Adios a Colombia y hola a Ecuador
26.12.2008 - 25.02.2009
The last two months have been filled with new adventures and new friendships, so I thought it about time for another blog update to share some stories. So hold on to your hats, this ones a long one. For a start, i travel back to Silvia, Colombia.
Silvia is a small little town a couple of hours away from Popayan, famous for its Tuesday markets where the Guambiano's come down from the mountains and trade at the market. The Guambiano's seem to be quite shy people, who really do not like their photo being taken...unless you pay them for it. I had a chat to a couple of them, which did result in a photo for a price. The market was filled with fruit and vegetables, some of which I had never seen before, including the purple potato.
In Silvia I did my first home stay with a family that were more than happy to spend time chatting to someone that spoke english. It was a nice time to be taken into a family and to be treated as one of their own.
The trip to Silvia took a few hours longer than first planned. Due to the heavy rains at the time there had been many landslides, which make mountain trips a little more difficult. All you can do is wait until the road is cleared, which can take a long time. Our bus tried to drive on through, but with the clay mud all over the road, well, we got a little stuck. Sideways on the road in fact, so nothing could get past either way. So, a loader that was on the side of the road clearing the landslides, came to the rescue and ended up towing the bus up the mountain past the landslide. It was quite a funny site to watch.
I then took a long bumpy road trip to San Augustin for New Years Eve, my new found paraiso (paradise). Small colonial town with lots of horses in the main street, this place had a charm to it. One of the guys I met from Popayan, Paul, decided to come to San Augustin too, he has a student in San Augustin, so she took us around on new years eve. For a start we went to her home (colombians are very family orientated and often live at home till they marry (or even still then). Her mum cooked and fed us well, which Colombians also like to do, share their home and feed you. After another meal at the neighbours house (tamali, rice and vegies wrapped in palm leaf) we then walked the main street with thousands, wishing everyone we met a feliz ano. Had a few salsa dances and meet many people that night. At midnight everyone burns stuffed fake dummies in the streets, symbolic for ending the old self and starting new.
I spent three days touring the sites of San Augustin on horseback, jeep and by foot. The Augustino's were an ancient civilization from 3500BC to 1400AC. The only remains left today are giant stone sculptures and burial sites. From what information they have, they have pieced together what an incredible civilization they created. Equality of sexes in society, an understanding of the balance of life (yin and yang), astrology, mathematics and medicine were all part of. Ok, so they practiced sacrifices to the gods, but perhaps a small price to pay for what sounded like an advanced society. They assume that when the Incas conquered much of South America the Augustino's disappeared, perhaps taking their own lives. If the Incas did not slaughter them the Spanish probably would have in 1500.
I had an amazing english speaking guide for the park who then toured me around the town (50 year old local guy). Amazingly interesting fellow called Luis who told me a lot about the history of the place, Colombia and his life too. Very lucky to meet him as it was a highlight of the time there.
Pasto, Colombia was my next destination, for the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (the Carnival of Black and White, which was a celebration about the freedom of the slaves). I had read about how much fun this was, where everyone paints themselves black one day and then white the next. But no guide book could explain how wonderful this carnival really was...and the town of Pasto and the Pastusos (the people of Pasto). Paul, my friend from Popayan, introduced me to another student of his, Andreas, who took me into his house and made me one of his family during my time there.
Its actually quite difficult to express how much I enjoyed my time there. When i first arrived I was planning to stay in a hostel for a few days. But Andres was keen for me to stay with him and his family, which turned into me staying there for a week. It was so nice to be cooked for, looked after and treated as if I was one of the family. Angela, Lainer and Jonotan took me out and made sure I was safe during Carnaval. We visited bars and drank beer, one bar los Charbus was a memorable bar. The walls were lined with old vinyls of classic South American music, that the bar tender seemed to know off by heart. It was a little dark and had a lot of character and a bar that contained many stories. The bar tender seemed as delighted to meet me as i was to meet her.
Andreas speaks english really well, but i was good practice for him. Plus, he made me speak spanish which increased my confidence in speaking in a new language. While the conversations with Andreas, Angela and Lainer may have got a little messy and somewhat crude over beer, they were enjoyed immensely. I ended up seeing a lot more of Pasto than first planned, but then also found it very hard to leave. An interesting highlight is the statue of Lenin outside one of the cathedrals. Apparently there was a mix up with statues, the correct one ended up in Quito and the Pasto got the Lenin.
The Carnaval. Paint, cans of foam and bags of talc, all wiped, sprayed and thrown over anyone that you passed. It was incredible, as everyone in the town was into it. You would just be walking down the street and then start an all out war with total strangers, spraying them and throwing talc on them till someone stopped in defeat...or ran out of amo. On the Saturday of the Carnaval, my friends and I used over 75kg of talc...a baby pusher was used to cart it around all over town. I have never played like that in my life, as it lasted for two days solid and I did not tire of it. In the photos there are a few of the groups that we had 'war' with. Who won, no body knows...and it is not important. Glasses, old clothes and a poncho are highly recommended.
So the play is one thing, but then there is also the Carnaval parade itself. While I seemed to be too sidetracked playing all the time and possibly missed some of the floats, there were in themselves something quite amazing. People work on these for months, they are huge and visually spectacular. We made an early start on the saturday to walk past all of the floats before the parade began, which I was lucky enough to even get on one for a tour. The energy and excitement was really quite something. Ahhh Carnaval, i do hope I can return again some day. Wonderful times and good friends were made.
Andrea's step dad Afren offered to take me to visit Sandona, a small town outside of Pasto where Afren grew up. He had told me about the church, with the biggest crucifix in all of South America (it was really huge, and quite beautiful). But Afrens offer of kindness was incredible. He not only took me on a tour of the town, but organised his family to drive me around town, where I also ended up staying the night. Another great offer of Colombian hospitality. Afren knowing I was a keen photographer took me to places that I would never have seen on the normal tourist track. We visited a panela factory (which is a kind of sugar made from sugar cane). To see this whole process from start to finish was fascinating for me, while the guys working there probably wondered what all the fuss was about. Next was a visit to a small craftsman (artisanian), making sombreos and small baskets from Paja (the same way the famous Panama hats are made....which are not made in Panama at all). I was given small gifts that when i tried to pay, was refused. After this we visited the waterful which a stunning backdrop to this beautiful little town.
The next group of photos are a collection of the time in Pasto. So the view from Andreas house of Volcan Galeras, Laguna la Cocha and also some family shots of 'my family' while I was in pasto...including starkie, the family dog.
After what was almost a teary farewell my Pastusos, I headed close to the Colombian Ecuatorian boarder to Ipiales to visit the cathedral of Las Lajas, which was constructed in quite an impressive location. I seem to have developed a fascination for collecting crucifixes from outside the many churches I have visited. Why you may ask? Well, its something small, and cheap to collect. Religion has played a huge part in the history of South America which cannot be avoided at all. Being a designer I am fascinated by the beauty of the cathedrals and the many different designs that are depicted in crucifixes. So, Las Lajas was like a gold mine for me. Increased the collection considerably that day.
The boarder crossing, my first, seemed all to easy. You cross the boarder on foot without a single bag check on either side. I was expecting tight security, lots of military and total bag searches. But no, a stamp in the passport on either side and i just walked right on into Ecuador.
I decided to spend a few days in Otavalo, my first destination for Ecuador. Otavalo has one of the largest art and craft markets in South America, so I was not going to miss that. What was much more exciting was the animal market early on Saturday morning. While i may be a boy from the bush, I'd never seen anything quite like it. Pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, dogs, cats and the national dish, guinea pigs, all for sale. I was very tempted to buy a puppy....found it very hard to walk away. Traveling with my luggage is enough without a dog as well, but gee were they cute.
So for the last month now I have been in Quito for spanish classes. When I arrived I was lucky to have two friends here, Kip and Noelle, who were staying two streets away from me. I could see their apartment from the rooftop balcony here. It was nice to see them again and explore some of Quito with them. We drank beer, listening to Kip play his violin and ate really good Korean. We took the TeleferiQo (the cable car) and hiked up to Rucu Pichinca. My first hightest mountain at 4700m made me somewhat dizzy. Well, once we got to the top all we could see were clouds, but still worth it. We were somewhat under prepared for the hike, with only half a packet of white bread and a bag of coffee lollies for a 5 hour round trip. Mmm, must remember to pack more food next time....but man the soup tasted good once we got back down.
Its quite amazing how diverse the plant life is and how it changes depending on the altitude. A whole new experience for me.
I've had a room in a hostel for the last month. Its been nice to unpack the bags, have free wifi and cook in a kitchen again. Being a homebody at the best of times, this has suited me well. Each day I have my routines with class and homework. But my time is almost up here. I'm getting itchy feet again and am keen to get on a bus and see some more of Ecuador.
These two shots are from google earth, one is of Rucu Pichincha, and the other is quito. My hostel is the red dot on the right hand side.
Ecuador is nice, I really like it. But part of me is still pining for Colombia. What I would give for a tinto (the small coffees). I had hoped I would find them here, but alas, no. My first coffee in Ecuador i was served instant, so not a great start. The people in Ecuador are friendly, but when ever I sit in a park or public square, no one talks to me. In Colombia, I could not sit down for more than 5 minutes before someone would start talking to me. I miss that. I also miss people trying to sell me things all the time in the street. While I would not always buy anything, its those daily exchanges with people that Colombia offered that I'm yet to find in Ecuador. I miss the calling in the street from people selling phone credit and I also miss the peso (in Ecuador the official currency is the US dollar). I would pay double the price for a taxi here if the driver would just play some cumbias really loud while he speeds down the road, instead of english music or silent cab ride. Its also been a while since i've heard the phrase 'mucho gusto', pleased to meet you, or 'con mucho gusto', with much pleasure, which was a common phrase in parts of Colombia.
The thing i find a bit crazy is that Colombia still often gets such a bad wrap. But my whole time there, I felt so very safe, had no problems and spoke to no one that had any trouble. But Ecuador, well, I had my ipod stolen on the bus and have heard quite a few stories, some worse that others (one guy spend 4 days in jail after a night out in the new town....and he was at least from South America). I am very happy in Ecuador, but Colombia certainly has a special place in my heart.
Still, I have a lot to see of Ecuador yet, so lets hope I find some tinto and someone to sell me jewellery on the streets. Do not get me wrong, I like Ecuador a lot. But perhaps even I was surprised at the beauty I found in Colombia, in the landscapes and especially in the people. A mi me gusta Colombia mucho! Colombia de largo viva!