Hello blog hounds. We have some catching up to do I think. Ok so it was time to leave Otovalo and Ecuador. We had warmed to the country and its people and were now off to Colombia. Land of the Escobar's, drug cartels etc. We kitted up and went down to the bus stop on the Pan American highway. Every 20 minutes they run so no problems. It was about 9.30am and the first bus was packed to the gunnels. We were now a little nervous but fortunately the next bus had room.
All the advice is don't take a night bus for the border area as it still has occasional bandit hold ups and issues with driver fatigue. We arrived at the border about 1pm. Crossing was straightforward. In to Ecuador emigration for a stamp, then cross the bridge to Colombia immigration for a stamp in. Once in Colombia we decided to take a short cab ride to Ipiales. Our friend Lilianne had posted some pictures of her visit there to a church built on a rock face. Contacts help so much to enhance the travelling. Sharing experiences.
The cab driver was about 110 and probably blind. It was an interesting journey. His sight was ok when it came to reading his meter though. Anyway the church was pretty unusual. It was built from stone straight on to a rock face. It was mostly grey and looked a bit like a Lego kit. We mooched about it for a while then went for a beer.
We found a small restaurant and sat down. Two beers were served by our hostess. She was about 90 and was clearly fascinated by two gringos. Jill's Spanish is pretty good now but not up to a pensioner with no teeth chuntering at 400 words a minute. Next we are joined by an old chap. He's not going to miss out on talking to the gringos. He's small, unshaven, dirty, smelly, no teeth, some dried food on his face and a filthy suit. To add to it he has his flies open and no pants on. Todger alert !!!!! He has also taken a liking to Jill and keeps moving closer until he is actually touching her. Fortunately only I seem to have eye contact with said todger. Jill is fortunately oblivious. The situation was surreal. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse he started to sing the French national anthem. I have no idea why.
We only drank half the beer and made a tactical withdrawal. Jill was mortified when I told her about the todger.
We were soon back at the bus station and got our tickets to Pasto where we were going to spend the night. The hotel was ok but not in a great area. We needed to eat so the hotel manageress ordered a taxi and sent us off to Centro which she assured us was much nicer. She said we would find a supermarket and some nice restaurants.
The taxi ride was about 30 minutes and went through some very dodgy looking areas. Jill said 'Are we being expressed kidnapped?'. I said 'Well if we are I wish him luck getting money from an ATM with my Santander card'.
Eventually he dropped us off......outside a shopping centre. In we went. Yep it was a shopping centre. No restaurants or bars. We walked around and found the Colombian version of KFC and had chicken fajitas...class.
Next morning we went to the bus station to continue our journey. It was a six hour trip and we managed to get two seats at the front so no one in front to recline their seats. That was the Yin. The Yan was that the bulkhead window in front of me had a big brightly coloured picture of the Jesus chap. There he was in all his ginger haired, blue eyed angelic glory staring straight at me. It could only have been worse if it had been Wayne Rooney !! Thank goodness for iPods to distract me.
We were soon in Popyan. When you've done 22 hours on a bus 6 hours is like popping to the shops. We had a nice hostel which used to be a monastery next to the main church. It was run by an Irishman, and a Spaniard and his Romanian wife. Nice people, very helpful.
We had stopped at Popyan because we were going to visit an archaeological site at San Agustin about 6 hours away. Popyan is a fairly small Spanish style city. Very white. We had a couple of relaxing days there. We were going to return there on my birthday after visiting San Agustin. The hostel stored our big ruckies while we were away. That evening I was musing on the Foreign office web site. In short it said don't go to Popyan and definitely don't go to San Agustin. It is a hot bed of FARC activity. FARC are the sort of Colombian IRA. They've basically been squeezed by the army into this area. Oh well too late now, we're here.
Thursday morning we had brekkie then walked to the bus station to head to San Agustin. The buses are mini buses and run very regularly. Trouble is it's a 5-7 hour journey depending on weather and road conditions. The journey is through mountains and the road (Hah!) is mostly a pot holed dirt track.
It was the usual story a 20 seater mini bus with 30 people in it. Off we set. We stopped after about an hour and a garage tightened all the wheel nuts !!! We soon found out why. The road was unreal. The companies use their oldest buses on this route because of the road. It was a strange journey. The scenery was breathtaking as we bounced across mountains with huge gorges below us. It's odd when you are looking down at the clouds. We had seats (trade description might fight that one) but one guy had to lie on a duvet on the floor. The road was full of heavy lorries and it was raining in the mountain areas. I had visions of having to push the bus out of ditches and puddles.
Anyway we survived. The bus dropped us by the roadside 5kms from San Agustin. South America is like the far east. It all looks chaotic but somehow it works. No sooner off the bus than a jeep arrived and we were all put in it for the last 5k's. Surprising how many people and bags you can get in a jeep.
At the office we got the patter about a tour for the next day. It all seemed ok and a good price so we signed up. Next stop a taxi to our hostel. First impressions were great. A big room on a first floor with a balcony front and back and stunning views.
What do you need after a dusty bumpy 6 hour bus ride? Yep, a hot shower. We booked this place because it had hot water. Not today it doesn't agghhhhhhhh. Five minutes (Turkish) she said. Ten minutes , fourty five minutes, one hour. They hadn't turned it on. So no shower. Next morning Jill got hot water but not enough for me.
We were picked up for our jeep tour. Did you know you can 7 people in a 6 seater jeep? Me neither. You simply add a small seat with no back in the aisle. Guess who got that? In fairness the driver did make all the guys take a turn.
Off we went. Our companions for the day were two Dutch medical students, one Costa Rican, a Colombian and a German. The German was shaven headed, heavily pierced with lots of tattoos. One of which was a gravestone with 'More dead cops' on it. A neo Nazi if ever I wanted to shoot one. I didn't feel him and I would bond so I ignored him.
The day was fab. Much better than we had hoped for. We drove around dirt track mountain roads through small villages. Passing coffee,banana and sugar cane plantations. It was real Colombia. We visited some archaeological sites with burial tombs and statues from several thousand years ago. I don't say BC as that suggests he ever existed. We also went to Colombia's highest waterfall at 400 meters.
We were out for about 8 hours and returned dirty, dusty and tired after a great day. Show me that hot shower. Yep you've guessed it. Same as yesterday the boiler was not on. This time Jill spoke with the owner. She smiled and shrugged. Then she spoke to me. I don't speak Spanish but a hot, dirty, sweaty Englishmen shouting NO AQUA CALIENTE at you tends to get their attention. She seemed a bit shell shocked but eventually I got two minutes of hot water. No such luck for Jill.
Colombians have a reputation for being noisy. We were a bit concerned when on the Friday night a couple of families arrived. We were mightily relieved when they all went to bed and were quiet. Until 6am that is. Doors open, tele on full blast and kids and adults shouting outside. Give me back the cockerel.
Guess which hostel will get a s*** review?
So after an early wake up we had brekkie and walked into town for the bus back to Popyan. We had been told to be at the office at 10am to get a lift out to the main road for the 10.30 bus. 10.45 and eight of us get into two taxis. Again out of chaos is some order. The bus was waiting for us. We had seats unlike a poor Danish guy who had to sit on the floor for the whole trip. The bus was a little better and the traffic was much better plus no rain. We did the trip in a little over four hours. It was a birthday I won't forget. No hot water, woken at 6am, bounced around in a bus for four hours and a pizza for dinner. Dreams are made of this !!!
Did I mention the hostel used to be a monastery? Well the church is still adjacent and clearly going strong. 6 f******* am and we have a choir basically singing at the end of our bed. I hate god squad. We eventually get up and have brekkie then it's back to the bus station. This time it's a 3 hour trip to Cali. We are staying overnight and catching a flight to Cartagena. The ride was as usual people sat on the floor etc etc. You just go with it or walk.
Along the way we kept seeing soldiers by the roadside. We arrived in Cali and got a taxi to our hostel. As usual the city was shut on Sunday afternoon. Lonely Planet said Cali is ok apart from the area south of the river. It's dangerous after dark. Guess where we were staying? We went out and ate early. A bottle of red from the supermarket and back to the hostel before dark. Every corner had a soldier with an AK47. I never know whether that is reassuring or not. It was like a scene from the 70's film 'The Omega Man' where it's safe during daylight but at night killer mutants roam the streets. Anyway we are in our room enjoying the red. The shower was hot. All is well with the world.