The beginning of an end and the ugly face of Corruption!!

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June 24th 2016
Published: June 23rd 2016
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So the unthinkable happened in Baños... we were given news that would make us start thinking about the end of the trip. A deadline!!!

We knew there would be an end, we don't have bottomless funds and we always knew we could not live this idealised life for ever. Of course not. However we like the idea of travelling as we do, at a much slower rate now, visiting all the places that spark an interest in us.

Initially we had in mind a year but was open to going home early or staying longer. At the beginning of the trip, away from our routines and work we were always enjoying ourselves but doubted we would last a full year. Travelling is hard work at times (believe it or not) and to completely relax out of our ingrained routines would be a challenge for us. Nevertheless as we travelled, the excitement of the next country always kept us going, to the point that this became a great lifestyle for us making a deadline impossible to pinpoint.

As time went on we said to ourselves that it would be unrealistic to finish in a year and that instead we would go with the plan of visiting all the countries that were on left on our initial list. Once we had visited these countries we would then head home.

This meant we would have to be strict with ourselves not to get drawn in by other countries. Sounds fair right? In theory yes, but in practice I guess that understanding was lost when we travelled to Ecuador as that was also never on the initial plan. For us however it made both financial and travelling sense.

At this point, we are 11 months into our trip and we still want to visit Peru, Bolivia and some countries in Central America. Clearly not possible in a month. Friends and family always ask when we are coming home and although we throw months at them “…March, maybe April 2016..” we’d say, to make them happy but we had no real idea. We even started playing with the thought of volunteering somewhere in Central America for a month, enjoying life out here and getting the opportunity to develop our Spanish. When else would we have the opportunity to take time off work to do this, plus we would not spend much
At the border town between Ecuador and PeruAt the border town between Ecuador and PeruAt the border town between Ecuador and Peru

Just before our police encounter
with accommodation covered, just food which is fairly inexpensive. This idea was becoming more and more exiting and likely.

We travel at our own pace and generally because of this we have little regrets. We always seem to bump into other travellers on shorter trips from a few weeks to a couple of months. Some who think they can travel the whole world in that time. When we ask if they are visiting such a place, the response is always no I don't have time. Itineraries are fixed with flights already booked to help them cover large distances. Amazing sights and places overlooked. For us long term travel is ideal as we can avoid long distance bus journeys or expensive flights by splitting up the trip as we have time to break the trip up, also allowing us the opportunity to visit the less travelled places out of the way of the more visited tourist hubs.

However this was all about to change. Chris's grandma is going to be 80 in April (3 months from now) and was going celebrate this back in the UK. For us we don't mind missing the usual birthday but this was not an occasion we wanted to miss. That was sorted then, we had a deadline.

That evening we both had a sleepless night trying to connect the dots of what we would do and see in the time we had left. The first time that has happened to us on this trip! Don't get us wrong we were over joyed about seeing friends and family, just not so much about ending the trip. There is always the option of coming back out but we both doubted that once we returned home we would go ahead with that plan. So this all meant that we would continue the rest of our trip in an unfamiliar way of travelling.

Let the madness begin!!

Leaving Baños we had to catch an evening bus to Ambato and then secure our night bus to Cuenca, Ecuador. The night bus was uneventful and we arrived in Cuenca in the early hours of the morning. It was around 4am, still dark and we doubted any hostels would be open nor would there be any buses running to the centre of town. Instead we bought ourselves a hot chocolate and said we would sit in station until it became a more reasonable hour then catch a bus to the centre and go on search for a hostel.

We sat for around for an hour next to a highly intoxicated man calling the station his home for the night; snoring loudly and invading P's personal space as he dropped very close to her every now and then. Rather than use that time to relax, our brains were still ticking...We both had the same thought.

We agreed we had little time left on this trip. 3 months exactly. This may seem like a lifetime to someone on a shorter trip but for us that meant maybe not seeing everything that we set out to.

Cuenca would be a nice place to visit but we agreed we would not miss out of we did not visit it, bearing in mind we had visited many colonial towns already. This was not a priority for us now. Loja too, we heard it was a hidden gem with an outstanding rainforest waiting to be explored. Maybe another time we said. The beaches in Ecuador could wait too, given we were ending our trip on the beaches of Central America.

That settles it. We did not want to miss some destinations in Peru and Bolivia, so we would carry on all the way to Mancora in Northern Peru.

Wow this is what it felt like to have a deadline and it was really unsettling for us. We did not like the feeling at all. Later we overhead people talking about places we had missed due to limited time, happily chatting about how much they loved it. Our stomachs sank. Next time we reminded ourselves. Next time.

To get to Mancora was long winded. From Cuenca we caught a bus to Machala. Around 4 hours. The scenery on the bus was mesmerising as we drove through beautiful valleys and made our descent to the sea. From here it was another bus to Huaquillas, an hour and a half which the conductor clearly overcharged us for. We were becoming used to spending roughly around a dollar for a 1 hour ride, we paid over double for this. Not a lot, but still we’re sure he pocketed some.

Ariving in Huaquillas we were completely overwhelmed. Not the best feeling as you cross a border (writing this on route to another border). This was a bustling town set on a long dusty road, it reminded us of Colombia or Central America than it did of our experiences of the rural Ecuador as we knew it. We walked along this long road and its bustling markets; vibrant colours everywhere, from the food to the clothes and music and noise all around.

We were offered a taxi by many but refused them all. We needed to change money first. We had read that the men/women who exchange money here are notorious for giving people fake notes. We managed to exchange enough to get us to the next town in Peru and to pay for 1 nights accommodation - around $20. We decided we needed to find someone we could trust who could verify this. The police. We found a female officer who verified the notes were real revealing how to tell a fake. Phew one hurdle over. Nothing like a trust worthy police officer.

We realised by this point that the official border office was not actually in walking distance and we had to catch a cab or a tuk tuk across there and to the bus station in Tumbes where we would need to catch a bus to Mancora.

What a kafuffle. To make matters worse all the cabs here must have been working together to overcharge people as when we asked the police officer how much we should pay she only quoted not much over a dollar. The first driver quoted $15. We could not find a decent honest driver (knowing the journey was short from our maps). We felt out of our depth surrounded by life in this busy place. In the end we settled on $6. The cheapest overpayment we could find.

30 seconds into this ride however we were stopped by the police asking to see our passports. Normal. Then they said they needed to take us back to the police station! Not what we were expecting.

"Tranquilo" they kept saying "Es normal". The tuk tuk driver said it would be okay so we offloaded and took our bags as instructed into the police station. We got ushered into a small room and from their smirks and discreet manner with one officer stood guarding the door, we knew something was not right but what could we do.

We could communicate well enough with our broken Spanish and they told us to remove everything out of our bags. Two officers with Chris (one holding a camera phone up as though he was filming), one with P and one by the door.

They threw all of our belongings out of our bags. Emptied our clothes packs with the police officer emptying Chris's bag, basically showing no regard for his things. They put all of our electronic items to one side – our phones, laptop, camera etc. We questioned whether they were going to argue a 'justifiable' case for keeping them as we saw interest and fun on their faces when they found a new item.

Inside we were trembling. What was happening? Going through the possibilities in our minds, weighing up the options of everything being okay. They asked us about work, where we are going and where we have travelled looking at our passports carefully. P aware of some risks tried to play it safe happily chatting to them about the exciting things we have done and even happily demonstrated how the ebook reader worked. The happy unknowing traveller. When asked what they were looking for, they said drugs maybe, apparently we looked Colombian.

Although we are not stereotypically English looking, for most people (due to mixed and darker skin) we meet who don’t have much of an up-to-date knowledge of England usually say "…but you’re not really from England, are you?". Well I 'm afraid to tell you I am, born and raised in England, sorry to burst your bubble - as they continue to look at us in a bemused manner!

In this case, with our terrible pronunciation and backwards grammar, despite maybe still questioning where our ethnicities lie, they knew full well we were not Colombian. No way were they that stupid.

So while P on the face of it happily conversed with one guy in one corner, she kept trying to see what was happening with Chris in the other. Chris had had all of the electricals in his bags. Everytime she looked over the police officer dealing with her kept pulling her attention back not wanting her to get involved. They were asking Chris now to take off his pants or at least undo the front. Ridiculous we know. Chris reluctantly undone the front of his pants for a brief frisk.

Following this, they then moved on to asking about money. This whole charade we believe is all part of the process to make you feel like a terrified suspect. Luckily we only had the $20 on us that we had changed. Ha they weren't getting our money that easily. They asked how we intended to spend money in Peru if that was all we had. We reluctantly shown them our money belt and bank card (which they never actually found). We both thought they were either going to take it or take us to a cash machine for a large withdrawal. How the hell were we getting out of this?

One officer then started pointing to an empty water fountain in the room asking for water. Money for water that is! Already irate about having his luggage strewn all over the floor and now being asked for money, Chris began to get really annoyed with the whole situation. Sensing tension building, P tried another tact by taking her own bottle of water out offering to share. Ha. No they needed ‘more’ water. Yeh right!

P added she got her water from the mountain. Fresh water plus it was
Peering into the canyonPeering into the canyonPeering into the canyon

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
free. This had the officer with her laughing. Tension diffused…slightly.

They asked about our jobs again and where P was from. We both crossed our fingers that the other person did not reveal Chris worked in a bank, because obviously that would mean $$$ for them. Thoughtfully we both said he was a student. P got talking about her job, family life and how long she had been with Chris (perfect time to practice Spanish). They said but Chris looks Colombian, to which P replied she wishes, but he doesn’t speak Spanish and can’t salsa. With that they laughed and became friendlier and let us repack our stuff and finally let us go. Thankfully we never lost any of our items.

What on earth!! Back in the tuk tuk we asked our driver who was waiting outside to go, quickly. We were free and wanted to keep it that way.

The tuk tuk journey took 5 minutes to the border and 2 minutes after it. $6!! Daylight robbery. Ha. However that was the least of our problems, we were getting out of this place. Annoyingly the tuk tuk driver didn’t even drop us in Tumbes. We had
More jaw dropping sceneryMore jaw dropping sceneryMore jaw dropping scenery

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
to catch a 15 minute shared cab there and so had to pay again even though we agreed to be dropped in Tumbes in the first place. Anyway you have to pick your fights, this is not one we wanted.

On the way though, the tuk tuk driver did ask if were okay. He apologised and said the police here are very corrupt. No kidding. And there we were, 5 minutes before that ordeal thinking we could trust them here. Thank god we could speak a little Spanish and had the bare minimum money with us. We doubt others have escaped as freely as us.

It might not sound it but it was horrific for us, we were in a foreign country at a police station, could barely speak the language, were searched thoroughly for drugs and were almost extorted for money. Thank god we made it out safely.

Finally in Tumbes we had to wait an hour for our packed minibus to leave and then it took 2-3 hours to get to Mancora. There were times it stopped and an army patrol looked inside. If there was ever a time we looked guilty for something we
In another worldIn another worldIn another world

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
have not done it was then. We started sweating nervously, praying we did not have to experience the same again. Luckily we were through.

Relief is all we felt arriving in Mancora. We were extremely tired and hungry. Instead of walking to a hostel we accepted wherever the tuk tuk driver recommended they could be found. One annoying thing though is when we have not got a reservation, the question is whether to tell the driver or not. On one hand they can be extremely useful and on the other hand they can take you to the grimiest place to make some money for themselves. We decided on revealing our no reservation status and unfortunately our tuk tuk driver was the latter money grabbing kind. He took us to 2 places away from the beach, one that was very popular with locals but dorms were unpleasant, the other small quiet and ghostly.

We decided to search ourselves. A hostel that we had in mind that the tuk tuk driver had informed us was full, actually had availability and appeared very pleasant. 1 block behind the beach, with nice views from the breakfast room, a small pool and quaint
Adventure junkiesAdventure junkiesAdventure junkies

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
wooden complete with hammocks. We bagged ourselves an empty 4 bed dorm that was much better priced than the doubles.

Walking to the beach we noted many police officers here. Based at different corners of each block. I'm not sure if there had been previous trouble but you felt safe here. The beach we noted was very rough, many swimmers still straddling the shores but it screamed danger. Even our hostel owner – a surf instructor was refusing to give lessons due to the danger it posed. Mancora is a small but busy beach town with the main road 5 mins from the beach, it’s lined with mini marts, tourist stalls and restaurants offering cheap set meal deals. Along the beach you can find a selection of even cheaper food shops, fresh BBQ’s in the evening and tourists taking horse rides on the beach itself. Whilst sitting at the seating area on the beach, we spotted 2 lifeguards dragging what looked like a body from the rough sea to the beach. As people began to crowd round, we hoped whomever it was was ok. Noticing how nonchalant the lifeguards were acting we walked over to find out what was
Reflecting over the stillnessReflecting over the stillnessReflecting over the stillness

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
happening. It turns out it was a poor sea turtle that had drowned and was seen floating by the coastline. It probably came from an area called El Nuro only 20mins away from here, which we intended to visit to swim with turtles, but never got round to unfortunately.

Walking the main drag with tons of tourists - mainly local/south American - with a handful of international tourists we were delighted to see the array of food on offer.

The first night P ordered BBQ trout and Chris went for the Chicken BBQ skewers, both were accompanied with rice, salad and the most amazing dressing. P’s dish unfortunately did not agree with her at all, causing her nauseousness and to be sick. The food poisoning actually lasted around 2 full days, with the dizziness preventing P from getting up and about, confining her to our sweat inducing room for most of the time.

Surprisingly we were 11 months into our trip and this is the first time this has happened to P. It usually takes a lot for her to be sick from food but this finally caught up with her.

Chris spent much of his
Epic treks and amazing sceneryEpic treks and amazing sceneryEpic treks and amazing scenery

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
time eating, reading and enjoying the delights on offer here. In typical South American fashion, there was a small carnival procession working its way through the town with locals dressed up in green throwing buckets of water over each other. Avoiding a good soaking he daringly returned to the same food joint to sample more of the BBQ chicken that he enjoyed first time round. With P feeling a little better on the 3rd day, we briefly visited a place on the main road offering veggie patties and fresh drinks for around $8. Perfect and no upset stomach afterwards.

We spent our last evening dining with our 2 new roomies at one of the S12 menu del dia restaurants. Despite not seeing much in Mancora apart from the premises of our hostel, we were getting itchy feet again and decided to move on. Time is now of the essence.

We nearly ended up missing our night bus due to there not being a set bus station here, just places on the roadside for the many individual bus companies. The locals we asked just kept pointing in a general direction but with no specific information. Luckily we found it
Coming eye to eye with peaks...well almostComing eye to eye with peaks...well almostComing eye to eye with peaks...well almost

A sneak peek of our coming adventures in Peru
just in time parked inconspicuously outside of what looked like mini mart. Phew!

Accommodation: Laguna Surf Camp

Travel: $26 each from Banos

Date: 20th Jan 2016


24th June 2016
Coming eye to eye with peaks...well almost

Very Scary!
My stomach was tight just reading about your horrible encounter with the corrupt cops. When I was in La Paz, two young Brit friends were beaten up and robbed by the police, so you were lucky to get out of there intact. However, your next adventures look massively fabulous--oh those mountains! I wonder if it's Huaraz? Can't wait to see.
24th June 2016
Coming eye to eye with peaks...well almost

Very Scary
Oh goodness what an ordeal you friends went through. Times like that can really affect your trip. We had to remind ourselves that we were okay and escaped freely unlike others like your friends. Thats the only way we could stay sane. Saying that we were both shaken up by this experience and went through an awful lot of anxiety on every other border crossing 😕.
26th June 2016

This is not your last trip
When we took our first extended trip we sort of had the thought, "oh this will get it out of our system" HA! 5 years later we were on the road again, yes, a shorter trip, but grand. A few months after your return you'll be sitting in a meeting think "What happened it was too quick" Corruption is around the world. I'm glad the outcome was good. Sorry you got food poisoning. I (MJ) get food poisoning frequently. Food can think about going bad and I get sick. It prevents me from eating some of the street foods that I would like to try. It makes our travel more expensive because I have to be careful where I eat but at least it does not stop us from traveling. My worst illnesses were in Chaing Mai and Kathmandu but also about 6 other cities. I've learned to be overly cautious so I don't get hospitalized which almost happened those two times. Your photos speak for themselves.
27th June 2016

Not our last trip
We took a similar stance before this trip 'A big trip to get it out of our system before we start a family'. After completing it, sadly we feel we now feel we have only really just begun. Wow you really do have a sensitive stomach, much more than the two of us. That must make travel difficult as one great aspect is the different temptations of food. I'm guessing India will be a great challenge as Chris like many others we met fell ill on several occasions. It's great that you do not let this challenge prevent you from exploring what the world has to offer!! Life would be much less enjoyable for us with travel taken out of it.
26th June 2016

What a terrifying experience! So glad that you both managed your way out of it and the food poisoning. Sorry to hear there is a deadline, but can't wait to follow the rest of your trip, and perhaps a new deadline after the birthday. :)
27th June 2016

Finding our way out
Thanks for your lovely comment Michelle. It always tells a great tale our experience at the border, but we hope that's the first and last of those encounters. We really felt a sense of loss when we started to anticipate our deadline but we are more than certain that this certainly won't be the last of our travel adventures. That's for sure.

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