On September 1, 1967 I and my four Peace Corps traveling pals, who had finished their 2-year assignments in Uruguay, left Lima by bus. We were headed for the Ecuadoran port of Guayaquil. To backtrack, I met them while traveling by train from Buenos Aires to La Paz. We enjoyed each other’s company and had stayed together journeying through Argentina, Bolivia, sailing Lake Titicaca to Puno, train to Quito, Machu Picchu and Lima. The map of my whole trip follows:
Our bus from Lima took the Pan American Highway north to Equador. Getting into Ecuador required a tourist visa. The tourist visa required photos. We were divided about where to get our visas. Someone told us that you could get a visa in Lima or at the northern border town between Peru and Ecuador. Most of us ran around Lima on August 31 and got our visas. One or two decided to wait until they got to Tumbes/Zarumilla on the afternoon of September 1. Getting the visa in Zarumilla presented them, and thus us, with some problems. Those who left it for later got a visa here but would have been delayed getting their entry stamp on the visa until it was too late for us to travel further on that day. We had been told of a ferry that would sail from Huaquillas, the Ecuadoran border town, to Guayaquil. We thought we had time to catch that sailing and, in a moment of misguided enthusiasm, grabbed a short taxi to the port without getting two of our five visas stamped. We figured:
By the time any official notices the missing stamps we’ll be on the ferry to Guayaquil!
Not exactly what happened…
A Nervous Night in Huaquillas.
Turned out the ferry left early on this particular Wednesday and didn’t sail on Thursday. We were stuck overnight in this town. Huaquillas is described on a current Rough Guide website as a chaotic, jerry-built, mosquito-ridden border town. Funny that’s exactly how I remember it was in 1965 when we were forced to get rooms and stay overnight, looking over our shoulders nervously for some border guard to find and jail us forever for recklessness. We bravely strolled around the town. I snapped a slide of a nice monument “To The Friendship Of The People Of Ecuador And Peru.” Within about 30 seconds I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to hear a soldier ask firmly, but politely:
Su cámara, por favor, señor.
I handed him my camera explaining in English and hand gestures that I did NOT know that photos were forbidden. My friends did a lot better in Spanish and I got my Minolta A5 back – without its Agfachrome 50 ASA colour slide film. That would explain the missing statue photos of the border town in my collection.
After a nervous sleep we scrambled onto the first bus to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s major port. It was like a school bus with wooden benches to sit on and the 250 km (150 mile) trip took about 8 gruelling, arse-pounding hours. We were stopped a few times on the way by soldiers with guns who looked at our passports. As we drove we saw troops training to swing across streams on ropes. Most landed in the water. I remember thinking “Que Dios ayude a los ecuatorianos” if war were to break out with Peru. OK, I thought it in English.
May God help the Ecuadorans. It seemed obvious that the Ecuador-Peru love affair was on the rocks.
Guayaquil was steamy, busy and very picturesque:
Little did we inocentes know that Ecuador was ruled at the time by a junta of four military commanders. The President of Ecuador from 1961 to 1963, Otto Arosemena, had been deposed by this junta because he refused to end relations with Cuba. Uncle Sam’s influence was (and remains) very broad. There also had been a war with Peru in the 40’s and a border dispute in 1961. Thanks to Wikipedia, I’m much better informed as I write this post than I was back then.
Following a night in Guayaquil I said a sad adios to my Peace Corps buddies and took a taxi to Quito.
In Quito I decided I was ready for home. I had finally conceded that I was too tired and too sane to do Colombia or Central America. As I had said in a letter to my sister from Lima on August 31:
Seven weeks of running around is a bit tiring. The trip through Central America – seven days with crossing a border each day – will probably drive me insane…
I didn’t explore Quito as I had the earlier cities, but I remember being impressed with its colonial style and its climate. On the equator and at an elevation of 9350 feet, it hovers (year round) very near to 20 degrees C during the day and 10 degrees at night. Lovely. My host told me that Quito has four seasons every day: Spring in the morning, summer in the afternoon, fall in the evening and – well, you get it. In 1978 Quito was classified as a World Heritage Site because of its beautiful colonial heritage.
I popped into the Braniff Airline ticket office to buy my flight home. I plunked down a cheque from my service organization, Canadian University Service Overseas, that they had sent to me to cover airfare home after my two-year teaching assignment in Trinidad. I asked for a ticket to Montréal. The sales clerk looked at it once – then more closely. She said:
Señor, this cheque is dated 1961!
I walked from Braniff’s office to a telegraph office and wired my parents that I needed money to get home because of an error. This done, I looked at the cheque sadly – until I realized how easy it would be to correct CUSO’s clerical error with a ballpoint pen – I mean, changing a one to a seven? Duh! This carefully (and somewhat recklessly) done, I went in to another airline office – I think it was Delta – and used the cheque to buy my ticket home. I surprised my folks, who had struggled to get the money sent by wire, by calling them to come and get me at Dorval Airport. It was about suppertime on or about September 5, 1967.
The fatted calf was slain and cooked that very night.
I was home in time for Expo 67!
End of story. Thanks for reading!