Our new souvenirs. Fake money.
Today we were headed to the border - our 9th for those of you keeping count. It was going to be a 9+ hour trip so we got up bright and early hoping to arrive in Peru way before it got dark. The great thing about getting up early at a hostel that was also a bar was there was plenty of hot water in the showers. The bad thing? The staff was still sleeping so there was no breakfast until 9am. So we waited an hour until the kitchen opened and hoped that there was a later bus that got us where we needed to go.
We caught a taxi to the bus station. As we pulled in I noticed banners announcing a new direct service to Mancora, Peru. The bus company was having some sort of launch party with balloons and music and food. According to the sign, we’d just missed the 9am bus but the next one was at 10:45. A little late but at least it would be direct. Unfortunately, because of today’s festivities there was no 10:45 bus and the next one wasn’t until 3pm. So we set off to find another bus to take us to the border town where we could catch another bus from the Peruvian sides. That one was leaving in 15 minutes. Perfect – okay we wouldn’t have the luxury of getting all the way there but we’d get there much earlier.
We drove through the mountains from pine forests, to desert, and finally to the coast. The bus got to the border town and let us off just outside at the passport station about 4km outside of town. Unfortunately, the ayudante told us the bus couldn’t wait for us but he told us that when we were done we could catch transportation to the actual border here. Immediately, a guy pounced on us. He offered us a taxi ride to the border for $1.50. Sounded like a deal and much better than carrying our heavy bags in the sun. He walked with us across the highway to the immigration office where we were stamped out of Ecuador. And when we stepped out, our new friend was waiting with a taxi. A few minutes later we were let off in the middle of the town which appeared to be some sort of crazy black market. It was pure chaos and we were glad we had someone to help us navigate the chaotic stalls to the bridge to Peru which was hidden in the midst of it all.
But first we had to change our American dollars into Peruvian money. We stopped at one of the many money changers and he offered almost the actual exchange rate so we said goodbye to dollars and hello to soles. We thanked our friend and gave him a S10 tip for then walked across the bridge. We were unofficially in Peru – unofficially because just like on the Peruvian side the actual immigration office was a few kilometers outside of town and in between was another black market of all sorts of goods even crazier than the Ecuadorian side. Soon we were pounced on by another guy offering us a collectivo ride to Tumbes for S30 (that’s Soles not dollars), including a stop at the immigration office. Hmm. We stopped to consider it. On one hand it was more than we really wanted to pay. On the other, it was a whole lot easier than catching a moto taxi to the immigration office and then to the highway where we’d have to catch a collectivo to Tumbes to catch another collectivo to to our transfer to Mancora. So I asked 3 times about the price and made sure it was the price for both and then decided to go for it.
The man then directed us to his friend’s car. This wasn’t a collectivo but a man trying to make a few bucks on the side. No harm in that I guess. The three of us got in with the driver and were immediately whisked away to the Peruvian immigration post a small hut 2km out of town on the highway. That was over 6km between check points – no wonder there was a thriving black market around here. We hopped out of the car and were quickly stamped in. Now it was time to get back in the car. About 200 metres from the border
The man directed us to his friend’s car. Aha this was just a man trying to make a few bucks on the side. And we got in – first stop the Peruvian immigration about 2km. Peru and Ecuador have a very loose border apparently. We got stamped in without any trouble and then got back in the car. About 200 metres from the border post, the driver turned to us and told us that going to Tumbes was too far and he was going to drive us to the collectivo stop on the highway. Oh great, another scam. I told him (actually I may have yelled at him, being sick of getting scammed every time we got into a car). He told us no and emphasized that he was only going to the collectivo post. I told him to stop the car and jumped out intent on getting away from the scammer jammers. Adrian however wasn’t paying attention and stayed in the car thwarted my great escape plan. The original negotiator however took the chance to make his own escape. With Adrian and our bags still in the car, I was forced to get back in and continue arguing with the driver. Now he agreed to drive us to Tumbes but the price changed. It was no longer 30 for both but 30 for each. And he now said 30 dollars not 30 soles because the trip was 37km away. I told him no and called him a thief and a liar. I told him no, repeated the original price we had negotiated on and told him to stop asking for dollars because we had none. He eventually backed down from $60 to S60 to take us all the way to Tumbes. I was furious with being double crossed yet again. And spent the rest of the ride swearing at him in English and cursing Peru the entire way.
We arrived in Tumbes 20 minutes later (definitely not 37 km). Now that the car was stopped I told him we’d only pay him S50. He eagerly accepted that and gave us our bags – his easy agreement just highlighted the scam. There was no misunderstanding between the two men or between us – it was just the old bait and switch. Adrian handed him a bunch of small bills and then it was off to find our transportation to Mancora. We bypassed the bus stations and headed to the actual collectivos. A taxi driver told us it was going to be S27 and tried to convince us to go with him but I just ignored him. And when we got to the collectivo, indeed the price was only S6 – much better. We got on and enjoyed the ride down the coast.
Our first impressions of Mancora were not great. The town was really just a giant strip of shops and cafes along the Panamerican. – and all of them ugly. The driver let us off in front of the ugliest one – the Sol y Mar hotel that we had chosen to stay at. He then demanded an extra S2 for taking us down the strip. Grr. Sure it was only 60 cents but already this constant scamming was wearing thin. The hotel didn’t get better when we stepped in. It was cheap and cheerless although it was right on the beach. But after the taxi scam we needed to recoup some of our money. I checked out two rooms then chose the sunnier one which was S40/night and payment was demanded upfront. Adrian pulled out a S100 note to pay. The clerk shook his head and pointing to the note said “Es falso”. Adrian pulled out another S100 note. “Es falso tambien.” Then a S50 and another S50 and another S50. Yup that was right. With the exception of the 10s and 20s (most of which were now in the hands of the scammer jammer taxi driver), the money we’d gotten at the border was fake. So not only had the taxi driver ripped us off and the collectivo driver as well but the money changer had too probably in cahoots with our “friend” on the Ecuadorian side. In total, we lost almost $150 in the exchange (photo above). But it explained why the driver wanted American cash. I almost screamed in frustration. The clerk pulled out some real notes so we could feel and see the difference – I can’t say I noticed much – but he could tell a mile away. An old lady standing nearby asked what was wrong and the clerk told her that we had S300 in fake money she tutted and shook her head but was at least sympathetic. However the clerk wouldn’t even give us the room key until he had some money. Luckily there was a bank machine across the street, so Adrian got some real cash out and paid for the room. We were now thoroughly bummed and hating Peru.
Walking down the strip didn’t help much either. Mancora’s only redeeming feature was the beach. Everything else was dirty and dusty and aimed at the tourist pocket book. And let me stress once again that it was an ugly town. After checking out all the menus we ended up at an Italian restaurant run by a German-speaking Swiss guy for the S10 pasta and drink special and S12 for 3 large beers. The food was good even if the town and the country so far was shit. Oh yeah and it was our wedding anniversary.