Adventures in South America

Chapter 10 - Dealing with the crooks

We arrived to Tumbes in the morning. It looks like an ugly dirty small border town with many military camps and soldiers. We seek for a taxi driver to take us to the border. As we know from our book the proper price, we bargain hard. It's amazing to talk with some of the drivers who have the guts to ask more than triple price. They really look like professional crooks. They even don't blink when they say these bombastic prices...

It's better we vanish quickly from here, since it seems that it's only a question of time till they succeed to fool us... At last we find a taxi driver who is less thief than the others - don't get the impression that he looks honest, not at all, he looks like a well experienced one, but still he agreed to take us for 6 $US, a price which is only 50% more than the usual... a real bargain in comparison with his friends... After we agreed and put our bags on the roof of the car, he offers us to change Peruvian Soles into Ecuadorian Sucres with his friend. He says that in the border the prices are very high and his friends rate is 2600 Sucres for a Sol, which sounds reasonable (I asked yesterday in Trujillo an Israeli about the rate and he said something like that). I decide to change only a bit since at any rate we plan to reach Guayaquil (Ecuador's economic capital) still today, and there we will change more. I tell the driver that I want to change 60$, and that he should give me first the Sucres and only than I will give dollars. The driver asks if I'm sure that I want to change so little and I say it's enough. He gives to us 12,360 Sucres. I'm confused. Didn't he say that the rate is 2600 ? No, he claims, he said 2060. I'm not sure. Maybe I mixed up and he and also the Israeli friend both said 2,060 and not 2,600 ? The driver looks really offended. He says - if you don't want - you don't have to change anything here. Well, as I'm not sure I decide to change only 40$ in order to minimize the frown, if he is cheating me after all. After we settle the transaction, we start our way, not before the driver fetch one Peruvian passenger... (OK, he's cheating us a bit, we say to ourselves, but it's not that we pay more, but that he is getting more, so we don't really care).

There is a 1 KM difference between the Peruvian and the Ecuadorian borders. The driver should bring us till the Peruvian border, wait for us until we stamp our passports and then continue with us till the Ecuadorian border. We arrive to the Peruvian border. We are alert, we suspect our driver and the Peruvian border police. The passenger leaves his belongings in the taxi and goes to stamp the passport. If he leaves his things in the taxi, it should be OK to do so as well. (Our assumption is that the driver wants to rob us but will be afraid to rob the Peruvian) So we leave our heavy bags and take with us the small bag with all of the valuables and go to stamp our passport.

The police officer is really interested in our passports which are full of stamps from around the world. Meanwhile, the other passenger finished the procedure and starts his way back to the taxi. We're still stacked with our too curious police officer. I'm getting aware to the possibility that the taxi driver will take the passenger but won't wait for us so I'm really eager to finish with the stamping procedure. Luckily, the curious police officer finishes scanning our passports, stamps it and even doesn't ask for bride. Maybe he realizes that we're experienced travelers, and prefers to find easier victims. I'm running towards the exit since I don't want to loose our taxi driver (and our bags that are with him). I don't see him and become really nervous. "That buster succeeded in robing us" I bitterly think. But no, I see him, and nervously wave to him. He smiles at me and even waits for us to enter the taxi. He's really amused and says "you thought that I ran away, ah ???" and then burst into laughter...

In the Ecuadorian border we get out of the taxi. The border is actually the lousy and dirty small town of Huaquillas, which looks like a chaotic version of the Ha- Carmel market in Tel Aviv. What we have to do now is to cross the bridge (which is the exact place of the border), take a taxi to the border police station which is located 5 KM out of town, then return to town and take a bus for the 5 hours drive to Guayaquil - which is also known to be very ugly and dangerous town. The mission looks really complicated.

We decide that if we can't fight the thieves by ourselves, it's better to hire one to do the job for us. We find a small boy and hire him "to show us the way, and find for us a taxi to the police station for the right sum of 5,000 Sucres". While walking with the boy, a grown up man notices him and starts to shout at him madly "You bustard, son of a beach - what are you doing here" and then when he realizes that the boy is working for us, he says to us slowly with a big smile and pointing to the boy "bueno gia, bueno gia" ("good guide, good guide")...

The boy is revealed to be very efficient and 5 minutes later we're in a taxi. We tip him generously. The Ecuadorian border police is discovered to be very slow. After our passports are stamped, we have to hold them exposed to the sun in order to dry the stamps. If the stamp is not clear we will have problems getting out of Ecuador, we are told.

5 hours later we arrive to Guayaquil central bus station. As is written in our guide book: "Guayaquil has a reputation for theft problems... If arriving or departing from the bus terminal or airport with luggage, taxis are safer then public buses... Bottom-end hotels in Guayaquil are generally of a higher price and lower standard when compared to other cities...". We decide to take a taxi to the un-justifiably expensive but safe youth hostel. We ask several locals about the price that we should pay for a taxi ride. Somehow, all the taxis in the station ask for double price, so we make the (almost usual) trick, step out 100 meters away from the bus station and then, on the street, find a taxi for the right price. That trick always works !!!

In the youth hostel we check the rates between the Peruvian Sol and the Ecuadorian Sucre and discover that we were cheated. The rate is 2,700 and not 2060... Never mind, we say to ourselves - we lost only about 12$, which is relatively nothing. We are relieved to be| in a safe place at last.

We've completed the "difficult" part of our trip in South America, walking in about 40 days about 700 KM, and sleeping in our tent about 35 times. We decide that now it's high time to treat ourselves and take a one week first class cruise in the Galapagos Islands, something like the TV seria "The Love Boat".

Don't we deserve it ?

The giant tortoises which gave the Galapagos islands their name.

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Last modified: Mon Jun 10th 13:03:08 IST 1999