Overland from Colombia to Ecuador/Adventures in Travel!

The "Salsa" Bus to Popayan

The “Salsa” Bus to Popayan

Who needs to fly when you can just “take the bus?” And so we did! From Popayan to Otavalo, overland.

We knew it was going to take 12-14 hours to get to Otavalo from lovely Popayan by bus, and wisely decided to take it in two parts, broken by a brief overnight in the small city of Pasto, the last major town before the border with Ecuador. “Beautiful, dangerous, loud,” are just some of the adjectives that people had used to describe the route from Popayan to the border. And so we thought we were prepared…

A Greener Green

A Greener Green

There is a Road...

There is a Road…

If you look very carefully at the photo with the rushing river in the center, and then gaze up to the left, and the right, you can just see the road cut into the side of the mountain. Getting from one side to the other of the canyons required traveling to the end of each ravine, making a treacherous hairpin turn, driving to the end of the next ravine and doing the same again, and again. Dozens of times. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, greens of every hue, waterfalls and rivers rushing downwards towards the amazon. It was enjoyable, if only I could stop thinking about the bus driver seeking every opportunity to pass other cars, trucks and buses…on a narrow two-lane road through the mountains, with vertiginous muddy cliffs on one side, an unprotected plunge into the river on the other, and the impossibility of seeing what might be coming the other way. Double-yellow no passing lines? Yep, but who cares? Thrilling!

Six hours of this, interrupted by a 30 minute bathroom/rest/restaurant stop and merciful break from the continuous high decibel salsa music. Salsa? Fun…when it occasionally stops. Torture when it renders earplugs useless and never ceases. About 2/3rds of the way to Pasto, we achieved a high plateau where there were beautiful homes; remnants of the Escobar era perhaps? I didn’t care, it was just a relief to have about 15” of simple, straight roadway!

We arrived in Pasto midafternoon, and took a taxi to the Hotel Koala. Yay, towels. No soap. After a bit of exploring (church around the corner, Plaza de Bolivar (another one!) a block or two away) we had dinner and went to bed, wondering about what the next part of the journey would bring.

The Bridge to Ecuador

The Bridge to Ecuador

By the end of the next day, it had brought the following modes of transportation: taxi, bus, taxi, walk over border bridge, taxi, bus, and finally a taxi, for a total of about 300 miles over 14 hours from Popayan to Otavalo. The Pasto bus dropped us at the terminal in Ipiales, Colombia. We then took a taxi 15” to the border station, where there was one disorganized line for both entering and departing the country – it was chaos. And just for fun, mixed in with backpackers, elder tourists, and locals transiting, was a drunken and/or drugged bus load of soccer fans returning to Ecuador. (An observation of the security guards.) The concept of “wait your turn in line” was incomprehensible to many of them, as they ignored the two hapless security guards asking them to go to the end of the line. So many things were simply wrong with the situation that we had to laugh – while we waited an hour or so in a queue that was more like a flashmob than a line.

After appropriate stamps in the passports, we hauled our bags down a flight of stairs, and then proceeded on foot, pulling the suitcases, across the hundred foot long bridge into Ecuador. A bit smoother passage at Ecuador immigration, mostly because the soccer fans still seemed to be on the other side of the bridge, and we were off in a taxi to Tulcan, to catch a bus to Otavalo.

Enough Food to Feed a Country!

Enough Food to Feed a Country!

The scenery changed dramatically from untamed mountains to rugged agricultural fields as we neared Otavalo, and our good mood lasted until it dawned on us that the bus was NOT going into the center of the city, and we either had to get off on the side of the highway, or continue on to Quito…

Off we trudged, the bus lumbered noisily on its way, and there on the side of the busy highway began our explorations of the country we hope will prove as appealing as we’ve thought at a distance!

For those of you traveling overland from Colombia to Ecuador…here are a few travel tips:

  • Bring earplugs
  • Don’t sit where you can see the turns/the road ahead
  • Be patient at the Colombia border
  • Don’t be surprised if your “Otavalo” ticket entitles you to a roadside dropoff
  • Enjoy the scenery!

There were many high/low points, but the best (worst!)? Definitely, being left on the side of the Pan American highway, in the descending evening light, in Otavalo, without a clue where we were and why we weren’t at the Otavalo bus terminal as we thought we’d purchased with our tickets.   We hefted our small backpacks and dragged our combination backpack/wheeled bags across the highway, and reconnoitered for a few minutes. Just as we’d decided that CW would head for the next corner to look for a taxi, we spotted one coming our direction, and the cheerful cabbie took us to our lovely stay at Hotel Riviera Sucre. Ecuador, at last…

Canine Welcoming Committee

Canine Welcoming Committee

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May I Change My Mind? Part 2 of 2, in which I do!

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

― Hans Christian Andersen

Part 1 of this “Colombia cities” blog offered a few hints as to how I learned to travel calmly in Colombia, where there was much that could have been difficult. With a week’s perspective, the challenges have faded a bit, and the beauty, newness and awe come forward.

I browsed the hundreds of photos that I took during our six weeks in Colombia, and offer the following gallery of favorites; hoping they summarize better than words the many things in which I found true delight during the journey.

Joyful Colors...

Joyful Colors…

Cartagena Mural...

Cartagena Mural…

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Bliss...near Tayrona

Bliss…near Tayrona

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Vista in Salento

Vista in Salento

Popayan Silouette

Popayan Silhouette

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Just Look Up!  Gamboling Statues...

Just Look Up! Gamboling Statues…

Locks...

Locks…

Lusciousness Everywhere

Lusciousness Everywhere

People, colors, food, nature, art…you can find them everywhere; and everywhere different. So much to learn!

Bogota, Medillin, Cali…A City is a City is a ? Part 1 of 2

#blogguilt? Yep, six fascinating, challenging weeks exploring Colombia and we’re already across the border in Ecuador (more on that “interesting” experience in Part 2!).

We spent a lot of time in Colombia’s large cities, learning that as beautiful as the surrounding mountains might be, the cities themselves leave a bit to be desired. To be fair, Bogota (8mil), Medillin (4mil), & Cali (4mil) are just rougher versions of many other million plus population cities around the world – traffic is horrendous and diesel/gas fumes reek – walking is not a lot of fun. Until we get city transit issues sorted out and move away from private cars to public, shared & more environmentally sustainable transportation, the world’s largest cities will continue to be increasingly difficult places to live as they grow. (And that’s my quasi-political/social statement for this blog.)

But Colombia’s big cities offer a good look at the country’s history, its art (fantastic), and a peek at how a tourist industry (while not quite in its infancy – hello, Cuba?) is developing. If you’re planning a visit to Colombia and want to do it without a glossy tour company, be aware -you’ll need the following:

Patience – you’ll be taking buses much of the time, and there are generally not set hours for departure. You will go the terminal, search for a suitable bus line (vendors stand about calling destinations), and either find yourself among the first or last to board…and then, only when the bus is FULL will it depart! Along the route, the bus will stop to let passengers off any old place…despite having told you the bus is “direct” (this does NOT mean “non-stop”.) As seats are emptied, the bus will stop along the route to allow others to board, including vendors who offer drinks, fruits, banana chips…and yes, these impromptu snacks can be delicious.

Earplugs – ah, those buses again. Usually, the music will be turned on, loudly, immediately, and constantly throughout the trip, whether 1 hour or 6. Be prepared.

Toilet paper – if you like more than a couple of squares, you’ll be happier if you put a packet of tissues in your pocket before you venture out. You’ll usually pay for the use of the toilet at bus terminals. And, if you’re female, be prepared for lidless toilets…great for the thigh muscles as you attempt to pee without touching the ceramic.

Ok, tips on how to “journeywise” out of the way.

We loved visiting the main plazas in Colombia’s cities – many are named for Simon Bolivar, the “Liberator.” Statues varied from a soldierly and solemn Bolivar to a “Bolivar as Condor” in Manizales, and naked Bolivar on a horse in Pereira…along with your run-of-the-mill busts. The gentleman was everywhere doing good deeds, until he ran into political and financial difficulties and ended his life in exile.

Bolivar Nude - Pereira

Bolivar Nude – Pereira

Museums and outdoor art were also a complete pleasure. From Botero sculptures to murals and graffiti, Colombia (whether on purpose or not) has encouraged a public sharing of exuberant art – it’s everywhere, splashing color along highways, streets, alleys and parks. While most is “art” for art’s sake, there is also plenty of politically motivated art relating to both indigenous peoples and the FARC guerrilla movement. More photos are available on Instagram @tojourneywise and commentary about traveling, organic agriculture and random thoughts on the journey on Twitter @tojourneywise. Enjoy!

Botero Sculpture

Botero Sculpture

Wall Mural Medillin

Wall Mural Medillin

Part 2 coming soon, more on Colombia’s big cities next time…then on to Ecuador!

Chiva Bus - Colombia

Chiva Bus – Colombia

Truly Seeing…

I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading on my Kindle during this trip, but necessity has forced, if not a conversion, then at least acceptance, that this is a good way to carry along the dozens of books I will read during a 3 month journey. Among the many books I’ve got, I didn’t realize that reading Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate,” would be so meaningful. It contributed the following quote:

“See what you’re looking at.”
Dr. William Albrecht
(1888-1974)
Soil Scientist, Univ. of Missouri

It’s the United Nations Year of the Soil, so I’m delighted that the desire to truly see what I’m looking at is echoed by one of the pioneers of organic agriculture…

Here’s some of what we’ve been seeing on our South American sojourn:

Wisps and Clock...

Wisps and Clock…

Faded Beauty

Faded Beauty

Soaked in color...

Soaked in color…


Oasis

Oasis

Reflection, Lake Near the Sea

Reflection, Lake Near the Sea


See what you're looking at...

See what you’re looking at…

A harmony of sand & sea...

A harmony of sand & sea…

Perched at the edge of the sea...

Perched at the edge of the sea…

Next, some big cities and coffee farms!

Cartagena, Caliente!

Pegasus Before Port

Pegasus Before Port


The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Well, amigos y amigas, Cartagena was by far the warmest part of the trip so far (reminding us very much of Singapore’s heat and humidity); I quickly remembered that a wrung-out, wet bandana tightly twisted and tied loosely around the neck makes for an impromptu and successful personal air conditioner…that, plus multiple trips to La Palleteria for popsicle after popsicle made from fresh, incredibly flavorful local fruits, and yes, the occasional Swiss chocolate cream. Two key themes emerged from this most “vacation-like” part of the trip: Food & Art – and by “Food” I mean: food carts and stalls, restaurants, coffee shops, farms and even grocery stores. By “Art”: museums, street vendor crafts, the colors of the buildings, the sky, the sea; and the amazing graffiti and murals …

We’re well “medicated” with gingko – supposed to help with altitude (and so far, no problems with Bogota’s 8000’), yellow fever shots, and malaria pills. Drinking tap water and eating pretty much anything that looks appetizing, and so much does!

Fruit Carts Tempt

Fruit Carts Tempt

Watermelon to Order

Watermelon to Order

Citrus and More

Citrus and More

Treats at La Palleteria

Treats at La Palleteria

My blog subtitle includes “Learn it all, over again.” All of life is an education, but sometimes you can put yourself directly in its path – and that’s what’s happened in Colombia. The tiny Museo de Arte Moderno in Cartagena is in a fabulous centuries old building just off the “Reloj” (Clock Tower) Square. Its exquisite tiny collection of modern Colombian masters was immersion in an artistic culture that I haven’t known enough about. Botero, yes. Enrique Grau? No, but he was prolific, astounding, totally engrossing. And so many others.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Museo de Arte Moderno

Grau's View of Cartagena

Grau’s View of Cartagena

We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood outside of the more well-known walled city in an Airbnb family casa, where we were also able to continue the Spanish lessons we’d started in Bogota. Cartagena is small enough that we walked everywhere, exploring tiny streets and alleys, sitting in the Plaza de la Trinidad at night with locals & tourists letting the cooler evening air waft aromas of grilled chicken, skewers of meat, and arepas (flat corn cakes cooked on a griddle and sometimes filled with cheese or vegetables.) Getsemani, particularly, is known for its vibrant and noisy nightlife – too bad we couldn’t stay up late enough to really appreciate it!

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Courtyard

Airbnb Courtyard

We’d anticipated a little time by some beautiful Caribbean sea while in Cartagena, but that wasn’t the case. The shoreline is not particularly pretty near the city, and not easily accessible by foot, so cooling off by the water wasn’t to be. Instead, we enjoyed wonderful walks through streets filled with color in every direction – whether the fruits, buildings, hats, hand-woven bags, or tshirts on sale everywhere, Cartagena is saturated with vibrant color. Thank goodness, the fact that we’re still in the early days of a 3-month journey makes it very very easy to say “no” to any purchases that can’t be consumed on the spot!

Color, Hot

Color, Hot

Color, Cool

Color, Cool

Color, Colombian

Color, Colombian

Color, Carnival

Color, Carnival

I’m reviewing many of the restaurants and activities at TripAdvisor as “tojourneywise” so you may find more information there about specific places I mention, or feel free to send a question or comment directly via the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

Next up, truly off the beaten track…Tayrona National Park and another “secret spot.”

IMG_2775

Bogota – Bewildering, Enchanting

We’re travelling for three months in Colombia and Ecuador, putting cities here through the same filter as some of our top home prospects in the U.S. Will we end up falling in love with Popayan or Manizales, Cuenca or Ibarra? Come along for the journey and see!

AirBnB View Bogota

AirBnB View Bogota

It now seems a good idea that I’ve let a few days pass by since we were in Bogota, as I’d drafted a rather negative post – it started:

Bogota feels in some ways like a third world city; why is that? Let me count the ways:
1) dog “popo” (yep, that’s what they say) everywhere; 2) gigundo (no that is not a Spanish word) holes in the sidewalks and streets; and 3)trash.

Pity the Taxi Drivers

Pity the Taxi Drivers

The State of the Sidewalks

The State of the Sidewalks

But Bogata is compelling in many ways, so let me count those too:

1. El Museo Botero – you know, the guy who paints and sculpts those wonderfully voluptuous people and objects. He donated a massive amount of his personal collection to the museum, which is set in an old colonial palacio with a lovely courtyard. Fantastic. Free. Culture.

Museo de Botero

Museo de Botero


2. El Museo de Oro – gold, gold and more gold. Antique, ancient gold, and plenty of English-translations so it’s easy to learn what the displays are all about. One section involves entering a circular, darkened room and listening to the chants of early Colombian religious ceremonies. During the chants soft lighting illuminates a 360 degree display of thousands of tiny gold objects, arranged in swooping arcs of flight and clouds.
Room of Chants and Gold

Room of Chants and Gold

3. Food – interesting and often tasty! Hot chocolate with cheese cubes (Chocolade SantaFerena.) Very sweet pastries and very dry pastries. Some amazingly good Peruvian food at “Pasion Peruana.” Incredible vegetarian lunch at “Quinua y Amaranto,” in La Candelaria neighborhood.

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

4. Architecture – from the tiny casas in La Candelaria to the palacios of the colonial era and through the early/mid 20th century, Bogota offers up some glorious buildings. The only risk is that by looking up, you may step in a nasty hole in the sidewalk hole while admiring the grimy but otherwise charming buildings.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Colorful Candelaria Street

Colorful Candelaria Street


Apartments in the Round

Apartments in the Round

Faenza Theater

Faenza Theater

5. Art – murals everywhere. If you follow me on Instagram (cnewmanwise) you’ll see more examples of the incredible art that’s on most available surfaces.

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Beauty...

Beauty…

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

A few days in Bogota was a great introduction to Colombia and adding 10 hours of intensive Spanish lessons kickstarted our ability to get around. Angie, our teacher, can be reached at (spanish1.english1@gmail.com). She was a good instructor, understood that we wanted a crash course in survival Spanish, and that’s what we got, with smiles.

We’re off to Cartagena and the Caribbean coast next…flipflops at the ready!
City, 8000', Mountains Higher

And We’re Off….Vamanos!

The next stop on our quest for finding “our spot” is South America – specifically Colombia and Ecuador, where many expats have already found wonderful homes. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that last year we spent 4 months traversing the U.S. on the same quest.

We’ll be travelling for three months, trying to stay a minimum of a week in each of a number of different cities, including Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, and Popayan (in Colombia), and Quito and Cuenca, at a minimum (in Ecuador). Along the way we’ll be visiting a number of organic and/or fairtrade agricultural communities; volunteering when we can.

So, logistics? Three months, altitudes ranging from sea level and a Caribbean climate to roughly 9000’ and rather chilly at night. We’ve got one rolling bag (High Sierra) and one small backpack (mine, Patagonia) apiece, which we hope will get lighter as we go along, giving up old paperbacks, some small gifts we brought along, and discarding clothing along the way. It’s said “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and though I’m not convinced, here are a couple of pics of the packing process:

All I'm taking, except the raincoat.

All I’m taking, except the raincoat.


It Fit, with lots of rolling!

It Fit, with lots of rolling!


Moments from Departure

Moments from Departure

I’ve worked hard at recalling Spanish from a long ago stint as an exchange student in Ecuador (yay, AFS!) courtesy of an app called “Duolingo.” And, we have 4 days of 2-3 hour Spanish lessons beginning the morning of our arrival. Don’t expect any blogging in Spanish though I may toss in the occasional “palabra” so you know I’m working on it!

The first two nights we’ll be at a small B&B called Churro de Queveda, and then we move to an airbnb in the same neighborhood of Candelaria, the historic center of Bogota. Nope, Bogota is not a candidate for our spot, but it is a great place to acclimate, learn a bit of Spanish, and enjoy some good food and culture before we move on. And with that, Buenos Noches de Colombia…

View from Churro de Queveda

View from Churro de Queveda