Riding through rolling foothills to Popayan, which is at the southern end of the Valle de Cauca only took a couple of hours and by early afternoon we reached our Hostal close to the main plaza.
This town is known as “Ciudad Blanca” for the stunning uniformity of its chalk-white facades. Founded in 1537, it became the most important stopping point between Cartagena and Quito. It was seriously damaged by a violent earthquake in 1983, but has been nicely restored over 2 decades. We arrived Sunday and the next day was a holiday (Dia de la Raza or discovery of America!) not much was open, so we explored the City a bit. Heinz had some stomach/intestinal problems so he had to stay close to any bathroom. I went out to explore the City on my own a bit as well. We abandoned our tour to Silvia a small village in the mountains the next day for that reason and also because we were told that there was still some guerilla activity in the small villages in the mountains and we should stay away from them.
On Tuesday we rode to Ipiales, which is a rather typical non-exciting border town to Ecuador, but we wanted to check out the more famous Santuario de las Lajas. The ride to Ipiales through Pasto was quite interesting, up and down through the mountains at times pretty steep. On the way we met a German couple (from Marburg) on bicycles, who were loving the tail wind while riding, but they stopped and we talked to them for a bit. I am always most impressed by each and every bicyclist we meet and of course many of them are jealous of our bikes! The weather got cooler and cooler since we were climbing higher and higher (Ipiales is at 2900m).For the first time in a while we got hit by rain as well.
We found a decent Hotel in the City and stayed for 2 nights. To our great surprise both Heinz and I noticed that my bike’s water pump is leaking again. Heinz had only changed it in Seattle, which is only about 13000km ago. Germany’s reputation for quality work is going down the drain!!! Well, it now has to wait!
Wednesday we took the 20 Min. trip with a “Colectivo”(a cab, that takes max. of 4 people who each pay separate so it ends up being cheap!) to the Santuario de las Lajas. Build on a stone bridge spanning a deep gorge the neo-Gothic Church is a strange but spectacular site, as well as a hugely popular destination for pilgrims in need of a miracle. They place their faith in the Virgin Mary, whose image is believed to have emerged from an enormous vertical rock 45m above the river sometime in the mid-18th Century. The church was built only between 1926 and 1944.
So Thursday after 2 chilling nights we got ready for another border crossing and after almost a month in Colombia a new country/new adventure. We both very much enjoyed Colombia. It climbed to number one in terms of favorite countries we’ve so far visited. We were treated like friends and welcoming visitors, we loved the North with beautiful beaches, but hot and humid, the highlands with moderate heat and comfortable nights and the rolling mountains and jungles of the Valle de Cocora. We got used to the crazy driving by doing what everybody does…also driving crazy.
After (only) about 1 ½ hours at the border with no hecklers (sooo nice), who wanted our money for telling us where to get what stamp, we were in Ecuador. In terms of landscape there wasn’t really a noticeable difference. Not too long after crossing the border we were all of a sudden stopped by 3 policemen. Oh boy, here we go, I thought, the first ticket. No, they liked our bikes and only wanted to take a picture, asked how fast we can go with them and after thanking us and wishing us “ buen viaje”, we left. Ha, too bad we didn’t take a picture of them, I thought.
About 50 km before Quito a major thunderstorm started with a torrential down pour. We were still at fairly high altitude in the mountains and little rivers mixed with mud were already flowing across the road, but we decided not to stop for fear of major mudslides coming down from the mountains and blocking the road for good. So with fog and pouring rain we rode into Quito.
Capital of Ecuador but not the largest City (Guayaquil is larger) it is at 2850m altitude. From North to South it spans about 40 km, since it is “squeezed” in between the foothills of Volcanoes (Pichincha, Cotopaxi) on the east and West sides.
We found a really german Hostal in the center of the newer part of town called ”Zentrum.” It is run by Gerd an 85 year old expat from Hamburg, who is still quite fit for his age. He only had a large room with fireplace left, so that was our only (expensive) choice. Since we were soaking wet and could easily park the bikes there, we took it. Gerd offered us a hot tea, which we gladly took, because by then it turned really cool. After settling in and enjoying some supper, we were eager to start the fire in our room. We huddled in front of it for a while to warm up.
Next day our “quiteno” friend Mario came by and wanted to pick us up to go to the middle of the world, meaning to the Equator, which is a place about 15km outside of the City. By the time we had caught up with all what’s new, it was already past lunch and we decided to postpone this trip to the next day.
In general the weather here starts nice in the morning, clouds over after lunch, rains in the afternoon then is clear but cool at night. Mario returned home but came back at night (by car) with one of his friends, Lorena. They gave us a tour through the old City and we had dinner together. Great night!
So next day Heinz and I took the bikes and went to the “Mitad del Mundo”. It is a tourism icon with a Monument that pays homage to the first geodesic Mission in 1736. This mission established the location of the equatorial strip, which is actually 5km wide and confirmed the earth’s shape.
In the afternoon we took the bus to downtown and explored the old town at daylight. Lots of atmosphere, many beautiful churches and colonial style houses and narrow cobblestoned streets.
Today we went back for more and visited some Museums as well. Tonight we will take a bus to Lago Agrio, which is northeast of Quito. We have booked a 5 day guided trip to the Cuyabeno natural Preserve right in the Amazonian jungle staying at a Lodge there. This means we will not be on line or available until Friday night when we come back to Gerd and the Zentrum!