Despite being in touch with shipping companies in Ecuador for over a year, none of them told me I must have an agent. I spent the last month sourcing one, contacting ten. Half got back to me, most couldn’t help. The only one that could spoke not a single word of English and neither could her colleagues. The following occurred over 10 days but pieced together as a single conversation:
Me : The shipping is very expensive, about $1000 more than I’d hoped. When does it leave?
Agency : This Saturday in Ecuador
Me: : But it’s Wednesday night and I’m in Peru! I’d need to travel 1497km and cross a border to . . .
Agency: : You’d need to be there by Friday
Me : Kerristttt <drives 1497km in 36 hours> Which port am I taking it to?
Agency : Customs closed on Wednesday, no way you could make it
Me : What the flying fudge? But your quote said . . . and I’ve just driven . . . I need to collapse. I’ll need to write about this as some kind of therapy. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?
Me : <Resigned> When does the next one leave?
Agency : Next week. Put your car in that container. The costs I gave you initially where I said it was the total costs? That’s a lie. You’ll have to find out the costs in Guatemala. Oh by the way, the container will reach your preferred port and take less time than the original quote, that’s some good news isn’t it?
Me : This is a bloody disaster. Fine, I’ll work it out in Guatemala. On the plus side, the boat arrives sooner, right? <Look for the positives, Reed, look for the positives>
Agency : Yes, June 5th!
Me : Great! Hang on, that’s the same date you told me it would arrive at the other port?
Me : Good chat. But it does get me where I want to go and on-time, that’s good at least! <Positives>
Agency : Actually I made a mistake. It goes to the other one. And it’ll take three days longer
Me : FU%^&&%&^*! Why didn’t you tell me? <You need to learn how to swear in Spanish, it’ll help>
Agency : You can pay you bill now please. In cash
Me : <Hijo de puta! > Are you crazy?! Who carries that much cash? I don’t have it! Why didn’t you tell . . . ahh forget it
Agency : If you can’t pay, then the container won’t go
Me : I’ll find a sodding way!
Agency : <Once paid> A pleasure doing business with you
Image reference: http://www.viralvinny.com/10-fascinating-abandoned-ships-throughout-the-world/
I never thought I’d actually make it to Peru. I set-out on many of these adventures not knowing entirely what’s going to happen – I try, and it’ll either work out or it won’t. So far, this trip has been a continual lovely surprise, albeit one that dictates some logistics and a lot of effort. I had arranged as much as possible before leaving Australia yet still spent my nights in Lima harassing shipping agencies for the Ecuador-Central America leg since Nicaragua imploded . . . as I said, sometimes things just don’t work out!
On Wednesday night though I finally had a breakthrough – the agent told me there was a ship leaving on Saturday from Guayaquil to Guatemala, could I make it? To save you googling, the journey from Lima to Guayaquil is 1497km. And I’d need to do this on my own since my friend had gone back to Melbourne after several very fun weeks with me since Buenos Aires. Google told me it was 23 hours, which is about the time it takes to drive from London to Kiev.
That is FAAAAAARRRRRRRR!!
1497km sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Its 58 million inches if you were wondering, which you probably weren’t. To those accustomed to Australian roads where you can pootle along at 100kph for days, Peru and Ecuador are alike in the way that they also have roads. There ends the similarity. And so, rising at 5am after getting to bed at about midnight, I made my mind up to go for it. It would get me almost a week ahead of my proposed schedule. I surmised that if I could make the Ecuadorian border by midnight I could potentially reach the port for about mid-day Friday. All I needed to do on day one was to drive continuously for the next 19 hours.
The first 12 hours was actually pretty smooth apart from the heart racing any time I spotted policemen or military, so about every thirty minutes. My guardian angel distracted them, made them look different ways, had colleagues shout at them just as they were about to wave me down, it was wonderful! Incidentally, the variety in Peruvian landscapes was simply stunning: rice fields replaced rock fields replaced sand-dunes and dessert, all punctured by villages with the occasional house made of sticks and tarpaulin (no wolves around these parts). By 6pm though I was waning. Izzy sensed this too so handily blew a fuse, knocking out my dash and tail-lights. Fixing it, she blew another - it was going to need more time to fix. With only 350kms to the border, seeing what speed I was travelling and other vehicles seeing me at all seemed of little importance. I turned my rear spotlight on and kept moving. Izzy, clearly tiring too, decided that two working headlights was just too greedy. One, now that is a proper number. And as for numbers, it was about then that the police finally had mine: at 10pm, and for the first time this trip, the red-lights flashed to pull me over.
Pushing Boundaries and My Luck
After a bit of a chastening, I showed them the blown fuse and related my brand-new plan of staying the night at the next town (true) and finding an electrician tomorrow (lies). To my surprise they let me go on the condition I stopped as soon as I could. So, on the down side I was still 150km short of the border, on the upside I didn’t end up paying a bribe or receiving a fine. Besides, by that point I was so tired I didn’t even make the next town. I just found a truck-stop, checked my phone messages and slept like the dead. During the day when I had phone signal I had kept in touch with the shipping agencies wherever I could – would 3pm arrival at the port be ok? Would the contact be there to get Izzy on-board? This being all in Spanish by the way, since the only agency I found that occasionally returned messages couldn’t speak a word of English. 90% of the time the agent answered 50% of my questions.
The next day, I pressed on, expecting tiredness to hit again but it never came. The remote border crossing took an hour longer than expected since the lady couldn’t find UK/GB in the system (not many tourists this way!), so it had to be discussed at length with various backroom staff. Reino Unidos by the way, and you’re welcome. The closer I got to my destination though, the quieter my main shipping agent. Questions such as ‘which port am I going to?’ and ‘will I make it in time?’ were answered with comments like ‘oh you’re near?’ and complete silence. At 100km away I thought I’d phone her, to which I understood precisely nothing. More text messages followed, but with one that required some deciphering with a dictionary and google translate. It wasn’t good news: Saturday’s ship had just closed off accepting any new cargo. 1497km . . . do you know how many inches that is? I wondered how much I missed it by, just so I could then spend the next few days beating myself up where I had gone wrong. The answer? Wednesday, the day I received the quote. If you need me, I’ll be in therapy.
I’ve always enjoyed walking and breathing, often I do them both together. Here though when attempting to walk up a slight slope, I can either walk or I can breathe. I cannot do both. It’s almost like a diet of coke and biscuits, the formula for champion athletes the world over, hadn’t prepared me for the task at hand. We’ve been between 3500m and 5500m for two weeks or more, and it does wear. Lake Titicaca, an exotic far-flung humungous body of freshwater at 4000m, lapping the shoes of both Bolivia and Peru, proffered a ferry ride out to two small islands for a bit of a jaunt. Neither of these islands had hills larger than perhaps 300m. My chest heaved like I was bench-pressing a cow.
Peru-ving Your Worth
Crossing into Peru has been a delight: no bribes have been sought; the roads have been excellent; cash-machines work; border control and police have been friendly. A few eyebrows have been raised as to why my number plates are on the inside of Izzy’s windscreen, but most police have had a chuckle with my explanation in broken Spanish ‘because those bastard Chileans steal stuff’. I was patting myself on the back for having the foresight to carry spares until I realised if I actually had a scintilla of a brain-cell I’d have put them on the inside to begin with. We’ve also been marvelling at our luck: some of the roads we traversed in Bolivia have been blocked by protesters; Argentina’s economy fell over entirely; and ahead of us huge protests have broken out in Nicaragua. Timing is everything.
We’ve laid claim to Titicaca (ownership pending), learned about some fascinating history of the Tiwanaku and Incan tribes, waltzed through Arequipa, Cusco and Machu Picchu, and am currently gazing twinkly-eyed at a beautiful swimming pool at our current residence of Nazca before a flight up and over the famous lines. God, I hate flying, but needs must. I’ll write a proper blog of Nazca and Machu Picchu when I get a moment, they need more than a sentence or two! We have been moving quickly over the last few weeks, and yet the days have been more laid back than I can ever remember through Chile. Very odd. Perhaps this is because my current travelling companion’s ill health has put is in more hotels than I’d bargained for, but that’s part of travelling – you roll with the punches the best you can. Albeit punches with showers and beds.
My plans of shipping from Peru or Ecuador to Guatemala are currently underway - some of you may recall the original plans being for Nicaragua, and yet riots change plans - and by ‘underway’ I mean providing a great deal of anxiety, stress and an absolute filthy potty mouth at times. It should be simple yet is always more complicated than it should be. If you look like you’re going to make one port in time, there’s always another curve ball around the corner. That’s part of it. Would drive you mad though if you weren’t already half-way to the loony-bin.
At just over two months, Australia seems forever away and yet at the same time like I just left. I’m astonished at what I’ve accomplished: given the Land Rover, Edna, on my London to Sydney broke down within 24 hours, Izzy has been quite the incredible workhorse. However, I can feel fatigue setting in though (in me, not her), which I knew it would. Part of travelling the way I do (as my girlfriend will tell you) is that I’m running 100% constantly, whilst not forgetting to smile and enjoy myself. However, if I can get this wonderful vehicle onto a boat, I’ll have a few weeks to relax, take some time and finally . . . breathe.
Am not sure what the Spanish is to stop a horse when at full gallop. My research shows me that it isn’t “Jesus Christ for the love of God fu**ing stop you son of mother ******, stooopppp!!”. It was exhilarating though, right up until the time my right foot came out of the stirrup and pulling the reins did absolutely nothing. So, about 10 seconds in.
As with Paraguay, I had no image envisaged of the country. My go-to, football players of the world, drew a blank. I did recollect that their capital is called The Peace, it had a lot of high-altitude football pitches which other nations complained about, and it had an exhilarating Death Road – a route that traverses mountain sides with buttock-clenching drops to the sides. What isn’t very well known is that Bolivia is packed with such routes: all of which have huge drops; all of which are extremely narrow, windy and bumpy; all of which result in your stomach feeling significantly lighter. Needless to say, driving these roads requires concentration, planning and a suicide note if you’re stupid enough to drive in the dark.
So the most significant thing about driving in the dark is that, in our case, you cannot see death, but just feel it. The road from Taruja to Tupiza was going very well until all the traffic died and asphalt disappeared. Then we were on our own, plodding up mountainsides, slightly aghast at the sheer beauty and vastness of the rocky landscape. There’s only so many times you can say “Well . . . that looks steep” After some significant climbing, which Izzy tackled liked a mountain lion (as opposed the timid lambs she was carrying), we hit an outcrop of perhaps 5000m. It’s the first time I’ve looked a lightning storm square in the eye. Naturally I thought this would be a good time to take some pictures, perhaps even camp out the night and watch the storm pass. Then we realised that perhaps that the passing storm was passing in the approaching type-way, and it was time to move!
Several days in we’ve really enjoyed Bolivia. Our first feel of the country though was slightly different as it came with two requests for bribes within two hours. Not exactly enticing. The first was rebuffed, the second resulted in a one-dollar donation. Fortunately we haven’t been bothered since, still a few days to go though. We’ve bumped into more tourists in Bolivia than elsewhere, and hence done some touristy things like horse-riding, as you may have guessed. The rugged landscape is entirely befitting Spaghetti Westerns, with our guide playing some Ennio Morricone on his phone as we rode through places with names such as the Devils Gateway. We then headed further south west and into the national park nudging the Argentinean and Chilean borders, across roads and tracks that reminded me of a recent horse ride.
On occasion I do like give myself an impossible task (like John Wick, but infinitely less cool). With Rich convalescing in a hotel, I drove to the famous salt-flats of Uyuni about 100km away to spend the night star-gazing and taking silly pictures. All was going well until I locked myself out in the morning with the engine running. Knowing I’m a complete imbecile, I have a safety net: a spare key padlocked under the car in a hidden place. Unfortunately for me said padlock was completely ruined by salt and dirt, rendering it impossible to save myself. Awesome! So not only was I in the middle of a salt flat 100km from my compadre with a spare key, I had no access to water, food, tools and the engine was running. Oh, and my phone has no network access. Given Salar de Uyuni must get over 100,000 people visiting a year, it took me an hour and a half to spot another car and wave them down across the vast plain of salt. To my utter incredulousness (think horse riding) the car stopped, took one look, and then carried on across the horizon. Thirty thirsty minutes later another car. This time a lovely Brazilian couple (Rafeal and Maria) helped me break into Izzy, Rafael being a mechanic and also my personal hero that can break into old Land Cruisers with a shoelace. What a guy!
So Bolivia in a nutshell: llama steaks; flamingos on salt-flats; very little toilet roll for some reason; epic roads; beautiful national parks that look exactly the same as the rest of the country; mad horses; and finally bucket loads of tourists, although fortunately some that even rescue those in need. I remain lucky and alive!
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here