Road Trip – Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas
The following is a detailed account, with prices, of our two day road trip from Vilcabamba, Ecuador to Chachapoyas, Peru.
We started in the morning by standing on the road below Hostel Izhcayluma to flag down the local bus to the town of Zumba, Ecuador. The bus was supposed to come by around 10:30am, but we were advised to start our wait at 10:00am, just in case. We expected to be the only gringos on the bus, but a German Ski Instructor/Primary school teacher named Heiko and his eight year old son, Eric, were also waiting. They were on their way to Chachapoyas, too, so we decided to travel together to make it easier for us all.
The local chicken bus came by about 10:35, and we waved it down. After storing our packs underneath, we boarded the bus and paid our $3.50 fare to the conductor. There were no seats left by then, but Reika and Eric were able to find room in the cab. Heiko and I made due with standing for the first hour or so, after which one seat opened up. We took turns sitting every fifteen minutes for the next hour and then enough people got off so we all had seats the rest of the way.
This was literally a Chicken Bus – roosters in the back of the bus were crowing every few minutes. The paved road ran out after about three hours and the rest of the way was dirt or, since it started to rain, mud. Twice the bus got stuck, once we were pulled out by a backhoe, and the second time; after a scary sideways slide that Reika, who had the window seat, said she saw the back wheels go over the edge; we were pulled out by a dump truck. The rest of the six hour ride through the cloud forest to the town of Zumba, was pretty uneventful…only one landslide to traverse.
In Zumba we stayed at the Hotel San Luis – $8.00 each for a twin room with a shared bath. Since Reika and I are both vegetarians it took a little while to find a restaurant that could give us a plate of rice and beans with a fried egg on top and a small salad. We split a beer after the long day…$5.00 for both of us, including the beer.
We knew that the “Rancera” – a truck with open sides and wooden seats – to the border town of La Balsa, left at eight, so we had breakfast at 7:00am and got to the bus station just past 7:30. A good thing, too, as the bus filled up fast and was full by 7:45. We saw four young gringos arrive just before 8:00am, but too late for our bus. Luckily for them we saw that a second Rancera was called to take the overflow from ours. The ride cost us $1.75 each, but it was the most fun of the whole trip. Off we bounced, though the misty cloud forest, twisting and winding up and down muddy tracks cut through the thick jungle.A few hours later we reached La Balsa and the remote border post on a river separating Ecuador from Peru.
Crossing the border was quite easy, just find the border post and hand your passport to the guys milling around inside. Heiko and Eric, Reika and I got there first,with the four other gringos arriving just as we finished. It was a pleasant walk across a bridge, stopping for the required “No Man’s Land” photos while crossing the bridge. It wasn’t very long, not like the mile long crossing of the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan that I did two years ago.
The Peruvian side was a bit of a song and dance. First filling out forms at one office, then finding the second office, unmarked and down in a field, to get a computer check and stamp on the form, then back to the first office. Naturally the man on duty was out on the bridge taking pictures of the parade of students and soldiers taking place for some anniversary of the border or something. But he eventually returned and happily stamped us into Peru. Next we crossed the road and changed money at an awful rate. US dollars are the currency of Ecuador, but for Peru you need Soles, and we only got Sol/.2.74 to the USD. I changed $100, which I thought would easily get us through to Chachapoyas, and I was right. The rate there was 2.78 (note: I just got 2.857 in Arequipa a few weeks later)
The rest of the way to San Ignazio was done by collectivo Taxi Sol/.17 for the whole thing. In San Ignazio we took a Tuk-Tuk (Sol/.3) to the yard where we could get a van to Jaen – Sol/.12 each. In Jaen we caught another Tuk-Tuk (Sol/.3) to a collectivo Taxi to Bagua Grande (Sol/.8). In Bagua Grande we caught another local minivan to Chachapoyas for Sol/.10 each. We arrived at night, but had no trouble getting a room in a 200 year old colonial house turned into a Hotel…Hotel Revash. After some bargaining we got a great room on the second floor with a huge balcony, bathroom inside, for Sol/.60 per night.
The total price of our two-day run over dirt roads: USD$37.50 each; add in snacks and call it $80 for two of us.
Stay Tuned for the Pre-Incan Ruins of Kuélap! Better than Machu Picchu!