Solo Again, I Get Sick Tripping Through Ecuador to Peru

After nearly a solid year of traveling together Marilyn and I had decided to go our separate ways and finally parted on the coast of Ecuador where she found a temporary job working at a hostel. I'd hung around for a few days there, but after one last kiss I was taking a short local bus ride to the edge of town to start hitchhiking on my own again.

After some getting oriented and a fair amount of walking I managed to hitch a ride from a guy heading where I was heading, the big city of Guayaquil where I had a Couchsurfing host arranged to stay with.

After a fair amount of confusion over the phone (figuring out where my host wanted to meet and relaying this to my current driver) and even more confusion once I arrived (a big bus station with no clear point to meet) I somehow eventually met up with my host, Sam. We headed on public transit through the crowded city, then winding through back roads and alleys to his place.

He didn't actually seem very interested or interesting, just blandly tired. He had some friends at his place, a few girls who were happy to speak English and hear about my trip as well as make suggestions for the rest of my journey. We had a meal together, they eventually transitioned to Spanish and chatted together while I did my best to try and follow the conversation.

Once they all left I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in a hammock on the roof thinking I wouldn't spend an extra day in this city. My host seemed nice, but again just sort of tired, and the city from what I could see was no more than just that, a city. We at least chatted some more in the evening and watched a movie together, then I faded to sleep in the extra room upstairs.

A guy from the US, Matt, that I met at the coastal hostel lived in Cuenca half the year, the smaller town I was aiming for next, and it turned out he'd be heading through Guayaquil on this day and offered to give me a lift.

I met up with him in the city that morning, after some lunch and an appointment he had we were on the road. t got more and more green and beautiful the closer we got to Cuenca. This was all somewhat tarnished by a bribe he had to make at one point for us to continue. He'd fallen for a trick where a cab got in front of us driving real slow, so we passed them and were quickly pulled over by the waiting cop for "passing in a no pass one". After some ritualistic banter and posturing it was the fifty dollar bribe that got us back on the way.

Matt said this was basically par for the course and happened about a third of the time he made that drive. When we got to town he looped me around it quickly just pointing out this place and that place, it was the brewery where I decided to hop out and begin my exploration of the town.

I grabbed a beer and took advantage of the wifi to find out where the cheapest hostel might be. I had a couchsurfing host setup, but not until the next night being that I had expected to spend one more day in Guayaquil before bailing out a day early do to the lackluster perspective and the easy ride opportunity from Matt.

By the time I finished my beer and set out on foot for the hostel I'd begun to feel a bit feverish. By the time I reached the hostel it was really full on. Rarely do I stay in hostels on my own if I can avoid it, but now here I was not only asking for a bed, but asking how much extra it would be to have a private room. It was only a dollar more, although he seemed reluctant to show me the room, but I was feeling totally sapped of energy and now nauseous as well.

For a moment I had the room, my bag was down and I was ready to fall over, but he came back saying he had no sheets for the big bed. I managed to mumble out about my sleeping bag, but I had no energy to quibble over things, it seemed that for whatever reason it was far more convenient for them to put me in a dorm room.

I exercised my use of the bathroom and the fell into the bed well before the day went dark, I laid down sleeping off and on from that point until noon the next day as other backpackers came and went and slept and chatted in the bunks around me.

A trudged around the small city like a determined zombie soldier, I paused at a "Belgian-style brewery" and had a beer that tasted like a flat mimosa, I ordered some meatballs along with it that I couldn't seem to make myself eat.

I kept roaming the city, pausing for coffee at one point as well, hoping that my body would get over this "sickness". I so rarely got sick on the road, and up until this point things would pass pretty quickly.

Later I met up with Anna, she was one of the girls who'd been volunteering at the hostel on the coast as well before Marilyn got there. We met at a brewery, sipping a couple beers together and chatting. She could tell I was a bit out of sorts and, being a nurse actually, she was pretty certain that what I was experiencing was altitude sickness.

"Find some coca leaves to chew on, drink water and avoid alcohol", she suggested.

"Good thinking", I said as I took another sip of the mediocre "cerveca artisinale".

Afterwords I shuffled across the city streets to my hosts place and met the two girls, one from the US, the other from Canada and then two other roommates from Ecuador which I never did meet. We popped open some beers and began getting to know each other, but halfway through I could feel my sickness really starting to kick in again. They offered me some coca candies, I relentlessly finished my beer all the same along with it.

They were going out on the town for the night to hit a couple bars and meet up with some friends, but as friendly as they were and as much fun as that would have been I was actually completely shot and barely capable of sitting up. Luckily they fully sympathized with me and were understanding, they set me up on a mattress upstairs where I'd plant myself for the night. Somewhere in the middle of the night, closer to morning, I heard them joyfully waltzing back in doing their best to remain quiet, one of them had brought a guy back and disappeared into the bedrooms. I'd missed a good one for sure.

The whole next day I remained laying down, completely out of energy. I forced myself to choke down my leftover meatballs at one point when I could stand up, but it was no easy task. I journeyed out just a couple blocks to get juice just to see if I could, but now I was just aching and that in itself was an adventure. The girls left some coca tea and a pill to take, I was hoping something would help; I was also feeling both lucky and disappointed that I'd wound up with such understanding girls as hosts that were letting me recover, just bummed that we weren't able to hang out at all.

The next day I managed to drink the rest of the juice I'd missioned out for, very slowly chewed through a granola bar and tried to pull myself together; it was time to move on and head to the Peruvian border.

After a bit of delusional confusion I hopped a local bus towards the south end of the city where I could more easily hitchhike. Fairly quickly I got a ride from a couple heading south, it was unclear where they were going, but we were on the right road so that was fine.

Soon, though, they were picking up all kinds of people - guys, little boys and all sorts, all of them throwing some cash at the drivers after riding for a few kilometers or more each. I began to wonder if they were expecting cash from me, or if they'd understood I was hitchhiking. I didn't know where they were going and I still wasn't sure if they knew where I was going and how I was traveling about.

As we got closer to the border they started telling me about a bus that I think they were going to drop me near, I explained that I didn't have money for a bus. At that point it either became clear to them that I wouldn't be paying for this ride or they made it clear that they'd never expected me to, because they soon dropped me off at a good spot and in fact gave me three dollars.

I hitched another ride to the actual border town, but where I got dropped off was still several miles from the border crossing itself. I began marching through the hot sun until I couldn't take it, pausing at a small cafe to get a cold juice. It didn't help, I was still completely beat. I walked to the road and took up the next taxi to try and stop me, I gave him a dollar and he took me right to the border.

A Swiss girl with backpack popped out of the border building as I was walking up to it, "It's the wrong place", she said to me looking frustrated, but confident. I popped in myself just to hear it first hand, and apparently the proper border crossing was several miles away. Bah.

We joined forced, me and the Swiss girl Melody, splitting the cost of yet another taxi to get to the "real" border. Once there I was stamped out of Ecuador and into Peru fairly quickly. Melody, however, was having an issue because one of her stamps wasn't "readable". I waited for her to get it cleared up, as for this crossing there were no cars coming and going, so again a taxi to the first Peruvian town was the only option and we'd split the cost together again.

After some debating with the border patrol she finally talked her way in, we hopped in another taxi and at last arrived in the first bustling little town of Tumbes. Both of, however, had the ambition to get to Máncora, the first notable coastal town about 100 kilometers further. The taxi we were in was already paid for so we took advantage of the drivers offer to get us to both a currency exchange where Melody got some Peruvian money, then to a spot where a shuttle van would take us to Máncora for just a few bucks a head.

A couple hours later we popped out after overshooting the town by just a half mile. A little motorbike scooped both of us up there, we were now on a mission to find a hostel for the night. My sickness was coming on again, I wanted nothing more than my own room with a bathroom to wait out this whole nonsense.

The motorbike guy took us to the first spot, but getting two private rooms was quite expensive. Melody kept saying we should share a room and there was a bit of confusion. I remembered that I'd marked down a few of the cheaper hostels earlier, so we motorbiked over to the first one to try it there.

We rang the bell and the door opened, a short dark haired guy about our age looked surprised.

"Kenny?", he asked.

"Ha, uh, yeah...?", I had no idea who this was...

"From Couchsurfing!", he smiled.

Ah! This was the one person I'd sent a Couchsurfing request to in the town, the only person that looked interesting, except he had never responded to my message.

"I get so many requests, sorry I never responded", he told me as he invited us in.

It turned out that he owned and ran this particular hostel, which was set up more like a motel as there were no bunk rooms and the like, just regular rooms like one or two beds and a bathroom like you'd expect from any motel.

We laughed a bit about it while Melody didn't seem to grasp exactly what was going on, and certainly didn't appreciate the low-odds coincidence of me sending only one request and winding up at this guy Carlos' hostel out of the the several dozen that were in this beach town. On top of that she seemed continually confused as to why I was insisting on getting a room of my own rather than share one with her, I don't think she fully understood that I was gearing up for a night of pain, little sleep and continual trips between my bed and the bathroom.

Once checked into the room I began filtering some water and feeling grateful to have my own little sanctuary to further ride out the unfamiliar chaos my body was going through. A knock on the door had me opening it, it was Melody asking if I wanted to go out for a drink. I reiterated how sick I was feeling and told her perhaps tomorrow.

I spent the night as I imagined I would and worse, dry heaving, trying to drink water, trying to close my eyes and get some semblance of rest in between. It wasn't the best of nights, as my mind wandered I contrasted it to the night I should have been having, that of gulping beers by a new beach in a new land with a pretty Swiss girl in the wake of pushing through a Peruvian border travel-trial together serendipitously, only to then return to our room together buzzed with blissful emotion to fuel the rest of it.

No, I was loudly grimacing at a toilet bowl hoping to expel anything, requesting mercy to arrive at any time.

I knocked on her door in the morning, she was up and said she had a friend in town who could get us up the coast a pinch in the afternoon to check out some big turtles. I was still feeling strange, but told her I'd be up for it.

With plenty of time before we'd meet up I decided I'd head into the town and see what the beach and everything else was all about. the first thing I had to do was head to the bank and change my money over, I hadn't done so when Melody did the night before. There was a pretty long line out the door, but I lined on up and waited.

As I got just inside the door I suddenly felt incredibly woozy. Almost as quickly as that came on things started flashing and I realized I was probably about to lose consciousness and began angling myself towards the wall. Just at that moment the security guard came over to me saying something, noticing something was up, I somehow mumbled, "Que?". I nearly passed  out as he quickly guided me to a nearby chair.

I sat down and never fully blacked out, but I was dripping sweat as I took a few minutes to get my wits back about me. Another first for me, I'd never come so close to fainting like that. I got myself up and headed back to my place in line, but security guided me to the front of it, I changed my money and thanked him profusely as I made my way back into the sunny beach town streets.

Juice. This just seemed like the beaming solution ever since this wicked sickness struck me back in Cuenca. I found myself some, drank it down and wandered the beach, dipping my toes in the water and sitting to relax.

After a while I met up with Melody and her Peruvian friend Leo. The three of us made our way the coast to where the turtles were, I actually jumped in and swam with the big beasts, there were dozens of them. From there we walked the beach for a while until getting back to the road to catch a ride back to Máncora.

After a stop back at the hostel Melody and I went back into town for dinner, I was excited to finally try and eat something. I ordered a sort of shrimp soup and mango juice, I only managed to finish half of it, but I brought the rest back to the hostel and was content that at least I'd been able to eat some of it.

Carlos knocked on my door later, we spent the night up on the roof talking for a good while about life, about Peru and all kinds of things. I told him about my plan to start hitchhiking south towards Lima and the rest of the world starting the next morning.

"Hitchhiking is very dangerous in Peru, there's a lot of bad people", he went on to talk about all the general pick pocketing, robberies and general crime just in Máncora, "Not everyone is a thief here, but nearly everyone will rob you if you make it easy for them, they seize the opportunity".

I'd heard it all before, the "hitchhiking is dangerous" line, from Peru to Mexico to New York, Europe and Australia. As it turned out Carlos' warning would prove to be warranted, but of course I'd have to figure that out for myself. Off to the next adventure I go...

February 26, 2015 to March 3, 2015