During this whole trip we had been unsure of whether we should cross the border by plane or by bus. Crossing the border by bus is obviously riskier than doing it by plane, mainly because of the guerilla group (kidnapping and drug smuggling was something we did not want to be a part of). In addition, it takes in total about 14 hours depending on where you want to start and where you plan on going in Ecuador, so it is no choice for the inpatient ones.
Due to several factors and after discussing this topic for a dozen times, we chose to go by land whereas I was more afraid to do so than Johannes. But due to recent ceasefires , we thought we would be safe, especially if we take a bus by daylight and if we chose the border that connects Ipiales (Colombia) with Tulcan (Ecuador). Other routes are not recommended. After having spent one day in Popayan, which is also called 'The White City', we started our journey of border crossing.
Never trust a busdriver's promise
There is nothing more to add than the fact that you should never trust Colombians nor Ecuadorian bus companies when they state that 'they have WIFI' and 'a toilet' and that they 'are leaving straight away, in 5 min, NOW'. It is most likely not going to be true, they will leave when the bus is full, they are going to have WIFI but it won't be working (we usually used Wifi to book our hostels for the night which is why we always appreciated it) and the toilets you might have will most likely be the nature and the side of the road, which works for guys much better than for girls but oh well 😉 But they will for sure have stickers on the sides of their buses advertising luxury class, wifi, bathroom, air conditioning and whatnot
Please open your bag...
One thing which is very time consuming is the drug search made by the police, taking everything between 10min and 30 min. We had about 2 or 3 searches in Colombia and again at least 3 in Ecuador. My personal and humble opinion is that it might be better to have fewer, but more intense and thorough searches (to give you an example, in Ecuador they checked our passports and totally forgot to ask for mine, next time they checked Johannes' bag not really bothering to go through the big orange drybag making up two thirds of the content. This might be the German influence in me talking but if you do your job, do it thoroughly;)
Crossing the border itself is a very easy process. We got off the bus on the Colombian side, took a collectivo (shared taxi) towards the border, got our farewell stamp, crossed the bridge by foot and got our welcome stamp at the Ecuadorian immigration side. An important note that while the Colombian office is open 24 hrs a day, the Ecuadorian office is only open 7am-10pm I think, So for everybody who is ever planning on doing the same journey, make sure you arrive at the border on time!
Our first destination in Ecuador: Volcanos, lagunas and animal markets
Our first destination in Ecuador was Otovalo, which is known for ts artisan markets. After being told that the bus would take us non-stop to Otavalo (which of course it didn't, we stopped thousand times along the way), we got kicked out off on the side of the Panamericana highway. While the cab driver we found was crap and totally overcharging us, our hostel owner called Roberto managed to make up for it! He took some time to tell us where to go and to help us out. He even knows some German and is planning on going there one day. He would pretty much do anything for you, including helping us to find a way to plan our trip to the 'Jungle'
One interesting thing we noticed was the bright blue river which floats through the city center, isn't it amazing? Well actually it is not, the blue comes from a factory which flushes it's dirty water into the river, note as well the tire tree, a very rare species... very sad
In contrast to Columbia the people in Ecuador, especially many of the ladies tend to wear their country's traditional clothes as everyday outfit, not only during Wasen or Wiesn time (Stuttgart's and Munich's Octoberfest)
What did you buy?
if you look closely you might see a snout or an ear of one of the guinea pigs she bought for lunch
Not everyone is wearing traditional clothes
but there are a lot of young women and men wearing them as well
Blue Lagoons and colorful markets
We did a full day trip around the crater of an extinct volcano which had a lagoon in the middle of it. This was quite adventurous as the only way of getting back to the city is waiting, hoping, praying for a collectivo, taxi or bus to come which would help you get to the city.
On our second day, we woke up early and went to the animal market (cows, pigs, sheep ,you name it). Unfortunately , as our backpacks are already heavy enough, we took no animals with us 😉 There is also a huge artisan market in the city with jewelry, bags, scarves, etc.
Johannes and I had the brilliant idea to do some shopping in Colombia and to send it all back home by mail. Then we thought it might be smarter to wait until Ecuador as the Otavalo Market is very famous. What we didn't know was that post offices are not necessarily opened on a Saturdays. So now we are stuck with our presents and souvenirs and the jungle does not seem like the place to find an office, so we will see!