Monday, 27 October 2014

0128 A Mountain Pass near Pasto, Columbia to Ibarra, Ecuador

26th Oct.

We woke up before 6 am with the noise of trucks getting on the road, but we also woke up to a magical view of the clouds below us in the valley opposite, and cool crisp mountain air – Weren’t we in the heat of the tropics just two days ago ??!  We
got coffee from a local girl selling to the truckies as they came through, but being Sunday, the restaurant wasn’t too desperate to open for breakfast, so by about 8 am we decided to leave them and head south towards the border.  Just 1 km up the road we came to a Peaje, and there seemed a bit of a queue, so we decided to go back the 1 km to the gas station and fill our spare tank with fuel in order to get rid of some of our Columbian pesos before we crossed the border. I was leaving it empty as I had plenty of fuel in my main tank to reach the border, and I knew fuel was cheaper in Ecuador.  But near the end of the day’s drive yesterday we were seeing several gas stations saying “No fuel”, and it was also about $1 a gallon cheaper as we neared the border, so I just decided to do it.  Little did I know how important a move this was to turn out to be !!

Into Pasto, which turned out to be a sizeable town so we were glad we were there on a quiet Sunday morning on the roads ! Leaving town we came across a bit of a traffic jam – Which turned out to be a march by (mostly) women against domestic violence, and we were surprised at how big the marching crowd was.  After Pasto, it was back up into the mountains again, for a scenic last drive in Columbia. Very green, and LOTS of cyclists on the road, many of them being my age or older !!  With these mountain passes again being up to 3000 metres, I was stunned by how many riders there were going up the mountain at great speed – Real Tour de France style !!  These guys must have tremendous lungs on them to live and be doing their club runs at this altitude – I am surprised more Columbians don’t figure in European cycling.  Or maybe they do ?  I am not too knowledgeable about cycling.  But I sure was impressed by these guys, and it really made me want to get back on a bike again -  Just on smaller hills, is all !  As usual along the way there were fruit stalls, and lots of vegatables (mostly peas and broad beans as far as we could make out) growing on ever available piece of land, however steep and inaccessible. 

Eventually we dropped down into Ipiales and the Ecuadorian border post.  We wanted to see a church in Ipiales that is built over a gorge – The Santuario de Las Lajas, but after a brief effort to find it, we decided to go to the border because we didn’t know how long the crossing would take, and we still had some 150 kms to go before our next suitable stopping place. Shame, but…….

It was past noon when we got to the border, and it was a Sunday, so we weren’t sure whether there would be delays during their lunch break.  In the end it turned out to be one of the most pleasant border crossings, and getting out of Columbia took about 20 minutes (compared to 3 days getting in !!), and getting in to Ecuador only took about 40 minutes, with the Adouane Customs people asking if this was our first trip to Ecuador, and giving us a tourist map and wishing us a safe journey !   The only delay was that (just to keep us on our toes, and make sure we didn’t start to think that this place was any more normal in the bureaucracy department than everywhere else) they wanted colour photocopies of passport, licence, visas stamps etc (instead of the usual black and whites, of documents that are mostly black and white anyway !) and being Sunday a few of the usual photocopy places were closed, so we had to wander around to find one that was open.  And after that we were out and on the road again – In Ecuador – Woo hoo !!!  Who ever would have thought that one day I would be driving along through Ecuador in my own car !!  Certainly not me just a few years ago !  Kind of exciting when I think about it !!  Only hiccup was we were told that we had to buy local 3rd party insurance, available from any gas station or peaje (toll) booth along the road.  First gas station says you buy from the peaje.  First peaje says you buy from the gas station !!  And anyway it was Sunday so all the insurance places were closed !!  And half the gas stations were closed because they had no gas !!  So on we went…….

In Tulcan and a couple of other towns we passed through we noticed very long queues for petrol at the few gas stations that were open, and of course many were closed.  What was going on ?  I was starting to be pleased that I had filled up back in the mountains this morning – And when we eventually managed to speak to people found out there is some stoush going on between Ecuador and Columbia, that Ecuador doesn’t want Columbians to have their “cheaper” fuel, and Columbians get upset, so around the border area there is sometimes this kind of shortage !  Our friends Greg and Estelle actually got caught short in their motorhome, and had to drain the fuel out of their motorbike on the back to enable them to reach an open gas station !!

The altitude round here is HIGH – 30 minutes out of Ipiales we were at 3317 metres – That’s nearly 11,000 feet in the old language !  We have been around 3000 metres quite a lot in the last few days, and almost always over 2000 metres, and apart from a few occasion dizzy spells when walking around towns and headaches earlier, have adapted quite well.  I accept that I am not running round or trying to cycle up a mountain, but hopefully by just spending all this time up in these altitudes almost every day, we will be OK when we get further south in the Andes. 

Completely different in every way as soon as we crossed into Ecuador !!  Normally when you cross a border it takes a while for the changes to occur – Language, scenery, signs, driving habits.  But here, not so.  They seem to drive more sanely (well, a little bit !), the mountains seem to be gentler rolling hills (albeit still somewhere up in inner space !!), and they use different words on some of the road signs ! 

At Bolivar, we suddenly saw detour signs – The Pan American highway was closed and we were sent way back up north on another road to El Angel before we could once again turn south towards Ibarra our intended destination for the night.  Probably added another hour or two to our journey !!  You really cannot make too many definite arrival time plans over here !! (We also hear the highway is being diverted somewhere south due to an earthquake that has caused massive slides across the road – I guess we will find the details about that out tomorrow !!)

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Ibarra by about 4 pm, which is certainly the latest I like to arrive somewhere as it often takes an hour or two to find where we are trying to get to !  In this instance we had the GPS co-ordinates for a magnificent sounding campsite with hot showers, wifi, and lots of extras, but the co-ordinates given on the internet were “S”.  Now we don’t cross the equator till just before Quito, about 200 kms south, so how can the co-ordinates be “S” ?  This is far from the first time we have been given wrong co-ordinates, so we start to be concerned and look for possible alternatives.  Then we come to a set of traffic lights as we enter Ibarra and
see a very western sign saying “Camping, Turn Left here”. As it is still apparently 26 kms to the original location (as per my mental Garmin unit), we decide to have a look at this one first, and then go on to the “other” one if this one is no good.  So we turn in and find this enormous lake Yaguarcocha, with hundreds of locals there enjoying the lake, slides, funny trains running around, and generally having a happy weekend out.  At the gate we ask about the camping and they tell us that the entry for campers is free, just drive 1.5 kms around the lake.  So off we go, and I hear the sound of racing engines !!  Then we notice a race car speeding by on a track – There is a whole bloody race track in here, round the lake !  We keep going, and find the camp site, and it is the one we were originally looking for – “Sommerland”, run by Hans and Patricia from Germany, and the map co-ordinates I had got off the internet had been totally wrong !!  As if finding places over here wasn’t hard enough even with the correct directions !!

Anyway, we arrived to find the gorgeous little camp site overlooking the lake, with hot showers, wifi, electricity, and, best of all for us at the moment, a washing machine !!  Most of our clothes seem to be in the “dirty bag” after 10 days on the road since the last washing machine was available, so this is an important consideration !  So we arrive here safely, even if it is not in the place we were told it would be, and plan to spend a day or two here enjoying the peace and quiet, and getting a few chores done before we head into Quito and on south.  We are also considering a quick trip out to the Galapagos from Guayaquil – It isn’t a cheap excursion, and originally was not on our itinerary, but while we are here, it just seems a shame not to do it, so we are exploring our options on the internet.  But like a lot of these trips, (like the Antarctic trips as well), it certainly is a lot cheaper to get out there from here, and also when time is not an issue because you are not on a strict deadline, so you can go when there is a space, so we will fiddle until we find something that suits.

In the meantime, we enjoy Finca Sommerland, with Hans and Patricia,  which is located at N 00.22.850, W 078.05.365 !

Pics are here :-


  1. Watching your travels, enjoying your photos and living vicariously! Yes, spend the money on Galapagos so I, too, can see it!!!! (Sorry, that is very selfish of me . . .)

  2. Definitely do the Galapagos - I did back in 2010. Sadly I ran out of film there as there is so much to see.

  3. Galapagos? Definitely. There are creatures there almost as old as you Giles just lying on the rocks. Oh and cycling? I'll hold you to that on your return. I'll hunt down some colourful Lycra.

  4. I agree with Amy in the Park. I'm happily selfish too and make no apology for it.