From Bogota we took another quick flight down to Cali. VivaColombia is the budget airline equivalent to Southwest Airlines in the states. As long as you don’t have any desire to be comfortable during your flight you can find airfare for incredibly cheap prices. Our flight from Bogota to Cali was only $17 per person.
We knew we only had a short time in Cali so we signed up for a walking tour of the main sites in downtown Cali. Sadly our “guided” tour quickly turned into a “self-guided” tour as our guide never showed up. At least we had the list of sites on the tour so we spent most of our day wandering around finding parks, monuments, churches and government buildings. Even with Google maps many spots were hard to find, luckily Colombia is a country with groups of policemen hanging out every few blocks, so we always had someone to point us in the correct (most of the time) direction. Over all we logged about 11 miles of zigzagging through the city. The following photos are a few of the highlights from our day.
From Cali we took a 3 hour taxi ride to the city of Popayan. Granted we did not know we had booked a taxi until we were in the bus terminal searching for our bus and we were ushered into a taxi. Popayan is know as the white city because the whole historic center of town is made up of beautiful white buildings. We spent our time wandering the small streets and visiting the churches. While wandering the streets we found ourselves caught up in a parade of students from various majors at one of the local universities.
From Popayan we made our way to Ipiales, the border town neighboring Ecuador. We had planned to stay less than 18 hours, giving us a chance to see the town and visit a nearby church before crossing the border into Ecuador. One thing we have learned while traveling is that plans and reality don’t always line up. When we arrived in Ipiales we learned that the government had shut down the border for 2 1/2 days due to Colombian elections. So our quick stop-through in Ipiales turned into a staycation until the border reopened. It was actually a really fun time to be in Ipiales as the streets were full of people and there were political rallies with loudspeakers and music on almost every street.
One of the main reasons we wanted to cross the border at Ipiales was to visit the cathedral of Las Lajas. The cathedral is about 7km from Ipiales and was build between 1916 and 1949. It is nestled in a valley and is a place of pilgrimage for Colombians and foreigners alike. The valley below the cathedral has a river that winds along its floor and the valley wall opposite has a small but scenic waterfall. The architecture of the cathedral and bridge along with the surrounding natural beauty make this one of the most impressive churches either of us have ever visited.
Once we had learned of the border closure we decided to have a relaxing day enjoying our time in Ipiales. Instead of taking a taxi back from the church we decided to enjoy the scenery and walk the 7 km to our hotel. We also thought that since we didn’t have to be up early the next day we would buy a bottle of wine and enjoy a relaxing evening in our hotel room (we had been advised that around elections it is best to stay indoors after dark in Ipiales).
When we went to go buy a bottle of wine we discovered another interesting aspect about election weekend in Colombia. The government made a law forbidding the sale of alcohol for the weekend of the election. We found this quite humorous as the local supermarket delt with this rule by simply wrapping the entire alcohol section in plastic wrap. Being the seasoned travelers that we are, we were not so easily deterred from our dream of a relaxing wine night. Walking back from downtown Ipiales to our hotel we stopped in every Mom and Pop store we saw and were rewarded for our efforts with a bottle of Colombian “red wine”. We would love to tell you more about the wine, but unfortunately the label was only able to tell us that the wine was red, it had no mention of the grapes contained or where in Colombia it was made.
The border reopened at 4pm on election day. None of the buses or taxis were running to the border as they were all picking people up to take them to the polling stations. We decided to walk towards the border and find a taxi on our way, but ended up hiking the 4 1/2 km from our hotel to the border on foot with our 30-40 pound packs on our backs. Normally this wouldn’t be to difficult a task but at an elevation of 9,500ft and mountainous terrain, we were feeling the burn by the time we arrived at the border.
Unfortunately, several hundred people also had the idea to try to cross the border when in opened. So at 4pm sharp when the military guards removed the barriers in the road there began a stampeed of cars, buses, motorcycles, and people running the final 550 meters to get to the immigration building and receive their exit stamp from Colombia. Adrenaline kicked in and outran the majority of the locals and vehicles to be within the first 3 or 4 groups of people to be let into the immigration building. This meant that we stood in line to first be let through a gate, then to stand in line again to get a stamp to leave Colombia, then to run across a bridge, to stand in line again to get an entry stamp into Ecuador. Overall the process thankfully only took us an hour. Those who were carrying suitcases and\or small children who were not able to run as quickly and were probably still in line hours after we got on our bus into Ecuador. We were incredibly grateful as we looked back at the long line that trailed up the road on the Colombian side of the border.
Both of us are a bit sad to be leaving Colombia. During the past 3 1/2 weeks we have fallen in love with the country becuase of its stunning physical beauty, its culture, and all the wonderful people we have met. We are left with a sense that we have only scraped the surface of what the country has to offer and we are already starting to build a list of places we still want to visit.