It had been over a month since Lizzy had initially disappeared, and today was the day we would be getting some trail cameras. Kindly bought for us by a lady in the town, we headed into to collect them from a cafe and get them set up as soon as possible. The lad behind the till handed us a huge bag, and we caught a return taxi back to the park. There wasn’t too much point in doing a big shop, as soon enough we’d have to leave and go to the capital anyway. But more on that later.
Back at the van, we played around with our new rented toys. It took us a while to figure out how they worked and then a bit longer to actually get them to record. It turns out that each SD card had to be formatted twice, before it’d record. We decided we would set them up the following morning, on some of the food stations we already had in place when we could spend a little more time making sure everything was right.
We had been trying to record food stations ourselves for several weeks now. We had recorded mainly dogs, a few mice and birds and a fox. It was probably just down to our poor equipment, but the arrival of the trail cameras seemed to coincide with the arrival of the foxes. Now we had evidence of the rather impressive tree climbing ability, which before we had only guessed at. Our super fishy food stations brought them in from all around. They visited multiple times during the day and night; climbing the trees, destroying the food containers and even eating the rags out of the trees. We doubted any cat would want to be near that. They weren’t bothered by people either, nonchalantly strolling across the road whenever we spotted them at night.
Despite our failing efforts, every time we checked a camera there was just a glimmer of hope that she would be there. We created digital maps showing the new spots for food stations, the areas we had covered and the places we simply couldn’t reach.
And still time passed on. Sometime I day dreamed of her appearing on the path in front of me out of the blue. Every time the park rangers crawled past in their truck I wondered if they would pull over and every time I checked a camera I imagined seeing her. But for all of this, it turned out to be nothing more than the day dream I knew it was.
While it was hard to be optimistic, we had been blessed with two weeks of un-ending gorgeous sun.
Gone were the soggy nights of trailing through the undergrowth. We took a taxi over to Finca Sommerwind, where our friends Kartik and Sim had arrived with our Starlink from Colombia. It pulled a fair bit of power, but with all this sun it was no problem. Finally, we had one positive thing going on. And so, we tried to pull ourselves out of our depressed little rut and focus on the next task at hand.
With the end of the month, came the end of our three months visa and we would need to drive into the capital to renew it. For the first time in several weeks, we packed up our things ready to actually drive the next day.
Even though we knew we’d be coming back again in a few days, it was still sad to drive without Liz curled up between us on the front seat. We had left food, cameras and scent rags at our three stations in the park, which we hoped would be ok for a few days while we left. We planned to arrive, renew the visa that afternoon, the car paperwork the following morning and then leave. Spending only one night away.
If we didn’t have enough on our minds, the car battery was pancake flat and we had managed to lose the electrical key to connect the leisure batteries. Then, there was the nasty grinding noise present in the gearbox. From our current location to the immigration office in the capital was about a two hour drive on steep roads and I hoped we would make it. First, we headed into town to see if my old phone had been repaired (it hadn’t) and to settled up our bar tab at Doc’s Bar (neither of us had change last time). Then, after a quick fuel stop we headed out.
Leaving Cotacachi, the road is downhill on the whole. For the first half of the drive we cruised along, trying to be kind to the box. Normally on a prolonged downhill road, it’s a priority to use the engine as a brake to prevent overheating the brakes. Not wanting to strain the gearbox any further though, we relied on our very warped brake discs to get us down to Rio de Guayllabamba safely. This large bridge over the river marks the end of the easy downhill driving and the start of the uphill bit which generally overheats the engine. The only good thing about not using the engine to brake is that we hit the hills with it running a lot cooler. For the first time ever, we made it up into the city without having to pull over. Maybe once they’re working better again, we’ll use these brakes a bit more!
Despite the fact that we were now in the capital, it was still nearly an hours worth of driving to reach the immigration office in the south. At least now though, we could easily rescued if everything went south, literally rather than geographically. I was more than a little relived we reached the office and parked up around the corner. Now for the visas.
It turned out that we wouldn’t need long as they wouldn’t let us renew that day. We were told to return tomorrow as apparently you are not permitted to renew the visa until within 3 days of it’s expiry date. We decided we would get our big supermarket shop done with the remainder of the afternoon. Hopefully to keep us going for the next two weeks when we returned to the laguna. As ever, stepping through the doors of the big supermarkets available in the capital is dangerous and we couldn’t help but treat ourselves to a few nice things. Now considerably poorer, but coming in at the cheapest month of the trip so far, we headed to our friends house for the night. This was also exciting as he had brought our latest Amazon order from The States, and in there as well as everything else, we had kindly been sent a big supply of proper tea by our goods friends Mike and Tammy.
We weren’t the only van lifers there this time. We had met Adam when he’d stopped to say at back at the laguna. He had mentioned heading to Quito and we had put him in contact with Alex as a potential place to stay. It turned out that we had done him a solid there as when he arrived, his van stopped working. Now with it in the same VW shop we had previously visited undergoing and engine rebuild, he was staying in Alex and Giselle’s spare room and had been for the last few weeks.
After a stressful morning of driving, we weren’t the most sociable guests. Aimee too wasn’t herself. Normally primed and ready at the door when we arrived at any location, she curled up in her bed and refused to come out.
The next day we said thanks to Alex again and promised that next time we would be more sociable. Today was going to be a busy day if we were to renew all our documents and drive back to Cotacachi. Despite the fact we had a lot to do, we didn’t leave too early. We knew that we needed to pay for our new expensive visas at the bank, which apparently didn’t open until 10am. Back at the immigration office, we parked up, ready to try again. This time, they gave us a form to fill in and a slip with the account details to pay at the bank. It was pretty straight forward stuff compared to some of the extensions we’d done in the past, maybe because we were paying so much money for it.
To extend our Colombian visas for an additional three months had cost about 20, here in Ecuador they were 300. This was exactly the reason why several other travellers we knew had chosen to return to Colombia rather than stay in Ecuador, when they found out that travel in Peru would still not be viable at the expiry of their first visa.
We waited in the endless queue at the bank to pay, before heading back to immigration with our receipts and completed paperwork. After a short period, they processed our forms and gave us our new documents. I mentioned that we had a vehicle, as sometimes this is relevant to the personal visa, and the guy told us to go to the aduana just ten minutes away. This seemed better than driving out to the airport, so we retraced our step into the city, looking for the huge government office located there.
Even though it was only ten minutes, we spent three times that long trying to park and find the office. Finally, we were inside the office block and we followed the signs to the ‘aduana level 3’. Half way there we got stopped by security who told us it wasn’t there at all. Back on the groundfloor, we finally located the office. Now we made two unpleasant discoveries. Firstly, our TIP expired today, not in two days time like we thought. Secondly, they couldn’t process it here. We needed to go to the airport anyway. At least we were told what photocopies we needed so we made sure we had them with us before we left. Now it was early afternoon and with the office shutting at 4.30pm, we didn’t have very long to sort everything out. The fine for overstaying your TIP is $475 per DAY, we had been warned when we entered.
Really, REALLY, hoping this was not the moment at which the camper broke, we set off to the airport. While the horrid gearbox noise was definitely getting worse, we finally, we made it to the right place, with about an hour and a half to spare. Too cut a long process short, we spent that entire time getting our documents sorted with the grumpy lady in the office. She seemed rather unhappy that we were trying to renew on the final day of the permit and didn’t much care for my explanation about how we didn’t actually have any choice in the matter. I had the feeling that they would have taken even longer, if they hadn’t wanted to close and go home and a few minutes before 4.30pm, we left with our documents.
Due to the time, and the fact that we were actually so close to Alex’s house again, we opted to stay one more night. Hopefully, the cameras in the park would be ok and we would make it back there without issue the following day.