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Taking the Backdoor into Ecuador

Vilcabamba, Ecuador- Cumbia. Why does it have to be Cumbia and why does he have to be blasting it at 5:30 am? Why does he also have to sing along? My previous seed of dislike for the style of music has begun to bloom into full-blown hatred. Especially the synthesized, tinny sounding Peruvian version. Every [...]

Vilcabamba, Ecuador-

Cumbia. Why does it have to be Cumbia and why does he have to be blasting it at 5:30 am? Why does he also have to sing along? My previous seed of dislike for the style of music has begun to bloom into full-blown hatred. Especially the synthesized, tinny sounding Peruvian version.

Every five minutes the radio station reminds me of the time like a snooze alarm. For my added benefit they also want to tell me who listens to this crap.

“Cinco y media! Cinco y media!
Arequipa escuachas a Cumbia!
Cuzco escuachas a Cumbia!
Lima escuachas a Cumbia!
Huaraz escuachas a Cumbia!”

I get it! Peru listens to Cumbia!

6:35 am: It’s still going. I somehow managed to sleep for another hour but I was now fighting the war for sleep on too many fronts and losing all the battles.

The Cumbia music was only the first of three battles.

From within my room I was also waging battle against the bathroom drainage system and that wasn’t going much better. My defenses of a closed bathroom door and an open window were no match for the combined forces of shower gunk accumulated over the years and the olfactory bombardment of the town sewage system pouring out from the shower drain.

The open window helping to defend against the bombardment was causing it’s own problems. Every tuk-tuk (of which there are hundreds) engine, horn and shout from outside was clearly heard.

At 6:35 am I threw up the white flag. It was time to get out of San Ignacio. The town means nothing more to me than an overnight stop on my way to Ecuador from Chachapoyas. Nothing here to detain me unless I received some kind of overwhelming joy from dusty streets, loud noises and bad sewage systems.

I had two options to get to Ecuador from Chachapoyas I would need to take a nine hour bus ride back to the coast and another bus further north to the border and onwards into Ecuador or I could take four station wagons straight north, cross the border in a remote town and then take two further buses. I opted for the station wagons and the remote border crossing of La Balsa which landed me in San Ignacio facing Early-Morning-Cumbia-Karaoke-Man, The Sewage Monster and drag racing tuk-tuks.

I was now playing the waiting game. I was the only person waiting for a ride to the border lacking four others. Tired of waiting after an hour I sought out another station wagon. That was as easy as walking across the street where another station wagon reached its required capacity to leave. I was now part of seven adults and two children that bent and contorted themselves to fit within the confines of an old white station wagon with a rattling muffler. Several hundred pounds of luggage (including a dresser) followed us into the back and onto the roof.

In the wagon I determined to not let yesterday’s events repeat themselves. The day before I was in another station wagon in slightly better condition and with only five people inside but it brought me to the edge of complete anger. I was wedged in the middle of the back seat between a large man with too much nose hair and another smaller man taking up nearly as much space. Over time the man with a forest protruding from his nose kept spreading apart his legs as he snored away creating less space for yours truly. The front seat on the opposite side kept sliding back slowly forcing the smaller man to move in my direction. Uncomfortable and annoyed I was reaching my breaking point when the two women and child in the front seat got out. I gladly moved up front. Glad to have a new seat my anger evaporated like steam out of a pressure cooker.

Two people and several rice bags along with a tub full of passion fruit were waiting along side the road. The driver stopped and told me to return to the back seat. I then flipped out. I have been crammed into too many tight seats too many times and wasn’t in the mood for it today.

“No. There’s no room for anybody! I’m not going to be squeezed in the back for another hour! Get me more space in the back or these two people aren’t getting in.”

Grumbling, he moved his seat and the passenger seat forward and the two other men made sure to give me my due space. The rest of the ride was quiet but I had space so I could care less.

Today there were four more people but I was in a better mood and happy to get out of San Ignacio. I was content to just be bouncing down the dirt road leaving this town behind me. My ears once again being subjected to more Cumbia. Oh joy.

Countryside of Northern Peru and Ecuador

The scenery continued on from the previous day’s journey. A dirt road kicking up a constant stream of dust bringing me close to non-stop sneezes. Small villages comprised of a handful of mud houses dotted along the roadside beneath green mountains cloaked in clouds not daring to ascend higher than the mountain tops. A man pushes a wheelbarrow along the road being several inches from a hit and run accident. A small child walks hand-in-hand with his mother sucking a lollipop. Another chases a chicken into the bushes. A fat, pot-bellied, shirt-less man watches along with his mule tied up beside him.

The child who is no more than three years old sitting on her mother’s lap in the front seat begins has suffered through one curve too many and begins throwing up. I applaud her for only vomiting once inside the car. The mustard brown vomit plastered to the car’s side can testify to her achievement.

The International Bridge

The child is relieved when we reach the border town of La Balsa. It more closely resembles the roadside villages than San Ignacio. The sleepy town is perched on two sides of a river with the ‘International Bridge’ connecting the two halves. The border crossing procedures resembled the town – easy going and laid back. It’s not often an immigration officer has the time or inclination to strike up a friendly conversation with someone passing through. In La Balsa they have both the time and inclination with nothing else to do but stand in the immigration office doorway blindly gazing out at the mountains and asking why they were the unfortunate ones posted here in a town which defines boredom.

A flat bed truck with padded benches in the back was the ‘bus’ that continues on to Zumba where I had one last bus to reach my destination. Two days of travel and I wound up in Vilcabamba. If La Balsa defines boredom then Vilcabamba is the definition of tranquility. It’s the perfect spot to end the two day journey. Cheap and very nice guest houses welcomed me to stay. I write this now sitting in A hammock surrounded by blooming flowers beneath the shadow of lush green mountains with a gentle breeze and a sunny blue sky above.

My small piece of Vilcabamba

Traveler’s Note: Chachapoyas, Peru to Vicabamba, Ecuador Route
Below is the exact route taken with the cost and number of hours traveled to each town. If coming from Chachapoyas stop in the iPeru office in the central square to receive a complete itinerary and updated pricing info along with any road closure news (Especially during rainy season).

Approximate Cost: $29.00

Chachapoyas – Bagua Granda:   22 Soles           2 hrs 30 min
Bagua Grande – Jaen:                  6 Soles            1 hr
Jaen – San Ignacio:                       20 Soles          2 hrs
San Ignacio – La Balsa:                14 Soles           2 hrs
La Balsa – Zumba:                        $1.75               2 hrs
Zumba – Chachapoyas:                $6.50               6 hrs

Photos of Vilcabamba

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Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Ecuador

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.