Archive for November, 2010

Monopolia

Posted on November 30, 2010 by 4 Comments

One of the beauties of staying in a hostel (aside from the heat) is that they usually have some form of entertainment. The sort of stuff one might expect to find in the closet at a winter cabin – good ‘ole fashioned fun in a box.

We were happy to find the Monopolia board. It’s been a very long time since I last played – probably a multi-day marathon with my brother when we were kids.

There were a few extra challenges this time, though. Bode isn’t yet a whiz with money, so we invented a way to play without it. He still insisted that we had to use the money, but no one was in for an all-nighter. Next, I had to struggle reading the Chance cards – another reminder that my Spanish stinks. Still fun, though.

Lot’s of places like this also have an embarrassingly bad book exchange shelf. It’s always slim pickings, but people always just seem to be happy to have something to read in English.

This time, I think I scored the absolutely worst book to ever be published. Bode had to ask “How come these jokes aren’t funny?”

No se.

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Filed Under: Ecuador

Otavalo Market

Posted on November 29, 2010 by 1 Comment

Otavalo seems like a pleasant enough city. Not too big and not too small. We definitely like staying in the hills just outside of town. But, the big draw here is the Saturday market. On a tip, we skipped it.

The market is here every day. It’s just bigger on Saturday when all the other tourists show up. The rest of the week it’s pretty quiet.

You can get just about anything you ever wanted made from alpaca. However, I didn’t see arm-warmers.

On our way out, we saw to giant tricked-out Mercedes trucks and had to go check them out. It turns out it was an overland tour company – an ‘adventure’ bus tour. They had two massive buses and only 7 passengers. Seemed a little odd, but they were nice folks who let Bode hop in and drive.

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Filed Under: Ecuador

Bienvenidos a Ecuador

Posted on November 25, 2010 by 5 Comments

I barely even noticed we had arrived at the border – there were none of the usual signs: beggars, street vendors, touts. This has got to be one of the cleanest and civilized border posts we’ve seen.

I drove right past the immigration building and parked behind it in a nice wide lot. There were a few money-changers wandering around, but that was it. We all had to go up to immigration and get stamped out – 1 minute. I walked back up the street and handed my vehicle papers to a guy standing outside the DIAN office and he just waved me off to Ecuador – es todo.

Quick, easy and free. Doesn’t get much better than that.

We drive another 100 meters and park again – right in front of the Ecuador immigration. Again we all go in and fill out the tourist cards and get entered into the computer. They actually stick our passports into a dot-matrix printer and print in it. Free again.

The DAN for the vehicle papers is outside the building and to the right, but I miss it a few times because its closed for lunch. After a bit, the guy returns and is happy to help me. I actually manage to have everything I need on me – copies of the passport, license, and title.  He starts typing away, continually making mistakes that I do not correct.

Once he realizes I’m trying to speak Spanish, all he want’s to do is talk. He tells me that most Americans that come through here wonder aloud why he doesn’t speak English – he shares a story about an obnoxious couple from Washington. He wants to know why so many Americas drive gigantic SUVS. He specifically mentions the Ford Expedition in total disbelief… “why?”  He says he’s never seen anyone drive a VW bus through here – he must be new.

It could have all been done in 10 minutes or less, but I’m happy to engage him and I’m amazed that I actually understand most everything he’s saying. Thirty minutes later, I emerge with our vehicle paperwork – ripe with typos – and some answers to a few more questions. We intend to fly back to the states for the holidays as promised (we’ve deprived our parents of their grandchild for too long) and he tells us it’s no problem to leave our car in Ecuador and exit the country. This is a big no-no in other parts of the world.

We drive a few more hours through some stunning scenery – somehow different than Colombia – all the way to Lulu’s finca/hostel outside of Otavalo. It’s a cozy place with big dogs and fireplaces. It kind of feels like an English pub – complete with British accents.

A few more notes on driving Colombia:

We probably paid over $100 USD in tolls during our drive down Colombia. The toll booths are everywhere on major roads and the roads are in good shape. Apparently, this also entitled us to free towing, repair and ambulance service.

Colombian gas is the most expensive in the north, and cheapest in the south. From about $4.50 USD a gallon to about $2 USD a gallon near the Ecuador border. In Ecuador, it’s $1.45 USD a gallon.

Although we were stopped by police probably twenty times, we were never asked for proof of the mandatory SOAT car insurance. Considering how some folks drive – especially in Bogota – I would still recommend it.

Like anywhere – if you have time – get off the main roads. Colombia rewards you for it.

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Filed Under: Ecuador

Churches and Llamas

Posted on November 23, 2010 by 4 Comments

At breakfast, we met Florian in Pasto. He asked if we were heading to the border and wanted to share a cab to the bus station. We said we were, but that we had a car and offered him a ride all the way.

Another two hours or so of mountains got us to the border town of Ipiales. Ipiales has 1 claim to fame, the neo-gothic church built into the side of a mountain and over a river outside of town.

It was built where someone had seen the image of the Virgin Mary on the cliff. The back wall behind the image is the natural rock. I didn’t see it.

We arrived during mass, so it was full of people inside and out. The church is said to be responsible for thousands of miracles, and thank you plaques cover the rock walls of the grounds outside.

The church is beautiful, but oddly out of place in this area. Along the walk to the church vendors are selling souvenirs and snacks, including roasted guinea pig on a stick.

I couldn’t resist a photo on a hat-wearing  alpaca (or was it a llama?) for the equivalent of 50 cents. That was two dollars cheaper than the Popsicle that I used to bribe Bode to get on it. You can see he was thrilled about it.

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Filed Under: Colombia

Just Drive

Posted on November 22, 2010 by 2 Comments

Yet another long drive – 6 hours south to Pasto was enough of a day for us. All of us are pretty sore – we’re not sure if it’s from the horses or all the long driving days. I’m guilty of doing the “bus hunch,” so that’s why I’m sore.

The drive had some nice scenery, but otherwise just dull pavement. We entertained ourselves by trying to figure out what day it was.

Our only real plans are to get to the border and exit the country before our passport stamps expire. It doesn’t matter that the town of Pasto is nothing special.

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”
Ansel Adams

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Filed Under: Colombia

Back across the Andes

Posted on November 19, 2010 by 7 Comments

It was a quick little loop, but well worth it. The finca was great, but now its time for another long day’s drive. We head back to Popayan using a different route. It’s all dirt too, but classified on the map as “unpaved major route,” so we have high hopes. It’s still not a great road, but practically a super-highway compared to the roads we had driven a few days ago.

This time we peaked at 3200 meters and again in the cold rain. Still, the landscape up here almost looks desert-like. I had to wonder how you dry your laundry if you live in the clouds. Maybe you just stay wet.

Angela has been relishing the chance to wear the hand-made stuff she’s bought along the way… but arm-warmers?

It’s another scenic drive, and after about 6 hours the road is paved again and we practically coast the last hour all the way down to Popayan.

I’m not sure we’ve mentioned it before, but it’s truly astounding how so many people in the world spend so much of their time gathering fire wood. If you didn’t gather wood today, consider yourself fortunate.

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Filed Under: Colombia

Los Caballos

Posted on November 18, 2010 by 8 Comments

San Agustín is a pretty forgettable town, but the surrounding countryside is amazing. Waterfalls shoot out from the quebradas and the mountain sides are littered with 2000 year old stone carvings.

We met Pacho on the finca where we were camping and he had some horses. Of course, we wanted to go for a ride. For a mere $15 per horse, he brought them to the bus and we even had him as a guide for the day.

Bode and Angela rode Mancha and my mighty steed was Princessa.

It wasn’t long into our ride that we all discovered that Bode is allergic to horses. Oops. Always prepared, Angela dosed out the allergy meds right away. It was a good thing – the kid never wanted to get off the horse the entire day. Nothing makes us happier than seeing him happy – and this was the ticket.

There is a nearby park (which we skipped) where various artifacts have been collected and assembled. Instead, we headed out to where everything is still right where it was discovered. Riding horses out to see the work where it was intended is a stellar way to spend the day. Absolutely recommended. Five stars.

Have we mentioned that we really like Colombia?

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Filed Under: Colombia

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