Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Travels with SG: Columbia to Ecuador

Hello all!!!
After spending some time in Cartegena, Columbia,we flew to Bogota (on April 25th...my birthday, for those of you who forgot!)...elevation 2800 meters and tons of pollution!!!
When we got off the plane, thereon the floor was Patcraft Carpet, style Incognito, color green (I worked for this company for 5years, and this was 3 jobs ago) Can’t believe that my old carpet made it to Columbia!!! Anyway, the only saving grace about Bogota was their Gold Museum, and Cerro de Monserate (you take a tram up a mountain another 1500 meters...gorgeous view of the city, no cars, buses, only nature, a nice church-a very nice escape from the big city!!!)
On the 28th (Michael’s birthday) we caught a private car to the airport (all transportation within Bogota was on strike-taxi’s and buses...this should have been our first clue that today would be one to remember!!!) and we flew to the boarder town(still in Columbia) called Ipialis (It was much cheaper to fly to a boarder town within Columbia than fly directly into Ecuador)...we arrived in Ipialis (gorgeous green hilly town,) and caught a taxi to the boarder of Ecuador...about a mile and a half away from the boarder there was a police road block...they would not allow any taxis to drop off passengers at the border, so we threw our backpacks on our backs and hiked to the border (good thing we wear our hiking boots on travel days, as we never know how much walking we will be doing with our packs on our backs, and mine weighs a hefty 50 lbs)...luckily it was all downhill...but alas, we were not alone on our descent!!!
The Columbian police were also walking down to the boarder, with AK47´s (not loaded, YET)...we spoke to one of the police on our descent (we always make conversation with the police, in situations such as these...)We asked him (in Spanish) why no Taxi´s were allowed to go to the boarder...his reply, "you can catch a taxi on the Ecuador side..." How naive we were!!! We finally get to the boarder, (many more police) where we see tires burning in the middle zone between Columbia and Ecuador, and a bamboo fence...no worries???!!! We get our "get out of Columbia" stamp in our passports and ask some people what is going on???
The teachers/professors from Colombia were protesting as they have not been paid by the government in 1-3 months!!! They started to burn tires at 6am, and would not let anyone through to either side till noon.....We arrived just before the police started to break up the demonstration-11:30am...The teachers were not happy with this, as this was an "organized" demonstration that was to continue till noon...SO, the teachers (being the educated lot that they are) started throwing small pieces of bricks at the police...The police with AK47´s and tear gas, "retaliated" by gassing the teachers!!! I was shaking in my boots!!! I have never seen such a site, and hope to never again!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Luckily for us, we met a nice businessman from Columbia who took us under his wing, a student from Ecuador(who studies in Columbia) and a woman from Sweden...we hung out with them, at the boarder. The police wanted us to exit the "customs" area and walk back up the hill...Our new businessman friend, told the police that we all had to get to Ecuador TODAY!!! So the police let us wait... ...after some time, when things SEEMED to quiet down, the 5 of us and an Ecuadorian family, made a mad dash for ONE of the boarder entrances (there are two entrances each about 175 yards long. The one to the left, over the bridge where all the police and teachers were, and the one to the right-where the Columbian police told us to cross) On our way to the right boarder crossing, we all held tissues to our noses, as tear gas was still in the air...when we got to this entrance, it was closed!!!! .....SO, we had to backtrack and go over the bridge, working our way between all the Columbian police, and demonstrators... ...YEAH!!! We made it!!!!! Just when we got in the Ecuador immigration office, the police let more tear gas fly...What a day!!! From the Ecuador boarder, we caught a van with our new friends to a small town where we were going to catch a bus to Otovalo...at the bus station, we had the pleasure of seeing 2 men, from different bus companies, duke it out because they wanted our business...oh, what a life!!! Our bus ride to Otavalo was spectacular!!! A beautiful drive through the Andes!!! What a day!!! To top off, that evening we had a lovely dinner at a Pizza joint that had live Ecuadorian music...Our waitress took a liking to Michael (a robust woman in here 40´s, with twinkling eyes) and had the band play Michael "Happy Birthday" in part Spanish, part English....
A spectacular ending to a nerve racking day!!!
We spent 3 lovely days in Otavalo!!!
This where one of the largest markets is located of South America. Alpaca, Lamb, Llama Sweaters for 6$US, hats, gloves, livestock, produce!!! SO CHEAP!!!!!! I must say that Ecuador is one of the nicest countries that I have ever been to...very friendly people, great food, and very CHEAP!!!
On the first of May we caught a bus to Quito, where we ran into our friend Nick who we met in Bogota (he had the displeasure of waiting in Bogota, for many days, for a new passport, as his old one was "misplaced" on a bus ride) strange how we keep running into people that we have met along our travels...
Today, (May 2nd) we went to Mitad del Mundo (the equator) with Nick and his parents...
lovely day!!! and took pictures of us straddling the equator!!!...very cool!!!! Tomorrow we head to BaƱos, a small town for more relaxation!!!

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