I put Ecuador and Columbia in the same blog because I was only in Columbia for one night. I decided to venture there to see this church (Las Lajas) in this super small town called Ipiales that was only a few hours outside Quito, Ecuador where I stayed.
My original trip plan had been to travel to Ecuador, then to Spain, then Spain to Morocco, then Morocco to Italy, then Italy to Malaysia. When I got to Malaysia I was going to attempt to search for an English teaching job and stay with the sister of my Malaysian friend. I ended up not doing any of this, and it makes me sick. I am planning to do it again someday, but not necessarily those countries in that order. I am thinking of possible living in Malaysia or India someday but this time it just didn’t work out. A) my grandfather was dying and I didn’t really think about the fact that I would likely have to fly back when he did and the expense of that, B) I met a guy beforehand that I really liked and decided to come back for (BIG MISTAKE- don’t ever ditch travel plans for a guy!) C) I would’ve had to take more money out to sustain myself , and D) AGAIN I got sick!!! I am pretty pissed about this but I couldn’t help it- I just hope that I won’t continue getting sick in foreign countries as it really puts a damper on everything.
So suffice it to say I went ahead and abandoned my travel plans (losing about 800$ bucks) and left Ecuador to go back to the States. It was poor planning and poor timing in my part, but I still am truly upset I didn’t do it. But my dear, poor grandfather passed away in August and I was in Ecuador in July so it is good I came home.
So I was only in Ecuador for about a week or so and then left. The hostel where I stayed was really cool. It was owned by some Swiss people I believe, and they spoke Spanish, French and English. The architecture was really unique and it was in a pretty convenient place. I had my own room and managed to do some online English teaching one night. (See? I actually am doing the digital nomad thing to a certain extent!).
I basically spent the whole time exploring Quito and went to Ipiales and back. Again, like with many of my trips, I wanted to stay for a lot longer, or at least enough to see part of the jungle/Amazon There were these tours that I think were pretty reasonably priced that took you into the jungle (Amazon) of Ecuador to see the native tribes, but it was a few days I believe and at that time I had already bought my flight home (with the help of my mum and dad gratefully). But I really wanted to do this and if and when I go next time I will. Perhaps I will do it when I go to Brazil or Peru.
I found Quito to be surprisingly modernized as well as Colombia. One thing I really liked was the fact that you could get around really easily in cabs and they were super cheap. I was really impressed with myself that I managed to get by (or at least I thought, lol) with my meager, poor Spanish. I could understand what many of the cab drivers were saying and I believe some of them could understand me. It was all very simple conversation for the most part, but I was amazed that I knew enough Spanish (and even picked some up along the way!)
Quito was filled with a lot of interesting street art as you will see below that I thought was really cool. It was the same in Colombia . It reminded me of Europe, especially the Netherlands. When I went inside the churches I discovered all these interesting puppet like representations of Jesus and Mary and saints and it reminded me of the same sort of puppet representations of Gods and Goddesses in temples in India. It is amazing how so many world religions have so much in common but are continents away from each other.
There were lots of cute little coffee shops in Ecuador and I went to a really cool open market and bought a lot of trinkets, chocolate, and unique souvenirs and gifts for the fam. I went to the center of the town one day and really felt like I was seeing some of the South America I have seen in pictures- elegant, maj
estic old churches, brightly painted colonial buildings, statues, (see below). Ecuador felt quite mountainous and I really liked the hilly cobblestone streets and the views were incredible. But this also meant a lot of hiking. I’m not a big hiker but whenever I get done with it I always feel better, and it is great exercise.
When I went to Las Lajas cathedral the walkway to get down there was particularly intense, (see above) and getting back up was quite rough. I was a bit annoyed that I seemed to be having a lot of trouble and I am relatively in shape, and older people and children were able to walk back up just fine. Who knows, maybe they are used to it.
I took something called the teleferico which is sort of like, well I don’t really know how to describe it other than an enclosed ski lift that takes you way up above Quito to get an incredible view of it It was a bit scary and went up a lot higher than I thought but the views and pictures I got were well worth it. I also met some other cool tourists and one of them invited me to hang out later and gave me his me his contact info. For some reason or the other I didn’t end up hanging out with him, I guess I didn’t feel like it. I still have his info somewhere.
One thing I really wanted to see in Quito were the Indians in their traditional dress. I guess when it come to this I was the typical white tourist in a sense who wanted to take pictures of everything, but I really like their clothing and I have seen it in pictures and was excited to see it in real life. I asked one lady if I could have her picture and she said no so I managed to snap a photo of another lady selling chocolate and candy. I think she gave me permission, and I bought something from her.
This was the same night in Quito when I went out on the town and had a drink and actually ended up singing Amy Winehouse karaoke! Apparently I did a pretty good job as the other patrons in the karaoke bar asked me to sing another Amy Winehouse song. It was super fun and made me feel like I still haven’t lost it.
One day I decided to frequent a bunch of museums and ended up stepping into a really cool one that showcased ancient Ecuadorian art. I forget if the art was Aztec or Mayan (I really should know), but a lot of it was representative of that style. The pieces I saw (and you can see below) were all really fascinating. It reminded me a little bit of the Egyptian museum where I went; again every country seems to have their own versions of everything and it is quite amazing to see the differences yet the commonalities. Each culture tends to make sculptures and paintings about the Gods and Goddesses they worship and this was true for the art I saw in Ecuador. I must admit that some of the art of the Gods was a little intimidating and scary looking! But a lot of it was beautiful as well.
How I ended up getting sick I am not sure. I had some weird dish that I thought was clams but it turns out it was conch or something. It wasn’t exactly tasty and it came in this black soupy broth. No one at the restaurant where I got this spoke English and I attempted to ask them if they had fish but they just shook their head at me.
Over the next day or so I started to have the typical signs of traveler’s sickness, just not as bad as I had in India- diarrhea, vomiting, etc. On top of this I had a fever and terrible chills. I had no idea where to go or what to do, but my hotel managed to direct me to a hospital. No one spoke English there and I attempted to tell them that my whole body was hurting and that I had a fever and was vomiting. When I waked into the ER some guy was sitting there with his nose dripping blood on the floor. The people at the hospital managed to find someone who spoke English and she came and told me that there were different levels of hospitals in Ecuador and that this hospital was like a level three or something and more responsible for critical care so I would have to go someplace else.
I think I went back to my hotel and told the people working there that hospital they sent me to wouldn’t see me. There was lots of irritation and miscommunication at the hotel because we were all speaking in different languages and we couldn’t seem to get anything done about me seeing a doctor. One lady made a bunch of phone calls to no avail until someone finally gave me the address of a doctor’s office. I went there and again nobody spoke English so I had to attempt to explain to them in Spanish what was wrong with me.
I don’t know what it is about healthcare abroad, but I always manage to get decent, relatively inexpensive medical treatment and end up getting better for the most part (except for that most recent time in India). I managed to find a doctor who spoke a little bit of English and I think he was able to assess exactly what was going on with me. I got some medication and they gave me an IV with fluid and tylenol and MAN did it help. I laid on a hospital bed attended by some nurses and fell asleep briefly and woke up feeling ten times better!
The bill ended up being about a hundred dollars, which I think would’ve been a lot more in the states or Europe.
I believe I continued on the medication and decided to visit Ipiales Colombia. It was a bus ride over and I got to see the really beautiful and picturesque countryside of Ecuador. Lots of greenery and rolling hills. I don’t know how I managed to finagle the bus ride as no one really spoke English at the bus station but I managed to get on the right bus. (More of my traveler’s luck I guess! Or perhaps it really is easier than I think it is and I am giving myself too much credit. But it can really be confusing and complicated to find in country transportation). Both ways, going and coming back from Ipiales they played movies in Spanish including White Chicks ?? Why they played that I don’t know but people found it funny. An Indian woman sitting next to me (see pic below) literally whipped out her breast and started to nurse her baby right then and there. It was a bit of a shocking site to see and even I, who considers myself a feminist and feels that women have more of a right to be barechested in public given that they need to feed infants, was a bit perturbed to see this right on a public bus so I took a picture of it. Maybe I shouldn’t have and perhaps I’ll remove it. But I don’t think she minds since pretty much everyone on the bus could see her boob. I think it also may have been a cultural thing as many indigenous cultures don’t see breasts as sexualized as the west does. I guess I still have some of that Western mentality of being surprised to see naked boobs being on display in public. But I know that when I go to Africa this will be a common site. I ended up getting a little annoyed with this lady as her toddler was crawling all around on the bus and falling on my feet. I don’t think she was doing much to control him and I found it rather rude. The mother seemed to be so young too, but I also think this is a cultural thing as me being 32 and without children would be seen as rare in many cultures, likely Ecuador.
I managed to get to Ipiales late (although I think I left late and the bus ride was long) and had to cross the border into Colombia and do a currency exchange. While there I had a very interesting experience with some Colombian folks I met. They sort of ended up guiding me and telling me that where I was was actually dangerous at night and that I shouldn’t be by myself, or something along the lines of that. They helped me but seemed rather concerned for me. I think it was perhaps because I was wanting to see Las Lajas that night and they wanted to discourage me from doing so. I met up with an Israeli male tourist and we ended up banding together because we were going the same way and like the only western travelers. I think he helped me sort of get away from these Colombians (not that they were annoying, but I was worried they were going to try to discourage me from going and wouldn’t leave me alone, but I think they felt more comfortable that I met up with this other tourist. I don’t the Israeli tourist was going to Las Lajas ( the church I wanted to see in Ipiales) but he was traveling past there to another village. He had already got a hotel room for the night. When we crossed the border we had to do currency exchange from US dollars (Which are used in Ecuador!) to Colombian pesos which I thought was cool as I know now some Colombian money!
The border was interesting and I managed to get past it with this Israeli guy. I ended up staying in the same hotel where he was and we went out for dinner at this mall that night. At some point when we were in a mini taxi bus traveling from the border into the town Ipiales he got robbed. This was pretty frustrating and scary and it all happened so fast but I don’t think they took important stuff, just some toiletries. Even so, it sucked and I was glad that I didn’t get robbed as well
We decided to get something to eat and hang out for a bit. I was really surprised that this small two in Colombia had a rather modernized mall that reminded me of malls just like in the UK or the US. It was hard to find vegetarian food in both Ecuador and Colombia but I managed to get some crappy pizza. I was just happy that I managed to get a room on such late notice arriving in Colombia. I spent a cold night in the hotel room and then the next day I believe I said goodbye to my Israeli friend. He had an allure about him and I felt at one point that he was trying to flirt with me but I wasn’t sure. I told him that I had been to Israel and he actually agreed with me that Israeli tourists could be rude and that even he didn’t like them! Ha! Same with me when I run into American tourist and British tourists; while everyone is an individual and I don’t want to get into generalizing, for whatever reason when I am abroad I just get annoyed with tourists from America and the UK as I’ve spent the majority of my life in these places never feeling like I fit in with these people and I just don’t want to see people from my same country and way of life when I am abroad and trying to experience another culture. I also find them annoying, and I can’t put my finger on why.
The next day I went to Las Lajas to see the cathedral. On my way down for the first time I saw roasting guinea pig on spits! AHHHHH! I knew this happened in this part of the world but I was shocked that I didn’t see it in Ecuador, just Colombia. It was quite horrible and shocking to see as I love guinea pigs and have had two as pets, including my dear Cocoa. It was a bit sickening but sort of interesting at the same time as this is a dish staple down here and it is something that is so far off from my culture so in a way I wanted to see it. One thing I found rather ironic and kind of sick about this was that they had guinea pig figurines!! But I guess the US and the UK has figurines of animals they eat too, but something about it is just a bit strange- why create cute, innocent looking figurines of animals that you cook and eat in brutal ways? It is supposed to be funny in some sense? Ick.
I also saw some very festive llamas on the way down that looked like they were dressed up for some kind of a parade. They were pretty cute, although I hope they weren’t being abused or mistreated. I always worry about that.
The Las Lajas cathedral was quite amazing in one regard and a bit disappointing in others- it wasn’t that big and the inside wasn’t that impressive. As I mentioned before the trek to get down there was pretty steep and pretty rough coming back up. But the scenery surrounding it was incredible; there was a waterfall (see pics) and the walkway and church was on top of a super deep ravine that was a bit scary to look down at. I’m pretty sure this was some kind of mountain, but I am not good with geology or understanding different terrains.
I’m jumping back and forth here a bit as random memories keep popping up into my head that I want to write about and not necessarily in the right order, so I apologize if it is hard to keep up with.
One point when I was in the center of Quito there was some kind of demonstration going on and a guy was on a loudspeaker saying a bunch of stuff but I couldn’t understand him. There was a group surrounding him. There was also some kind of nationalistic-seeming parade that was going on and I saw police lined up against a building in riot gear. This had me a bit nervous and I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of protest or not. I was worried that at any moment a fight could break out and given that this is Ecuador I don’t think the police are particularly soft. I was worried that batons and pepper spray would start flying and what not but that didn’t happen. I guess the police being there was just some kind of security measure.
To sum things up I found Ecuador and Columbia a mix of traditionalism and modernity, colorful, interesting and beautiful. I hope to go back and see more, especially the amazon and other cities.
Another thing I was disappointed to not see was the Galapagos. But I hadn’t done enough research on how to get there and what not and it was also quite expensive. But there is always next time!!