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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Colombia to Ecuador and Otavalo

It's a short trip from Pasto to the Ecuadorian border. The bus from Pasto stops in Ipales on the Colombian side from where collectivos load full of people and drive to the crossing. I had to wait an especially long time at Colombian immigration because when they saw my Canadian passport they just assumed I was entering the country and sent me to a line where I'd have had to pay the entry fee if I were. I waited there for a long time for someone to show up and when they did and I explained that I was leaving, not entering, they sent me back to the other line. I finally got through with them and walked across the bridge to a long wait at Ecuadorian immigration. Finished with that, I found the collectivo to Tulcan where I caught a bus to Otavalo, my days destination, another few hours down the Pan American Highway. I was immediately reminded of the discomforts of Ecudorian bus travel. If asked, they'll tell you that there are bathrooms on the bus, and there are. What they don't tell you is that they're locked. I guess it's a cost saving measure. Same with the ventilation system which also never works. They constantly stop to pick people up or drop them off or to have lunch or for reasons unknown. Also, we're talking very difficult, mountainous terrain here, a two lane highway with extreme ups and downs, carrying all of the country's vehicles at speeds on both ends of the spectrum so relatively short distances can take a long time. Passing is not for the faint of heart and is not always related to visibility.

While we're on the subject of buses, I just have to relate an anecdote about the buses in Turkey that I keep forgetting to tell you about. At every stop, 15min bathroom stops or whatever, they completely wash the bus. At the stops, they're all set up with hoses, buckets, wash wands, soap, the works, and they give the bus a complete going over. So much for water conservation. The buses sure are clean though.

Back to Ecuador. Another peculiar anectode: when we reached Otavalo, a woman who'd been sitting across the aisle from me got off at the same stop and had some rather stern words for me about "flaunting" my iPad and camera on the bus. "It isn't safe, these are poor countries and you should be more careful." It's true that the locals are usually much more cautious than I am and it's probably because they or someone they know has had bad stuff happen to them. But I thought this was a bit over the top. Maybe my turn will come and I'll be more paranoid but, for now, I'll try to keep my wits about me, not wander where I shouldn't but use the public transportation and carry my camera and use it. (Actually, I had my turn, or one of them, when I was robbed at knifepoint by three guys in Oaxaca.)

Otavalo has a big indigenous presence and is best known for its Saturday artisan market reputed to be one of the biggest and best in South America. I'm not sure how authentic it is any more. It's very much on the tourist track and it's one of the standard day tours from Quito so I've not been to it. I stayed at the same hostal I've stayed at before in Otavalo, the Riviera-Sucre, an old colonial home made into a hotel and operated by the same family for 200 years. Doors and windows and shutters no longer fit very well, everything's a bit out of kilter but it's cheap, clean and comfy, has a good kitchen and nice garden with resident hummingbirds.

I had some nice social contacts there and some good hikes. I spent a lot of time with a Swiss guy with the unlikely name of Diego.

Interestingly enough, he works in a group home for people with disabilities so it was interesting for me to hear how things are in Switzerland for that population. And there aren't many places on the planet he hasn't been to at least once. One day we hiked to the outskirts of town to Peguche Waterfalls and from there continued on in the direction of San Pedro Lake.

It turned out to be further than we'd reckoned and, after a a long walk through the communities there, we caught the bus back. The next day I planed to hike around the rim of the crater lake, Cuicocha. Diego had signed up for a tour to do the hike but I didn't want to, feeling hesitant to commit to a hike I might not be able to do. So I got together with an American couple and we shared a taxi to the lake and hiked the rim together. Rachelle and Fred were nice enough people but quite Republican in their perspective. He was retired from a career in the army, a quiet guy, probably because she never shut up. I can't say that we had a lot in common and I think I'd have preferred to be on my own but it was a beautiful place and the hike was doable for me, just. At the end, we must have made a wrong turn and wound up walking on a paved road that went on and on. We might still be walking if I hadn't stuck my thumb out and we got picked up by a very gracious man who dropped us off right at our hostal. I'm pretty sure he went out of his way.



I forgot to mention cane trains. Between Salento and Popáyan there is a lot of cane production and I saw signs along the way warning motorists to be alert for cane trains. I wondered, what the heck are cane trains? I didn't see any tracks. Then I saw one; a semi pulling four trailers loaded with cane. They kind of wobble and shimmy along giving good cause for the warnings. They're like the road trains in Australia.



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