Our happy group left chilly Pasto and headed to the border. It was that time again to cross another border. That time again to say bye to one country and hello to another. That time again to wonder whether there would be any unpleasantries with corrupted guards or fraudulous taxi drivers. That time again to get excited by the adventures ahead of us and feel sad to leave a wonderful country. But first and foremost, there was one more site to check out before leaving Colombia: the famous basilica church on a cliff known as Las Lajas. This detour took us only an hour as a taxi driver drove us there, waited for us and brought us back to the bus station in Ipiales where one of his colleague picked us up and dropped us off at the border. Gosh now… this is luxury! You gotta love traveling as a group! It makes taxi rides almost sound affordable!
To exit Colombia, we surprisingly had to wait, wait and wait. We were somehow expecting Colombia to be modern and treat our exit requests expeditiously but wanting to be efficient and (over)organized, that border crossing slowed the whole process down. NOT impressed! Luckily their Ecuadorian counterparts were wonderfully quick… It probably took us 5 minutes from entering the office, filling our immigration form out and getting our welcome to Ecuador stamp. We were in! Our drive to Quito was uneventful and after dropping Irene and James in Otavalo (shame we didn’t have time to stop there as it is supposed to be a fantastic market), we reached the Ecuadorian capital city. A friendly but not friendly taxi driver (he ripped us nicely) dropped us in the old town off and we happily found a hostel to settle for a few days before heading to the Amazon!
We didn’t get many positive comments about Quito from our travelled fellows so we expected to find an ugly, almost sordid city. What we found was a charming old town and we enjoyed very much taking a “church, cathedral and basilica” stroll. We were also warned that it would be cold so we prepared for the worse: warm and waterproof clothes. They had to be used at some point! Imagine our surprise when Petrus decided to clear the sky allowing to wander around under an (almost) cloud free sky! We took countless pictures of churches, walked the 280 steps up the basilica tower to get to the top and were rewarded by a breathtaking view over the city, saw our first snow capped mountain (read: volcano) since we left home and got called a pagan by an old woman for wearing shorts in front of the cathedral. I didn’t even want to go in as I didn’t want disrespect the Sunday prayers. All in a pretty successful day, methinks!
Afer getting acquainted with Quito’s old town and absolutely loving it, having lunch in a tiny restaurant with only locals where it was deliciously cheap, we felt compelled to check Mitad Del Mundo. Yes, we gave into the bloody peer pressure! We jumped on a bus (from Tejar bus, a direct stop that cost 40c one way. bargain!) and an hour later, we arrived at the “not quite the exact latitude” monument… And it was as expected: touristy. But hey whatyougonnado, sometimes there is no way to escape the tourism mass. We were there so we just had to make the most of it and we had the perfect excuse to justify cheesy and kitsch pics. You know the kind where two lovers, separated by the equator, struggle to decide which hemisphere should shelter their love… What? I did mention “cheesy and kitsch”. The monument itself was beautifully tall but since I had pictured something completely different, the reality came as a shock. I was somehow expecting a simple line drawn on the floor and a marker in bronze to celebrate standing on the 00°00’00” equator coordinates. Pretty simple concept, really.
Luckily a folklore show, a deliciously cheap lunch and a $ 0.25 homemade ice cream helped to recover from my disappointment and we returned back to Quito, ready for our night bus to Lago Algrio. Next stop: The Amazon!