not good enough to know the difference but I did notice there is only the 1 break and it is very crowded. I've since talked to a few real surfers and they said unless you are out there at 5am not much point in going as it gets too crowded and you can't catch many waves.
The other bad experience was my bus out of town. I got a ticket from an agency the day before I was leaving for a night bus that left at 9:30pm. At 8pm (an hour 1/2 before my bus was to leave), I stopped by the bus depot to drop off my large backpack so I could go to the store and get some bus munchie food. There were 2 women there, neither of which sold me the ticket, they get all confused and check my ticket (which is actually a receipt) and then one runs out and comes back 15 minutes later. Turns out they forgot to buy my ticket from the bus company, but they assured me that everything was fine. The ticket that I paid for was for a semi-cama (reclining seat), this is not what I got, I got the back of the bus where the seats do not recline but by the time I got to my seat the bus was already on its way. So I got 9 hours of sitting up totally straight with the person in front of me's seat in my lap, oh and no bathroom. Screw ups happen but these evil people sat and smiled and joked with me the whole time they knew they were screwing me over. Not an offer of this is the only seat do you want it or would you like to take another bus? No offer of any kind of refund.. So don't buy bus tickets from the agency across the street from the church in the green & white building, they are bad bad people.
All in all I did not like Mancora, the scummy element was too much for me. I don't want to treat locals like they are going to rip me off and I don't want to be mean to people. Basically I don't want to be the kind of person you have to be to not get ripped off in that town, it's like you have a target on your back and everyone has an ulterior motive for talking to you. If you want a beach town I am in Huanchaco and although touristy there does not seem to be the same scammer feel to it.