Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On the Zig Zag

We have been traveling along some zig zags for weeks now. I left off in Medellin, where we caught a bus towards Neiva, Colombia at the end of January. The journey took us through towns of Rio Negro, Manizales, Ibague, hitting the highways on either side like mirrors- we bounced back and forth. Twelve hours later, as the light of the day was fading, we found ourselves passing through a snall town with an enourmous head on the street. With the rising of daylight we caught the first Collectivo to San Augustin, where we spent 5 wonderful days riding horses in the ancient ruins along the green farmland hills of Colombia. Then we made our way to Popayan. The road was not long, but tortuous as it was unpaved, and made me realize the purpose behind those bra things I dont wear. The landscape was unlike any other I had ever imagined. We were climbing higher, and higher still, into the tall valleys of green rolling hills and granite creeks. Above us, were always more cerros with cascading waterfalls in all directions. The agricultural patterns were like surreal quilts, and I felt I had fallen into the mastery of some painter, and another time.
We rested in Popayan for three nights, and our residence Casa Familiar was also home to some Washington kids we had met in Medellin, and a man from Cornwall who had biked from Ecuador. It is a friendly colonial town, with white washed streets, and beautiful bridgeways. We did a daytrip to the village of Coconuco, where we hiked 5 km to some hot springs with a spirit guide perro, who we named Cascada.
We left Popayan, not ready to turn in direction of Bogota or Quito, and our wills pulling us towards more countryside.
We stayed a night in the Parque nacional Purace near the Volcan. At this point we were at unbeleivably high elevation (5000 meters) and though we aquired a bonita- unique cottage with fireplace (complete with work horse for neighbor, who galloped back and forth through the night), we were unable to find large enough branches for a decent fire, and huddled together throughout the night, leaving at first light for the long hike back down to the road, breath still showing like clouds in our faces. We waited at the edge of a family´s land who came out to spend some time with us in the sunlight. They had many puppies running amuck, and the mother´s name was Lise.

The bus picked us up at 10 am and we continued to La Plata, yet another Zig to add to the Zag of our journies. From La Plata, we found a collectivo to San Andreas de Pisimbala, which is no easy feat as the road from La Plata streches back towards Popayan, and the road to Tierradentro Parque goes nowhere but there. We found ourselves bobbing on the edge of a truckbed with dust like burningman on our skin, hair, clothes. The veiws were again amazing, and I kept thinking to myself, This is what I thought traveling would be!
We were quite happy in this small village. Staying four nights at Los Lagos as the only guests of a family run establishment. They kept many birds in Bambu cages, who did a remarkable effort of keeping the area mosquto free. There an enchanted granite river winding itself through the town, which we took upon ourselves to discover first hand, all its crevices and water falls. Contently rock hopping through the heat of the day, we celebrated Manuels 26th birthday on Saturday, over morning Pancakes, and a nice dinner with the family at La Posada, a beautiful family -crafted Bamboo restaurant. The musuems at the Tierradentro parque were wonderfully cared for, and they even let me touch many of the ceramic and woven artifacts! The trails for hiking in the surrounding hilsides numerous, so we treated ourselves to some locally produced Coca Vino as we hunted out ancient burial sites to visit the dark underground tombs.
We left Tierradentro early Sunday morning before first light. The road back to Poppyan was again full of stunning veiws, rich farmlands, and an overwhelming amount of Cascadas pouring forth from the top of valleysides and into wonderful little gurgling creeks that rambled through pasters and feilds.
We hit another Zag in Popayan that morning as we found a bus Southwards towards the Equater. Taking the Pan American highway until evening to the crummy little town of Pasto, where I again received another dose of horrid food poisening. Next morning we caught an early cab to the bus terminal in search of a collectivo. As we were getting ready to cross the border, we were trying to use what little pesos we had left so as to aviod lousy exchange rates like in the past.
The dieties were tailing us as we pulled into Ipiales, and fond a colectivo immediatly headed for Las Lajas. This was a Pueblo made of fairytales. Plaques covered the stone Mountain from pilgrimages to the site to celebrate and give thanks for miracles tribuated to the Virgin Mary who is said to live on site. There is a majestic castle (iglesia) built into the mountainside, complete with waterfalls, raging river, idigenous trails, flighty-dancing pigeons, altars, and llamas. We stayed the night at Louisa´s La Pastoral, an amazing grounds with onsite preist and church, aching hardwood floors, hot water, rose gardens, and spectacular veiws of the castle.
Next morning we crossed the border into Ecuador, twice. The cabby dropped us off on the other side, so we cleverly walked back to Colombia for our exit stamps before getting our official entry.

Upon arrival into the town of Tulcien Terminal, there was an eery emptiness. Buses were running around the block competely empty. None of the ticket offices were selling tickets. This was so dramatically different from the hayday of Colombia terminals where every movement of the eyes attracts someones attencion to shout a town or destination at you and pull you to their company. We dicided it was best to stay close to a smallish posse of Ecuadorians who where standing outside the terminal fense. Collectivos were all displaying the name of some town along a coastal unpaved road through supposed guerilla territories. We waited. And waited. Then waited. I talked to a few locals who also wanted to get to Quito. They were exasperated, saying Seis dolares! -the usual rate along the Pan American. The Collectivos wanted ten, for not even the direction of Quito. A destination where we would most assuredly have to walk through stormy hilsides at least 5 miles, and three of vehicles worth of fees. We found some surfers who thought the collectivos where headed a good way for them, closer to the coast. No comaraderi there. Then an Austrian fellow came by, having found a single bus that was destined for Quito through Putamayo territory in the Orient later in the afternoon. With only minimal hesitation we took this opportunity, and found ourselves in Quito at about five thirty this morning, after another unexpected 15 hours on the bus sitting immediately next to an ear peicing shreiking brat-child, over unpaved roads, beautiful countryside, along more zig and zags, up and down painful elevations, bus wheels slipping through at least 3 large creeks, constant hold ups for narrow roadways and large vehicles in either direction- and onwards, towards my current whereabouts. Apparently there is some striking happening with government employees. It is unclear whether all of the Pan American through Equador is closed, or if it was only that section.
I havent explored this city yet, but our hostel, LÁumberge, is promising, with 4 creaky flights of stairs leading to our lodging, small courtyard, hot hot water, kitchen, internet, restaurant, pool hall, and beautiful veiws from the shower.
A whole new country (except the intriguing Banos region, which has been evacuated due to a recent eruption this past week), and some lucky zig zags to boot. My love to all.