We were reluctant to leave Baños, but had the quaint colonial city of Cuenca to look forward to. We had just arrived, and were on our way to eat lunch when we rounded a corner, and who do I see on the street but a friend from Seattle! I went to college with Devon, and knew she was down here, but last I heard she was all the way in Cuzco in southern Peru! And she thought I was in Quito. I love this travel trail, how the world constantly morphs in size to make you marvel at the incomprehensible grandeur of things, or put you on the same little block as a friend. We are doing the same route as each other (Quito to Buenos Aires) but the opposite direction. She was leaving the next day, but at least we got to catch up over mojitos.
She had some crazy travel tales and a lot of good advice. I was really glad to talk to her about the border crossing between Ecuador and Peru. The more inland crossings are fine, but the one we want to do closer to the coast is supposedly pretty sketchy. But we want to do this crossing so we can go to the beach! Part of the problem is that there is a point to exit Ecuador, then it's 3 kilometers until the actual border, and then another 4 kil. to the Peru entry point. The buses from Cuenca just drop you off in the border town, and you have to figure out how to get through everything via various buses and taxis, possibly with a random border 'helper' that will expect some undisclosed amount of money for his services. Luckily, we discovered a couple bus lines that go directly into Peru, and wait for you at the border so you don't have to move your luggage. Unfortunately, this line only leaves from Machala, which is where we are now.
This is one funky, out-of-the-way little town off the coast in southwestern Ecuador. So far we have been on a bit of a gringo trail, but here we haven't seen one other white person. Machala feels mundane and run-down, though at the same time the streets are really lively and the huge market is so packed and vibrant it seems about to burst. As we wove our way through market stalls to our hotel, we created quite a ripple effect- stares, shouts of "allo!" and "Americanas!" and one boy taking a picture with his camera phone.