So even though I had cracked the secret to partially good days in the mountains by getting up early, I had decided to give myself and the van some rest and head down to the coast for some much needed sun and heat. But to get from Cuenca to the coast in Ecuador you have to drive over a 4200m pass, the road up rises 1600m in 30km. But at the pass is Cajas National park. So I pack up the van and head up the mountain. Three cooling down stops and my first “wild” llama sighting later I make it to a nice little lagoon where I can hike a bit just before the pass. Even though I’m at almost 4000 meter I do not have a headache today (score!). Which does not mean I do not notice the altitude. The hike around the lake is relatively flat but I’m continuously out of breath. What makes it weirder is that it doesn’t seem like you’re at almost 4000m. It’s warm enough for a T-shirt and shorts, there is no snow anywhere to be seen but instead there are loads of plants and even trees. Yes, trees… at almost 4000m. That’s pretty absurd. In Europe or North America you would only find rocks and snow at these altitudes. Anyway, the hike is tiring but really pretty. After that it’s over the 4200m peak and then in one go down to sea level. I cross Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, but don’t stop. Everyone told me it’s not that interesting and only good for mechanics and shopping. So maybe I’ll stop on the way back, because for the first time in a long time I’m actually heading north to where the nice coast is. I camp at a little hostel in the tiny surf/fishing town of Puerto Engabao. It’s a nice little garden and the owners give me some fresh passionfruit that they grow themselves. I can hang around here for an extra day to relax.
Sarah and Dani, who I had met in Salento, Colombia, had told me there is a really good spot to camp a bit north from here in Santa Elena. What I didn’t know is that the spot was so nice that they were still there, not able to leave after a week. So that was a nice reunion. The place was minutes away from the beach in a big house that was being used as a small hotel. The common facilities included a huge kitchen (with oven!), a even bigger living room and a relaxing roof terrace with many hammocks overlooking the ocean. There were few other people there so we basically had all this space to ourselves. The first two days we hang out here together and make some awesome food, including tasty pizzas. On my third day there, the girls leave to head a bit further north and I stay one more day in my favorite hammock. I even go for a run, which is the first one at sea level on a paved road in a long time. This is so easy. I guess the altitude training worked.
After basically 5 days of laziness it is time to do something and head towards Peru. The first driving day is a long one and I end up in Arenal, near the mangrove coast which means no beach, just hot, humid and bugs. I can park at a swimming pool which has a few guests during the day and is nicely empty at night. It does have an insane amount of dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys and even some ostriches. Yes, ostriches. They were kind of evil and when I want to take a picture of them they start kicking against the not too stable looking fence. I guess I’ll stay away from these guys. They’re taller than me and it probably hurts when they attack.
Time for border crossing number two of this month and country number twelve of this trip: PERU! The Ecuadorian-Peruvian border is the first joint border of this trip where both countries have their facilities in one building. All facilities you ask? Well, in principle yes, but it’s still South America so to cancel my Ecuadorian vehicle permit I need to go to the border post for leaving Peru/entering Ecuador. Does this make sense? No. Anyway cancelling the permit takes a bit of time because someone is trying to import literally 100+ flat screen TVs into Ecuador. They all need to be removed from the box, switched on and photographed. Fun work and keeps a large part of the personnel busy. At the leaving Ecuador/entering Peru site they have the counters for passport stamps right next to each other. Five minutes later my passport is fixed. Getting the car imported is a bit more work. Not because of Central America style forms, copies, payments and queues. No, just a good old printer malfunctioning. So we head to another building with a USB stick to get my permit printed there. Now I’m officially in Peru and can head to my campsite in Zorritos. The coast in Peru is called the desert coast. And it’s pretty clear why: sand, sand, sand, dry, hot, no plants. But the Zorritos campsite is a nice spot where you can camp on the beach between the coconut palms. There are another 4 campers there so it’s a nice group. This is also the spot where Mike and Lyndsay (I traveled with them in Central America) parked their car when they head back to the US for a bit. So I could make myself useful by checking if their car was still OK. (It was).
The next day I am lazy once again. In the afternoon I see some familiar faces next to my van. Sarah and Dani caught up with me again and made it to Peru too. Time for a beer on the beach and playing fetch with the campsite dog. It’s a Peruvian hairless dog, and yes that’s a thing and yes they are ugly. It looks like it’s sick but it’s not. It’s actually one of the oldest still existing dog breeds, originally bred by the Incas. Because they have no fur, their body temperature is a bit higher and they were used to warm up sick people.
After the relaxing day it’s time to head south once again. My goal is the next surfer town of Lobitos. On my drive down I’m clearly entering the area that was heavily affected by the floods from a few months ago that took out many roads and bridges. The main roads are a bit damaged but very doable. The dry riverbeds underneath the bridges are filled with dead trees and large rocks. The scenic coastal road I want to take to Lobitos is closed because the road is too damaged. So I head back to the Panamerican Highway to get to the short unpaved entry way. Lobitos was originally built as a town for the oil production in the platforms just off the coast. The boom is past so there are a lot of empty buildings that have been taken over by surfers. But because the oil production is still going on you do have to sign in at a check point to get to the town. The hostel I park at looks abandoned. The fact that it’s in the desert doesn’t help and actually the floods ruined a large part of the rooms (I hear later that Mike and Lyndsay where actually here when that happened). The whole town of Lobitos has been without water for three months. This combined with the floods means the hostel is closed, but camping is no problem. Around sunset I walk to Lobitos town. The abandoned oil town buildings combined with the fact that all the hostels are closed give it a weird spooky feeling. Great for pictures. I think for now I’m done with relaxing on the coast. Hopefully I can visit some culture soon and even better: mountains.