My last few days in Colombia were spent travelling on buses from one large city to another, stopping a night in a hostel and continuing the journey. After leaving my wonderful American friends Katie and Nathan in Manizales, I headed first to Cali and then on to Popayan. I met a German guy and a girl from Switzerland. We went out for dinner and worked our way through the dense crowds and heavy traffic in Popayan’s small, busy centre. We crossed the main square and eventually found a local small restaurant where we had a meal which included soup, chicken, rice, black beans, fried banana and a local juice named Lulo, for the amazing price of 3,000 pesos, approximately EURO 1!
Early the next morning, after listening to more rain storms, I took the bus further south to the city of Pasto. I stayed one night in a nice inexpensive guesthouse where I was attended to by a lovely guy in his early 50s. It was here that I discovered my final problem of the trip – no entry stamp into Colombia! I was now heading to Ecuador, my final destination before returning to Europe for Xmas. I visited an immigration office in Pasto the following morning, but they told me to go to the border and see what might happen. I explained that things were complicated on the border in Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela, and I must have been driven passed the Colombian immigration by the taxi driver. Nevertheless, nothing could be done in Pasto, so I headed to Colombia’s most southern town and from there, jumped in a shared taxi to the border. Again, there were further complications. The taxi driver once again drove me passed Colombian immigration and I found myself on the Ecuadorian border. A lady in the immigration office told me I required an exit stamp out of Colombia and told me to re-cross a small bridge, get my exit stamp and return to obtain my entry stamp into Ecuador. At this point, I was technically in no country! I was in no man’s land between Colombia and Ecuador, having no entry stamp for either country. I walked over the bridge and eventually found someone to show me to the Colombian immigration. Luckily, I met an American guy who was entering Colombia. He spoke good Spanish and helped me explain the situation. After some negotiation, which included me explaining I had an exit stamp out of Venezuela, thus showing the date I must have entered Colombia and in addition my flight info from Ecuador to Europe. This helped solve the problem. I guess they just wanted to be rid of me so gave me an entry stamp into Colombia, told me to wait 20 minutes and then return to get my exit stamp out of Colombia. The entry stamp could have cost me $300 but I was lucky and wasn’t charged. Thus about one hour after arriving at the Colombian border, I was permitted to leave Colombia and get my entry stamp into Ecuador – my 81st country, and the last country to visit in all of South America.
Once across the border, I took a taxi to the main bus terminal of the town of Tulcan and a five hour bus to Quito, Ecuador’s capital – high in the Andes mountains.
I spent two days in Quito and stayed with a charming American couple, Julia and Josh from the US. They were teaching English to pre-college students. They’d been in Ecuador nearly a year and were just finishing up before hopefully heading to a new country. They were friends of friends and were great fun and gave me good directions for places to visit in Quito.
I spent a day wondering the main squares, such as Plaza Grande and Plaza de San Francisco, and also ventured into a few churches; most notably the church of Companions with its gold columns and décor and the church of San Francisco – Quito’s oldest and largest. I wandered up and down the hills along the old narrow streets absorbing the heavy traffic and busy pedestrians as they went about their daily activities.
On my second and final day, I visited the main market before taking the Teleferico (cable car) up one of Quito’s mountains for some fresh air and an impression of the vistas surrounding Quito. The ride up to the mountain was blissful and once up there, I breathed in deeply lungs full of thin clean air. It was delightful. I walked around a small platform that gave views of the surrounding mountain peaks before discovering a small trail and followed it. I met a lady from Venezuela and she helped me ascend some natural rock steps to another view point. I took some more photos, retraced my steps to the only café, had a couple of empanadas, a kind of pastry snack containing anything from chicken, beef or cheese, before taking the cable car back to downtown Quito. I later took a taxi back to where I was staying, collected my only backpack and took another taxi to the nearby international airport where I awaited my long haul flight to Amsterdam. Some 20 hours later, I arrived back in London, where I spent a night with a friend before returning to Devon.
So another journey has ended and five new and vastly different countries have been explored.
What a trip; from the rainforest of Surinam and French Guiana with its spider’s webs, wild trees and sloths to Venezuela with its hike to amazing Angel Falls, the World’s highest waterfall, Coro with its colonial Spanish history to Merida high in the Andes with a cooler climate and a more lively atmosphere. Then there was Colombia with its live music and friendly smiling people and variety of cities and towns. San Gil, with its tight narrow and steep streets where I did my 14th bungee jump to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast with its humidity and soft sand and collection of various beaches to charm one and all. Cartagena was the highlight in Colombia, despite its high prices and to many tourists. The history, the food, the kindness of many of its locals and, of course, the music of Café Havana and Colombia Caribbean are what made this magnificent old city worth three days. The mud volcano is a must if you like adventure and new and different experiences and Cartagena’s walls, squares and huge harbour create an atmosphere all of their own.
Guatpe is another unique location in Colombia’s complement of places to visit. Houses with various colours throughout its stonework and carved flowers, animals and people are a blind person’s paradise. The rock of Guatape is a must for any adventurer.
Also the city of Manizales with its students, steep streets and distant mountains, coffee farms and hot springs.
Ecuador was visited only briefly, but the people make me want to return and explore more.
So, I’ve now visited every country on the continent of South America – what an achievement – what a continent!!!