The following morning-we got up early and were at the border for 7.30am. The Colombian/Ecuador border is renowned for being an easy one to cross and we had no difficulties. It took a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete the whole process.
Colombia/Ecuador border process
The border is at Rumichacha. As we approached the Colombian side, a lot of people try and flag you down and tell you where to go. Ignore them all! We drove through and parked up where all the taxis are parked. We first went to Colombian migration building and had our passports stamped out of Colombia. We then went to the customs office (Arduane) and gave in our temporary import paper for Ruby. We then drove and parked in front of the Ecuador migration office. Inside, we filled in a small form with our details, handed it in with our passports and got a 90 days visa for Ecuador in return! Finally, we went to the Ecuador customs and gave them: Gavin`s driving licence, international driving licence, V5 vehicle ownership document and passport and they issued the temporary import permit.
Highlights of Colombia
Colombia has been a brilliant start to our trip and very easy to travel around. We have had so many good times here and we have agreed that our top 3 highlights are:
Land rover meeting Villa de Leyva
After posting a message on the Land rover club Colombia facebook page, we were quickly invited to the annual land rover meeting at Villa De Leyva, taking place over a weekend. We did not really know what to expect nor where it was taking place as the joining instructions had been very vague! We spotted some other landy owners in town and asked them where it was and followed them to the camp site. Then the madness started! We were the only land rover from outside of Colombia which meant that we were inundated with interest from the moment we arrived to the moment we left a couple of days later. We had a constant crowd of people around Ruby, inside Ruby, on top of Ruby and even underneath Ruby! Gav and I had to go and sit outside the toilet block every now and again to get 5 minutes of peace! The land rover parade through Villa de Leyva and into the mountains was hilarious-with land rovers getting lost, windows and doors falling off and, of course, breaking down! The people we met have been incredible-with offers of places to stay, offers of help when we have broken down etc. This was a unique weekend and our favourite experience in Colombia.
Trek to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)
The 4 days trek to the Ciudad Perdida was through spectacular rainforest and was really hard, because of the terrain and the humidity. We loved it! We were the slowest out of our group and on the final day the guide set Gav and I off at 5.30am because we were so slow! They still caught and passed us though! At times we both swore to each other that this bloody lost city could stay bloody lost for all we cared, particularly when we were on a challenging section of the trek or were just too hot. It was incredible though and the actual lost city itself was amazing. We were lucky that we had a great group on our trek and a super guide. We had to check our shoes for scorpions every morning and were on regular snake watch. Gav and I were lucky enough to see a big black snake all coiled up in the bushes.
Salento and the Zona Cafetera
We loved Salento and the coffee region for many reasons. it was beautiful countryside and we did an interesting tour of a coffee plantation and a lovely walk to the Valley de Cocora. We stayed in a great finca with views of the valleys and hills and we also met some fab people. We played the traditional Colombian game of Tejo, which involves throwing stones at targets containing gunpowder-great fun!
We have so many other great memories-the graffiti tour of Bogota, the communa 13 tour in Medellin, wild camping in Tayrona national park,Barichara, the desert of Tatacoa, the stone statues of San Agustin, the wonderful air b and b on the Caribbean coast in Cartagena and our wonderful host, Jack, etc etc. It has been liberating to drive ourselves through the country and decide when we want to stop and when we want to leave. Ruby has been a star! OK, so we have had one or two mechanical issues but nothing that has been really major and the repairs have been easy to sort out with some wonderful landy mechanics-Alejandro and Joaquin. This is all part of the adventure and has bought us into contact with some great people. Ruby has driven the whole length of Colombia, up and down some huge hills and off road and has got us to Ecuador! Our roof tent has been brilliant-we both sleep really well in it (OK I know we have had a few hotels too!!) and our other kit is working well for us.
There are so many other things that we will remember about Colombia. The first has to be the incredibly friendly and helpful people. We have been inundated with smiles, "welcome to our country" greetings, people taking photos of Ruby and people offering to help. We met the wonderful Guillermo in Cartagena, who helped us get Ruby from the port and invited us to his house to meet his family; the great folks at Villa De Leyva-too many names to mention and Carlos and Landrover Roy who helped us sort out our mechanical issues. We will also remember the military and their thumbs up as we drove past. This was right up my (Jen`s) street! As you can imagine, I returned their thumbs up with huge ones of my own and a big grin! One set of soldiers had customised the thumbs up to make it their own: it involved a fist bump to their heart and then the thumbs up-I was in my element replicating it!
We will remember the look of huge surprise on peoples` faces when they spot we are right hand drive. They are a left hand drive country and are simply amazed by ruby`s steering wheel being on the "wrong side"! Occasionally, they have noticed me nodding off in the passenger seat and we hear shouts of concern as they think I am in the driver`s seat! Ruby has been the subject of many photos and we have conducted a number of guided tours-sometimes going round twice. The concept of "Mi carro es mi casa" is beyond a lot of peoples` comprehension, and we also realise how very privileged we are to have the resources and ability to undertake this type of trip.
We will remember one of the first questions that we always get asked by the local people" do you have any children" and the look of shock when we say "No, we don`t want any!". This is beyond their comprehension too. Lots of other stuff-music always on very loud, the sellers who congregate at speed bumps, street entertainers who perform at traffic lights for a few pence, awful sausages, and much more!
We have spent our first week in Ecuador in Ibarra, staying at a lovely finca called Finca Sommerwind. This is on the edge of Laguna de Yahuarcocha, a lovely lake where local families congregate at weekends. We are also surrounded by hills and views of volcanoes. The finca is a well known spot for overlanders to stay and we have met some great people. Our friends Gudrun and Roger from Germany who we met in Popayan are here and we went on a lovely day out with them on a train, though the hills to a little village called the Salinas. We have also met the van Nomads-who we have been following for some time on facebook. Marie and Jason are from New York and are driving their van, Houdini, to Argentina. We also met Therese and Peter from Germany; they have been driving their campervan for a year from Argentina and are heading into central and North America-we had great fun with them. Hans, the wonderful German owner of the finca is so helpful and also hosted two big BBQs whilst we were there with the BEST sausages we have had since leaving the UK!
We visited Otavalo market for the day. Otavalo is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. The town has about 90,000 inhabitants and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura (4,630 metres (15,190 ft)), Cotacachi (4,995 metres (16,388 ft)), and Mojanda volcanoes. The indigenous Otavaleños are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops. The shops sell textiles such as handmade blankets, tablecloths, and much more. We had a great day here and bought some paintings on feathers and a woollen blanket for the higher altitude we will be experiencing soon!
We caught a bus from Ibarra to Quito, a 2 and a half hour journey, along the Pan American highway-surrounded by hills and volcanoes. We have 4 nights in Quito before we fly to the Galapagos islands, where we pick up our boat, the Millennium, for an 8 days cruise around the islands. I am very lucky, in that I have been to the Galapagos before on my previous RTW trip. It would have been rude, however, to leave Gav to go by himself so I agreed to accompany him and return to these beautiful and unique islands!! What a trooper!!!