They closed the Pan-American highway for a fiesta. This would not have been a problem but for the fact that we were trying to negotiate a town stuck in no- man´s land in the 7km zone between the Ecuadorian and Peruvian borders, so it was the equivalent of closing the M4 for a spot of morris dancing. Tankers were backed up, traffic was snarled, tempers were rising, we were parked over a trickle of a river that was more sewage than water, and there was a brass band happily marching up and down the street while the police smiled and said it was impossible to open the road for another 6 hours. And that was even after money had been applied to the situation.
Banos was so much more chilled. The canyoning was good fun, though there was a bit of concern when the rain started falling. “Six months ago it started raining and the water level rose one metre in one minute,” said our guide as we prepared to abseil down a 25 metre waterfall. “But since then we’ve learned and we’ve put escape ropes up now.”
Not surprisingly – and very handily all things considered - miracles are popular in the town. The local church boasts a series of fantastic murals inside, which depict local incidences of Madre de Dios appearing and saving the day. Also unsurprisingly, most revolve round the eruption of the giant Tungurahua volcano a mere 8km away and God appearing on a rainbow to save the day (after only lightly dusting the locals with volcanic death from above first – nice one God).
All in all we spent 14 hours on the truck yesterday, which was a bit on the brutal side (“Oh, me grapes,” as Leader Andy put it). Along the way though we did learn that insect repellent and sun cream applied at the same time makes your face and skin fizz in a manner which is personally alarming but rather amusing for the rest of the vehicle. Also one of our number, Charlotte, who had admitted an aversion to weeing in public finally cracked and thus lost her nickname of Corkie. I won the sweepstake at 4 hours…
Anyway, we dropped out of the mountains on glorious sweeping hairpins amidst the sort of scenery that would make the Lake District give up the ghost, twin itself with Swindon and have done with it. Then it was down through endless banana plantations to the coast and the border, the open sewer and the parade blocking the street.
Eventually some money was obviously applied to the right person and we turned off down a side street, which would have been fine if there hadn´t been a market in full swing at the time. However, Leader Andy and three suitably lubricated coppers marched in front of the truck pushing the stalls out of the way while Leader Tubbs engaged in some complicated n-dimensional folding of space that somehow managed to get our truck through the gaps. Not sure how, but it did, and we got a bigger crowd than the brass band in doing it.
Today is a rest, chill and (if you’re me) get over the hangover day due to Personages of Bad Influence at Punto Sol about two hours along the coast into Peru. There are a load of trucks from different companies travelling on roughly the same itinerary as ours with a week either side as all the tour companies try to overland to Rio to make it for carnival. So the Dragoman truck left this morning and there are three groups of us at the campsite tonight, all of whom have bought a 20 kilo pig for a pig roast. It’s not going to be like that too often, which is probably good for my liver, though Leader Tubbs reckons that at least one of the new arrivals is composed solely of 22-year old Australian girls. We’re kind of hoping they make it across the border smoothly…,-)