An emotional bus ride from Colombia to Ecuador!

Colombia's flag
South America » Colombia » Ipiales
May 30th 2016
Published: May 30th 2016
Edit Blog Post

Okay so Ecuador wasn’t on the initial plan, just like Colombia. Ecuador was in fact added when calculating the best way to travel to Peru. We looked up flights from Colombia to Peru and they all came up to a figure of around $300US each. Bearing these figures in mind, why on earth would we take a flight straight to Peru when we could spend nearly 2 weeks exploring Ecuador beforehand for the same price of flying over it? For us it was a no brainer.

For some, I think a barrier to crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador (apart from not having ‘time’, or a lack of interest in Ecuador altogether) is the consideration of safety. We read that the road leading up to Ecuador all the way from Popayan was known for robberies. The information online was however unclear and not up to date but still many embassies advised against it despite no evidence of any recent incidents. We met a couple who had made the journey and read a blog or 2 of people who travelled the road with ease, so we decided to make the journey ourselves. We can happily say the journey for us was completely hassle free and saw dozens of other travellers crossing the border from each country seemingly doing so with ease too.

In order to get to Ecuador from Pasto we took a bus to the Ipiales border, but before crossing the border we decided to take a cab and visit Santuario de las Lajas. A church we had heard about in Ipiales built over a river located in a valley in-between 2 mountains. Absolutely stunning and not to missed if you are in the area.

Sharing the taxi with 2 Colombian girls, we got chatting and discovered one of them had actually studied and lived in the UK. It was really interesting as we conversed in the taxi, hearing her views and experience of UK living, it's definitely not like Colombian life at all and had us laughing about all the things she had come to experience. The cab dropped us off at the hilltop above the church, where we had to descend the busy hill passing many other visitors and stalls selling the usual touristic items. For those wanting to avoid the steep downhill trek, had crammed themselves into the cable cars above us heading into the valley and back. There was also the opportunity to pose on top of a llama dressed up, if that is your kind of thing.

Getting up close to the church was really remarkable. The detail of its gothic style architecture, its sparkling silver reflective properties and its draw dropping location all added to the experience. The best views were climbing the hill across the river overlooking the Church to see the grandeur of it.
The detail and immaculate condition of building had us in awe. The Colombian girls who we were with, explained that this beautiful church is a big deal to a lot of locals, Colombians actually travel from all over the country just to visit it. She went on to tell us how when her grandma visited, she was so overwhelmed she couldn't stop crying! We could kind of understand, as the building alone was spectacular, even without the added spiritualism. Trekking up the stairs on the opposite side we came down, we found some of the best views overlooking the church and the river below it. We felt like we could stay there all afternoon admiring its beauty, but we had a bus to catch.

The border crossing was simply lining up to get stamped out of one country, crossing a bridge and getting stamped into another. There was nothing arduous about it, no confusion on where to go, no awkward or anxious moments and it felt completely safe (if only every border crossing was like this).

Trying to watch our pennies, we sought out the local transport to get to the connecting town of Tulcan and so squeezed ourselves into a minibus full of locals. Exiting Colombia, we noticed immediately that we were in a new country. Ecuador seemed less built up than Colombia and less westernised. In Colombia also, the men and women are always immaculately dressed in modern/western styles with the women’s hair straightened or curled in various lengths and their fingernails and toenails always painted. Ecuador however still clung on to its traditional heritage, it was less built up having more traditional housing and the men and women continued to wear more traditional style clothing. The women had long hair in single or double plaits down their backs, many of whom wore top hats like the men, long wide rimmed skirts and a shawl over their shoulders. This made us happy, it’s always a good feeling when you make that recognition that you are somewhere new.

Before we knew it, we were off this minibus and on the 7 hour roller-coaster of a journey to Quito, the journey the blog title refers to. After travelling 11 months by now, we can honestly say that we sometimes become complacent about the journeys we take, seeing them with the sole purpose of arriving in a different destination. The journey becomes a means to an end.

Sitting on the bus towards the end of our long journey. P began jotting words down for this blog; trying to capture in words of what we had just experienced…

We have had that feeling that we are in an untouched paradise in places like the Philippines and China but once again that feeling arises taking us by surprise and overwhelming us with happiness. Travelling the long stretch from Tulcan to Quito was the most spectacular and emotional journey I've ever taken. I laugh to myself as I write this, as this incredible emotional journey was experienced whilst sitting on a bus.

Sitting next to the window P got distracted from the book she was reading by how strikingly beautiful the scenery we bypassed was. Dusty rocky terrain stretching across the many mountain ranges in the distance that would roll into the grassy lowlands towards us, many of the mountains ridges extending up and down like outstretched fingers. The grey dusty rock surfaces contrasted with the bold blue skies and the perfect green grasslands. The further we travelled the more exciting and ever changing the scenery became.

We spotted beautiful rustic towns settled in the bottom of the green basins with huge mountains surrounding. They were all very small and quaint with a touch of colour and paint that stood out boldly in their natural surrounds. These towns felt well maintained, dotted with flowers and plants and they were just picture perfect in their beautiful locations. Children and adults walking together with smiles on their faces. P wondered what it would be like to live in one of these towns as she smiled to herself, playing out different scenes her mind conjured up.

Between some green triangular mountains on my side of the bus, were deep valleys cutting their way between the middle of them, with the greenery in the lower valley in between them being dense and luscious as if as there were once some sort of river flowing through.

The valley opening showcased further mountains behind them on either side of the 2 closest ones. This view really played with my sense of reality. It appeared as though these mountains were duplicated again and again in the distance, each getting smaller the further away they were. It was almost like one of those mirror effects, where 2 mirrors face each other and you stand in between them both causing you to see yourself over and over again, getting smaller as you do. However in nature this played out with the mountains on either side of the valley. It was draw dropping.

We bypassed some magical mossy electric green lowlands. Amongst lots of this stark but green land were dark shadows etched all over the terrain. Looking closely, these dark shadows were huge deeply formed cracks splitting the ground open. Maybe some tectonic plate movement underground had pushed the land apart, revealing these deep dark zigzagging lines. The bottom of these cracks were not visible from the bus, so we could not really grasp the scale, some larger than others with many meters and meters wide, all having cracks with mirroring lines to either side of the opening.

Over and over again the scenery stole my breath. I thought to myself that nature here could not get any more spectacular. I was wide eyed in awe of the scenery afraid to blink in case I missed something. Then I caught a glimpse of one of the volcanoes in the distance. Although the outlines of it were only just visible, the enormity of it and its potential power was clear! The size of it seemed almost unreal, making tall mountain ranges look small. It was like this volcano was drawn out of scale to the land around it, as it soared unrealistically high into the clouds, making everything around look like a small play model. However this was real.

It was unlike any other volcanoes we had witnessed before. Not that we have witnessed many, apart from P coming close to a volcano in Guatemala on a previous trip, this and the striking Volcanoes in Indonesia was all I could compare it to. On both occasions we got close and personal to these volcanoes and we only got to witness them by climbing their crater or a nearby mountain. This however was different.

This volcano was hundreds of miles away in the distance and still looked huge. It was unreal being able to appreciate this Volcano from so far, equally as special as it was being up close to one. The land was very flat for miles (unlike the area around the previous volcanoes we had witnessed) which enabled us to appreciate it from a far. I could not take my eyes off it. The huge clouds swirling around it didn’t even look real they were so small in comparison. As the road turned and the Volcano was no longer visible to the right side of the bus, my stomach sank. I had not had enough.

Shortly after I spotted a rainbow over a town which disappeared in seconds after I spotted it but it still made a smile form on my face.

When family and friends ask why we are not home yet, they cannot full appreciate the beautiful surrounds that we have now become accustomed to. Yes they see it on postcards or on tv, through our pictures and agree it looks nice but still cannot fully grasp why we do not want to come home.

How can we go back to our normal lives when we keep experiencing things like this?

….This is why we travel P whispered to herself.

Throughout the journey P was absorbed in the scenery, forgetting she should try and capture these moments with a picture. Jumping on her seat with excitement when she remembered, attempting to take picture after picture on her smartphone not fully capturing the magic she saw before her eyes. Visibly deflated by this, but still overjoyed to witness it all, she underwent a rollercoaster of emotions. Overwhelmed by such an experience and deflated when the bus rounded a corner with nothing but an immediate mountain face in view.

This was far too emotional for simply a bus ride. To think they charge $6 for this, this should be an excursion in its own right.

Looking around the bus to see if other people were as mesmerised as me, I could not believe my eyes. Looking from side to side, I found myself more open mouthed by the fact the rest of the bus; some travellers, Colombians and locals were all either sleeping, curtains drawn and closed to what lay outside, engrossed in some awful movie or just not really bothered. There was one elderly women who I nearly missed, smiling from her seat. I looked at her again realising she had been watching me. I caught her eye and smiled back. What a big kid she must have thought, but when I looked at her the second time, I could see she was really happy that I showed a clear appreciation of the scenery. This brief non spoken connection between us, I will always remember.

The flat terrains and a couple of volcanoes were replaced by a cloud forest. Surrounded by clouds we could no longer see into the distance. Instead we could see the nearby hills with conifer type trees and nothing behind them but beautiful fluffy clouds in different degrees of white and grey, making our surrounds look very cold and mystic; somewhat dark even. In some ways it felt like Salento again but on an extremely cloudy cold misty day, no blue skies as we were in the skies. Also like China’s beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge. I rate China very high in terms of scenery. It near enough tops everywhere for me. This however is up there with it.

What a journey. Towards the latter part of the bus ride they started playing our favourite Champeta songs. We smiled but then said we didn’t want to hear them. It reminded us too much of Cartagena and Colombia. “I want to go back” I said to Chris, Chris agreed and we both laughed at how we have said this so many times.

All of a sudden, we were at our destination.

That means to an end I spoke about. Somehow this journey was over and I felt a sudden sense of loss instead of the usual anticipation. This trip was nothing short of spectacular. It caught me by surprise and had me asking why we have not even considered travelling to Ecuador before. Experiences like this reinforce our feelings about travelling the world, seeing incredible things, and make us question how we could live a normal life at home.

I got off the bus, with a resonating feeling as I reminded myself…this is why we travel.

Date: 7th Jan 2016

Colombia Overview

Our favourite places: Cartagena, San Gil and Medellin

Our favourite activities: Dancing in Cartagena, our activities in San Gil

Things we liked most: The warmth and friendliness of the many people we met, the scenery

Disliked: Err… hmm..a…no..err…nothing!

Accommodation: Cheap in most places if you shop around, a small degree of Spanish will help. Places can fill up quick during festivals and holidays.

Transport: Very straightforward to book and travel up and down the country. Can book buses in most hostels or can buy tickets direct from bus stations.

Total expenditure: 63 days = COP1,1641,000 / £2,630

This breaks down to be £39/$60 per day for 2 people (inc. 3 week group Spanish classes in Cartagena and 1 week of 1:2:1 classes in Medellin for 2)

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 32


31st May 2016

Why we travel
Enjoyed your bus ride and the thrill of the vistas opening at each corner. Gotta say I know what you mean. I'm not one to read a book while travelling if there is something to see out the window. I just can't do it. I don't want to miss what I could miss if I couldn't be bothered to look. The joy of traveling...if you are open to it...and is a joy. That's why I travel!
31st May 2016

Why we travel
Thanks Dave. Isn't it great that nature can have such a positive effect on us! Happy to hear you can relate to these feelings, re-reading the blog flooded us with emotions but made us laugh at how bizzare it may read to someone who doesn't travel☺
31st May 2016

Drive of a lifetime
Sounds like the endless scenic beauty was just what you needed. Each new day brings and unexpected surprise and adventure. I'm so happy you added Ecuador to your trip. Afraid to blink.....that certainly says it all. Travel makes us feel alive, embrace the emotions. When you do get back you can always do some laundry and then grab a notebook and begin planning the next trip.
1st June 2016
Santuario de las Lajas built between 1916 and 1949

Heaven on wheels!
What magical experiences--the amazing church, finding Ecuador a wonderful surprise and so different from Colombia, and the spectacular bus ride! I love bus journeys, listening to my IPOD and watching the world go by with no responsibilities and nothing to do but enjoy. And then there are journeys like yours with impressive mountains, incredible scenery and tiny towns that make the journey unforgettable. What a perfect way to enter the country!
4th June 2016
Santuario de las Lajas built between 1916 and 1949

Heaven on wheels
Love your title... it really was heaven on wheels, that bus ride. It was the perfect way to enter Ecuador and left us with a long standing impression. A journey we will never forget!

Tot: 1.779s; Tpl: 0.158s; cc: 16; qc: 30; dbt: 0.0624s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb