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Published: January 20th 2014
19 January 2014 – Sunday – Pasto to Ipiales, Colombia; Tulcan to Otavalo, Ecuador
The mountains in southern Colombia, on the Pan American highway from Pasto to the border town of Ipiales, are softer and more gently rolling. They are treeless for the most part and agricultural. They are not unlike the hills of southern Ireland on the road from Waterford to Cork. And the roadway itself is smoothly paved and there is even a double yellow line running down the middle of it. Colombian drivers, however, do not realise what the line means and pass whenever they think they have the slightest chance to get by the car in front of them.
We had to get an exit stamp at the border and after achieving that the friendly, smiling agent, who had good English, said she hoped to see us back in Colombia soon. She pointed behind us and informed us that now we had to walk across that bridge to Ecuador! We changed the remainder of our Colombian pesos for US Dollars, the currency extensively used in Ecuador, and walked across the short bridge in Ecuador. It was a little surreal, crossing the border in this manner,
with our backpacks and rolling our suitcases across the bridge.
The entry stamp for Ecuador took another few minutes to gain, again from another very friendly and welcoming agent with good English, and we jumped into a taxi to the border town of Tulcan. We parked our suitcases in the office of a bus company and after a quick chicken-and-chips ‘fuel’ lunch, hopped into another taxi to visit the cemetery.
The Tulcan Topiary Cemetary is truly amazing. It was started in 1936 by Sr. Jose Franco and is the largest topiary cemetery in the world. It contains a wide variety of imaginative forms and shapes including angels, animals and humans, flowers, a train and many odd designs and shapes. The majority of the sculptures are replicas of pre-Columbian, Augustinian and Arabic figures carved out of cypress trees and are recognized by locals and visitors as a modern marvel. Today the five sons of Sr. Franco continue on with their topiary family tradition and are doing a grand job in sculpturing these exquisite forms.
From Tulcan we hopped onto another bus to head further south. We encountered two checkpoints along this route and both times our suitcases were
selected to be searched by the police. They were reasonably polite and cordial if a little perplexed by our inability to speak any Spanish! One of the inspectors shook some of our Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder onto his hand and sniffed deeply as though he were hoping it was cocaine! We passed the inspections and the bus continued on its way and the other passengers, all Ecuadorans, had a tale to tell their families when then got home about the Gringos who were searched twice on the one journey!
Even though the journey is scheduled from Tulcan to Quito with one stop in Otavalo, where we are disembarking and staying for a few nights, the bus stops and picks up people on the way. They stand at the front as there are no seats available and then disembark at another small village a few miles down the road. When entering these small villages, the bus stops at a traffic light or just slows down at a junction and a few hawkers selling fruit and food and water and crisps and chocolates hop on the bus, ply their wares, and then hop off again at the far end of
the town. There was even one man selling fried chicken and potatoes in a container. And there was a young man who hopped on at one stop with a small speaker held up to his chest and he sang a few songs for us.
Unfortunately, our stop in Otavalo was not at a station but on the side of the road and we had to depart hurriedly and I left behind my jacket and reading glasses in the overhead compartment of the bus. I emailed their office in Quito and hope that the items may be there when we get there in a few days time.
Tomorrow we explore Otavalo, which is apparently one of the 1000 Places You Must See Before You Die!
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!Such beautiful pictures! I made this same trip on the 19th of Jan. 2014. The bus to Ibarra was supposed to stop at Ibarra on it's way to Quito. I thought that would mean at the Terminal. Our intention was to get the bus to Cotacachi, where we live. I was wrong. No Terminal, just stops at the side of the road. With great concern and enthusiasm I used my whole vocabulary of 43 Spanish words to communicate this need to arrive at Cotacachi ( not Quito, some 2 hours farther down the road. Then the bus did an extraordinarily remarkable thing. Just outside the Cotacachi turnoff it pulled off the Pan American Highway....directly in front of the bus to Cotacachi. With much laughter on the part of the people in front seats and the conductor of the bus he told us to hop off and run to get our bus. Amazing. Sophia