This is a long story, but I assure you, it ends well. Three years ago I went on my first trip to Peru. I had never been backpacking before, nor had I ever traveled alone. I probably never would have, except that my boyfriend and I broke up a week and a half prior to the trip we had planned together. Though I was broken, having lost my first love, I decided to go to Peru alone. There are a million stories I can (and likely will at some point) tell you of Peru, but I choose to share this story of the beauty of strangers.
I had gone to Ecuador for a couple of weeks and was returning to Peru. When I had gone from Peru to Ecuador, the bus crossed the border with us, making it simple. I spoke no Spanish at the time, and my return bus was not the same.
I arrived at the bus terminal in Cuenca, Ecuador, with my ticket in hand. I was to take one bus to some other town in Ecuador, switch busses, and take the following bus which would cross the border with me. Busses are always late in most countries in South America. Of course, I missed the bus I was to transfer to. A man from the bus company who was on my bus got off and bought me a ticket for the bus about to leave, and gave me five dollars in change (they use American currency in Ecuador). I got on the bus, and it brought me to immigration on the Ecuador side. Then the bus carried on.
Imagine: I’m confused. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m in the middle of nowhere. My bus is gone. I got stamped out of Ecuador and a cab driver offered to take me to the border. What else was I going to do?
I hopped in. We got to the border town, and he explained that we had to cross the bridge (one side of which was in Ecuador, the other in Peru) by foot. It was raining and he took my heavy backpack and carried it. He said he had a friend on the other side who could take me to Peruvian immigration.
We got to his friend’s cab and I got in, saying goodbye to the man. He was put off when I didn’t tip him; I had barely any money on me after paying him for the cab ride, and my bus had just gotten very messed up; I simply couldn’t tip him.
After driving a couple of minutes with this new cab driver and his friend in the front seat, they picked up another guy. He asked if we could share the cab to the border. This was weird. Every travel book told me do not share a cab with a stranger. But I spoke no Spanish. What was I going to do?
Things get pretty confusing here, even to me, so I’ll try to describe it all as best as I can. We started driving and got to the immigration station on the Peruvian side. Only I went in. I returned to the cab, and we carried on to Tumbes, the border town in Peru. Once there I could take a bus to Mancora, my final destination.
The cab driver suddenly said the cab was going to cost $20 American each. It was about a half hour ride total, and this was totally unreasonable for South America. And I knew it.
I told him I didn’t even have American money, I truly had $5 left, from the bus company, and 100 soles (Peruvian currency) for when I arrived.
He said it was fine, he could take the 100 soles, which was the equivalent of $20 (it really isn’t, 100 soles is nearly $40). The other passenger showed no sign of being upset that it would cost us each this much, and handed his money over easily. I struggled to speak to the men, as I tried to understand why he was charging me so much. We couldn’t communicate. I probably cried. Finally I gave him the 100 soles I had. He gave me $20 change.
Ok, so now I have a five dollar bill from the bus company in Ecuador, a twenty dollar bill from the cab driver, and nothing else. I’m in Peru and they use soles, not dollars.
We arrived at the bus station in Tumbes. The cab driver told me the bus to Mancora would cost me 6 soles, and he gave me that much. I thought, “That was kind of him.”
I got into the bus station and the cost of the bus was 25 soles. I did not have 25 soles. The bus was leaving right away, and my foot had been bothering me for some time. Hobbling to the bank sounded like hell, and staying in this awful border town overnight didn’t sound much better. I just wanted to get to Mancora, where I had been before, and where I would feel at peace once more. I asked the woman if I could pay with the twenty dollars American that I had. She let me, and gave me change in soles; I have no idea if I got cheated or not and didn’t really care. I got on the bus; well, I use the term bus loosely. It was a large van that fit about 8 passengers.
My backpack was on top and strapped down with everyone else’s. I was sitting in the van ready to be off. I felt that a weight had lifted and all was fine; this misadventure was done now.
Then the woman from the bus company who I had paid approached the bus. She held my twenty dollar bill.
“Falso! Falso!” She said. Oh I knew what she was saying. The bill was a fake. This was the bill I got in change from the taxi driver.
Everyone in the little van with me checked the bill. It was indeed a fake. I pulled out the five dollar bill I had received as change from the bus company in Ecuador. Many people looked at it. Again, the bill was a fake.
My backpack was taken off of the van, and I approached the counter to talk to the woman some more. We really struggled to communicate. I showed her all the money I had – the two fake bills, and a mere 6 soles. She couldn’t do anything.
That’s when I broke down. I’d had the worst day. The bus company screwed up, and then gave me fake money. I’d been conned by a taxi driver and a not-so-random person he picked up, and now I was stuck in this horrid border town with a severe limp, without the ability to communicate in the least. I started crying. And crying. I didn’t know what to do.
There was a man standing behind me in line. He was a large Peruvian man. He approached the counter, and said he would pay for my ticket. He bought mine and his, and I thanked him over and over. We both boarded the bus, and arrived in Mancora a mere hour later.
I asked him if he wanted me to pay him back; I needed to go to the bank anyway. He kindly declined.
I made my way to the hostel, and spent the night joyful.
This man turned one single day around so much it still brings me happiness. He did not know me. I was just some white girl he couldn’t understand crying in a bus station. I could afford that bus ticket, it wasn’t expensive, I simply had nothing at the time. I have no idea what his name was, but whoever he was, I can only say once more… Thank you.