Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Quick Trip To Ecuador

Last week I made a quick run to the border to renew my visa. You have to leave the country for at least 24 hours every 90 days in order to remain ´legal´. From Lima it´s about the same distance to either Chile or Ecuador (about 19 hours) and Chile charges US citizens a $100 fee for an entry visa while Ecuador charges nothing. So I headed north hoping to escape from the winter for a few days. The tourist buses are very modern and comfortable. For $24 you get the best service, with food and drinks, movies, air conditioning. For ten dollars less you get the same comfortable seat, without the food and movies and air conditioning, but the bus stops in a lot more places en route, and even picks up or drops off people along the highway (including people who want to sell you tamales or tell you the sad story of their life and ask for money), so it takes a couple of hours longer and it´s a lot harder to sleep.
The northern coast of Peru is dotted with beach resorts but dominated by plantations of rice and bananas. Although it´s all desert and rains very little, the ground water in some places is just a few feet from the surface, so it´s economical to scrape off some sand and plant rice.
Most things are more expensive in Ecuador (about 50% more, from what I could tell in the short time I was there) but wages are also much higher, drawing many Peruvians to try to find work there, legally or not. Any citizen of an Andean nation can enter any other Andean nation with just a passport, but getting a work permit is difficult.
One of the few things that is much cheaper in Ecuador is gasoline, and people often try to bring it across the border, which is illegal (other than the gasoline in your gas tank). As we approached a customs check point on the way back, we saw agents board the bus in front of us and unload dozens of containers through the windows. When we pulled up for our inspection, we saw that they contained gasoline. I had to take these pictures from the window of our bus, because government workers are very camera-shy, especially with all the recent hidden camera videos that have been published showing officials in prisons and other institutions accepting bribes.

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