From here to God knows where.

Break for the border.

Cali is not the prettiest city, but I enjoyed my week there. I also enjoyed my first hostel experience in 35 years. There is probably a connection.

Hostels are like life. You meet people you connect with and some you don’t. Some people you like and some not so much.

One of the best things about hostels is getting information. You get to meet people who are coming from where you are going. In these days of so much crap online, first-hand knowledge from a fellow traveller is priceless.

I have heard some not so good information about my next stop Ecuador and the capital Quito in particular. I have heard reports of muggings during daylight in busy areas. Also, people have said compared to most other cities in South America, it is more expensive.

I have adjusted my plans based on fellow travellers information. I have booked just three nights in Quito. I had planned to stay a minimum of a week. I can always book more when I am there. The good thing about Ecuador is it is one of the smaller countries. If I don’t like it, I can quickly get a bus to Peru sooner than I had planned.

My single room at the Pelican Larry hostel in Cali cost 11 euro a night including breakfast. The staff were very friendly.

I said my goodbyes and made my way to Cali bus station for the 140km to Popayan. This time it was more of a car/van. It held seven passengers and cost 7 Euro. Again I was the only Gringo on the bus. Three hours later, I was in Popayan.

Popayan is known as the white city. All the buildings in the historic area are painted white. Of all the places I have visited in Colombia, Popayan feels the most Spanish.

The city has suffered its fair share of Earthquakes in the past. The last big one happened in 1983. It destroyed some of the historical areas, but most of it has since been restored.

The historic area is not just the main square. It goes on for many streets out from the plaza.

Popayan historic area is beautiful. If I had to be critical of Popayan, it would be that at night for a city of 250,000 people the main area gets very quite. It is not like other city centres I have visited in Colombia in that it becomes unsafe when it gets dark. It is safe. It just becomes quite.

It is also challenging to find a bar in Popayan. Coffee shops are everywhere as Popayan is in the coffee-growing area of Colombia. If they had more bars, they might sell more coffee in the mornings.

I stayed in the Hostel Caracol in Popayan. I had a single room for 11 euro a night. The hostel was nice but, there were only a few people staying, so there was not much interaction with other travellers.

Safety in Columbia

Colombia reminds me a bit like Ireland in the 1980s. When I first started visiting other countries in the 1980s, I would be asked where I was from. When I replied Ireland people starting making gun noises and pointing their fingers to the air.

The troubles as it was called in Ireland were mostly confined to the north of Ireland. The population in the Republic of Ireland experienced the troubles on their T.V sets. The impression aboard from a lot of people was that the whole country was in a state of war.

I think present-day Colombia suffers from its past. The hit T.V show Narcos has not helped. All I can say is I experienced no safety issue during my five weeks in Colombia. I did see some pickpockets in Cali, but that was it. I did also take advice that some areas of cities not to visit.

There are a lot of people trying to survive in bigger cities. Many people look for money by offering sweets. I think the logic is they are offering something rather than just begging. Most people give a few pesos and don’t take the sweet.

The one thing I have seen in Colombia that is disturbing is the number of people laying on the streets. |I know this also happens in rich countries, but these people in Colombia look different.

They look like life has sucked out all their energy, and they have given up. They just lay on the street in what looks like a semi-coma all day long.

I have noticed most safety information on online blogs to be the same no matter where you are going. A lot of people repeat the same stuff for many places. Don’t wear jewellery. Dress down. Never take your phone out with you.

To be honest, a lot of it just looks like a copy and paste. It looks like lazy writing rather than a true experience. The best advice is don’t be a stupid eegit as we say in Ireland and you will be fine.

From Beer to Eternity

A final wrap on beer prices in Colombia. The cheapest I found was in Medellin at 2,500 pesos 0.66 euro. The average price was about 3.500 pesos 0.93 euro.

Which Craft

For many years in Ireland despite its reputation, there was a very poor choice in bars for a beer. The major breweries had most of the market. For the most part, people had a choice of one type of lager, ale and stout.

It was great to see craft beers come on the market and give more of a choice. A decade or so on there are 1000s of new craft beers.

It is not all good news. From what I can see, some craft beers seem to think the word craft means they can charge a massive premium.

The problem is that not all craft beers are good. Some are pure shite. I have had some good craft beers in Colombia and some I would not wash a car with.

I left my hostel in Popayan at 0245 to get the 0400 bus to the Colombian border town of Ipiales. There was no one at the front desk so I left myself out. I was a bit nervous walking down the dark streets as I had to find a taxi.

It is the one time I feel vulnerable when I am in-between accommodation. This is the time I have everything I own on me. Walking down dark streets at 0245 in South America is not part of the plan.

As usual, the bus arrived one and a half hour late. Ten hours later I arrived in Ipiales.

I stayed overnight in a hotel before I crossed the border. As I checked in I paid my 55,000 pesos 15 euro. A German lady walked in as I finished checking in. How much is a room for the night? 40,000 pesos he said. Whatttttttttttt the fuck said I.

Realising the situation he said it was because I booked on booking.com and there was a 25% commission. I went into my I am a hotelier rant and explained this is not how it worked.

I also explained it was 15% commission and offered to show him on his own booking.com system. People who know me really well will know this is not a pretty sight.

He would not back down. We are not friends now.

I am beginning to tell the difference between Colombians and Venezuelans. As we got nearer the border, there were many Venezuelans on the road selling food and drinks. Anything to make a few pesos.

Before leaving Ipiales, I was advised to check out the Las Lajas sanctuary. Boy am I glad I did. It is difficult to take in how something so beautiful is so near a town like Ipiales.

I took a 15 minute shared taxi for just 5,000 pesos 1.50 euro.

Crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador is easy. Just don’t do in the middle of a strike.

So I made my way to the border. I took another shared taxi. 2,000 pesos 0.53 euro for the ten-minute drive. I was hoping it would be easy. It was, and it was not.

The first thing you notice as you walk up to exit Colombia is the Red Cross tents. There were a lot of Venezuelans in large tents. They have fled the trouble in their own country.

They are trying to get into Ecuador, but Ecuador has closed its borders for these refugees. Colombia, to its credit, has not.

It must be a very difficult time for these people. From what I did see the Red Cross seemed to be doing a good job. I could see medical centres and children being looked after.

Exiting Columbia was easy. I then had to cross a bridge and entering Ecuador was just as easy. What could go wrong?

As I was crossing the bridge to Ecuador, I had to show my passport to a guy. He said there was no transport in Ecuador. He had a friend that could take me where I wanted to go. This was in Spanish.

I had heard this before in many places. The palace is closed today, but I can bring you to another place. It is a very common scam. You go with them and they end up taking you far away and scam you by charging a massive amount of money.

I was too smart for this now. I laughed and said, I think not.

As soon as I cleared customs, I made my way to where the taxis were. They would take me to the next town. From there I would get a bus to my first stop in Ecuador.

Where are the taxis I asked? There is no transport. There is a strike. Fuck I said will it be for the whole day. No Senor, not all day. All week. How can I get to the next town? By waking is the only way.

How I wish I listened to the border guy as I made the 5km up a hill to the next town in 25c heat. Along with my haversack and laptop bag. I did not feel so smart with the sweat running off me.

Passing blocked roads and burning tyres did not lighten my mood. I did not cheer up more when I passed the police station as it was surrounded by protesters.

If anyone can TULCAN can’t

I have good news for Ipiales. It is now not the most dreary town I have even seen. The Ecuador frontier town of Tulcan now takes that award.

After hours of walking, I found a hostel with a private room. I was a bit proud of myself walking what must have been 7km in total with two bags. It was all uphill in 25c heat.

They really know how to do strikes in Ecuador. Everything was closed. Even the bars aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I was talking to a German guy in the hostel. He had paid a guy on a motorbike to drive him out of Tulcan. They were blocked by strikers with knives. He ran for his life. He also was not impressed that I laughed.

I found an open shop. Strikers arrived and shut it down in thirty seconds. I gave the I am a stupid tourist act, and I just wanted water. They said ok, so I grabbed a bag of crisps as well. I really wanted the crisps and not the water.

So I had no choice but to wait for this strike to finish in Tulcan. I don’t think Tulcan would look any better when everything is open. I cannot help thinking as a Gayman what it must be like for an LGBT person to live in a place like this.

It must be awful. How can they meet someone else? I suppose where there is a willy there is a way.

As I pass the local alcoholics anonymous which does not look very anonymous, I think of how I would love a beer now. I can understand why people in Tulcan would drink to excess. I would if I lived here.

It has not been a great start to my visit to Ecuador, but I expect bumps in the road over the next few months. If a strike is the worst thing to happen, I will be very happy.

Join me on my journey. 

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