Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peru, Part One: Mancora

On the long ride to the border, i had the misfortune o getting sat next to the only other foreigners on the bus; missionaries from Utah. I spent hours hearing about how i shouldn't be alone in such dangerous countries and how I was sure to die. He seemed to think since i had never been to Peru, I had never been ANYWHERE. In between listening to the missionary’s second-hand stories of an evil Peru, I spent hours on my iPhone writing my book. This is how my book came to be; by me writing all my stories into the notes section of my phone. After a while I had so many stories of my travels that someone said I should write a book. Since my whole journey seems to be one long adventure, it was easy to fill in the blanks between all the stories in the time line. Eventually, about a year after starting the book in South America, my few stories in the note section turned into my 100k word book. All written on boring bus, train and plane rides. And all on my iPhone.    

Writing my book got it's start on this stretch of highway in Ecuador, but a few hours later it almost came to an abrupt end. We were chugging along up a steep hill when two guys ran out and jumped onto our slow moving bus. I had luckily been paying attention and saw the whole thing from the beginning. I was just writing about my first trip to Costa Rica when I saw the masked men hop on, and I instantly knew what was happening. 

While the men were still in the separate driver’s compartment, I hurriedly shoved my phone and my passport holder, that also held most of my money and ATM cards, into the head-rest cover on the seat in front of me. It was just a cloth with Velcro attaching it to the back of the seat, and not a pocket, so no one would look there. Then I took my carry-on and shoved it under the seat and up toward the front of the bus near an old lady that no possessions. 

I did all this in about 5 seconds and had just started to warn the other foreigners when the door burst open and the masked man walked in pointing a hand gun at us. The other bandit was holding his gun to the drivers head and telling him where to pull over. His friend had a plastic garbage bag and started at the front of the bus, yelling in Spanish for people to give him their valuables. I don’t speak Spanish, but it wasn’t really required. 

The thief was making his way towards me, taking anything he could get from people along the way. One of those traveling sales men had the misfortune of being on board, and lost all of his sales money. I was relieved when the thief didn't notice my bag under the old lady and moved on. When the guy got to me and was swinging his gun between me and the missionary couple, the husband translated for me to give him my wallet and anything else I had and that it wasn't worth my life. 

I shrugged and gave him what I call my decoy wallet. It was a little pouch with about $6 in American singles and a wad of Colombian money that probably equaled $10. There was also two old library cards, an expired credit card that I had found and a Starbucks card. If I was ever robbed I planned on giving the thief this wallet and hope he thought he had a good score. It worked like a charm. The thief looked in the pouch, saw a wad of money and what he figured were a rich American’s credit cards and was satisfied. He searched my pockets for anything else. He asked where my bag was and I pointed to a pile of bags I had seen him already go through where he had gotten cameras and whatever else. He must have been satisfied that he had gotten everything I had and moved on. I was feeling pretty damn relieved and sure of myself. 

After what seemed a long wait they were gone. There was crying and wailing, and I felt sorry for these people. I didn't know what I would do if I had lost anything. It might be a common thing in these people’s lives, but it didn’t make it any more pleasant.

"Now you know why they take our finger prints at the beginning of the ride. It's because sometimes people get kidnapped as well." said the missionary, breaking the trance I was in. 

We were close enough to the border that we didn't wait for the police. They were waiting for us when we got there. I almost felt guilty being the only one leaving the bus with something of value, so I did so quickly and quietly, and made my way to immigration to get a stamp out of Ecuador. 

"Don't you want to report what they got from you sir?" asked the man.  

"I didn't actually lose anything. I gave him an empty wallet and hid everything else."

 He had never heard of a decoy wallet but thought it ingenious. Him and his wife had lost more than $1000 between them and their passports. They looked at me longingly as I waltzed across the border that they could not now cross. I thought it kind of sad that this incident wouldn’t be making the missionaries view of Peru any less damnable. Oh well.

Immigration for both sides was pretty pain-free. From there I took a bus south. I bought a ticket to Trujillo, which was half way to Lima. I knew Lima was too far for me to go and I would be way too tired and sore. On the bus I met a cool guy from New York who was traveling around by himself as well. He was only going to Mancora, a few hours from the border. He said it was a good surf spot with many backpackers. We talked the miles away, and by the time we arrived in Mancora I had decided to join him. 

He was meeting some other Americans he had met in Colombia in Mancora, at a hostel I would get to know well: Loki. We got off in mancora, which is a small surfers paradise. There's sand dunes and cliffs to the east, and a nice beach to the west that the town is situated along. There were a lot of cool little souvenir shops along the main street, that we walked by
 on our way to Loki. The town is tiny, and it’s easy to find Loki, as everyone knows where it is. 

The bus to the Peruvian border was much older and dirtier than the others I had taken so far. For some reason they copied all of my passport information and took my finger print. They did the same for all the passengers and I didn't know what for, but it made me a little nervous. When I got to my assigned seat I had the miss-fortune of being next to the only other foreigners on the bus. I say miss-fortune because they were the old missionary types who would not shut up. Since I told the husband that it was my first time in Peru, and that I was alone, he took it to mean I was a newbie of a traveler and needed guidance. 

The whole trip he kept saying things to scare me like, "I hope you locked you bag underneath the bus", or "Lima is too dangerous for a lone foreigner, you can stay at our mission" or "don't look people in the eye, they might stab you". I spent the first part of the journey trying to be polite and attentive.  

Loki. Awesome hostel

I have mixed feeling about the Loki hostel in Mancora. On one hand, it turned out to be one of, if not the best hostel I've ever stayed at. But on the other hand it was a major party hostel and not too relaxing. Another downer about the place is that it is basically a big compound. It is surrounded by high walls, and almost no one leaves the compound until they are catching the bus out of town. There is a restaurant and bar and pool and a gate to the beach and pretty much everything you would need so you don have to leave. They even tell you at checkout that its to dangerous to leave the hostel and wander the town. So besides me and a few others, no one really did leave. I didn’t really see the point in even coming to Peru, just to stay in a single, closed off area. But to each their own I guess.

Despite any dislike I may have had, Loki provided me with a way to travel indefinitely with little money. Nearly every member of the staff was volunteers working for their accommodation, food and half off of their bar tab. On my second day I took a job in the bar right along side of the others. I say Loki showed me the way, because they also had 3 other hostels along the route I was taking toward Brazil. Not only that, but now I realized that working or volunteering at hostels was a possibility, and that just opened up so many more doors and possibilities. Since then I've worked at many more hostels around the world, saving a lot of travel money.  

The hostel was so nice though, that I once again ended up staying much longer than intended. I needed to keep moving south towards Rio, but it was hard to get motivation to leave the nice pool and beach, to go on a 20 hour bus ride to Lima. One day however, with my schedule always on my mind, some of the staff came up and asked if I wanted to go to Lima for a Pearl Jam concert. The plan was to head there and start working at the Lima Loki after the concert. Well, nothing like a little motivation. Together we headed out to catch a very long and boring ride to the capital. 

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