The time had come to leave Colombia, I was bored of pretending to be an English teacher, plus trying to learn English from an Irish man is like trying to learn to ride a bicycle using a unicycle.
Even though the locals were friendly (I got the nickname “El Gigante Amarillo (The Yellow Giant))” I meet a lovely chica (shout-out to Gabby). I wasn’t staying as long as I had intended but I still had made a little cash and had learnt a lot more Spanish to help me along the road.
Leaving Ipiales I was technically an illegal immigrant since my Colombian visa had expired three weeks earlier. I had simply went across to Ecuador on the day of expiry, got their stamp and came back into Colombia living on an Ecuador stamp. The border between Ecuador and Colombia is extremely relaxed, you can walk across without stopping to talk to anyone.
So I got up early and walked to the border from Ipiales (took me about an hour). Then I skipped across the border and began hitchhiking on the Ecuador side.
No luck. Borders are always shit for hitchhiking and especially here with the way people fear drugs, the news in South America has people convinced their goldfish are dangerous.
I walked a couple kkilometers until I reached the turn-off for Tulcan and stood around hitchhiking on the main road for Ibarra.
A Colombian had told me that Ecuadorians eat dogs. Colombians from Ipiales didn’t seem to like Ecuadorians though since they cross the border with their superior Dollars and buy stuff in Ipiales causing inflation of the Colombian Peso. I disregarded the rumour as nonsense and passed the time trying hard to spot a stray dog walking around Ecuador.
After 45 minutes I was giving up hope and decided to pick up my backpack and try walking. While hitchhiking its always good to carry your backpack and walk where possible. People feel more sympathy when they see the rucksack on your back and are more likely to pull-over especially in Ecuador.
Two argentinian hitchhikers had by this time joined me too. Guy and girl, Franco and Jaqueline, two hippies playing music and selling bracelets to gringos on the road. We set out together in high spirits sharing stories and fags and soon got collected by a minivan.
The old lady and fella were happy to take us a few miles away from the border where we easily caught a ride with the first pick-up truck that passed, Ecuador’s Sierra is beautiful from the back of a pick-up. We sat in the back all the way to Ibarra. A beautiful ride only stopping once at a police checkpoint where one officer quickly asked about our passports.
In Ibarra Franco showed off his impressive road tripping skills. He got us free bread and sugar canes by telling jokes and complaining of hunger. Then he convinced a public bus driver to take us for free across the city so we could hitchhike on the northern side.
“No puedo pagar, pero puedo bailar” (I can’t pay, but I can dance)
And we danced our way onto that bus, at the exit of Ibarra we stood at a traffic light asking the stopped vehicles to let us ride. Quickly we got told to jump on the back of one of the pick-up trucks. The driver sped along at a fierce speed too, so we got to wave at all the cars that refused us (only like 5) as we over-took them.
After that Franco stopped another public bus and got us a free ride all the way to Quito.
Hitchhiking in Excuador was proving incredibly simple in comparison to Colombia.
In Quito we ate a 2 dollar almuerzo and I hit up an internet cafe to locate some couchsurfing, later we hung around the street and got offered free weed. Other Argentinian hippies started to materialise from the walls and drop from the sky as soon as the smell of weed got in the wind. Things were looking good in Ecuador, very good. I bid the now growing army of high Argentinians adios.
In the end I stayed three nights in Quito and then headed for the coast solo again for my first swim the Pacific.
Quito`s a cool city, many gringos and other foreigners, the people are friendly and the water is OK to drink from taps. On the other hand Ecuador is more expensive than Colombia since they use the dollar. Still I love Ecuador though, getting a bus here is completely illogical with all the pick-up trucks you can jump on the back of.
Special thanks to my Couchsurfing host in Quito David.
The yellow fever vaccine is neccesary for travel to some countries such as Australia or Panama if you have been in a country where you could possibly come in contact with the infection, such as Colombia.
Some sources online say that the vaccine is required to enter Colombia but this isn’t true. You can fly into the country without expecting to be asked about the vaccine. What’s more is you can get the vaccine in Colombia, for free!
This was a welcome discovery.
I originally went about trying to get the vaccine in the US in New Orleans since I was working there before I went to Colombia. I enquired for the vaccine at a pharmacy, quite a funny scene now that I recall it. I was wearing a white wife-beater vest dirty from work and in my Irish accent politely requested any vaccine needed for Colombia as I was flying there in a week. The Black American lady behind the desk choose to ignore me, assuming I was a drug smuggler I guess. I had to wait for her colleague to finish with his customers to speak with me since I was apparently only visible to him.
He recommended four vaccines I think, the yellow fever one being the most urgent. It would cost something like $120 and I needed a doctors prescription. Since Im not American he recommended a private vaccine place in New Orleans, probably costing around $150.
Well fuck that I thought, Colombians hardly have over a hundred bucks for the vaccine each. I will figure it out when I get down there.
I asked a taxi driver at the airport in Cartagena Colombia about the vaccine who wouldn’tt stop trying to convince me to take his taxi.
”What is it you need?”
”Yell-low Fe-ver”, I made a injection motion on my arm to symbolize a vaccine.
”My friend if you need heroin, I can help you”
I asked at the Hostel and around the town. I found a lady wearing nurses clothes and asked her (I didn’t´t really speak Spanish yet). She pointed me to a door, definitely didn’t look like a clinic entrance but I was wrong.
A small room with plastic chairs. I gave the receptionist my Passport and took a seat. An hour later I had been vaccinated, handed a receipt to keep with my Passport as proof and it was all for free.
No side effects. I asked about other vaccines but the nurse said they werent necessary for Cartagena and I still dont have them.
To find the clinic simply follow these instructions (its near the center). Its best to arrive in the mornings on a weekday and all you need to bring is your Passport and a stabable arm.
Its very close to the party square near the old town where people gather at night to dance. If coming from Calle Media la Luna, the vaccination clinic is on the right hand side of Carrera 10B just beyond the church and before you get to the corner of Calle Larga Fatima.
DEPARTAMENTO ADMINISTRATIVO DISTRITAL DE SALUD – DADIS (Department of Health)
Centro Getsemaní Carrera 10B No 25 -10 Calle Larga Casa Fátima 2 Piso
The Colombian adventure continues, an unforgiving country with dangerous roads and torturing sun, Vamos!
By the way my Walmart camera seems to have commited suicide, frustrated with it´s vagabond lifestyle. Hopefully I will revive her soon and get the photos from my latest trip up here (just the photos from my phone for now).
So I left Cali around lunch time on a Friday not sure how much work was involved in getting to Ipiales. Taking the local bus South to the University area and following the main road south after a kilometer or two I found a bridge to stand under and made a sign for Popayan.
After about 45 minutes a local guy pulled over in an Astra. In his thirties, he was glad to bring me to Popayan and we had the chats in broken Spanish.
I jumped out on the northern edge of Popayan opting not to enter the city but instead to try hitchhiking the ring road that encircles Popayan. A big mistake.
There was next to no traffic, every Colombian was somewhere for the international football game against Argentina. So I walked…. and walked…. and walked some more.
After about 7 km of walking forwards and then backwards with my thumb out when a car happened to pass me I gave up and hopped off the road. Then I jumped off the road, found some trees and flung my hammock up, hungry, thirsty and considerably pissed off.
I started again early the next morning, after another 4 or 5 km (with help from an old local guy who took me about 2km on his moped). I had finally walked to the other side of Papayan, and stood facing the traffic heading south of Popayan.
I gladly let my bag down and began petting some stray horse to get more attention, I had the blues to say the least after all the fecking walking.
“Hey look at the white guy petting a horse!, lets pick him up”
Is what I imagined the local Colombians saying.
It didn´t work surprisingly, I walked on and finally got collected just before lunch time by two nurses.
A man and woman, both very friendly and chatty with lovely slow and clear Spanish for me to comprehend. They left me by a Viaje (toll stops here in Colombia).
I stood around chatting with a local guy selling water, he presented me with some bible magazine but praying was getting me no-where and I would of preferred one of his oranges. After an hour one of the nearby soldiers ordered a truck driver to take me somewhere else, guess he didn’t like having me around.
The truck driver left me at the entrance to El Bordo not wanting to take me further I guess, not much going on here. I stood around hitchhiking for about a half hour talking to a little street kid and got offered a ride to Medellin by one truck driver. Wrong way fella but thanks.
Then along came Carlos, he pulled in his truck and waved at me. Then went for a cup of coffee. When he returned I jumped in and we took off.
I couldn’t understand a thing he said, and he was convinced I’m dutch.
He just gave me a confused look and then started asking questions about the Netherlands. The road to Ipiales especially after Pasto was awful. All curves, dangerous but very beautiful.
We broke down on a bridge and some soldiers came by to direct traffic around the truck. While Carlos tinkered with his truck and waited for her to cool down. I sat around feeding my remaining oatmeal to some famished looking chickens from the local farm that came around to see all the big truck commotion.
The soldiers were friendly too, we smoked and I spoke in my broken Spanish. Everyday the five men stood on this bridge with their machine guns which I weren’t allowed to hold for a photo.
Two hours later and she was back to life and Carlos tipped the soldiers, it was dark now though so Carlos soon pulled in and I jumped out of the truck. There was no bed so I assumed he would sleep across the seats. He wanted to start again at 4 so that left me almost 6 hours to sleep. I strolled around the petrol station and laid under a statue of the Virgin Mary. Wrapped up in my tarp inside my sleeping bag to keep warm at the ridiculously high altitude.
At 4 a local man woke me up and then the truck driver. They don’t have alarms in Colombia but rather locals guys you give a few cents to and they will lightly kick you at the desired hour. I had slept reasonably well on the concrete under the Virgins statue.
By 6.30 I was in Ipiales (the outskirts) on a Sunday, Carlos would go no further today. I walked into town, wearing a jacket for the first time in months. Ipiales is as cold as Ireland, it’s very high in the mountains. I started to see llamas too and Alpacas for the first time in Colombia. The people too in the Sierra are noticeably more indigenous looking then the rest of Colombia. I stood at least a foot taller than everyone also.
Stopping for breakfast I bought 2 coussants and a big cookie, a grand total of 600 pesos (€0.20). I could hardly believe the cheapness. With the remaining 2000 pesos (€0.66) I bought 40 mins of internet in a cafe, a cup of coffee and a smoke.
Ipiales is nice and cool I thought, a lad won’t get burnt here and it’s crazy cheap. Also there were potatoes for sale everywhere and pretty girls! I have a soft spot for potatoes and pretty girls.
“It’s a shame I have to leave so fast” I said as I walked towards the Ecuador border.
A car pulled over.
“Hello, I speak English, where are you going?”
“Come to my house for lunch, I can get you a job here”
Annnd I’m still here, in Ipiales. Taking a break from the road for a month or two to improve my Spanish and earn a little cash teaching English, I got 12 students as I write this to teach later today.
I’ll be most definitely back on the road soon because there’s no pub here, decent wifi or a decent book store either.
Expect some posts about teaching.
By the way I completely bluffed everything. I literally put on a shirt and said yes I’m an English teacher (don’t even have a working visa). I would love to work at this Institute. How hard can it be?
Hitchhiking in Colombia is quite the thrill as you would imagine. But by God the place is really huge and waiting times can be long. Hitchhiking from Medellin to Cali took me two days for example.
I was in Medellin at around 7am by the bus terminal with the plan of getting south as soon as possible towards Cali.
I approached a young Colombian guy and asked for directions to the nearest metro and he blabbers some incoherent stuff. Then he took a long puff from the huge joint I hadn´t noticed he was carrying.
“You want some my friend?”
I offered him what was left of the weed I had, it had been a gift from a guy from Cork (thanks Eamon) I meet in Minca. He rolled a massive joint, fat as a ducks arse with no tobacco at all. Great I thought sarcastically. I´m going to be baked in time for the sun to rise up.
We smoked the weed then he gave me some deodrant, all the time complaining about the many police in El Centro. He took off again after saying something about needing to get to work. I hope he wasn’t like a bus driver or anything like that, the guy was heavy stoned.
In the center I had completely forgotten about my plans to hitchhike South and instead sat on a bench staring at the sky. It was probably around half 8 in the morning. Next thing a police officer approached me with a big cunt of a sniffer dog. He had a good smell of my backpack. Thank god I had just smoked off the last of my weed, and that I was wearing sun-glasses too.
I proceeded to sit at a cafe, read my book (For Whom the Bell Tolls), charge my phone and admire Medellin. Its obvious why Pablo Escobar based his empire here. The place is beautiful, nestled in between the mountains just grand and cosy.
Around 12 I was back with reality again and caught the metro to the furthest station south (Medellin is well organised and the only city in Colombia with a metro).
Hitchwiki says to jump out at Itagui, but I say don’t. There has been two additional stations built south of Itagui since that article was last updated I think.
I got out at the last stop La Estrella. I followed my compass south, crossed the canal (which flows to the north) and got directions to the Autopista (10 mins walking). The road forks here and if you go straight you will take the autobus route to Caldas, veer to the left and back over the canal towards Cali and Caldas directo. Climb the hill about 2km and you will meet three petrol stations in a row. Heres your best chance of gettting the fuck out of Medellin.
I tried some truckers but none were speaking Spanish I could understand or heading towards Cali. I guess most of the lond distance drivers would of already left by 8am. It was now nearly 2pm. I didn’t see many Cali registration plates, just Bogota, Medellin and some where called Cota I never heard of.
Some of the petrol stations in Colombia have free wifi by the way. I emphasis the some.
A four letter word like Cali is ideal for signage I supposed and grabbed some cardboard then stood by the Autopista. Some locals stopped for the chats, and blessed themselves when I said I was using Autostop, great I`m very optimistic now.
Getting out of big cities is always a pain, maybe after an hour and a half Alexandria pulled over. I didn’t believe my luck, a single lady wants to pick me up? That never happens. I didn’t believe it until she waved at me to come over. Perfecto.
We flew down the Autopista to somewhere near Jardin. She owns a hostel in Jardin teaches yoga and like so many girls in Colombia, is really pretty. She left me off by the river Cauca, I chatted with the locals a little then continued towards Cali. I had to get east to La Pintada and on towards the Pan American Highway for Cali.
An older guy in a security uniform on a motorbike stopped to collect me. If hitchhiking Colombia it is important to pack light with one bag so you can hitchhike motorbikes. After about 30km he pulled in to start working for the night but insisted I eat with him. He pulled a big plate of rice, chicken and cheese from his office and a glass of milk. Brilliant! I had planned on setting up camp by the river and cooking some rice I had, but this was much better. Dining like a king.
I bid my friend farewell, he definitely seemed overly concerned about me, insisting I take water and more food for the road, Gracias, Gracias.
I began walking again and didn’t catch another ride before dark so I picked up a nice dry stick and hopped over a fence, beating the long grass away to warn snakes of the Gringos arrival. I could see their holes in the ground as I carefully stepped down to the river and flung my hammock up.
I woke at sun-rise, gathered some water from the river to filter for the day and took off. I was back on the road before 7am and promptly got collected by another motorbike and by fuck did he drive like she were stolen.
He left me off at Pintada and I began walking south again, after about 3km I came across some speed bumps and decided to hitch there. The mountains climbed up to my right so there was absolutely nowhere for miles that a car could pull in. Speed bumps were my best bet of catching a ride.
Some local kid came to chat with me, people always stare at the blonde haired guy, its usually kids who will come and ask question though. I noticed people say Donde Vivenes here (where the v sounds like a b) rather than donder eres as in the North when asking where I’m from. Spanish is confusing enough, I don’t need Colombians going and changing words around from town to town too.
A trucker soon stopped for me, he used to live in the US 15 years ago driving trucks but had forgotten English and had six kids. Muy Catholica I told him (very Catholic) and he seemed pleased with my input. He was bound for Manizales so I jumped out somewhere before there at a Peaje, these are pay tolls on the roads. Excellent for hitchhiking just after the cars are forced to slow down.
I stood for a half hour with my Cali sign, more cars for Cota passed. I can’t understand how I’ve never heard of a place with so many cars driving to it.
One truck came past with two guy riding on the back of it in between the cab and the cargo. They shouted incoherent stuff at me and had haircuts like gypsies curled up at the back. They must of literally jumped that truck while it was moving, absolute lunatics.
An old couple who had been eating in a nearby resteraunt called me over in Spanish.
They looked absolutely shocked, probably wouldn’t of been that surprised if I told them I was from Mars.
They took me to near Santa Rosa, driving through beautiful countryside on the way. Coffee, tomato and bananna farms rose up the steep hills which dropped again as suddenly as they rose. I definetly felt some positive feeling emotions as I gazed out the window of the old Renault Clio. Colombia sure is beautiful.
“There is coffee in Ireland?”
“No, just potatoes.”
The lady gave me some lovely baked bread too. While driving through one small village she whistled at a store and the guy brought her a 2 liter bottle of Coke for free which she passed to me.
I was back hitchhiking again under the midday sun with 2 litres of coke I really didnt need. Colombia’s an odd place really.
They drink Coke and beer in the midday sun when I’m throwing back litres of water to avoid dehydration.
The rivers flow the wrong way all the time.
When you take a shit you are supposed to put your dirty bog-roll in the rubbish bin and not flush it.
If you can’t salsa then your weird.
I stood there hitchhiking and some kids approached, you can always tell when kids are little shit-heads with high opinions of themselves. Its made a lot easier when they all have Cristiano Ronaldo haircuts.
“Gringo, where from?”
“No, your foriegn”
“Im from Cartagena, Colombia” (I tried to speak super fast and put on an accent)
Haha they were getting pissed off, now.
“Argentinian, Italian, French, American?”
“You smoke weed?”
Going behind a shed to smoke weed with a bunch of 14 year olds was not on my to-do list for the day. I did give them my 2 litres of coke though for their party and walked on.
Next I caught a van to Periera, a huge place altogether but luckily I was dropped on the south side near the Autopista and I began hitching again.
Next came my only drunk driver of the day.
“Hello I speak English because I worked in Chicago many years before. Can you hold my beer if I see police, also I have very much Marajuana.”
I turned down the free beer and weed though, I didn`t need to get high or dehydrated on the road now when I was finally making great progress for the first time in South America. He dropped me off by some guys selling pineapples and drove off.
In twenty minutes I was back on the road with Santiago a young fellow who had studied English in the US. Santiago is a cool name I think, sounds like a guy who paints naked women for a living or something like that. He drove me another hour or so and we had the chats about the Cocaine business in Colombia.
My next lift came promptly too, a super cute girl with lovely spanish. I agreed with everything she said wheter I understood or not, she was so dam pretty.
She left me at a Peaje, lots of cars for Cota. Seriously Where the Fuck is Cota?
I caught a trucker fairly quickly. He honked his horn at all other trucks and prostitutes and then at vehicles that weren’t trucks and women who clearly weren’t prostitutes too. I really think the guy had actually no honking standards at all to be honest.
He didn’t go to Cali but instead stopped just outside it in a town called Palmira. It was dark now so hitchhiking had become next to impossible and the area was too sketchy for me to camp.
I was approached by a local kid, around 15 years old. He spoke some English.
“Why are you here?”
“An adventure and to learn Spanish”
“Why, you are from Europe?”
“Then why come here. you have the opportunities in Europe”
Then he just kind of walked on looking upset. I know this isn’t a very long or meaningful conversation but it has stuck with me.
I later wondered why he spoke that much English, even a basic conversation is far more than most people can speak in Colombia. I wondered too about the long term affects of Colonialism on countries in South America? If it had different affects to the countries colonized in other parts of the world (like Ireland)? Is it easier for me to hitchhike and cross army checkpoints because I’m a white European than for a local? Do some people despise Europe a bit? I concluded these questions would be answered with further travel.
A bus worker said I could go to the Cali bus terminal for 6 Mil Pesos, I offered him 2 Mil Pesos ($0.90) and took the lift because the bus had wifi. I googled myself a hostel and walked from the bus terminal in about an hour.
I’m now writing this at the hostel, which has a swimming pool, breakfast, snooker table and computers all for 12 Mil Pesos ($5.00) and I can put my hammock up outside. Sleeping inside here is too warm I think. I`ll get cleaned up and head for Ecuador tomorrow.
Feels good to write again for this blog, I know its been a while but I promise to keep you updated more.