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Published: August 20th 2011
From Manizales we headed to Popayán
. Here we happened on an excellent hostel called Hostel Trail. Sure, it had a fairly ordinary name for a hostel, and the Russian screamers in the room next to ours showed how thick the walls were, but the staff were great and it was in a good spot. Popayán was a town in the mountains with about 250,000 people, and offered climbs of nearby volcanoes and many other activities. We did none of these, being content to wander about the place and soak up the feel. It was a relaxed, friendly place, and we really only had a couple of nights there before we headed towards the border with Ecuador. All in all, it was a great town to just hang about and wander in.
Popayán to Ipiales
would prove be another long bus ride. It was easy enough to get a ticket. As is standard in Latin America you just walked thorugh the bus station with your backpack and looked a bit lost. Eventually a guy came up and sold us a ticket to Ipiales. With no way to distinguish between the companies we bought the first one we were offered and waited
for th bus.
The time came, and our new friend waved us over. We scrambled over to the door and around to the bus. The bus looked okay, but had one thing missing – seats for us. It was chockers. Not only that, there was physically no place to fit our packs. We managed to jam two into the back an decide we could carry the smallest one on with us. When the drive suggested we store the last one on top of the fuel tank under the bus, strapped on with some fraying twine I decided we needed our money back. Funnily enough they didn't even bat an eyelid when I went inside to the desk bloke and asked for the money back – it was clearly not an unusual request.
The bus we eventually grabbed was as crap as the first one, but at least there was a seat. No worse than any other, the air was thick, but that was probably due to the rastafarian couple that sparked up a giant joint. We also got stopped by the cops. A lot. Even scored a pat down or two. Some guy with a suitcase full of
toys cost us some serious time. Supposedly the cops were looking for FARC terrorists – maybe toys is how those mob roll these days – not sure.
Eventually we arrived in Ipaiales. Not a bad place, really. We hadn't expected much, but it was quite a nice little place. Nothing to write home about in the town itself, but it had what it needed, including a more than reasonable little hotel called the Hotel Belmonte. The manager was a very helpful lady, made the stay worth it. Helped us out with where to go for dinner, and the taxi. It was 19000 per double which is awesome. Worth it to break the journey. We went to dinner and were the only people in the place - a feeling we hadn't had since Mexico, and it was strangely welcome.
Then went back to the hotel and watched some futsal world cup on telly – Mexico vs Czech Republic to be specific. Nice.
Apparently, the thing to see at Ipiales, apart from the border, was the nearby church. We were pretty churched out, to be honest, but took the time to catch a cab to the nearby town of San
Felipe before we caught a bus to Ecuador.
We left early, and, again, I was struck first by the lunacy of religion. The church was built on the spot where, a couple hundred years ago, some bloke saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. Inconveniently, he saw it on the side of a cliff, necessitating the building of a pretty impressive church. There was a statue of the bloke on the walk down to the church – These days he'd probably be locked up or be on the street blowing tunelessly into a recorder for spare change – back then they built a monument.
The church, though, was amazing. Hanging precariously on the cliff, it looked likte something out of Lord of the Rings, complete with a narrow gorge, strategically placed waterfall, and little people. We were a bit early for the souvenir sellers and other tourists, so it was actually a very nice morning, and a decent way to end Colombia.
We grabbed a taxi to the border. 45Mins in the queue, but eventually we were into Ecuador. There was another battle for the buses, but by now we were getting better at it. And we
finally had a good variety of food sellers on the bus. Pincho (meat on a stick with a potato stuck on the end for good measure, and, let's be honest, who doesn't love meat on a stick), banana stuffed with cheese then deep fried in batter. Yeah, I know, sounds weird, but it was tops, absolutely tops.
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