Crossing to Colombia

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November 17th 2013
Published: November 18th 2013
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Our last stop in Ecuador was Otavalo, a market town few hours away from the Colombian border. It's mostly famous for the huge artisan market attracting busloads of tourists from Quito and elsewhere every Saturday to buy indigenous themed handicrafts, art etc. Being a fan of that stuff myself, I definitely wanted to see the city. At the end, the market wasn't very exciting, but the city itself was surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and only for that reason well worth the visit.

After spending a night in Otavalo, it was time to move on towards Colombia. Our route plan for South America has changed to almost unidentifiable compared to the original one we had on mind before coming here; Ecuador wasn't on the plans, and Colombia certainly wasn't. Now, we have spent 5-6 weeks in Ecuador, and as I'm writing, we have reached the beautiful town on Popayan in Southern Colombia. It so happened that on the course of the trip we met many other travelers who had been around Colombia, and every single one of them said not only that the country was absolutely wonderful and not to be missed, but also that they felt safer there compared to Ecuador. So, to those of you fretting at home thinking we are here in the middle of guerrilla and drug violence - you can relax, as that couldn't be much further from the truth 😊

We faced the most difficult challenges of the transfer from Ecuador to Colombia already at the bus stop in Otavalo - several busses heading to the border town of Tulcan passed, but they were all full. Those buses did stop at the bus stop, but only to place a sticker on the door to indicate it's full. Eventually we managed to rush ourselves on to one the buses, and were on our way.

We have used a lot of buses during our time in South America, and after some of those experiences getting onboard Matkahuolto (Finnish bus company) will probably seem quite uneventful..first of all, the buses frequently take all kinds of vendors onboard to sell passengers fruits, candies, snacks and even warm meals. Sometimes the aisle of the bus will be full of these vendors having a shouting competition to promote their products. The most memorable vendor is definitely one elderly man who came to the front of the bus with a marionette puppet, performing some kind of dances with it and talking..unfortunately we didn't understand what he was saying, was it some performance or what, but we could only understand words "sensual" and "sexy" in the middle of his speech multiple times, apparently describing the dances the puppet performed in the face of some unlucky passengers who then changed places. After he was finished with the marionette show/speech, he walked the bus aisle selling candies. Weird. Another incident we still laugh about was when were leaving to Tena, and waiting at the platform: the bus arrived and while it was still moving, the bus host jumped out and with intensive sense of urgency gestured at us to run quickly to the bus. Thinking the bus was about to leave in a big hurry, we ran to it, the bus host threw our bags to the trunk of still moving bus and we jumped in - only to see that the bus drove 10 meters more, stopped, and actually left only after 10 or so minutes. So what was all the rush about?? And of course there are the action movies at full volume on 90% of the bus trips..And oh yes, the bingo at Cruz del Sur buses, the bingo itself is still more or less "normal", but the prize to the winner is that the lucky one gets to sing a song to the bus microphone..hahaha..great prize! We witnessed this already twice, and probably will get to enjoy it again when we are back in Peru.

But, perhaps back to our journey to Colombia now. So, we reached the border town of Tulcan, and joined forces with a friendly Italian guy who was on the same bus, and spoke quite good Spanish. We shared a taxi (which overcharged us) to the border, and the actual border crossing was a piece of cake, no queues, no difficult questions asked. Again the difficult part was to fit into a collectivo (=minibus) to reach the Colombian side border town Ipiales. People were running to every collectivo that arrived to fill them quicker that we had time to react, but eventually we managed to squeeze into one, and reached the bus terminal in Ipiales. From there we boarded another bus to the town of Pasto, where we spent the night. The first impression of Colombia was that the scenery was more dramatic and green compared to Ecuador, generally things seem peaceful, friendly and safe. And taxi drivers in Pasto did not try to overcharge, but quoted correct prices immediately, which was nice. The Italian quy appeared by surprise at our hostel in Pasto, he had planned to stay in Ipiales, but had changed his mind when he saw the price of a day trip he was going to take the next day. The three of us went to eat some dinner and took a short walk in the city center, but being tired from the day's travel, we went to bed quite early to gather energy for another day of traveling to come.


18th November 2013

Lovely blog. Thanks for sharing. You've taken some great photos.

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