Out of Colombia, through Ecuador and into Peru
There are a number of things that are wrong with this project - but I can guarantee you that what is done is done for all the right reasons.
Once Upon a Saga now has at least 1 follower on every continent - including Antarctica!! :)
Colombia is such a spectacular country. I want more!! There is an element of danger to some regions of Colombia even today. The guerrilla remains in control of a few of the 32 states and poses a threat to stability. But I witnessed none of that. I only saw all that is good. And as I told the Red Cross before I left the office: "Colombians smile with their heart". It's a love'y country and a tourist's paradise.
I left Bogota by bus and was set to arrive at the border to Ecuador early next morning. I woke up at 03:20 as our bus had hit something! It was big and hard enough for me to feel it from my seat when it happened. But there wasn't much more drama than that. The bus stayed parked in the dark roadside for about 20 minutes. The other passengers were gossiping in Spanish but I never discovered what happened. I went back to sleep and that was the end of Colombia. But I'll be back ;)
Nice and easy border crossing. Smiles all around. I was feeling the altitude as I had now reached the Andes. But nothing too bad. More smiles. And more smiles. What is up with all the smiling in Ecuador? The bus to Quito was cheap and so was my breakfast. What a great beginning.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador and it is the highest capital in the world at 2,860 meters above sea level. That is a lot. I arrived at the bus terminal really late and ended up staying my first night in a hotel. On the bright side it only cost $15/night. The next day I discovered that I could stay in hostel dorm rooms for around $9/night. But I decided to give myself a break from dorm rooms and extended my stay at the hotel for another 2 nights. With the hotel rate it would be hard to stay under $20/day - right? No, wrong...
Occasional 2 hour bus fare: $0.25
Chicken feet - no, I'm not that cultural...yet! I just eat the soup :)
If you're thinking that it must have been bad food: you're wrong. If you are thinking it must have been small portions: you're wrong again. It's just cheap and good. Quito is a very interesting city and not only the old town which actually is really interesting on its own. People are friendly, it's easy to get around, there are many different city areas that offer many different things and I felt safe wherever I went. Good stuff.
In Quito I discovered that I was about 25 km south of equator. That wasn't a very dramatic crossing to the Southern Hemisphere?! So I got on the bus ($0.25) to Mitad del Mundo which is an official (touristic) point on equator (keep in mind that I will cross equator 5-6 more times). There are a few museums included in the $3 entry fee and a lot of restaurants and small shops selling tourist crap (or spectacular cultural treasures if you prefer that). For me it was absolutely worth the visit as one of the museums was informative about the different regions of Ecuador. This country is nothing less than SPECTACULAR in its diversity! There are 24 different provinces and from a cultural perspective it might as well be different countries. In the jungle you have real bare ass Indians shooting down birds with poisoned arrows from blowpipes. In the mountains you have the sort of Indians that dress in thick traditional clothing and wear hats as if it was still the twenties. The list of cultural variety goes on throughout the 24 provinces and there is a total of 23 languages spoken in Ecuador which just baffles me further?! Because Ecuador is not that large a country. Logic tells me that all of these different tribes and cultures would have crossed paths over centuries and that the true blooded cultures would mix and be watered down over time. But no?! They haven't. It's almost as if they have all been content with what they already had and therefore stuck to life as it were. Completely uninterrupted. I think it's very fascinating. Naturally modern life has "invaded" these cultures now and they have radio, TV and other modern facilities...but the cultures however remain fascinatingly strong and loyal to their nature.
Promoting the Red Cross at Mitad del Mundo...and I would and will be happy to promote the Red Cross anywhere!
I had a good talk about this with the Red Cross. Just think about it; the Red Cross does its outstanding work throughout the country as it would in any other country. One of the primary tasks for the Red Cross is risk reduction. The risks could be earthquakes, flooding, landslides, volcanic eruptions, poor sanitation, lack of knowledge regarding safe sex or hygiene...there are many issues to be dealt with. So, in most countries you would simply go out and inform and assists within the local communities - right? Well, who speaks 23 languages?? Imagine the extra work in dealing with that. Imagine the wonderful spread of cultural differences. Imagine having a motorcycle and plenty of time to explore it all!!! :)
At the Red Cross I spoke to a number of people. One of them was Carla and she ended up helping me out at the Danish consulate. Normally the embassies and consulates are neatly located in supreme locations in city centers. But that's not the story in Quito. They might as well have placed the consulate on the moon. But we got there and all of this was to collect my new passport which I had arranged for in Mexico. I only had 5 pages left on the old passport and that doesn't comply with the regulations for every country. Carla is a sweetheart! We had lunch together and after work I met her fiancée and the 3 of us all had dinner together. Afterwards they took me on a small sightseeing tour in Quito.
Plaza Grande in Quito's historical centre. Someone needs to clean up after us...
Anyway, the downside of visiting so many countries is that you pretty much always need to leave long before you want to. And so was the case with Ecuador. I know I will be back! I've got to see "them Galápagos" :) But it was out of the question for this trip. The Galápagos Islands lie about 1,000 km offshore and are commonly reached by flight. Chimborazo is another reason to return. It is the one mountain on earth which has its peak the furthest from the center of earth and I want to climb it. Be honest. You thought Mt Everest had its peak the furthest from the earth's center...didn't you? ;)
A 10 hour bus ride got me from Quito to Loja which is close to Peru. Loja is the province in Ecuador which is famous for its musical culture and has this wonderful saying: "The one who does not play the guitar can sing a song; the one who does not sing a song can write a verse; the one who does not write a verse reads a book."
From Loja it only took the next bus 1 million hours to reach the border of Peru. We had to come down from the Andes in order to reach Huaquillas. That was a mistake! Well, the following wouldn't have happened if I didn't make that mistake. But I wouldn't recommend this border crossing to any of you!
After I got off the bus I asked the driver where the border was. He directed me to walk one block straight ahead and one block to the left. Easy? As I walked towards a bridge (which is a very common setting for a border) I noticed that there was no sign of immigration anywhere. Strange? A man asks me if I want a taxi to immigration and I say no thank you. It must be around here somewhere? Through a number of conversations with a number of officers, taxi drivers and other locals it began to dawn on me that though I was at the border...I was nowhere near immigration and couldn't make an official exit nor an official entry.
To make a long story short I finally capitulate to a taxi driver who wants $6 to take me the 5 km to the newly erected immigration offices which lie as an island all alone in the desert. WTF?! As he pulls out of town and heads toward the immigration offices we drive into Peru? What kind of madness is this? I'm inside the country now and haven't been stopped or checked by anyone?! After some time in the taxi I start to realize that this driver "really meant" $6 each way - because I need to get back...right? Taxi drivers!! In such cases I am normally ready to fight for what's right. But the many hours of bus driving had him at an advantage...
After having crossed more than 50 borders by land I think I am entitled to calling myself an expert on this matter. Wouldn't you say that is fair? THIS IS NOT A NORMAL NOR PEOPLE FRIENDLY ARRANGEMENT!
Me and me. The old and the new passport.
Anyway, inside it was pretty standard. Exit Ecuador - entry Peru. However I had 2 passports. One which was no longer valid with all the stamps from other countries including my entry stamp to Ecuador. And one with 32 blank pages which was valid. This caused some confusion and then the Ecuadorian immigration computer broke down...
Somewhere along the line a sweet elderly lady from Peru who happened to speak English sees the Red Cross emblem on my chest and decides to help me. She also decides that I have priority over everyone else. Again, making a long story short(er) she eventually got me through procedures and into Peru. You see; earlier this lady introduced me to her son...and then to her daughter in law and they invited me to go from this crazy immigration arrangement and to a town in the direction of Lima in their car. Fair enough. Random kindness from the very beginning of Peru. Good stuff!! But with the computer melt down I was delaying them and she wouldn't have any of that. So she pushed hard and made arrangements with everyone at immigration to get me to the front of the line. And it worked :)
I paid off my shabby taxi driver and got in the car with all of these strangers: the mother, the son, the daughter in law and their 2 children of 2 and 4 years. This was nice. And then the car broke down. We made it to a mechanic but it got late and somehow I ended up having dinner at a farm with a fantastic man with a pet goose. Yes, this story goes on forever!!
To shorten it all a bit down again: the man with the goose was the husband of the sweet elderly lady who started all of this. Her son, John (Juan) and his wife, Miriam, invited me to sleep at their place as it was getting really late and the chance of finding a bus to Lima was no longer an option. I accept. I received hospitality and kindness seemingly without end from John and Miriam.
Sebastian, 4 years old, dressed up as me while I was taking a shower :)
And here is the thing: I'm still here and I still am!!! Because there were no available seats on the bus to Lima as we checked it out today. So I have been invited to stay another night. They are providing for me, feeding me and have opened their house to me as if it was my own. Their 2 children, Sebastian and Isabella, are happy to play with me (all the time) and everything is perfect! Except; I have no way of repaying them for this extraordinary hospitality I am being shown. When I insist on paying for dinner John laughs at me and says that I can pay if they ever come to Denmark.
Now tell me I'm wrong: a stranger is a friend you've never met before! ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired, but trucking on. It's a wonderful world.