Saturday, 4 April 2015

Colombia to Ecuador - Otavalo

The next leg of the journey from Popayan was a mammoth days travel which consisted of us crossing into Ecuador. This being our first land crossing (Brazil to Colombia was via the Amazon) and having read and heard many horror stories of South American border crossing, I was a little apprehensive to say the least. In order to break our journey up and keen to see some sights, after we arrived from Popayan to Ipiales further south, we caught a short taxi to Santuario de Las Lajas, a basilica situated on the side of a deep ravine cut through by a waterfall. 

It is a huge pilgrim site and we found ourselves with 16k of rucksacks trying to navigate our way through a thronging crowd, down some steep steps, avoiding beggars to get to the entrance of the church only to find it packed to the rafters of Catholics from a wide spread of the continent here to pay their respects to Jesus and light a candle. Although we were the only gringos we could see, quite a lively tourism trade has sprung up to cater for visitors with money to burn. Copious stalls selling identical religious offerings are set beside restaurants and food outlets with a variety of delicacies - the main one which caught my eye was cuy, or guinea pig; a sharp reminder of how close we are to Ecuador! After this little stop off, we headed for the border at Rumichaca and were pleasantly surprised at just how easy it was. Unlike others crossing over, we had no bag searches, no questions asked... A British passport is a beautiful thing! Now in Ecuador, we caught yet another bus to Tulcan and then onto Otavalo. The reason for all these stops is there isn't yet a direct bus over the border, something we can look forward to when we move to Peru. As much as this is a hassle for us, drug trafficking is still a prevalent issue in this area hence the need for all the changes and the searches which were conducted on one bus by gun-toting narcotics officers. 
Finally we had arrived in Otavalo, a place only really on the tourist map due to its famous market. Locals come down from their mountainous villages to sell handmade wares ranging from alpaca jumpers and silver rings and necklaces to homegrown fruit and veg and hot takeaway style dishes. After a couple of hours and a considerable amount of haggling and bartering, Max and I left laden down with bags full of patterned trousers, woollen jumpers, traditional Andean outfits, sunglasses, fridge magnets... You name it, we bought it! En route back to the hostel we found a hand to carry our lunch which was a pulled pork dinner (a whole pig roasting on a spit, head protruding from the shop window like a look-out) with boiled corn kernels, pan fried parboiled potatoes with salad. We always know we're onto a winner with our food choices when we are dining with locals and this was no different, with a couple of local men conversing with us in the worldwide language of head nods and hand gestures. Although Otavalo was only a stop off for us to visit the market, the town which is made up of old Ecuador and new Western influences has surprised us into liking border towns just that little bit more.