Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 41 - Pasto, Colombia, to Ibarra, Ecuador

RobC:  In yesterday's post I forgot to recount a conversation we had about the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) with a couple of men while having a cup of coffee in the hills between Cali and Pasto. One was a young fellow who with his wife own a roadside restaurant and the other was an herbal doctor of sorts who greeted us in a Hindu manner and had some paint markings on his forehead. I asked them what the philosophical goals were of the FARC. The answer was basically: redistribution of wealth and equal justice under the law. In other words, the fight is against the rich and the upper classes who get away with lawlessness with impunity or a slap on on the wrist for their white-collar crimes.

The FARC used to kidnap people (including foreigners), mostly as a way of gaining income for their daily living and arms. Since the 8-year term of President Uribe, the FARC has been driven deeper into the jungle and away from the larger towns, and they now live mostly off the levying of "taxes" from drug traffickers and the extortion of business owners in the hinterlands.

The "shaman" did not agree very much with our positive assessment of the Colombian military providing safety along the highways for passenger and freight movement. He stated, and perhaps rightly so, that a well-managed country would not have to have its military personnel lining the highways to provide a sense of security. In fact, he said it does the opposite, it creates an atmosphere of fear and lack of freedom.

In summary, both men showed a surprising amount of tolerance and sympathy for the cause of the FARC, but they also appreciated the fact that they could freely exercise their respective businesses and that tourism was finally on the rise again.

RobT:  We made it into our 11th country, Ecuador, but not before seeing one last landmark in Colombia before crossing the border. The Las Lajas Sanctuary was only about 8 km from our route, and certainly a worthwhile visit.  The stone church is built on top of a bridge that spans a canyon over the Guaitara River.  Its construction took from 1916 to 1949 and it was funded by donations from humble churchgoers.  It is claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared at this site in 1754 and it has been a place of veneration and pilgrimages ever since.

Some of plaques of gratitude for miracles performed in the lives of the faithful.

Inside the Sanctuary.

Quite a splendid structure, almost on the par with some castles in Europe.

On to Ecuador.  The exit out of Colombia was very simple.  RobC did all the legwork while I stood guard over the bikes because there were some shady characters around and we were warned by an officer about thievery.  We also changed our few remaining Colombian pesos into American dollars, which is the currency of Ecuador.  There were plenty of sketchy individuals at the border and some of those were the money changers.  One guy had a calculator and when  I gave my money to another one, this guy typed in the amount and the exchange rate and showed me what I would receive.  I knew the rate was good and I knew how much I should get for my 60,000 leftover pesos, but when he handed me 21 USD a flag went up in my head, but with so much commotion I didn' t pick up on the fact that I should really have received closer to 30 USD.  Same thing happened to RobC.  This guy with the calculator did some quick finger work because I watched him punch the keys ... and no comments about my vision please!!

Same easy process on the Ecuador side and no fees either, which was nice.

 Ecuador customs on the left.

Roberto, Ecuador (military) customs officer, who took a keen interest in our bikes.  Very friendly and he spoke pretty good English.

That's the road in northern Ecuador.  There were some spectacular photo ops but to stop on the side of the road without any shoulder was asking to become pavement pizza, so we didn't.

On the road again, this time toward Ibarra, Ecuador.  Past some very unusual small towns along the way.  Even the scenery was strange.  At one point we rode through lush green landscape, rounded a bend and into an arid valley without any greenery, only rocks and dirt, rounded another bend then back into the lush greenery.  Reached an altitude of 3300 meters (10,000 feet) and a temperature of about 10 celcius (50 F) .... and then it started raining ..... again.  The road was like any  found back home, nice, smooth two-lane black top with clear striping. 

Rolled into Ibarra after dark and spent some time looking for a place to stay in the center.  Found a hostal for 10USD per night with internet, hot water, TV, secure parking and each of us a private room.  What a deal ... except the internet didn' t work, but can' t complain for 10 USD. It was actually quite a nice room.

No internet so we decided to check out the town and found ourselves in a free music festival with several bands playing local music with a rock twist complete with fireworks.  Had a couple of beers and food all for 6 USD for the both of us.  Awesome.

No, no guarding of any sort around the fireworks.  If you wanted you could walk right up to them.

  The band with some colorful lighting

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