We’ve spent the last twelve hours navigating our way from Vilcabamba, Ecuador to San Ignacio in Peru. It was an early start and we found a few other backpackers waiting for the same bus as us in the darkness of pre dawn. What was theoretically a very long day of traveling, with different modes of transport turned out to be a breeze. Our first bus took us through the Southern Ecuadorian Andes mountains high up above the valley. Silence fell upon us as our driver negotiated his way through the heavy mountain mist surrounding the bus in a blanket of white. Every now and then i would catch a glimpse of the sheer drop alongside the bus, just meters from the wheels and it would make my heart skip a beat. When we came out of the dense cloud our bus lurched sluggishly along a narrow dirt track higher than before and enclosed by thick, wild vegetation, ferns, vines and bright tropical flowers breaking the plane of new green. It struck me how so often the best journeys are had on the way to the border and enjoyed through a bus window, or in my case a sheet of plastic taped to the frame of a would be window.
This time the road had suffered badly from landslides and we were stopped a number of times to wait for the digger-loaders to clear the recently collapsed sections of slopes from our path. We passed mules pulling logs behind them and farm workers clutching machetes, through minute mountain villages of no more than five or six dwellings. I could smell the wood smoke in the air- that unmistakably rural scent that tells you have long since left city life.
Six hours later we were dropped off in the rural mountain village of Zumba to await our next lift- a chiva (an old fashioned pick up with wooden bench seats, wooden panelling in powder blue and completely open sides.) In we piled with the locals plus a little dog called Negrita (blackie). With our vantage point now wide open and the breeze blowing through the bus we wound our way through the upper reaches of the mountains and once again gawked over the dramatic series of peaks across the valley.
Our Ecuadorian border crossing at La Balsa was a dream. We found ourselves in the most beautiful valley with not a soul bothering us….tranquilo. Our border official was a laid back man with a huge smile and no shirt, showing off his rotund belly. After being stamped through we crossed the border- a 60m long bridge crossing a rushing river on foot. Bienvenidos a Peru!