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 007: Crossing Borders in the Night 

From the remote interiors of Ecuador into Peru, we RIDE!

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 //  THIS TIME  \\ 

Read enough about border crossings, and you might just conclude that they are exactly the setting that nightmares are made of. Choose between the highly trafficked zones—where one runs the risk of falling into tourist traps and being preyed upon by con artist vultures—or meander through less-populated regions, where one might just run the risk of never meeting a border guard at all?

What persistent potential for chaos.

In 2013, on one particularly bold outing, my then-partner and I decided to cross from the mountainous Southeastern pocket of Ecuador into the deep reaches of Peru, and found ourselves squarely in the latter situation. There, in a small, sleepy town called La Balza, the line between nightmare and adventure became as blurred as its border was porous; in places like this, where no one is watching closely, official laws become arbitrary and formalities prove easily forgotten.

It is still light out when we board the ranchero, an open-backed truck crammed with locals. They cozy full-up next to us on their daily commute from the larger town of Zumba back to the remote mountain villages where their homes are scattered.

The sun sets alongside as we embark on a multi-hour journey through winding roads. Every Ecuadorian local trickles off one-by-one, and eventually—when we are the only passengers left—real-life melts into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The previously lively, rhythmic pulse of reggaeton music halts suddenly... before exploding into the deafening, speaker-crackling mantras of a young girl desperately reciting prayers.

We laugh nervously through gritted teeth. Her voice may just as well been the headless apparition of a long-deceased ghost—and we conclude that either the ranchero driver is the world’s most clever and sadistic prankster, secretly laughing his ass off up-front in the cab, or we would soon be making our Makers in a murderous bloodbath.

Whatever the outcome, out here in the middle of nowhere, we resign ourselves to it. We clutch onto one another for what seems like eternity. Then finally, we arrive unscathed in La Balza: the official border between Ecuador and Peru.

Yet there’s nothing “official” about this official border whatsoever. Even at the height of dinnertime, the crossing is so unfrequented that we can find no one to stamp our passports. We look on in awe as Ecuadorians and Peruvians nonchalantly swarm back and forth across the insignificant invisible line—just one mirthful family of beer-drinking, short shorts-wearing soccer fans, watching TV together in the balmy night.

Little hooligan children mob around us, firing off fake guns in the dirt streets, and we have no choice but to turn to them for guidance. One young girl—probably around ten, but clearly a boss already—approaches us on her bicycle and notifies us that she has caught wind of our presence and that the official worker we seek is in fact her dad. She leads us to the front door of her house, and we watch obediently as she shouts upwards to her parents, who are on the second floor.

Mom appears on their upstairs balcony to berate us for interrupting for interrupting their dinner. She then moves out of sight in a huff. We wait.

The door swings open, and mom disappears as quickly as she had emerged, leaving us to take in the head-scratching setting alone. The ground floor of the home has absolutely no furniture, and feels like the backdrop of a film’s brutal interrogation scene. With the ranchero girls’ desperate prayers still reverberating in our minds, our thoughts meander once again. We wait with bated breath until dad finally emerges in dramatic fashion. Light cascades down his body as he descends the stairs—and as his dark silhouette becomes slowly illuminated, we realize: what a sight to behold, he! He, with his bulging potbelly, massive Buddha bead necklace, bare legs, short shorts, and flip-flops.

He immediately side-steps into a tiny back closet tucked in next to the stairs, then motions for us to follow. On goes the drawstring light, flickering comically as we continue to gape at his full-bellied, full-bodied glory. Should anonymous foreigners be privy to such intimacy of a Peruvian officer at dinnertime? We imagine not, yet here we are. What a humble honor.

From the top drawer of a file cabinet, dad pulls out what looks like a manicure bag. Inside it, placed willy-nilly, is the official seal of Peru. It's treated with as little respect or fanfare as this entire experience.

Dad stamps and handwrites a few words into our passports, then sends us off on our bewildered way.

We close out the evening waiting in town for far too long, searching for the rare taxi that could finally drive us to our next destination.


Visiting Kuélap was one of the main reasons for taking such an inconvenient route. I daresay that this site is one of Peru's best-kept archeological secrets, in part because its inconvenient location greatly hinders most tourists. It certainly helped that upon arriving there at sunrise (which also required quite the finagling of local transportation), we were greeted by tons of fog, zero other humans, and by two llamas which looked like majestic sphinxes guarding a portal into another world. (PS - FYI, it was built by the Chachapoyas culture, not the Incans.)


One of my photographs from the Cumbe Mayo Stone Forest / archeological site near Cajamarca, Peru... one of my other favorite places in the country! <3

Would you cross that remote border between Ecuador and Peru? Why or why not?!


 //  NEXT TIME  \\ 

A woman and I feel drawn to
speaking to one another
at the same time.


_ 華婷婷

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