Well another week or so has went by without writing, so here is my post to catch up!
So on Wednesday or last week, I headed to the Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world which is the equator . Just an hour and a half by bus to get there from Quito, I arrived to the small park with the entrance fee of $2. In the park was a bunch of touristy stores, restaurants, and other museums, but the main sight is the large monument marking the equator…or at least what they thought was the equator at one point. Some years later after building it, they found that the real equator lies about 100 yards north of the monument. Still, they have the monument there and it`s good enough for me.
Later on Wednesday, I met up with a few couchsurfers who are from Ecuador and we went out to a nice area with a lot of restaurants and bars. I had a great time with them, and they invited me to stay at their place the next day to hang out more time (Wednesday was my last night in the hostel). I was aiming to be in Colombia the next day, but I decided to stay…why not?
Thursday was a big day in Quito. The weeks leading up to this day, the indigenous community were marching from their villages from all parts of the country…the jungle, the southern highlands, the coast, the northern highlands, in protest of the president. After weeks of walking, they arrived in Quito and had a big march in protest throughout the parade. Not only this, but other people had big marches in support of the president (which I heard that it`s possible to president paid them to march in his favor). So the streets were full of not only people marching in protest and in support, but also full of police. The amount of police was absolutely incredible. Every other street corner in the old town had a group of 5 or 10 policemen. Sometimes you`d pass a group of 20 police, sometimes with riot gear. They said that about 500 policemen were in the streets that day. Fortunately, the marches passed without any violence and was surprisingly calm. There were concerts in the main plaza and everything went smoothly. They definitely handled the whole thing smartly with that amount of police on the streets.
So I was going to leave the next day, on Friday, until they convinced me to stay another night. The other couchsurfer staying there, a guy from Austria, was going to go up the mountain close to Quito called Pichincho so he said I should go. Eh, what´s one more day?
So we took the teleferico to the mountain from the city and started our hike from there. High above Quito, there were good views when it wasn`t cloudy. We hiked for about 3 hours and finally got to the end of the trail. When there, we met another American guy and also 2 guys from Ecuador who actually climbed up the mountain with gear and everything. Good guys. We immediately struck up a conversation and then everyone through in their food to share…tea, fruits, chocolate, water. Funny how quick you can make friends.
Unfortunately I started having some problems with the altitude. I wasn`t used to the altitude in Quito yet (which I believe is about 10,000 feet), and then going up to almost 12,000 feet and hiking for the day didn`t work well. Short of breath, tired, and some headaches. But I made it down alright. First time I had felt strong effects from the altitude before. To end the day on a good note, we got some nice Mexican food in the center of Quito.
Since I was already staying there on Friday night, I thought why not stay for Saturday and Sunday as well? So now that the couchsurfers didn`t have to work, we just explored the city walking around. At this time, they were hosting a French guy, so we walked around, had some lunch, and it was a nice day so we had a beer at the Irish bar near the Plaza Foch (the place with a lot of bars). It was a nice, relaxing Saturday afternoon, which I hadn`t had for a while since traveling.
Sunday was the New Year festival for the Incans. Just north of the equator, there was a old Incan temple where the festival was held, so we went there for the day. It was with traditional food, live bands, dances, and traditional clothing. It actually reminded me a lot of the festivals in Cusco and Ollantaytambo since the music and overall tone of the festival was similar.
Finally, 4 days after I was going to leave, I left Quito. I had made some good friends there and definitely would`ve stayed if I had more time, but unfortunately only about 3 weeks until the end of my trip and I still hadn`t been to Colombia. So on Monday, I took a bus to the border, crossed (very smooth), and then took a bus to Ipiales, across the border. In the bus station in Ipiales, I still didn`t know what I was going to do. Take a 3 hour bus to Pasto and stay the night and take another bus the next day? Or take an overnight bus to either Cali or Popayan. After a while of thinking, I decided with Popayan, a 10 hour bus ride to a smaller city. It was a good choice.
I arrived in Popayan on Tuesday morning and found a hostel. I started talking to some people in the hostel who happened to be Argentines, and they were sad that someone stole their matè the night before. Being Argentines, they couldn`t function without their matè. Fortunately, I had been carrying a 1lb package of matè with me as a souvenir, so I offered it to them. The easiest way to make friends with Argentines. So we went up to a lookout point in the city and drank matè for a while. It felt like we were back in Argentina.
I had heard from many, many travelers that Colombians are some of the nicest people in the world. Within 1 day, I had already found that to be true. I went to get some empanadas that night and stopped in a small restaurant in the city. I started talking to the lady and the guy there who were of course from there. I told them I was from Chicago, and the lady told me that her brother had just moved to Chicago about a month ago. After talking a while more, the guy there (her nephew), told me that he would take me to show me around the city. Leaving the restaurant, she wouldn`t even let me pay for my food. So I went with this guy and he showed me all around, even went to a few of his restaurants to have a drink and then dinner, and he never let me pay. I have heard that because Colombia is just opening up to tourism now, the people here love having tourists. One of the rare places in South America that feels like this. But overall, a great experience and have had many other good interactions with locals.
The next day, I met up with a couchsurfer for lunch, so we went to an Italian place there. Afterwards, she told me she would show me around the city to the parts that I haven`t been. So for about 2 hours, we walked around the city, and she told me about the history, the buildings (she is an architect), and everything in between. Again, extremely nice Colombian.
Later (this is Wednesday, yesterday), I took a 3 hour bus ride to Cali. I had no plans to come to Cali as well, but the Argentines told me that I had to. Cali isn`t known for being a beautiful city, but it`s known for being the capital of salsa. No doubt that is true. Everywhere is salsa music. The hostel I am staying at has free salsa classes every day. Live salsa shows are all around. The city lives for salsa.
So I arrived last night and met with some Couchsurfers and went to kind of a private salsa lesson. They were all a group of friends, and a guy from Ireland leads classes in his apartment for free. Great people there as well with a mix of Colombians and Europeans mostly.
Today, I hiked up a mountain just on the edge of Cali to the top where there is Las Tres Cruces, the 3 religious crosses. I went with a guy who was born in Argentina but has lived in California for about 20 years, and now lives in San Francisco. It was a tought climb, especially in 90 degree heat, but we made it. Afterwards, we came back down a different way by going to a close village and taking a ¨taxi¨ to the city. The taxi was actually an old jeap with bench seats in the back, kind of what you`d think of an army truck. We cruised through these tiny villages until we got back to Cali.
Needless to say, I am already loving Colombia. Unforutnately, I just have 3 weeks for it, but I will definitely enjoy these last few weeks of my trip in Colombia. Tonight it`s time to test my salsa (or lackthereof).