February 8th, 2007

We had crossed the border from Ecuador and had arrived in the Cifa bus station on the panamericana in Tumbes.

As we stepped off the bus someone grabbed my forearm, tugged on it forcefully and screamed something incomprehensible in my face.

Another voice, with a beaconing hand, screamed “no no, come with me, I’m official, come come, quickly

The two men and a crowd of others were vying for our custom, hoping that we’d jump into their mototaxi. It didn’t matter what we were doing, where we were going or if we were going anywhere. They want your business and it’s not important, not even considered, that you might not want to give it to them.
We moved away from the crowd and they followed us. Annett suggested we enter the small ticket office protected by a guard so that we could talk about what we were going to do next. The crowd was not allowed in there – except the few that had the official ID and they would harass us all the same. We decided iwe would make a trip to the bank and then to the Cial bus station. We went with the man with the official ID who was hounding us rather than the one who violently tugged on my arm. “Don’t take a mototaxi from outside of the bus station“, he said, “they’ll rob you or take you to where their friends can rob you“.

He took us to the bank, which on a Saturday afternoon was closed. Latin America is a place where people are desperate for jobs but once they have them close their businesses for hours at lunch times and don’t open at weekends. We headed back from the centre of town where I gave a toothless beggar a US$1 coin left over from Ecuador. Our taxi driver laughed, “He doesn’t know what a dollar is“. At the busy dirty Cial bus station, nothing like the ones elsewhere in Peru, a ticket saleswoman who barely had the time to talk to us mumbled that she had seats for tomorrow’s bus costing S./100. We left the bus station, hounded by taxi drivers including the one who had pulled on my arm. He demanded to know where we were going. I told him we are walking to Oltursa’s bus station, one block away. “No, no, it’s closed, come with me“, he demanded as we walked away ignoring him.

At the gates to Oltursa we encountered a security guard in front of large beige gates. “We’re closed“, he said grimly, “the last bus has left“. We explained that we only wanted to buy tickets. He offered to go to see if anyone was available to sell them to us. He told us to stay where we were and be careful.
He returned quickly, with a smile on his face, genuinely pleased that he could help us. The bus station was beautiful – Oltursa has the nicest bus stations and very clean buses but their prices can be a little more expensive. So we were shocked to find the prices were the same as Cial and we bought our tickets immediately for the next day. We were warned by the nice woman who sold our tickets and happily changed my dollars to soles that we should not walk around outside, that it is too dangerous. We thanked her and the security guard and left.

At the side of the road, we waited. We weren’t sure for what, but we hoped maybe we’d see a normal taxi that could take us to a hotel out of town, further than a mototaxi could. Nothing came. After a while the security guard wandered over to ask where we wanted to go. We didn’t know. He nodded his head and said he’d find us a taxi and a hotel. He told us that we couldn’t just take any taxi from the street, that more than half are actually looking to rob you at gun point. He told us of the time a tourist left the bus station who he warned to be careful, he declared that Tumbes didn’t scare him and walked off. He had a gun to his head at the next corner. There are also well rehearsed scenarios ranging from the one where a mototaxi would take you to a deserted street and rob you themselves to the one where their friends come and box you in on the road.

The security guard said he’d put us in a taxi of someone he recognised as a non-criminal. Dozens of mototaxis passed. We would looked at him questioningly and he would shake his head. Some drivers weren’t so keen to move on knowing that we needed a taxi yet we weren’t getting in, but with a wave of the hand by our friend with a gun the problem was solved. This was particularly good fun when the same taxi driver, the one who pulled my arm, passed and stopped in front of us. He looked at us, and at the security guard and carried on, not saying a word.

Finally we were found a taxi, the security guard told the guy where to take us and we were off. We were charged less than by the other taxi driver for the trip to the bank. He also warned us to be very careful. Our hotel was fine, half the price of something similar in Ecuador. The heat though was unbearable.

We went no further than the end of the block for some Chifa that night and some fish for breakfast/lunch late the next morning. We arrived at the bus station 2 hours early, greeted by our security guard friend who was pleased we had no problems. The Oltursa bus was excellent. We passed Zorritos and Mancora, two beaches we didn’t get to visit due to lack of time and money. The next day we arrived in Lima.

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