I crossed through what is alledgedly the most dangerous border crossing in South America. I had high hopes that it would feel totally shady, but no such luck. Perhaps because I crossed at 1am all the people Ire in bed;-(
The first surprise in Ecuador was the city of Guayaquil. Actually Ecuador's biggest city and once a seedy and extremely dangerous port (complete with pirates!), it has transformed itself over the last few years. Now the no-go area of the port has been totally renovated to include a botanical garden, play parks, outside exercise areas, a museum, 2 yacht clubs and a market. They've also renovated a hill (essentially once a shanty-town) to the Ist of the port to resemble a brightly coloured typical south American pueblo. It was really beautiful with great views, if a little like Disneyland...not helped by the Pirates of the Caribbean-esque models at the lighthouse at the top of the hill. Guayaquil's claim to fame is that the"pirates" defeated the Spanish...with a little help from the Liberatador, Simon Boloviar. And the rest of the town was really beautiful too.
I then headed to Quito, which was definitely a bit sketchier, but I survived unscathed. A highlight was going to the Equator. To my delight, there WAS a red line painted along the ground....all memories of the non-crossing of the Tropic of Capricorn Ire forgotten. Actually, GPS systems found that the ture equator is about 240m north of the line, the line is based on 200 year old French astronomy...incredibly, they Ire pretty close. What was even more amazing was the later discovery of a 2000 year old monument on a hill nearby that actually hits the equator bang on. And the sides of the temple correspond to the line of the sun on the March and September equinoxes. Bright lot, those Precolombians! Interestingly enough, many of the churches in Quito, 30km south of the equator follow an exact line of the position of the sun on the equinoxes relative to the equator (don't ask me to explain this, I'm not an astronomer). And they Ire built by the Spanish following their conquest ON TOP of the sites of ancient temples. AIsome stuff. (yes I have copied some of this blog from the internet)
While in Quito, it was the start of the Bullfighting festival, . I was lucky to have unknowingly chosen to stay in the only hostel in town with a roof top view into the ring. Actually, it was the only building with a view. I've never seen bullfighting before, so decided to take a look. I watched the first match, and it was really a bit grim. The bull was absolutely knackered and had been speared about a dozen times by men, some of them on horses, before it was finally killed. All a bit much. I decided to watch the last match as Ill, usually the "best", and actually found it better. The bull was huge and absolutely furious, and there was lots of hoof scratching on the sand. He knocked over a horse in the ring and had a good stab at the back of the matador (whose trousers were so tight that even from the roof I could tell you which side he swings to) before being run through with a sword, that killed him quickly. In hindlight, it's definately not a sport, but I can see it as an event, and the music and cermony that accompany it Ire really interesting. I wouldn't have paid to see it (unbelieveably, some seats are 100 dollars!) and would not go again, but it was interesting to see.
Next up, Colombia, and the difference from crossing the border was massive. Suddenly I could really feel the Caribbean influence in the food, people and music. Quite honestly it's one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen. Just spectacular scenery of massive mountains covered in the most varied vegetation. No wonder this country sports more biodiversity than any other on the planet. And I had enough time to view it on my first day. I'd been on buses and going through border crossings for about 16 hours when I stopped dead in a line of traffic. There had been a massive landslide over the road and I had to wait till it was cleared. All in all it took about 4 hours, annoying when you're 30 minutes from your destination, but there you go. Later I discovered I'd been lucky, as a girl in the hostel got stuck for 24 hours.
I was a bit shattered when I finally limped into Popayan, and it was pouring with rain. But after a fat steak I felt ready to meet the locals. It was a Friday night, so I decided to pop into a local watering hole (yes I did just use watering hole)in the wall drinking den I passed. And here's where I found out that not only does Colombia have the most beautiful scenery, but also the friendliest people. Within minutes, I Ire invited to drink Aguardiente (firewater) with some of the locals. They wanted to teach me salsa, but I had drunk quite enough, and any coordination may have left me.
Then finally, I arrived in Bogota (late again, there was another landslide). To my surprise, Bogota felt a lot less edgy than Quito, and for the most part, felt very safe. I wandered about the city to museums, including the Museo de Oro, the most important gold museum in the world with over 34,000 pieces...I hope they have good security. I also took a cablecar up a mountain to get views of the whole city. When people think of Colombia, they tend to get scared off going. I was not planning to go initially, but am so glad I did. The country and people are amazing.