Hitchhiking from Guayaquil to Piura,
An Irish, Indian, Viking Lost in South America,
I had taken a nice wee rest for two nights in Guayaquil with my couchsurfing host. My host was a local photographer who was happy to show me around the busy city (which has a higher population than the Ecuador’s capital of Quito). Guayaquil might be bustling and noisy but it also had some lovely architecture, a huge dark rain-forest coloured river, its own Barcelona football team and a cool, free zoo. Though it does not really offer as much to do as a tourist as its fancy brother Quito.
In order to hitchike towards Peru I took a local bus from my host’s house to the main bus terminal without any plan. I resolved to just walk East, crossing the bridge which links both sides of the river and the peninsula which divides the two tributaries which feed the river Guayas before its brief journey to the Pacific
It was a long walk in the searing heat so I resolved to try hitchhiking at a set of traffic lights. After a minute or two a bus driver waved me onto his bus, it was empty and returning to his station. He told me I was crazy to try walking out of Guayaquil in the heat, but instead from where he stopped on the east side of the city that I could catch a cheap bus to the town of La Troncal for a dollar. Uninterested in tackling the dense Guayaquil City I opted to pay the bus fare to La Troncal. This plan at least guaranteed I would be hitchhiking the open roads towards Peru before lunch time
After the quick bus ride to La Troncal I jumped out in the towns center which comprised of a roundabout and began walking South West towards the next town on the way to Peru called Naranjal. Hopefully named after the town’s abundance of free oranges growing from every tree. I noticed the stares of people in La Troncal, curious stares, it felt good to be the only blonde in town as I trotted along the footpath with my life on my back.
After twenty minutes or so of walking I started to thumb as I walked, there was a dirt track for cars to pull over and I was near enough to the outskirts of La Troncal to catch the attention of mainly traffic which was leaving town.
After ten minutes a pick-up pulled over, two brothers who were returning to their home in Naranjal with construction stuff. Friendly guys who asked plenty of questions about Europe. They showed me their home, it was a small brick bungalow with a flat roof on the South-side of Naranjal, their pride and joy and they seemed happy at the prospect of a getting some work done. Luckily for my drying lips they threw me an orange as I jumped out and continued walking South for Peru, good old Naranjal.
I really enjoyed the way my desert camo boots camouflaged my feet in the sandy dirt of Ecuador. Maybe they worked too good though as I continued walking on past a traffic jam which was built up behind a broken down car without getting waved onto the back of anyones pick-up. Then after about thirty minutes I meet Angel, I will never forget Angel, his wife (I think) and his Mother. To do so would mean forgetting probably the best conversation I ever had in Spanish or with strangers who have picked me up.
I first tried to jump on the back of his pick-up but was waved into the back seat. Angel drove (man in his late forties), his mother sat up front too and beside me in the back was Angel’s wife (I guess).
“Gringo, where do you go?”
“Have you any Cocaine”
“Why not, good price in Peru”
He started to laugh and his 70 year old mother punched him, I knew I was going to be interviewed for the length of this drive, as always I didn’t mind. He explained to me how in Ecuador there are three types of people and I will summarise. The Indigenous who live in the Sierra and Jungle (his mother piped in to say they like eating Iguanas). He called them Indios. The black people who live in Esmeraldas (his mother piped in to say they like eating coconuts), he called them Negros. Finally the Europeans or people of European descent that he called Espanoles. Now he wanted to know what I was, so I said
“I’m just Irish no foreign blood that I know of”
“A, you are an Indio of Ireland. What kind are you Indios?”
“Well no, we don’t have indigenous tribes people” (I tried to explain in Spanish)
“There is no such thing as just Irish. Who was in Ireland before the Europeans came to colonise”
“Ireland is in Europe, we are European”
“O so you are not native Irish, you are European, but the people who were there before you what is their name?”
“No I am the Indio of Ireland and I am European at the same time”
“You have mixed blood”
“No, shit, em Celts do you know the Celts” (I tried celtico and celto attempting to find the Spanish word for Celts)
“No I never hear of these people”
“Hmmm eh Vikings too”
“A you are a Vikingo!” he exclaimed with sheer delight.
“Eh sure yes” I didn’t want to disappoint now and be a mud-blood European.
He proceeded to ring some friend and starts bragging on the phone about how he found a genuine, tall as a tree, blue eyed Viking wondering around Ecuador. When all was said and done I had my own question.
“So what are you Angel? Indio, Negro or Espanol?”
“None I am Ecuadorian”
“But you said… Fuck it, never mind”
We pulled over for dinner and had deer (I think), Angel insisted on paying even after I offered my share. Back on the road I decided to ask where he was going since we had been on the road for hours.
“The border with Peru tomorrow, tonight I need to stop at my brothers and work, you can help”
We eventually got to some town in the dark and then I helped Angel and his brother load boxes of tiles into a pick-up which we drove out to the desert in. We unloaded the boxes into an empty house under construction with a trailer of fresh melons outside and moved some stuff around, I became aware of how the lifestyle of sleeping outside and never knowing the time of my next meal was withering away my limited muscle mass. No wonder all these South Americans keep wanting to feed me, being so skinny and tall on a continent of short, heavy men. I also had one of those moments too, the one where your sitting in a desert in the dark eating fresh melon after hauling boxes of tiles up a stairs in a house with no roof in exchange for bed and a lift out of town and you wonder how the fuck did I get here.
Angel’s brothers house had a pet deer which I think belonged to Angel. If I understood his story correctly he found it sick one day and nursed it to health. It then ate a 20 dollar bill which belonged to him. He then decided he would kill and eat the deer because he believed the meat would be “rich” with flavour (he laughed as he told this part so I’m guessing rich was a pun because the deer ate his money). He had a change of heart though and decided to keep and name the deer. So I’m in this house having a beer with Angel and his brother while Angel’s wife (I think) makes supper. Everyone is cool and chatting and seemingly not noticing the wild deer falling around the kitchen as it struggles to grip its feet on the tiles.
The next morning we drove onwards to Peru and I answered more of Angels queries, he seemed shocked that Ireland couldn’t grow coffee, mangoes, rice, bananas etc. What a poor country he kept saying, he nearly cried laughing when I told him that in Ireland both Guinea Pigs and Iguanas are considered pets. By the time he reached Peru he was convinced that Ireland was a barren wasteland where people keep stupid animals as pets (the man who owns a “house” deer that eats money).
The border crossing was quick once all the border police returned from their lunch, which they all take at the same time, I got a three month visa without any questions. Angels wife however never showed her passport to the police I noticed, she instead snuck across the border by walking past the police (the police stay in a little shed rather than outside on the border bridge where there is no shade). She probably just couldn’t be bothered actually getting a passport I guessed. Angel then drove me onwards to Sullana in Peru and left me on the edge of town before going wherever he was going in Peru.
Missing my new friend but excited to be in a new country yet again I starting walking, the hitchhiking was slow and Peru wasn’t impressing me. I got a lift after about 30 minutes though straight to Piura with an elderly man in a pick-up as is the usual in South America, he was less of a character in comparison to Angel but still a good guy. Peru just seemed like a whole load of desert so far and definitely poorer than Ecuador. I jumped out in the center or Piura and decided to chill for a while, maybe sit on a bench have a smoke and eat one of the three melons angel had left me. The Vikingo was in his third South American country!