A Bus to Colombia

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March 27th 2012
Published: March 27th 2012
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Quito to Cali


Bus at Quito Terminal
Day 164 Friday 23rd March

Went to reception for our breakfast voucher it made the breakfast sound promising but in fact it was just an omelette and stale bread balls. In the breakfast room we met up with Rob and Stephanie who were one of the nice couples on the Galapagos tour and they gave us some handy info on some of the places they have travelled. We are both leaving town tomorrow us to Colombia and them to Banos so today we need to find info on buses. Scott and I walked to Cumanda Bus Terminal a short walk from our hotel only problem is when we got there it was in the process of being demolished. On the way back I remembered there was a travel agent nearby so we called in to find out about the buses out of town, the man there was very helpful and gave us a timetable. There was one more problem the bus station we needed was about an hour from where we were, but at least we could buy tickets when we got there tomorrow.

We walked around the town and then went to lunch and had one

Border crossing
of those random moments that happen quite often in South America, the café we had been going to before the Galapagos had changed their menu. This café had served a great coffee called cortado it was now off the menu but it was the same staff so I tried to order it anyway and got something totally different and very bitter. After this confusing but not unusual experience we went back to the hotel to catch up on the blog for the Galapagos which worked out well as it started to rain in the afternoon. About 5.00pm it started to pour so we did not head out again till 7.30pm when it had stopped and went for pizza which was close by. Then it was packing again for our move to Colombia and then to bed.

Day 165 Saturday 24th March

Woke up at 6.30am as breakfast does not officially start till 7.00am at the San Francisco Hotel, but in reality we were not served till 7.20am so we were getting a later start then we had hoped. Did the final bibs and bobs and paid our bill. The hotel booked the taxi for

us and we were lucky enough to see Rob and Steph before we left so we could say goodbye. We got our large backpacks into the boot of the taxi and as Scott was getting into his side of the taxi a man appeared and made a feeble attempt to grab his daypack, but because he was standing against the door Scott could not close it. This is the first time we have not seen police on the corner near the hotel and I guess that is why he made the attempt, Scott firmly said NO and the taxi driver jumped out so he moved on without any harm being done.

Finally we were underway to the bus station which took about 45 minutes we grabbed our bags and started looking for the ticket sellers. As we arrived to the area with all the ticket sellers and man was calling out Tulcan which was our destination on the Ecuadorian boarder so we got our tickets and had to run to the bus which was leaving in 5 minutes at 9.40am. We got our bags into the luggage department and on the bus we realised that it was a full

View from our hotel room
bus I got a seat midway and Scott was in the back row in the corner, it was now I realised I had not gone to the toilet before getting on the bus (which has no toilet onboard) and it is a 5 hour journey. I quickly ran up and asked if I had time only to be told no but there was a stop on the way so I went back to my seat and crossed my legs. As we left the bus terminal I spotted another brightly painted bus parked and ready to go, across its window was “Jesus es mi destino” which roughly translates as Jesus is my destiny. You could probably take that many ways but I sort of felt it that it wasn’t what I would want on my bus in Ecuador, but I guess it is better than “next stop city morgue”. The movie was put on with the volume cranked right up to a deafening level, which was made worse by the quality of the movie. I can without a doubt not recommend Undefeatable 3,because there was no story I did not have to worry about not understanding Spanish. We reached the first stop (not a toilet break) and the man next to me got off so at least Scott could come and sit beside me. There were numerous quick stops dropping off and picking up people when finally after 3 hours we came to a stop at the side of the road that appeared to have a public toilet. Before I could get up to ask the driver about 10 hawkers hopped on the bus as soon as the doors opened selling everything from corn, drinks, empanadas and chips blocking the whole aisle. Eventually the number lessened and I got to the front and the driver said he would wait while I ran to the toilet, back on the bus Scott asked and was told we were going. About an hour later we stopped at a Service Station and the driver called out to Scott there was a toilet so thankfully there were no accidents on this trip, (except for maybe the poor young boy in front who pooed his pants about 5 minutes into the trip), we have found in general the bus drivers in South America try to help us out.

After travelling through some beautiful scenery we arrived
Road to CaliRoad to CaliRoad to Cali

Shelley at the lunch stop
at Tulcan Bus Station where we grabbed a taxi to the border crossing about 6 km. Everyone here was helpful pointing to the correct door and then letting us know where the forms to fill out were, it was a very quick process and we were soon stamped out of Ecuador by 3.30pm (apparently this side closes at 5pm so made it in plenty of time). A man in uniform pointed to the bridge we had to walk across to the Colombian check point, here there were no forms just a stamp and we were in Colombia no problem. Jumped into another taxi and went to Ipiales Bus Station to see if we could get a connection to Pasto. Unfortunately we only had US dollars and the ticket seller would not accept this and we could not find an ATM there. As we walked around a lady asked if we wanted internet and we replied no money exchange and she said that she could do it. The rate was OK so we changed $60, brought some water and I made a toilet stop before buying tickets to Pasto. We were told the bus was leaving at 4.15pm so we headed

View from our hotel
straight out to get seats, there was a big bus that looked new we showed our tickets to a man near the bus and he opened the door to the minivan parked beside it. Thank God we were the first ones there so I could get a seat in the front row near the door and we got settled. A man with a medium size dog showed his ticket and yes the dog had a ticket so they joined us, the dog was beautiful and she was very well behaved and remained in her seat for the journey. We soon realised that the minivan was not moving till we were full which happened about 4.35pm and we were on the road again, this trip should take about one and half to two hours. Our driver had the foot on the pedal and was spending way too much time on the wrong side of the road overtaking on hairpin bends, the countryside was beautiful so we all focused on that instead of the road. On the dash of the van was a small statue of Mary holding a baby Jesus and luckily for them they were facing us and not the road otherwise I am sure they would have lost their serene composure. At this rate I thought we would arrive early hopefully in one piece, then the rain started this did not slow him down, neither did the fog. Eventually we got caught behind a police ute and we then proceeded at a snail’s pace as it was caught behind a big truck and did not overtake it. The rain got heavier and the trip slower, we came to a landslide blocking half the road and the police stopped here and the traffic was queued up hardly moving in our direction. I thought maybe there had been an accident but we could not see anything, the traffic just crawled we were so close yet so far from town. About an hour later we arrived on the fringes of town and saw the problem the streets were underwater and things were flooding.

We were dropped at the bus station in the pouring rain about 7.00pm we tried to get our bearings and hailed a taxi. We had picked a hotel from the Lonely Planet which said it was near lots of others so we would have a choice. From our hurried look in the LP we thought the hotel was near the bus station so when we were driving for a few blocks we got worried he was taking us for a ride. We were trying to see street signs and of course there were none, 10 minutes later we arrived at the hotel and as far as we could tell we had not gone in circles. We were just glad to be at the hotel and paid him what equated to $2.50 so no major rip off, we later relooked at the LP map and saw we had mistaken the local bus station for the intercity one which is about 2 km further out. The hotel is clean and basic so we settled in and headed out for dinner on a Saturday night at 8.00pm, we soon discovered most restaurants were closed or closing. We found a bakery/restaurant still opened and went in to another hurdle no menu obviously the locals just know what is available, so I just looked around and there was only one table with people and they had what looked like chicken schnitzel, rice, beans and chips. By this stage anything would do so I pointed and said “dos” (2), but it is never that easy the lovely lady asked if we wanted sopa (soup) and continued in Spanish. Lucky I understood a few things and said no just and pointed plus by now 2 well deserved beers. By the time we had finished the roller shutters were down and the other people were paying, so we joined the line paid and the lady lifted the shutter so we could all get out. The time was 8.50pm and the town had rolled up the footpath, we later found out the Colombian generally do not go out for dinner and lunch is the main event at restaurants so this is why most close early.

Back at the hotel the day was starting to catch up on us and I could not focus on reading so watched TV for about an hour before going to sleep to discover that our bed appeared to have no mattress just the bed base or a very hard mattress not sure.

Day 166 Sunday 25th March

Today is Sunday and after last night’s raging Saturday night we were concerned what might be opened as our hotel does not serve breakfast. After a slow start we headed out at 9.00am to see what we could find and to our surprise most things appear to be opened. After a bit of a walk we decided on a café that was busy and clean, we have read that the restaurant in Colombia and the water supply are very hygienic and this appears to be the case. The Hawaiian Omelette we ordered come with chips and 2 slices of tomato (the salad here so far appears to consist of 2 slices of tomato which is all we got last night as salad) and a chocolate drink which was neither hot or cold or chocolate and a coffee which did not taste like coffee. The main thing is the food tasted nice and was filling so we were happy and the staff were very friendly.

After breakfast we decided to go for a walk around the town to see what is available and it seems today there is a get fit campaign with some of the streets closed and people riding pushbikes around and in Plaza de Carnaval there was a large group of people doing what looked like a cross between line dancing and zumba plus a blow up cylinder for rocking climbing it was all a bit too much for these travellers so we kept walking.

We headed back to the hotel and caught up on some chores like blogging and reading. We had decided to have a late lunch / early dinner as we were worried about things closing early. Dropped into the bank so we had more pesos and then went to an interesting café we saw early with swings in the front section for seats. It was now about 4pm and we thought this is the type of place that would be opened later, but when we started to order there was only one meal available chicken schnitzel, chips, rice and salad does it sound familiar (the same as last night), so guess what we had! As we were finishing our meal the kitchen staff were cleaning up and preparing to leave so we just got our meal in time. About here I should mention that our waitress was gorgeous and really nice so lucky it was closing or I might not have got Scott to leave. On the way back to the hotel there were only a few places opened so I think we chose wisely to have an early dinner.

Pasto is a nice little town and very clean with a beautiful mountain setting, but nothing much to do so tomorrow we are on the move again to Cali which is about 9 hours by bus and a large city of 3.5 million people.

Day 167 Monday 26th March

We rose at 7.00am and got ready to get to the bus station, as this hotel does not serve breakfast we figured that we would grab a bite at the bus station which has lots of shops. We paid the hotel bill and grabbed a taxi out the front, so far (touch wood) the taxi drivers in Colombia have been nice and this one was no exception. In the station we decided to eat first and went to a bakery this is bad but Scott said he saw jam donuts and a high sugar breakfast for a 9 hour bus trip sounded a nice treat. We ordered coffee, (when will I learn?), and pointed to what we thought were jam donuts. How wrong we were, when she started to microwave them I had serious doubts and I was right they were stale sweet bread rolls. So breakfast was hot milk called coffee and two bread rolls, but the lady was so nice I drank half the coffee so I would not offend her, I must remember to say “café con poco leche” (coffee with little milk).

We hesitantly went to the ticket sellers to buy tickets, a new country and a new bus system, would there be toilets? We asked as we were buying the tickets when it was leaving and he said 9.00am which was in 10 minutes so Scott said he would sort the tickets while I ran to the toilet. I followed the sign which pointed upstairs and took me along a walkway with shops and no toilet to the other side of the station and downstairs, around the corner and halfway down I was panicking as I did not have much time. On the way back I realised Scott was about quarter of the distance away if I stayed on the bottom level….. the randomness of signage. When I got back he said the tickets actually had 9.30 on them so there was no panic. We picked up some supplies for the trip and ventured out to the buses, WOW the bus is modern with the best legroom so far in South America and a toilet.

As usual the trip to get out of town was slow fighting through traffic, but we were soon in the mountains and beautiful scenery. But what comes with mountains – winding roads and this one was a doozy, plus the roads were rough from the rain and landslides and our bus driver insisted on being on the wrong side of the road about 80 percent of the time. About 20 minutes into the trip I put my motion sick bands on and tried to look at the scenery and block out the great movie, today’s is “Death Games”, which is highly violent and loud, I slowly felt better . The trip was very slow as there were road works all the way, landslides appear to be a major problem and in areas there was only enough room for one way traffic. About 1.30pm the bus stopped at a roadside café for lunch, we refrained as it was a set menu of soup which looked OK and fried chicken that looked like it had been cooked yesterday. The trip in the afternoon was the same but now with rain.

Eventually we came to the outskirts of Cali and a traffic jam, we finally made it to the station at 7.00pm and grabbed our bags. You know what it is like after a long day, trying to get your bearings, we saw taxi stopping and walked over to discover it was a drop off point only and they were not allowed to pick up. We went to walk inside the terminal to look for signs when a young man approached us and we both thought here we go what is the scam maybe a hotel tout, but he asked what are you looking for and Scott said taxi. To our surprise he lead us back outside and pointed to a long shelter and said line up there and you will get a taxi, we thanked him and said goodbye. We got a taxi straight away and headed to a hotel we had seen on booking.com but had not booked as it had mixed reviews and we may need to move on if it was no good. Our welcome to the hotel was like something out of a David Lynch movie, not helped with the difficulty communicating. We understood reservation and we said no and he started looking at the computer while answering the phone and looking at the phonebook for takeaway food and ignoring us. I should also mention the feature colour on the walls and furnishing of the hotel is red and sorry to say the man at reception was a little creepy. By now another couple arrived and spoke Spanish I picked up that he asked if they had a reservation and thought maybe he was going to serve them first, but they just went and sat down. Eventually he pulled out some forms for us to fill out and asked to see our passports, so it looked promising. We got our key and another man showed us the way, but did not offer to help us with our bags, I was not sure why he bothered we could find a room. When we arrived to the room he proceeded to do a checklist of everything in the room including the number of blankets and if the lamps worked after he ticked everything off Scott had to sign the list. When I pointed to the lamp that did not work he said OK, we later read a sheet of paper that we were handed that stated we must report anything that is broken as soon as possible after check in not sure if we will be charged for the lamp that does not work.

At 8.00pm we went out to look for dinner there does not seem to be many choices so we chose a place that would not look out of place on a Caribbean Island except this is in the middle of a carpark in a big city. There was no menu and no English, but lucky there were pictures of food on the wall, guess what was for dinner – Chicken schnitzel, rice, chips and salad, there was another picture of fish that might be tomorrow’s dinner.


31st March 2012

From my research I believe that the common food of the Inca's was schnitzel and chips .Good to see that trying to blend in . Cheers Steve
31st March 2012

Not again!!!
Hope your lovin the schnitzel! Some of that trip sounds hairy, scary. even. New buses! Thats a treat. take care, also have been trying to send photo\'s thru to your email, however its not accepting mails? xx

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