July 20 – 21
Thursday morning we packed up and left our luxurious and very “USA” room at the Marriott. *sigh* Frustratingly, it was a perfectly clear day. Ethan was so mad we did the cable car the day before because he knew you could see the Cotopaxi volcano really well without the clouds. Arghhh! He looked up some places in the city where you can see it, so we took a taxi to this big park to get a glimpse. There it was. It’s crazy that it had been there the whole time and we couldn’t see it. Mother Nature has had the last laugh a few times on this trip.
From the park, we walked to a bus stop to hop on a city bus that would take us to the northern bus terminal. From there we needed to get to Tulcán, which is the Ecuadorian border town where you cross into Colombia. The front of the city bus had the name of the bus terminal so we figured it would actually go into the terminal. But we came to a light and the bus driver was telling us to get off. We couldn’t see the terminal so we kept saying “terminal?” and the driver as well as a concerned woman on the bus told us to get off and pointed to the right. Okay then! We hopped off, started walking and praise Jesus the terminal was right around the corner.
We found the Tulcán Express bus and paid like $6 each for the 5ish hour ride. The bus wound around through the mountains and (we actually got a great view of Cotopaxi) before we knew it we were pulling into the terminal. Except it wasn’t the one Ethan was expecting. Hmmm. We got off the bus and looked around for others who might be having the same issue. We found a couple from Spain, Fran and Anna, who were also crossing the border heading for Calí. They spoke Spanish, as Spaniards do, and helped us get a taxi to share to the actual border crossing. The first step is to get stamped out of Ecuador which we waited in line for about 30 minutes to do. Then you walk through no man’s land to the immigration office of Colombia to get stamped in. The line was much shorter there, hallelujah. They ask where you’re going and how long you’ll stay then send you on your way. We both thought it was interesting that they never search or scan your bags. Hmmm. There are signs everywhere warning about the penalty for trafficking drugs though, which is death in some places in Colombia. Yikes.
We were still with our Spanish friends and they had found a guy selling bus tickets to Calí and the price included a taxi ride to the bus terminal in Ipiales. Nice! We went with them to buy the tickets then got in the cab. On the way we told them we planned to go visit this cool church just outside of town since our bus didn’t leave until 8 and it was like 4:30. They weren’t super interested at first, but when we got to the bus station they decided to come. We left our big bags with the bus company then took a $4 taxi to La Lajas Sanctuary.
The church is built in a canyon over a river and isn’t as big as it seems in photos, but is still quite impressive given how long ago it was built. You walk down a long path (that I dreaded going back up) and then you can go past the church to the other side for the best views. Very cool. The four of us decided to go up the hill on the other side (ugh) because one of the local shop keepers said they light it up with colorful lights at 6. But by 6, they still hadn’t done it, so we started to leave. When we got to the main landing they finally turned on the lights. It was like a nightclub on the outside of the church. We joked that the church was souped up like a car with those silly lights. Still pretty cool though.
The walk back up wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but I was still sweating like a pig at the top. We got a cab back, then had to exchange some US dollars to Pesos for food. I had a delicious chicken sandwich while Ethan got the fried chicken and French fries that we accidentally ordered. We got some snacks then got on the bus not very excited about the next 11 hours. At least the bus was nice and somewhat comfortable. And there were two toilets.
The bus ride was not comfy and it felt like we were inside a washing machine. It also stopped a few times and they would turn on all the lights. So obnoxious. We pulled into the Calí bus terminal at 7:30am and since we didn’t have good wifi (the bus did have wifi, a first for us, but it was terrible) we couldn’t load a map before we got there. Ethan was kind of sure where to go though and our friends were headed in a similar direction. We parted ways at a big intersection and kept walking. (Wish I would’ve gotten there info to say a huge thanks for helping us cross the border!). We were looking for an area called San Antonio where the backpackers usually stay. We figured we could get breakfast and wifi to get a map and find a place to stay.
We finally found a place to eat and they had good wifi, thankfully. Not sure if it was the area we were looking for, but it didn’t really matter. We found a couple hotels really close to the restaurant and headed to the closer one when were done. I forgot to mention that’s it’s hot and humid here, so keep that in mind as I talk about all this walking with our big bags. We were also still dressed for Quito in long pants and long sleeve shirts. Aka: Sweating. The first place didn’t work out because they quoted us a higher price than we saw online. The front desk workers spoke zero English so they had a bellhop come over and he spoke some English, but not enough to help us, so we left. For some reason it didn’t seem like they were going to let us book it online even though it’s listed on Booking.com. Anyway, we found another place after another 10 minutes of walking.
It’s called Casa Farallones and it’s great. It’s a boutique style hotel with like 10 rooms, free breakfast, air conditioning and a pool. Heaven. Really glad we didn’t stay at the other place. They also quoted us more than the online price so we just booked it online and didn’t even ask. The owners (at least I think they own it) also speak no English, but they’re really sweet. The room is super clean and updated. The pool is pretty small and cold, but feels great in the hot Calí air. We spent the morning researching and deciding what we want to do in Colombia. Lunch was at a place called Good Food Co right around the corner. We had the lunch special which was rice, grilled chicken with pesto sauce, grilled veggies and fresh juice. It was amazing and just what we needed.
We spent another few hours by the pool trying figure out the rest of the trip, then Ethan wanted to take a hike up to Los Tres Cruces (The Three Crosses). They overlook the city and the starting point isn’t far from where we’re staying. We walked on the road until we got to a real interesting looking path that cut through some thick bushes. It went straight up and to a dirt path that led up the hill. We made it to a point where there were some benches and a little building. I was all set to call that good because the top was another at least 30 minutes of walking for me. But Ethan convinced me to continue. We when got closer to the top and it got really steep is where I stopped. I found a nice rock with a good vantage point and sat there while he went up.
We hadn’t really seen any other people on the path going up except a few young police officers. On the way down we passed several people exercising, one group of teenagers, and a guy walking a couple of his dogs. They were so cute we stopped to pet one and the guy started talking to us in Spanish. I pretty much only caught that the hike we had just done is dangerous in the evening because there are robbers and that we were lucky (I think that’s what he said). Yikes. We thanked him and hurried back to the more populated area near our hotel. That gave us both a weird feeling for the rest of the night. We got dinner soon after at this little pita sandwich shop, where a homeless guy yelled at us for not buying his cartoon stickers (at least I think that’s what happened), then turned in for the night before it got dark.
Colombia has definitely changed for the better in recent years as far as danger to tourists go and just overall, but we are both certainly being very cautious, as usual.