one better than the rest
08.02.2010 - 14.03.2010
Getting to the Ecuador/Colombia border was fairly quick and pain free however when we reached Ecuadorian immigration things almost ground to a complete halt. There was a massive queue which stretched out of the building, mostly made up of Herbalife volunteers, which had been the company with the function at the equator in Quito. When we finally got inside we clocked that there were only two officials on the desk and one of them kept leaving. At one point a guy came up to us and asked if we spoke English, when we replied yes he asked how long we'd been waiting. By now it had been over an hour and we sighed our response to him. He looked annoyed and said he'd just asked an immigration officer if there was a system and he had replied almost with pride that there was no system whatsoever. People arriving and departing were all herded in together. Lovely.
Thankfully when we reached Colombia the queue had magically disappeared and we got through very quickly.
On the bus we'd been discussing the possibility of trying to change our flight home to somewhere closer than Mexico, perhaps even from Colombia. We were running out of time to make it all the way through Central America and the flights were ridiculously expensive. For this reason we asked if we could have 60 days in Colombia instead of the usual 30, which we were granted with no fuss or questions. With border formalities negotiated we hopped into a taxi to the bus terminal in the Colombian border town of Ipiales. Neither of us had the energy to sit on a bus for hours and it was getting quite late in the day so we decided to go about two hours north to the town of Pasto.
In Pasto we took a taxi to a hotel in the guidebook and were given a fairly large room. Unfortunately the mattress was suffering from a condition we have encountered numerous times, concavity and as is the case with most beds in Colombia the bottom sheet never stayed on throughout the night. However on the upside Adam did locate an unsecured wireless network when he propped the laptop on an unusually high window sill. We would spend a fair amount of time over the next couple of days kneeling on a table in order to make use of it. We went out to find some food which we quickly established can be very expensive in Colombia. A whole pizza was £10-15, significantly more than we'd be paying anywhere else. So we settled for a couple of sausages on sticks instead.
We spent two full days in Pasto and I have to say saw nothing of it really apart from the immediate area outside our hotel when we went in search of food. From what we did see it seemed like an active little town, but slightly grey and not exactly picturesque. That said we didn't really explore it so I'm not really in a position to judge. Our time was instead taken up with sorting out how we were going to get home. We had reached crunch time, neither of us were going to be able to relax and enjoy the rest of our trip unless we knew what we were doing. So in the end when we had spoken to various different people; our travel agency, British Airways and finally numerous employees at Quantas we managed to change our flight back from Mexico to Miami. With this task complete we booked the cheap flight Adam had found from Bogota to Miami and all that was left to do was apply on the Visa Waiver website so we could enter the US. Hard to believe it took two days but once it was done we were incredibly relieved and were ready to move on the next day.
Our next stop in Colombia was the small colonial town of Popayan which is really very beautiful. All the streets in the centre are lined with rows of bright white, terraced buildings with dark wood detailing. The roads were a little confusing and as with almost all towns/cities in Colombia they are numbered rather than named. Generally those running north to south are called Carreras which tend to be the main streets and then they are divided up into blocks, east to west by Calles, I suppose it is a bit like New York but only numbers are used. Buildings are then numbered in blocks, starting from one again when a new block commences. It's a little confusing to begin with but it does make quite good sense. Once we had navigated our way through the confusion we found a small one storey hotel which was quite clean and modern. A little more expensive than we'd have liked but she did give us a bit of discount. By the time we'd settled in there wasn't much left of the day so we just popped out for a quick walk around the dark streets. There was a little light display going on in the main plaza as different coloured lights transformed the white buildings.
We stood and watched for a little while and I was struck by how much more modern and wealthy Colombia already felt in comparison to most of what we'd seen in Ecuador. On the way back to the room we bought our dinner of meat kebabs that were being cooked on little bbqs set out along the pavements.
The next day we spent the morning exploring Popayan on foot. It really was very pretty and although clearly a stop on the tourist trail it just felt like a normal place unlike another colonial town we were yet to visit.
Unfortunately for me though my knee was beginning to play up again and so I couldn't do too much walking around. We decided to take a break at a coffee shop so Adam could sample some proper Colombian coffee, the first one he'd had in Pasto had been more than disappointing. Juan Valdez Cafe is Colombia's answer to Starbucks or Costa and they had a prime location in Popayan.
The shop was inside a really old building with an outside seating area within an inner courtyard and to top it off there were a few palm trees looming over head providing shade. The coffee was much more to Adam's liking and we relaxed there for quite a while.
When we made it back onto the main plaza there was a massive riot van parked in one corner which seemed very out of place in these tranquil surroundings.
We went over to have a look and managed to discretely snap a picture, we weren't sure whether the army men would have liked that too much. Then we began to notice that lots of streets were cornered off and there were officials all over the place. Finally it all made sense when we saw a massive procession of motorbike taxis, hundreds of them slowly making their way through the streets. It was obviously some kind of protest as they were doing a bit of chanting but it seemed fairly peaceful and well under control. After the protest we walked round some more and popped into the supermarket to buy some lunch. Then we went back to the hostel where we relaxed in our room and tried to help get their internet/wifi working for them with little success. When evening arrived and it was time for dinner we popped back to the supermarket and bought from the street stalls, eating cheaply in Colombia was going to be a bit tricky.
The next morning we moved further north to the town of Cali which in hindsight was the wrong decision, we should have gone to San Augustin which was to the north but on a different road. Arriving in Cali we were immediately hit by how much the temperature had increased which was not unpleasant. We found a really cheap room which we were happy about although it was very dark with no outside window and the top of the toilet had been converted into the sink so you had to fill the tank up yourself. Interesting idea. The area in which we were staying was clearly where all the bars were and we'd read that Cali was Salsa city. From what we could see though it just looked a little like a low budget Broad Street. We located a mall and attempted to go to the cinema but it was closed so we ate lunch and went back to the room. Neither of us could muster up much enthusiasm and we decided to explore further the next day. At night when we went out for dinner the atmosphere had definitely picked up but it all seemed fairly unappealing to us. There were greasy looking men trying to entice people in to the bars which were generally pretty empty. I think it kicked off later though because we could hear the pounding music from our room.
In the morning we got up reasonably early and went to have breakfast at a bakery. It was Sunday so we were wondering how much would be open but there seemed to be a few things. Then we walked over the river and into the centre. Here there was quite an impressive lilac church with intricately carved designs, we stopped to look for a little while before continuing on.
We'd read in the guidebook that there was meant to be a pretty old quarter but we never really found it. There were a few old buildings but they were interspersed with newer constructions. A little disappointed we walked back the way we'd come and tried to find something attractive about Cali, there wasn't a lot. The park by the river was quite sweet and there seemed to be a number of families about enjoying the Sunday sun. In the end we decided to see if the cinema was open today which it was and we went to see The Wolfman which was seriously disappointing. The story was nothing new and the ending was very anti climatic. I kind of expected a little better from Mr Hopkins and Mr Torro. When the film had finished it was early evening so we just had a bite to eat before heading back to the hostel. We would be moving on again tomorrow.
Laura & Adam