30th Jan – 3rd Feb 2016
Don’t be fooled by the title, this is a positive blog post I promise. Fear, discomfort, and exhaustion are all things which are not uncommon occurrences in the budget backpacker lifestyle, but in varying amounts and to varying ends. It’s not been unusual this trip to be scared of something, mainly that I will fall off something, or down somewhere (people who know me can attest to my ability to fall from things), that I won’t be able to do a certain hike or climb, and to a lesser extent that something will go wrong with our travel or that we will get robbed etc. Touch wood we’ve been lucky so far, but the point is that doing things that have been scary has actually lead to doing so much great stuff that it’s always totally worth it and it’s always been important to remember that as the nerves set in and you try to think of all the reasons you shouldn’t do something.
Likewise you spend a lot of time uncomfortable and exhausted. Especially now that we are in South America, distances you need to travel are long and roads aren’t always fantastic. Plus it’s not like we’re forking out for fancy vehicles. This is also on the whole not a bad thing. Every bit of money we can save on getting between places means more we can spend when we are there. And being exhausted is just going to happen sometimes when you’re in a place where there’s loads of great stuff to do. If you do it, it’s going to be tiring. So being tired out is usually not too bad either.
This is all relevant to the days we spent in San Agustin, and the journey to Pasto, and onwards to the Ecuadorian border and a sad goodbye to Colombia. During these few days, I definitely experienced plenty of the aforementioned feelings to varying degrees, and still had plenty of interesting and fun times.
San Agustin was a few hours on some bumpy unpaved roads from Popayan. We’d heard the journey was pretty rough but were pleased to find out it was better and shorter than expected and after a quick jeep transfer from the ‘highway’ we reached the small town. Our hostel was absolutely amazing, one of the best we’ve stayed in, and was a short taxi ride out of town. With our own private room, balcony with views of hills, gardens, and hummingbirds, and a cheap and delicious breakfast and dinner cooked for us which everyone ate together, this was very high on our comfort scale.
The area itself is known for being the location of many pre-Inca archeological sites, especially mysterious statues which were found in tombs. They’re really interesting, especially as so little is known about the civilization which made them. Many of these have been dug up and are in display at various sites all over the place, and one of the most popular ways to see them is by horse tour. So that’s what we decided we should do.
Now my fear of falling off things definitely extends to horses. They are tall, and I had never ridden one beyond sitting on them and being slowly led by a guy at the front (which was also terrifying). And yet I found myself sitting high in the air on a creature I had no idea how to ‘drive’, with no instructions or helmet (this is Colombian health and safety after all), trotting off up and down steep paths around the rocky, rolling, landscape.
It was terrifying, uncomfortable, and exhausting all in one go. But I still doubt there can be a better way to see the area, and it was mind blowing. When I wasn’t clinging on for dear life while the horse decided it would have a playful race with one of its friends, and I remembered to actually look at the scenery, the views around us were stunning, with deep valleys and endless countryside. Our stops took us to amazing viewpoints and several of the ancient statues. Sometimes I even decided I was enjoying the horse riing. At one point a man riding by on a motorbike offered a lift the rest of the way and staying on the horse definitely felt like the safer option than being driven away by a Colombian stranger sans helmet. When we arrived, aching and shaky, back into town, I was so glad that we’d done it but also doubly glad for some lunch and a sit down.
The discomfort the next day was pretty grim. With painful joints and muscles, we didn’t really do much other than taxi it into town, have a bit of lunch, look at the market, and head back to the hostel. With such a nice hostel though, it wasn’t bad to spend a bit of time there.
The next ‘fears’ as such were for the journey to come. It wasn’t so much scary as daunting, as we had 2 solid days of travel ahead taking us through multiple different changes at bus stations (San Agustin to Pitilito to Pasto to Ipiales to Tulcan to Quito), a border crossing, and a road described to us as ‘the trampoline of death’ which we had to make sure we took during the day as it’s a robbery hot spot. Fun fun fun. But weirdly although you can get nervous about this sort of thing, this was one of the smoothest border crossings we’ve done so far. Despite the road being far from smooth…
Worse than expected:
– Road quality. Ok expectations were low with the ‘trampoline of death’ name but seriously. Hours of unpaved, winding roads, literally through waterfalls, with terrifying cliff edges at the side, did not make for a comfortable journey.
– Random events. Sometimes you forget that some random things will be out of your control. Like the fact that our driver randomly stopped our van from Pitilito to fill up the back with chicks. By which I mean fill up. As in, we waited for an incredible amount of time for him to load 40 boxes full of peeping baby chickens into the back of the van, which was both heartbreaking and inconvenient timewise.
– Also Amber realised she’d booked the wrong dates for the hostel in Quito so we immediately disowned her as a travel companion and kicked her out the bus. Except obviously we didn’t and it was just another random thing which happens and it turned out to be fine anyway.
Better than expected:
– The scenery. Wow. The roads may have been rough but the sights that came with them were intense. I’m not sure I’ve ever been on such a beautiful route, through the misty mountains of the Andes. We drove right through waterfalls! Which was as pretty as it was terrifying.
– The changes between buses. Pretty much everyone was helpful in getting us onto the next bus, we rarely had to wait, and we paid decent prices. Win. This is usually where we’re worried the scammers will get us.
– The stopover in Pasto. We stayed overnight in the slightly scuzzy town of Pasto. We’d read bad reviews about the area. It was fine, plus we stayed in a hotel so got to watch movies on our TV.
– The border crossing. As we were leaving Colombia, and it was a walk-across border, we were prepared for queues, bag searches, and questioning. It was as easy as stamp, walk, fill in form, stamp, done. Possibly the easiest so far.
And Ecuador is beautiful too! The bus to Quito from the border was long but we had a lot to look at. Quito’s not bad either. More on that next time. But basically the lesson from these days is that even if things have been scary or difficult of uncomfortable or tiring or all of the above, it’s always seriously great when you think about it. I realise that seems to be what the message from most of my blog posts – I probably write them all when I’m in the same mood.