Quito to Cali

I woke up early at 6am, did my best not to wake anyone and probably failed, booked an Uber to the bus terminal and found that the hostel had been kind enough to pack me breakfast and leave it on the side. My challenge today was to get to Cali which would involve 4 different forms of transport, a bus to Tulcan, a taxi to the border then in Colombia I could take a collectivo to Ipiales and then a long bus to Cali. You can get direct busses from Quito to Cali or fly, assuming you have the money and don’t have the time, but I’d argue you are mad to take either of those options as it cost me less than $25 for the total trip.

The Uber arrived and it was a long way to the north terminal. If you are doing this journey then go to the north terminal as it will save you over an hour leaving the city. Despite me putting in the wrong location the taxi driver was kind enough to drop me in the place I needed to be and within 5 minutes I had purchased a ticket for the border town of Tulcán for $6 and was sitting on the bus. It was due to take 6-7 hours but took 5 and I left so early as I wasn’t sure how to hit the border. I believe it is open from 6am-10pm but at the time I didn’t want to leave at 1am and then have to face the rest of the day. The journey out of Quito is also pretty spectacular so worth doing during the day. It did leave me with a slight dilemma as I’d have to get a night bus the other side of the border but I’d work that out later. My advise would be if you are not pushed for time to stay in Tulcán for one night. I read that people did this in various blogs and there are some things to see, but the reason I pushed on was that I didn’t want to arrive in Cali later in the evening.

I got off the bus and asked the driver is there was a bus to the border. There is not so I went to the taxi line and as I was getting in a Hare Krishna approached. I don’t know what the driver said but I was happy to share as it would keep the cost down. He was Argentinian and we got chatting as best we could in Spanglish. I wished I could ask him more and felt it was a sign for my spiritual journey. At this stage I’m attributing everything to that but I have a good reason that I’ve not covered yet in this blog. At the end I paid the full fare. I had change I needed to ditch anyways and I’ve always appreciated monks as they give up everything they own so why not help. He kindly showed me the correct line I needed to get into and as he was only crossing the border for the day he didn’t need a stamp….apparently.

So the line at the border. This crossing is a difficult one, not in terms of making the crossing but emotionally. I had read a lot about this crossing in the past and I’d been told it had been made easier for tourists in recent months. I don’t think I’ve felt my white privilege any more than I did on this day. Also if any of you have a problem with refugees escaping to other countries including the one you live in then Fuck You. I suggest you go to a border crossing and see the human cost of it first hand and then think about appealing to your government to help sort out the issues at hand rather than using race as a tool to keep control. Maybe you could use your energy to stop our governments supplying arms to Saudi Arabia avert a humanitarian disaster in Yeman. This is the real way to solve these crises as these people really don’t want to leave their homes.

I saw children crying, families stuck in the heat with one suitcase each, packed into Red Cross tents with long waiting times across the border. Imagine having to leave everything you own other than one suitcase, your house, car, friends and potentially family if they can’t travel with you and imagine how hard that decision must be. People don’t want to leave Venezuela. It’s a beautiful country which was sound economically but it’s run by an asshole. People are persecuted, there is no jobs and no food. So at some point a decision has to be made. If the international community put pressure on this maybe it could be averted, but they don’t. So luckily Ecuador and other countries in South America are accepting refugees.

The saddest thing for me is that these people didn’t look poor. They all had clothes and bags and suitcases, weren’t malnourished and were reasonably healthy. That can’t be said for many of the worlds refugees and I think thats what made me emotional. These people had a shit time, but there are many millions more that are having a shitter time. I don’t usually use this blog to swear or talk about politics but what I saw on this day was politics so I’m going to use what little forum I have to talk about it.

But no back to my white privilege. I knew I could skip the line but I didn’t want to. One I didn’t speak Spanish and two I thought the least I could do was line up silently. Soon an official spotted me and waved me through. I walked past the long line trying to get access to Colombia and into a shorter line of those leaving. It moved fairly fast and I was soon at the counter. I had a little panic when the man walked away with my passport for what felt like an age but he cane back and then hovered with the stamp. But I got it. So with my exit stamp in hand I went to the Colombian side of the border.

It’s a little different to most borders I’ve crossed as no one seems to care if I walked across without getting any stamps, although if I did that it would cause me problems further down the line. Despite the huge queue of people trying to leave Colombia I flashed my passport at a few people and managed to skip ahead of the general queue, although my line was different and most people were leaving. Annoyingly there was only one counter serving people who were entering the country and it took about an hour to be stamped into the country. But I was and then left to my own devices.

I ignored the taxi drivers, this is really becoming a habit, and headed back towards the bridge that is in no mans land as that’s where the collectivos seemed to be. I managed to get one to dos mil, which seemed a lot of me but later it transpired it was 50p and stayed on until I reached the terminal. At that point I brought a SIM card as I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew that Cali was 11 hours away and it was now coming up to 3pm so if I could find a place to stop for the night it would mean a shorter journey in the morning. Sadly Popayán was a good 8 hours away but I could have opted to stay in the next town. Instead I took a bus to Cali leaving at 6pm which in my mind arrived at 7am, should have been 5am, and went into town to get some food.

Ipiales is not the prettiest town and I’ve been told not the safest but I headed to the main plaza, changed some money and paid a high fee, along with getting some food and WIFI, which wasn’t too bad, before heading to the station and getting my bus.

The journey all went fine until I realised I’d arrive at 5am and when a family got on around 11pm. The Grandmother seemed to have one volume on her voice, shouting. Initially she sat with her daughter but halfway through the night she decided to switch seats with the husband and sat next to me. It would have been fine but she was so fat her body took up part of my seat and enveloped my leg. Which woke me up and as I was exhausted and generally in a foul mood I pushed back, I mean I’d paid for my seat and she was encroaching on it’s either she had no feeling through the layers of fat or she didn’t care but she didn’t move. The biggest problem is that we travelled through the Andes and if you’ve ever been through a mountain range you will know that it involves a lot of tight turns. If you’ve been in the mountain range in South America on a bus you will know that they don’t slow down which meant she crushed me every other bend.

I was so happy when they got off the bus at 6am, party because it meant that I wasn’t waiting at the bus station at 5am tired and confused. I was still sat on the bus instead. Traffic into Cali is terrible and we ended up at the bus station at 9am. So it was a 14 hour ride instead. I found a toilet then jumped in a taxi to the hostel where I was greeted with coffee and Dulce who I had met in Ecuador.

So the day after a night is is bad for me. I think I may have tried to sleep but I don’t remember. I sat with Dulce and a Swedish girl for a time and they gave me lots of tips. Cali is the capital of Salsa and most people spend their time here taking lessons and dancing in the evening. I didn’t have a tonne of time so so I set to work in servers ways but first I found a tiny cafe on there same quiet residential street that I was staying and had some breakfast/lunch. The soup was delicious and the juice one of the best I’ve had.

The rest of the day is a little confusing but then again I spent most of my time in Cali in a daze. So at one point I went to get my haircut and found an Arabic store where I brought pitta, hummus and some salsa which would be my dinner and lunches. It was delicious.

I also started making new friends online and offline and Dulce said that we would go dancing later. Shirley who I met online was also going out and we hoped to rendezvous later on. But before I had the worst experience of my trip to date. I had found a salsa studio along the main road and a group lesson was 15000, about £3, so I thought I’d try and I thought it would be better in a group. It wasn’t.

I arrived and everyone was nice but I quickly found everyone was Colombian. I was introduced to a French girl but of course she didn’t want to speak English and delighted in telling me she had been taking classes for weeks. Typical French. So I was on my own but I decided not to be embarrassed. I found a spot and sat and realised that the warmup was starting, which I think I excelled at. That’s the last thing I would excel at today.

The groups were split into four. I asked where I should go and was told downstairs and I followed. People split into two groups and I chose one because I thought I heard a word I recognised and I did choose the beginners group. But before that there was more warmup and each instructor took turn tos dance in front of us and we had to copy the steps. It didn’t go well but I was having fun, well sort of. Then this all stopped and they started teaching the group basic steps. My group had a main instructor and she showed us the steps anda helper, who was there if anyone wants getting it.

I was quickly pulled aside by this person several times. I thought I was getting it but clearly not, and I think the more she pulled me aside the worse it got as it made me conscious of not getting the steps. I know she was trying to help but it had the opposite effect. Everyone else seemed to be fine and then it came to coupling up and I really didn’t get the steps. I was then told by the lady trying to help that she had been told she was spending too much time trying to help me and needed to help others and I was also not able to dance with others but had to copy the steps next to her as she danced with other people.

The big problem with this is as she kept pulling me aside it meant I missed he instructions for the next steps that everyone else was picking up. So I was left standing in the middle not sure if I should try and copy or what to do. At this point I wished I was back on the Choquequirao trek, which for me was easier than this. I think I’d rather jump out of a plane. I kept trying to edge towards to the exit and grab my bag. At this stage I knew I was facing a losing battle and I’ve learnt it’s best to just run, but the helper kept spotting me and was trying to encourage me to dance.

Luckily a break took place, the helper took me upstairs to the owners as she thought I needed private lessons. I knew I needed a lot more than that so I took the details and bailed. Luckily everyone at the hostel was really supportive and we headed out to a Salsa club. This was actually much more fun and informal and the Swedish girl went through the basic steps with me. They all said I should take the class, so that meant I had to and I booked one the following day. By 2am I was exhausted and we all headed back to the hostel.

The next day I decided to explore a little of Cali before I headed to my lesson and here are some photos to enjoy. Phew I’ve written a lot this time.

I don’t normally go to museums but as I was doing a self guided tour and the museum was listed on the itinerary I decided to see what was there. I was excited to find the World Press Photography Exhibition and delighted in looking at the photos, which causes a range of emotions. I didn’t want to take photos of photos but I did have a little play in the other exhibitions.

And then I found the cats which are dedicated to a famous artist from Cali who sadly passed away.

After I headed back to the hostel had some food and went back to the venue for my private Salsa lesson. This lesson was better. I was paired up with my teacher and he started showing me the basic steps. I struggled following them especially after we changed steps but I went with it and it worked better than the day before. The interesting thing I found was looking in the mirror at my posture and the way I moved. It’s something quite interesting especially when you are told to move in a specific way for the dance.

I headed back to the hostel and went out for dinner with one of the Colombian guys staying there. We headed to an area filled with locals who buy food and drink from kiosks and drink on the streets. The weather was good and there was a party atmosphere. After we returned to the hostel to meet Dulce and some of the other guests before heading out to dance.

We ended up at one of the most famous Salsa clubs in Cali, and I was finally put off by all the amazing dancing, and costumes as it was Halloween, until a Micheal Jackson medley kicked off 20mins if songs I knew. After we decided to head to another bar on the other side of town where Shirley, who is been talking to was at. The music there was a little more mixed and we danced in a more relaxed place making it home around 5am.

I was tired the next day and definitely hungover. The mosquitos at the hostel didn’t make it a good place to relax so I headed out for a burger and to use the WiFi at the appropriately named Gringo Bar. Afterwards I decided to join the city tour as having taken taxis everywhere I didn’t get a chance to see much of the city.

For the first time there were a lot of British people on the tour and I seemed to have found a place where my country folk visited. It wasn’t the best tour I’ve had but then again Cali isn’t the prettiest city and I was hungover and tired so maybe I wasn’t in the mood.

Halfway through the tour we were given the opportunity to eat some weird things, which I did. I can’t remember the name but it tasted like an uncooked sweet potato combined with salt and honey.

And then towards the end of the tour a rainbow appeared.

I decided to head back to the hostel for a quiet night, only venturing out for pizza and having a late beer with the other guests as the next day I wanted to hike Pico Loro. I was told by the person doing the walking tour that I would need a guide. Being me I knew I didn’t need a guide but as it turns out I would. But we shall come to that later.

I spoke to the hostel owner the night before and found out how to get to the trail head. So awaking around 6am I packed and left the hostel, taking the first bus to Estación Universidades. From there I knew I needed to get a bus to Pueblo Pance and this is where not knowing Spanish really didn’t help. I went to another line of busses but I was told this was not the right place. So I asked a bus driver and he pointed to the street outside so there I went and saw some of the local busses. I also used a tonne of blogs to assist me and the information from the hostel and at best I could work our I needed to catch a bus along the street to which I was directed. So I took a guess at the direction, walked along he street to where maps me said there was a bus stop, of which there was no sign and began flagging down busses. After having no luck I decided to walk back to the other bus stop and there I spoke to some Colombians who were going to the same place as me. So I relaxed and waited.

And waited and waited and waited and after over an hour the bus showed up. It then took another hour to reach the town which wasn’t helped by all the cyclists. It seems that lots of people cycle to this place on a Sunday. By this time I was cutting it fine as I had read I needed to start hiking by 10am. So when I arrived I rushed to the trail head and started walking. I head read there were park rangers but after waking 1km I started to doubt that and then relaxed. Soon after that I ran into the park rangers who said I couldn’t hike the trail.

Which to me is crazy. I’ve been higher and gone further, but after having spent more time in Colombia it seems to be a thing here that they want you to have a guide. Which is ridiculous but it seems to be a way to take more money from you and you’ll see this over the next few posts. Colombia has some beautiful hikes but is far from a hikers paradise as they make it REALLY hard for you to walk the trails.

Anyways if you are going to do this hike you need to reserve it in advance, hire a guide and start before 8am. I have no idea why, it’s not high and there was only 4km more to walk to the top and I had plenty of time. I think it makes more sense to stay in the town overnight and they seemed surprised that I wasn’t. So I’m afraid this is all I can offer to help.

I was annoyed so I sat on a rock for a while being angry at having gotten up early and at the stupidity. It’s South America and if I want to go and fall off a mountain I should be able to. No where else seems to have a problem. In a country where no one wears motorcycle helmets I wondered what the concern was. So I headed back to my bed and tried to sleep annoyed I’d wasted a day.

I don’t remember doing much for the rest of the day but I did receive a visitor.

And before heading out of town I met up with Shirley for one last time. She took me to Mr Wings which I was very excited about. We had a nice evening and walked around town before returning to my hostel for the last night in Cali.

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