I knew the time would come when I would start slacking on my blog entries, and that moment finally arrived. To be fair, I have been in 3 different cities (not counting the ones I bussed through) and two different countries in the past 4 days, so time and energy have been a little short. Not to mention the fact that I finally had to bust into my first round of Cipro for the trip (those of you who have traveled to second or third world countries know what a savior that particular medication can be for a traveler's, ahem, gastroenterological discomfort). Feeling better now, thank goodness. I apologize in advance for the long entry.
Backing up to finish Medellin. The last couple of days consisted of celebrating Natalia's birthday- including dinner with her parents on Saturday night, drinks with Sam and Nati's friends at a bar known as the Bogota Beer Company, and a Mongolian barbecue style lunch on Sunday. We also visited an incredible castle that was the home of one of the first victims of kidnapping during the narcotrafficking era in the 1970s. Even though I never got to truly see the beautiful weather for which Medellin is known (it kept raining!), I still feel of all the cities I've visited so far, Medellin is the one I would be most likely to live in for an extended period of time, most likely because it felt closest to home for whatever reason.
That being said, I was glad to return to the warmth and sunshine of Cali on Sunday evening. I decided to spend two more nights in the hostel I loved so much- the comfort, location and value were just too much to turn down. Juan (my salsa dancing couchsurfing friend) and I hung out on Sunday night on the rooftop of his apartment building, enjoying a few beers and the night lights of Cali. Monday I spent the day with Nidia and her family again- it was wonderful to reconnect and have some downtime. Monday evening consisted of dinner and some more salsa dancing with Juan, his friend, and a few other couchsurfers- Nadine and Johann from Germany and Elin from Sweden.
Tuesday, Nadine, Johann, Elin and I had planned to meet one of Johann's Colombian friends at a local university where his friend was scheduled to take us to his private home at El Rio Pance. The Pance river was supposedly a beautiful natural site to hang out and swim. We hopped in a taxi at 9am and took the long drive to south Cali to meet Johann's friend who decided not to show up or answer our phone calls that morning (Johann had confirmed with him the night before so we have no idea what happened). As we pondered whether or not to try to find the river on our own, our taxi driver advised us against it, saying it was dangerous for “gringos” to go to this area without a guide as there were parts of the Rio Pance that were still patrolled by guerilla forces. We decided to heed his word and play it safe, and allowed him to take us to Comfanti. By the taxi driver's description, Comfanti was a beautiful safe park with swimming pools and a lovely lake with boats. In reality, it was more of a glorified gated YMCA with 3 pools (only one was open), a pond, and some greenspace. Not exactly the exotic river outing we had hoped for, but we actually ended up having a pretty great day getting to know each other, soaking up the sun, and discussing perceptions of each other's countries (Summarized consensus: US=dramatized politics and a looming government shut down, Sweden=peaceful perfection apparently unattainable by other countries of the world, Germany= somewhere in between).
Sunburned (some of us more than others) and several hours later, we headed back to the hostel so we could shower and I could get my backpack ready for the trip to the Colombian-Ecuadorian border that evening. Juan and another one of his friends came by the hostel as well and I realized that his friend was actually Nidia's brother-in-law who I had met at the festival last weekend (small world!). Then Nidia herself came by the hostel and it was almost like I had my very own Colombian despedida (goodbye party). I'll miss everyone!
The next 20 hours were a bit of a blur as I managed to make it from Cali to Quito, Ecuador. I had arranged to meet up with yet another couchsurfer (I'm telling you, this website had been incredible for travel networking), who was also on his way to Quito. Urben is a guitarist who lives on a farm about an hour outside of Cali. We arranged to meet in the bus terminal where his long black hair and guitar swung on his back made him easy to pick out. His plan? To travel to Ecuador where apparently it is easier to make money as a street musician, playing on public buses, in restaurants, on street corners, etc. He had researched the various buslines to the border and discovered the cheapest one was “SuperTaxi” at a mere 30,000 pesos ($15) for the 11 hour trip to Ipiales, Colombia. The bus left at 8:30pm, and soon we were off on a windy, stop and start ride that made sleep nearly impossible. As the sun rose in the morning, I finally got to see the insomnia-inducing landscape- some absolutely breathtaking view of the Colombian Andes mountains.
We finally arrived in Ipiales where we caught a buseta to the border. At the border my bag received another thorough search (good thing I'm getting really good at packing and repacking!), our passports were stamped and we hopped another buseta to the bus station in Tulcan, Ecuador, the border town on the other side. At this point, it was 9:30am and we were pretty hungry, and the $2.50 brunch of fresh squeezed OJ, rice, beans, chicken and french fries hit the spot (yes, we like our carbs down here). On a side note, it turns out Ecuador uses American dollars, but has its own Ecuadorian coins- a little counterintuitive to me.
At 10am we boarded another bus (if you're counting, this is number four) for the $5, six hour trip to Quito. After watching a rather entertaining movie about a Dominican who falls in love with a stereotypical blond “gringa” tourist, Urben decided that it was now time to break out his guitar, and proceeded to serenade our bus with three popular tunes. He made $8 for his 10 minute “concert,”- I think he may be on to something with this street music (should have brought my violin!)
Following the instructions given to me by Blanca, the friend I would be staying with near Quito, I got off the bus at a stop in northern Quito and caught two more buses (now we're up to 6!) that finally dropped me off at a stop 5 minutes from her home in Tumbaco, Ecuador. I used a pay phone to call her and she picked me up a few minutes later.
Blanca, her mother and her son received me warmly into their home. A delicious dinner, hot shower, and conversation with my mom later, it's 8pm and I'm in bed, ready for lights out. I'll edit and post all this in the morning with pictures… =)