Three countries is three weeks is intense. Abi and I rushed through Peru and barely touched Ecuador because Abi has limited time and we wanted to get to Colombia. Colombia is the country I have been the most eager to get to after missing out on it last year after I was taken out by a parasite and had to head home to recoup / regroup and save, so I’ve been really excited to get here.
We left Baños and made our way to Pasto in one very long day.
The route for anyone thinking of doing the same thing:
6.20 am bus from Baños to Quito.
10.30 am bus from Quito to Tulcàn (but it ran on South American time), USD 7.50.
Taxi from Tulcàn to the border, USD 3.
Taxi from the border to Ipiales.
7.30 pm bus from Ipiales to Pasto, 10’000 pesos.
Final taxi ride to the hostel, arrive at 9.30 pm – absolutely shattered.
We arrived in Quito around 10am and were told there would be a 10.30am bus to Tulcàn (but ran on South American time). I decided to take my still damp shoes (from the waterfall experience the day before) off, try to dry them out and sun a bit while we waited. Only when the bus did arrive it didn’t seem to want to stop in its allocated slot and kept creeping towards me until I was dragging myself, my bags and one shoe (I was in the middle of getting the other one back on) backwards out of the line of fire.
The bus ride was absolutely miserable. It took us an entire hour to get from the south side of Quito to the north, don’t even want to talk about it.
We finally made it to the border town Tulcàn around 5pm and had to get a taxi to the border. The exit stamp for Ecuador took us about an hour to get whereas the entry stamp for Colombia took about 30 seconds. When we made it to Ipiales for our next bus to Pasto Abi realised that most ATM’s here (with exceptions) do not accepts cards without a chip. That’s been a bit of a pain for her but generally we’ve been able to find one. We grabbed a quick bus terminal dinner (rice and beans and my new enemy, arepa. At least it wasn’t Gallo Pinto).
Arriving at Pasto we were a bit sleepy, bumbling around and suddenly found ourselves with a police escort to get a taxi. Ta very much.
Abi and I went directly to San Augustin but made the mistake of leaving after 10am. We’ve got an entire essay of recommendations from a really lovely girl I met travelling last year, but unfortunately it meant we didn’t bother to do a whole ton of research about transport ourselves as we assumed we could just follow this rough guide. We thought we could go from Pasto to San Augustin no issue, and it would be easy to change at either Popayán or Mocoa. According to this document I had you could do either but the Mocoa route was more interesting, Abi and I took this to mean that both routes were just as easy to get to San Augustin (nope – go via Mocoa!), so when we got to the bus station and there was a bus leaving for Popayán at 10.30 (in about 10min) or a bus leaving for Mocoa at 12.30 we assumed the smart choice was Popayán…but the bus was small, uncomfortable and didn’t leave until 11, constantly picked up people selling crap, again with the armpits / elbows / butt cracks in faces and stopped for a long lunch break. We didn’t make it to Popayán until 5pm.
It was a bit of a nightmare at Popayán, we struggled to find a bus company going to San Augustin that evening. When we found one we were told the bus would leave at 5.30 (it left at 6.30) and Patricia – yeah I’m naming her – completely gringo taxed us which I only noticed after I looked at the receipt way after buying it! The cost isn’t the issue but it’s the principle. If I wasn’t so uncertain as to when our bus was leaving I would’ve gone and given Patricia a piece of my mind (in really shit Spanish)…(she probably would’ve laughed).
I predicted we’d arrive in San Augustin around 8 and Abi guess 9. Both wrong it was midnight. To calm our frayed nerves we decided to each take a Xanax we’d accidentally bought in Peru, which was a horrendous and amazing idea at once. Horrendous because we were on a bus crammed with people and poultry with absolutely no clue how long it would take us to get there, and amazing because we were on a bus crammed with people and poultry with absolutely no clue how long it would take us to get there. We stopped twice, once so all the men could have a wee (proper bumpy road so I imagine that got uncomfortable) and once so the driver could feed a dog (cue the awwwwww’s). I woke up twice, the first time because I fell on top of Abi (I’d fallen asleep) and once because I hit my head on the window (also due to the sleeping thing). Eventually Abi and I were both forced awake as the entire bus (poultry excluded) was yelling and waving at us to let us know it was our stop.
Our stop was a crossroads in the Jungle at midnight. What the actual…..
One of the standard things my mum told me as a child ‘don’t get into a strangers car’ amongst others (if you sit too close to the TV your eyes will go square, don’t take candy from strangers). Anyway – rudely awoken from a Xanax induced sleep, HOURS of travelling and realising we were in the middle of nowhere, when a man came to tell us to get into a random car..we just did it. He said he was driving us the rest of the way to San Augustin and as an additional special service for soles 7000 he would drop us off to our hostel. I lost my shit. Started having a go at him (in English) about how no one had told us what time the bus was going to leave, that we would be dropped off in the arse end of nowhere, that Patricia had gringo taxed us and now he was taking advantage and I was sick of being ripped off (I was extremely tired)…(I can be a bit of a Princess). Probably not the most sensible thing to do in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Abi, my ever calm and well researched travel buddy looked at me and said “bex 2 dollars is a pretty good deal to get to our hostel”. I just grumbled about how that wasn’t the point but said ‘fine’, gave a little wave and a huff and the driver set off. To his credit the poor guy helped us out with the hostel (we hadn’t booked in advance but knew where we wanted to stay). He stuck around until it was all organised and I did apologise, sheepishly, for yelling at him.
After San Augustin we made our way up to Salento. We stayed in La Serrana hostel, which is nice but a fair trek from the town which got rather annoying – but did mean I felt I could order the extra brownie / milkshake here and there. We had a traditional lunch on our first day there, absolutely smashing bean stew (I left the arepa though). Abi and I had heard loads about the Palm tree forest, huge palm trees native to Colombia and a must see on your visit. We’d been given loads of advice on which way to go when we got there but in our seriously typical style we cocked it up. There’s a big green sign at the entrance of the park – you’re meant to turn right. We turned left. We kept following signs for ‘the forest’ assuming it meant the Palm Tree Forest, we were very mistaken. We bumped into a few Germans also just as perplexed as we were at the miserable never ending uphill hike. But Abi and I decided we’d come way to far to even consider turning back, besides the trail was one big loop according to every single blog / bit of advice we’d had. Eventually I got maps.me out – and to our horror we realised we’d gone completely wrong and we’re on a seemingly one way path to nowhere. So we back tracked. We caught back up to the Germans we’d passed who had also turned around (way before us). A local on a horse had passed us shortly after we left the Germans behind and we’d simply said ‘Hola’ whereas the Germans had asked if they were on the right track and he’d told them ‘no, this is a one way path, you’ll have to go back the way you came’ (may have paraphrased). The Germans were surprised that we’d caught up with them as Abi and I had continued a miserable uphill slog for another 40min after passing them, but we actually jogged back down, easier on the legs and we were just so fed up. Unfortunately my left shoe did sink into the mud once which did nothing to improve my mood. We back tracked, and in our defence another three groups of people all groaned and cursed, having made the mistake we had. We could not be arsed to walk around the forest at this point (5 hours of hiking to see a whole lot of trees. Uphill).
I took a very sullen video of the Palm trees which you can see from the street, and we headed back to the jeeps. I had to stand on the back of the Jeep, in the rain and spent a lot of my ride half cursing my life and half laughing as we dodged bits of missing road and other obstacles.
The saving grace of the day was Brunch, an American style dinner with incredible burgers. We made up for our completely unnecessary hike with a 3000 calorie lunch.
We somehow summoned the energy to go back out into town and play Tejo (a hilarious clay and gunpowder game) which I was surprisingly shocking at. I have no hand eye coordination, hitting the gunpowder targets was always going to be a complete fluke. We had a shot of Aguardiente recommended by a friend, horrendous recommendation it was essentially Sambucca which I cannot touch after my 18 year old self decided 20+ shots in a night was a good idea (I was VERY ill the next day..and covered in mud – I’d fallen down a hill so I’m told). Local beers were good though.
We stopped at a bar recommended by the owner of our Hostel for glasses of wine and Nachos (Tejo is hungry / thirsty work and 3000 calories over lunch isn’t enough apparently).
Our final day in Salento we went on a coffee tour with the company Ocaso, I highly recommend. We made some new friends along the way…
The tour and area were beautiful, interesting and the coffee was really good. Colombia is the 3rd largest exporter of coffee or so I’m told.
We spent the evening sat on the floor of our hostel room chatting to our roommates in true backpacker style.
There’s loads to do in Salento so spend time here if you ever plan on going.
We organised a mini van through our hostel to take us to Medellin the next morning (soles 45’000, super comfy ride, aircon, wifi, laaaaavely). From Medellin Abi and I caught another bus to Guatape. We had booked into Lakeview Hostel – excellent recommendation. Lovely place with a REALLY amazing Thai restaurant and cocktails on the roof.
We walked up the 700+ stairs of Piedra del Peñol for the stunning views of Guatape. We decided to walk back into town but had to explain to a very kind bus driver who tried to insist he drive us into town for free that we wanted to walk. We were given some strange looks.
We went to a highly recommended Indian restaurant, to be honest I didn’t get the hype. Mediocre at best.
We were trying to organise the paintballing at Pablo Escobar’s old summer estate but our Hostel wouldn’t organise it. Instead we were told to go to a bicycle shop through which we could organise it. You’ve got to be careful throwing his name around, a lot of people don’t speak English but they will understand that name and they’re very sensitive about it. We finally found the bike shop and had to ask around for ‘Mario’. Had a lot of shifty looks until this woman just materialized and asked if we were trying to book the paintball tour. At this point it was 5pm and as the tour that day was on-going she asked us to come back between 6.30 – 7pm to see if there was availability. We went to a bar for a beer while we waited and as I was sat there I made eye contact with a dog and she padded over. I gave her a little head rub but just fell in love with her instantly and she insisted on staying by me, so I gave up trying to stoke her head from the chair, plopped myself on the floor and an hour later we were cuddled up and she was having a snooze. Totally gorgeous dog. At times like this I wish I could just adopt them and travel around with my own little pack.
We went back to the bike shop and the woman was gone. We sort of floated around for a bit until I asked the guy at the till about the paintball tour. Next thing I know he’s calling someone up and handing me the phone. With my terrible Spanish I find out what the tour includes and the cost and confirm they have availability. Then the guy at the till starts telling me that tomorrow we will need to catch a bus and get off at Réplica antiguo Peñol and wait for a man on a bridge. What the hell are we signing up for?! Anyway we pay up, and just hope it’s not some massive random scam.
More cocktails at the hostel and Abi and I have convinced our roommate Eric that he should come with us to San Andreas (along with another roommate from Salento), so we get drunk and book flights, best way to do it. Abi also got me to try half a shrimp (I haven’t eaten seafood at all since I was 5 so it’s actually an impressive feat) it wasn’t terrible.
The next morning we were running late for our 10am ‘meet a guy on a bridge’ for the paintball tour, Latin America timing – arf. We got to the bridge, jumped off the bus, aaaaaand nothing. No man, no van, just three (Eric was with us) very confused gringos. We decided to walk up the road a bit (up a hill) and see a man waving at us – so, being late and at the bottom of the hill, we jog up. Arrrrrrf. A short Jeep ride later and we were in Pablo Escobar’s old summer estate. They took us to his old party area, we heard the guns go off and I started absolutely bricking it. One Aussie girl in our group asked ‘will it hurt’? And the guy just laughed and say ‘oh you girls, you’re so beautiful.’ It didn’t instill confidence. We were a huge group who separated into two main groups, those who wanted to do the tour first and those who wanted to paintball first. Abi, Eric and I decided to paintball first, get it over with. We were again split into two teams, red and yellow. We were given a quick demo on how to use the guns – loved how one girl was figuring out the safety while pointing the gun into the crowd. The rules were explained, arm or leg shot you continue, body or head shot (HEAD?!) and you were essentially dead and had to withdraw from the game for 20 seconds. Two rounds of capture the flag and then two rounds of ‘find and kill Pablo Escobar’ – guess who they made Pablo Escobar. Arf.
I went out fairly early on in the first game – back of the head shot, fairly certain by my own team.
I went out much later in the second round because I’d tried running for the flag and became a beacon for the entire other team. Three leg shots, a hand shot and a face shot took me down.
In the final round I hid under a stairway in a tiny box room I had to almost crawl into (no clue what this space was originally intended for) and got taken out when a gun peeped into the room and I started shooting like a lunatic.
I might’ve been alright if it hadn’t been for the hole in the wall next to me that someone eventually shot me through.
Good fun though.
We had a tour of the estate and some background info (along with a well earned corona), before lunch and finally a boat ride into guatapé. Abi, Eric and I had a coffee with everyone before heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags and catch a bus to Medellin.
Abi and I stayed at Black Sheep hostel which was about a 15 min walk to the main party area. We got to the hostel, showered (covered in paint) and changed, got ourselves a cheeky burrito and headed up with half the hostel to meet Eric at Happy Buddha (the party hostel). We signed up for the pub crawl and met some interesting characters. For the first time in my life I was offered Coke, at least I thought I’d been offered coke but it turns out the dealer was only talking to the guy I was walking with and then later came back to ask me where my boyfriend was. Weirdest chat up line ever ‘do you want some Coke / got a boyf?’ Thanks but I’ll stick to my Cuba Libre and amazing finger dancing.
We got back to the hostel fairly late (woken up at dick o clock by a stupid cat who managed to get into our room and wouldn’t stop miaowing until someone on a bottom bunk got up and placed him on their bed – he became my hungover nemesis).
Next day I felt like absolute death. I made it off of my top bunk and then had to chill out on the floor for almost another hour to the merciless delight of the two boys on the bottom bunks. Abi and I managed to get ourselves together enough to make it to a brunch place where I insisted mimosa’s were the only way forward.
We ended up at a shopping mall for some bits we needed and then decided we would cook that night and went to a supermarket. 45min it took for our hungover brains to get around the shop, occasionally leaning on the trolley for support (mostly leaning on the trolley to stay upright if I’m honest) and buy what we needed to make a basic spaghetti bolognese. En route home, in our zombie state, we decided we couldn’t possibly cook and shared a hungover pizza. We both love mushroom and pepperoni pizza so it worked out well. We did manage to book some flights but that was about it for the entire day.
Woke up the next day feeling heaps better. That was commented on. A few times. ‘Oh you’ve made it off the floor’ ‘you’re looking much fresher today’. Yeah, cheers guys. Abi and I found ourselves some decent coffee before heading out on the Real City Tour. The tour was very good and informative, with our code phrase ‘papaya 1 – 5’ 1 being low pick pocket level and 5 being high pickpocket level. Our tour ended in a ‘papaya level 5’ and as we were having our final talk in San Antonio Park (where several people were killed as a bomb was placed in a statue) we witnessed a man being arrested for stealing and be dragged across the square to jail.
(Bravely trying local street food)
Back on the metro and Abi and I went out for dinner with another guy from our hostel. I amazed and disgusted myself by eating a burrito the size of my head, the zipper on my dress complained about it later. Together with most of the Hostel we went back up to Happy Buddha and spent the night wandering around various bars before losing steam at 2am, getting some godawful hotdogs (yeah I’m amazed and disgusted that I was still eating) and heading back to the hostel.
Didn’t feel completely horror the next morning, managed to get up early and checked out of our hostel. Abi and I moved to hostel Colombia, a really lovely place which super comfy beds, large warm showers and a nice kitchen – seriously heaven. At the reception we had a very sweet offer. Abi and I had booked an 8 bed dorm but apparently there were only two other guys in there and if that made us uncomfortable we were welcome to a private room with two single beds…suddenly sharing a room with two guys made us extremely uncomfortable and we got a lush private room.
We finally made it to the recommended bubble car to see the view of Medellin. It is absolutely massive (I couldn’t capture it in a picture).
We finally got round to cooking our spaghetti bolognese, only to find that not only had Abi’s phone charger cable been pinched from our previous hostel, but so had our mushrooms. I felt very aggrieved about this because having fresh mushrooms out here is like finding gold dust (they’re ALWAYS out of a tin). We did an excellent job and I felt very proud of myself adulting around, until my big toe would twinge in pain and I’d be reminded of how I’d stubbed it on pavement after drinking a bucket of Rum. Balance.
Our final night went much the same way as the rest – start at Happy Buddha and made our way into town. We finally dropped into our beds around 3.30am, a very sensible time before our 7am start to catch our flight to San Andreas island…