A Prickly Peru Crossing and the Loneliest Road

I brought Savannah into the Ford dealership again, and anxiously waited for about three hours before the mechanics checked in. They could not find a single thing wrong with her and told me I should just ignore the warning, perhaps it was an electrical glitch. Not thrilled without a diagnosis, but stoked I wasn’t charged for the time trying to find it, I received a fist bump from the mechanic and headed on my way to the border… hoping I wouldn’t have another breakdown. (The battery is under the seat, which is why my driver’s seat is taken out!)

She ran great the hour and some down to the border. I had my documents ready and was hopeful I’d make it across – it had only been open for two days now. I canceled my TIP (vehicle import permit) for Ecuador and was astonished that there were barely any other people around. I had thought it would be a zoo since it had just opened. I got a copy of the canceled TIP and was told to proceed and drive the 7 kilometers to the Peruvian border where I would get my Ecuador exit stamp and Peru entrance stamp in my passport, and where I would import Savannah into Peru.

I drove across a long bridge over some jungle encroached no-mans land before seeing the Peru welcome sign. The first stop was a health checkpoint to check vaccination cards and take temperature readings. I parked behind the long line of vehicles and walked up to the health station. Once my turn, I happily handed over my vax card thinking there would be no issue and I’d be on my way. “Necesitas tres dosis para entrar” (You need three doses to enter)… F*$%. With the mess of being stuck in an anti-vax town for a month, then breaking down in Sav after getting out, I totally forgot to get my third booster shot. Even with Moderna, a third booster was required to get into Peru as mandated by the ministry of health. I begged, almost cried, then accepted I was completely screwed. If I didn’t cross this day or the next, there’d be no way I could make it to Chile on time, or even into Peru, and I would have to store the van in Ecuador.

I’m pretty sure halfway back to Savannah I just stopped and stared at the ground for a bit wondering what I would do next. I had just canceled my permit to drive Savannah in Ecuador, so if I returned to Ecuador to get the booster, I would still have to go through all of customs to get back in. That would delay me for a day at least. I didn’t really have a day to sacrifice. I felt really disappointed in myself for overlooking this detail and fought back tears walking back to the van. Once there, a young man walked up to my window and tapped on it. I usually don’t trust strangers walking up to my van but I put down my window and greeted him. He told me, in a mix of English and Spanish, that he had overheard my dilemma and he knew that back at the Ecuador border (where I canceled my vehicle permit) they administer 10 booster doses per day. He assumed they had probably run out for the day but I could stay overnight in the parking lot and wait in line first thing at 6 AM the next morning to get the booster, and then try again to get into Peru. I was so thankful for this news and his kindness to help me!

I reversed backwards away from the Peru border to the nearest turnout, then raced back to the Ecuador border. I explained my scenario to the border officer in Ecuador. He still wanted me to get a new vehicle permit, but also sneakily just told me where to park to get the booster shot without going through the hassle of the permit. I skipped the import permit and parked near Immigration, where I hoped it would be easy to find the Health Office. I peered down an alleyway which looked like it may have a health office, and then was confirmed by another family also looking for the booster. I’m not sure what their deal was, if they had already gotten it and were waiting for someone else or what, but they let me jump ahead of them. I explained I needed the third dose and was surprised I was led to a waiting area – perhaps they did have more doses for the day? An older man was there as well, we exchanged some small talk about how we didn’t know we needed the third dose and weren’t sure what this process would be. When the waiting room opened, he offered for me to go ahead of him – very generous given the limited doses. The nurse was confused on why Peru required a third dose, since Moderna should be good with two doses. She made some calls and eventually confirmed it was okay give me the AstraZeneca booster. The shot was administered, my card was updated, and within minutes I was racing back to the Peru border. It was around 3:30 PM and the border closed at 5 PM, I had every reason to assume I’d encounter more delays.

I presented my card, again, to the same woman as I had before. She fussed about the format of the date, since the administrator followed suit with the way the dates were recorded for my US shots: month/day/year instead of the format for basically everywhere else outside of the US which is day/month/year. She told me there is no 19th month (which was actually the day), then told me I needed a double mask. I let my emotions get the best of me and physically sighed and rolled my eyes and presented my documentation again. To my surprise she actually took them and gave me the special little slip of paper to let me cross into Peru. I ran back into Savannah, donned a second mask and proceeded to Immigration.

Immigration and customs were a breeze, probably one of the easiest borders on the entire trip. I got my exit stamp out of Ecuador in the same building as my entrance stamp into Peru, which is something that has always been in separate locations throughout the trip so far. Then I got my vehicle import permit for 90 days without any issue. I presented my canceled Ecuador TIP (not required) just to make it smoother since I’ve found the NY registration slip is difficult to understand which numbers are which (VIN, chasis number, plate number). Finally, I bought the mandatory car insurance (SOAT) and opted for 2 months at $35. I didn’t intend to travel for two months in Peru, not even for two weeks, but I was beginning to think I’d have to leave Savannah for a bit in Peru and return for her so I wanted to cover all of my bases.

With that, I was done with the crossing! I blasted off to the coast and found an amazing hostel campsite where I wish I could’ve spent more time. I got there just at sunset and accidentally rang a police “help” bell when I thought it was the buzzer for the hostel. The son came running out immediately and I explained and apologized for alarming them; we both broke out into a bout of laughter. They let me in and showed me a place to park, where the showers were, etc. Free from the stress of crossing the border, and amazed it somehow happened successfully, I frolicked and romped along the beach while the sun faded. I dodged big crabs and I skipped in the sea and felt a long overdue, overwhelming sense of happiness.

This euphoria masked the early side effects of the booster shot and as soon I sat still in Savannah, I felt it all cave in at once. I tried to sleep, but that night I had a raging fever with sweats and chills, body aches, nightmares, the whole lot. It was a rough one. In the morning I felt okay, though sleepless, but only with a dull headache.

I drove about 8 hours South trying to keep on track with my route. My sleepless brain struggled, and I ended up having to keep the beat of the songs I was listening to with a bit of a harder slap on my leg than I would usually do, just to keep me awake. I did stop around 2 PM to park and take a quick nap. No sooner did I lie on my bed with my arms out above my head, did I pass out completely for the hour before my alarm woke me up. It was nearly 100 degs, the van was a sauna. That evening, I ended up at an “eco-hostel” though I don’t know what was eco about it. I paid far too much (~$8) for simply just a place to park. I was promised access to a shower but when I went to use it, it was locked. Bass from the music blasting around the pool did not help my headache. But it was a safe place to park in a new place after all, and I was just starting to feel out Peru. I tried a new dinner mixture of asparagus, onion, garlic, and mango… not sure I’d recommend, it was weird.

The next day began with, what I’m considering from my limited traveling abroad, “the loneliest road.” I had driven “the loneliest highway” through Nevada back in 2019 based on a recommendation from a friend. This highway, Route 50, stretches across Nevada beginning in Fallon just outside of Reno to Ely, where then I had hopped on to another highway to go down to Moab. I remember this road was indeed quite lonely, and beautiful and everything that I had wanted to drive at that moment in my life. I felt the same with this road in Peru. It took me 2 days to drive across the most remote parts here, where in Nevada it took a mere 4 hours. I feel like the scale was appropriate though for when I drove them; 4 hours on a remote highway 3 years ago probably seemed pretty big. Now, after 2 days on this road in Peru, it’s just enough time to make it feel lonely. It was the most stunning drive I’d ever experienced. I drove along ragged coastline, then through golden dunes with slopes I could barely wrap my head around. The colors of the sand changed and offered crazy dimension to an already beautiful form. There were few flora, and when they appeared, they completely changed the landscape. When I talked with my parents the other night, they told me they researched Peru and how it has 1500 miles of coastline and beach, incredible!

Occasionally, this highway would be broken up by small local towns. The traffic here was an absolute dog show but what worried me most was the evidence of poverty and the abundance of trash in the streets, which spilled over into the desert. I’m not sure if it is more severe since the pandemic, but it was evident life is tough here. I was saddened that I knew I’d be nearing a town when plastic bags clung to desert shrubs.

Savannah has still been having issues – electrical perhaps? So, I’ve been taking it as slow as I can while still gunning it South. I broke up the drive across that lonely road by stopping in Tortugas. Not the Pirates of the Carribean Tortugas (that one was probably somewhere in the Carribean). Sav freaked out twice that day and I had enough of her BS so I parked at the cove of Tortugas for the night. It was an oasis in the midst of the desert and I just parked on the side of the road next to the cove for free to enjoy the view. It was a pretty sweet place to sleep.

The next day I drove about 4.5 hours South, just outside of Lima. I drove through some of the coolest dunes during this part of the drive. Savannah was fine the entire time. I found a small hostel that allowed me to park and use the pool/bathroom/kitchen for 20 Sols per night (about $5.30). I met a couple at the pool who immediately took me in to share their company. He was from Florida, and she was from Peru. They just got engaged and seemed so in love. I felt fortunate to share their company. We talked by the pool, then shared ceviche and piscos (a Peruvian drink made with what I can only describe as a grape rum). The woman who runs the hostel was also raised in Florida and speaks perfect English. She has been a huge help with letting me use their laundry facilities and letting me know where and when it was safe to walk around town (it doesn’t have the best reputation here). When she sees me approaching her, she says “Kelly my girl” with a big smile, she’s really sweet.

Today was my deadline to make a decision on if I’ll fly to Santiago. The Peru-Chile land border still is not open so I’m at a bit of a dead end at the moment. I took a long walk on the beach this morning to sort out my thoughts. On the way back I was watching some older men play what sort of looked like a mix of tennis, racquetball, and pingpong. I always joke that I’d be a great dog because I love playing fetch; they saw me curiously watching them and invited me to play. I played for a bit and had an absolute blast whacking the tennis ball back and forth to them with large wooden paddles. It was the perfect moment to take a break from hard stuff and just play.

Then, I returned to the hostel and made moves. My plan now is to store Savannah in Lima, then fly to Santiago to start work on March 1. I bought a roundtrip ticket (exchangeable if I decide on a different return date – currently April 1 – depending on the borders reopening) so I can return to finish the drive. I’ll take a week to drive across the rest of Peru and into Chile, my boss is supportive and flexible with how and when my lab duties can be carried out. I’m really lucky!

I fly out on Feb 27th. Savannah is going to go to van camp for a month just outside of the city in Lima. The camp refugio that I found is run by a wonderful host who assures me Savannah will be safe while I’m away – he’s watched over 17 other overland vehicles during the pandemic. It’s only $60/month, so way cheaper than the airport. Tomorrow I’ll head to yet another ford dealership (still doing the tour of Latin American ford dealerships apparently) for an oil change and to see if they can figure out this electrical glitch. Then I’ll head out to the camp and pack a duffel bag for the next month or so. I shouldn’t need much – a few changes of clothes, my harness and shoes if I get lucky with finding climbing opportunities, a sleeping bag since I will be sleeping on a couch at an airbnb my lab group is renting, and of course necessities like my laptop and journal.

I’m sad to leave Savannah behind, but play time is up and it’s time to work. Plus, in a month when I return for her, it will be a nice little vacation after re-entering adult life again. Tonight, there’s nothing more to plan or do, so I’ll be enjoying the sunset over the Pacific with a glass of wine. Cheers!

Updated map of campsites, here!

2 thoughts on “A Prickly Peru Crossing and the Loneliest Road

  1. You certainly have had some adventure with a new one right around the corner. I’ve been on that loneliest highway through Nevada several times, I can only imagine what your 2 day trek was like! Thanks for painting us the pictures. You are an incredible writer. Good luck on your new job!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kelly Elizabeth, you are one amazing young woman!! What an awesome journey, love the descriptions of the things you see, and the pictures. It is still so hard to believe you are actually there. I loved the “Kelly my Girl” and Savannah is going to van camp – lol! You have run into so many people who are so willing to help … that’s your guardian angel keeping an eye on you. Stay safe and ever onward! Love you, KelKel !

    Liked by 1 person

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