As I prowled the one and only mean street of Sibundoy I spotted a stall selling really big juicy looking salchichas (sausages) and I simply had to have one. Thus I spent the following day writhing around in bed in a windowless room with a dodgy stomach and a fever. Thankfully after a cocktail of drugs and copious amounts of water I sweated it all out and the next morning I was feeling fresh and raring to go.
After El Trampolin I thought nothing could stop me. However, with legs weakened by illness the steep road out of the valley was tougher than I expected, only compounded by the torrential rain that soaked my climb up to 3300 metres. By the top I was bloody freezing and could barely feel my hands. As soon as I pulled into the hamlet that overlooks La Laguna de la Cocha I bought a hot chocolate and cheese (yes, you read that correctly, they dip cheese in their hot chocolate in Colombia) more to warm up my numbed prune fingers than anything.
I’d planned to camp by the lake but with such awful weather and very wet feet I couldn’t see past finding another cheap hotel. Then suddenly the clouds parted and the sun shone forth, turning everything from brown and grey to technicolor. Within half an hour I’d found about the best camping spot imaginable behind a little hotel and was basking in the magnificent views of the lake.
The final 25km to Pasto weren’t too difficult and within a couple of hours I was safely ensconced in Koala Inn in the city centre, where I was to spend the next couple of nights as I waited to pick up a package. Pasto ain’t the prettiest, nor the most captivating of cities and I found little to do other than eat, download tons of films and audio books, and drink rum with Perth’s finest, Nick. On my ride over to Pasto a guy pulled over and asked if I happened to know any Italian travelers as they’d found a passport and documents strewn on the side of the road a couple of weeks prior. I politely told them I’d heard nothing, amused by the idea that us foreigners are a band of merry mates that all know one another. As it turns out, Nick did know this very guy, whose overnight bus had been robbed by bandits a fortnight earlier. They must’ve dumped his papers while making a getaway. So, uh, if you read this, Lorenzo, there’s a family somewhere in Pasto with your passport. Good luck with that one, mate.
The 83km down from Pasto to the border town of Ipiales was pleasant enough: a 15km climb up into the pastoral patchwork of the Narino countryside, followed by 25km of nonstop downhill into a mountain gorge before steadily back up to Ipiales at 2900m. The most interesting thing that happened was a dog ambush – one dog happily tottered across the road in front of me and then in a flash was overcome by satanic forces. 4 of his hellhound brethren were summoned and I had to hop off the bike to avoid getting mauled. They were proper nasty, biting at my panniers, barking with the anger of a thousand boneless nights. Some hero avocado salesman (aren’t they all heroes, really?) appeared from nowhere and started pelting them with rocks, forcing them up onto a ridge where they couldn’t get me and I was able to make a slow escape while they spat hell-fire at me from above. I’m coming to seriously hate dogs when I’m on the bike. They’re so damn unpredictable, one second they’re lollygagging, full of doggy smiles, the next they’re at your throat.
About 2 years ago, back when the idea of coming to Colombia was nowt but a seedling, a friend sent me a photo of this incredible looking church built ino the side of a canyon – I think it might’ve even been the very first photo I ever saw of Colombia – and I always thought it would be a cool place to visit. So it was rather fitting that on my last day in Colombia I got to check it out before crossing over into Ecuador.
Santuario de Las Lajas was built in the early 20th century and was inspired by a sighting of the Virgin Mary back in 1754. Ever since people have pilgrimaged here and the cliff walls are adorned with hundreds of plaques soliciting the Virgin Mary’s blessing. The design is kinda gaudy but the setting in unparalleled and Me and Nick spent a relaxed morning wandering around the gorge taking photos.
And so it was that after almost exactly a year I traded my surrogate home of Colombia for the land of volcanoes, Ecuador. I had one of the best years of my life living in Bogota and Colombia will always have a special place in my heart, but as I crossed the border I felt ready to tread new ground and see what this similar-flagged country to the south has to offer. Alas no more buñuelos, pokers, sancochos, exito queues, “bacano”, lulos, Transmilenio (thank fuck), Mustang, Teatron nights, “que pena” or bandeja paisas. I’m gonna miss you, ya big beautiful yellow bastard!
Now where can I buy an Ecuador football shirt…?
Tunes: Fugazi – Repeater, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Football Weekly, Rancid – And Out Come The Wolves, Del The Funky Homosapien – I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Reads: Richard Yates – The Easter Parade, Maya Angelou – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Creativity Inc – Edwin Catmull
Route: Sibundoy – Pasto – Ipiales
Total distance in Colombia: 1300km (ish)