The trials and tribulations of heading to the Ecuadorian border.

After the flying fun in Roldanillo, we were off to cover the southern most area of Colombia toward the border of Ecuador. We will be back for an extended exploration of Colombia next spring, but we had reservations for a Galapagos tour in early August with our friends, Krista and Scott.

These four hundred miles proved to be some of the most challenging for us. We had been somewhat familiar with the Colombian areas we had visited thus far and had stayed with family in towns large and small…family with ample parking availability. As we traversed the country from Roldanillo to Ipiales, we found that parking would become a priority for us. While we found places to stay along the way, the parking lots (parqueaderos) are often simply empty houses (remember, people live in the open air spaces of houses here) with door that are smaller and narrower than any average North American one-car garage. Getting our truck with its roof-top tent inside one of these is no easy task. We often clear the entrance with centimeters to spare!

We had made a pact with ourselves before we left Washington – know where we will be staying each night by 4 PM, don’t travel in the dark, and never leave anything in the front seat of the car…even if you are only getting gas. Safety first. Always.

While this pact was well intentioned, our desire to cover more kilometers each day meant that we ended up in unfamiliar cities well past dark with no idea about where to stay, which areas were safer than others, or where to park on three consecutive evenings. Keep in mind, we began each day with a determination not to let this happen, but unforeseen ‘adventures’ occur every day.

For instance, we meant to leave Roldanillo in plenty of time to make it to our decided stopping point however, after flying Dani and her family invited us to lunch at her house. How could we possibly turn down the opportunity to share a meal with our new friend and her delightful parents? We ate delicious rice, drank yummy juice and tried peto – a white corn and panela treat. This meant leaving a bit later than expected and we pushed ourselves to Buga, Colombia three hours later than anticipated. After driving around the town looking for safe accommodations and good parking, we found ourselves tired, hungry and ready for dinner. Please understand that we never felt unsafe, simply that we looked for places to stay that would be safe for our truck – which holds all our belongings!

The next morning, again with the best intentions, we left with plenty of time to make it to our next decided stop. We needed a few things for the day’s journey and stopped at a local grocery store to buy food, get bubbly water and access an ATM. It seemed too good to be true, everything at one stop even if the parking spaces were tiny. Since we couldn’t open the back of the truck to load up, I waited with the cart full of supplies while Jorge went to move the car. Unfortunately, as he was backing up out of the space another driver backed up, too. I watched as the other driver backed directly into Jorge without ever looking up from his phone. Uh oh. Our truck was fine, but the rear right plastic light cover on his tiny car shattered. The lights were fine, the cover was destroyed. Now the rules in Colombia are clear – when two people are at fault, both are responsible for their own repairs. The guy got out of his car stating exactly this and clearly accepting that both people were moving and at fault. This ‘rule’ changed when he realized that only his car was damaged, and his expectation was that we would pay for his damage. Jorge kept his cool and suggested that the local transit police be called. While we waited in the parking lot, Jorge contacted a friend in Bogota to ask about the price of the plastic cover. Passers-by in the parking lot stopped to check on us and to ask if Jorge and I needed any help. Yes, the world is full of really nice people. Each time, they would explain the law – both people moving, each responsible for the repairs…but, this was not swaying the guy in the tiny car.

After an hour or so, the transit cop showed up on his motorcycle eager to see our truck, our stuff, and hear about our adventure. As I explained our traveling story (in Spanish, no less), he put our sticker on the back bumper of his transit motocicleta. He, too, tried to encourage the guy to follow the rule and pay for his own repair. The guy was in no mood to be kind. In the end, the transit police explained that if we could not settle the dispute on our own, he would have to write up the report, we would have to attend a court date, spend more time in Buga than we wanted, etc., etc. He was right. It was better to cut our loses and give in.

As we shook the officer’s hand, we shared that we had met wonderful people during our entire visit to Colombia, but today we had met our first unkind man. Jorge gave the man with the little car 100,000 pesos (about $30 USD) and called him rude. This made him angry and we decided it would be best to ask the transit police to escort us as we drove away. He was more than happy to oblige and with his lights on, siren whirring and a smile on his face, he ushered us to the edge of town.

Once more, on the road again and running behind, we drove too far in one day and ended up in Pasto in the late evening. Again, we struggled with where to park. We tried the local mall, where we had read on the iOverlander app that parking could be found to discover that we too tall to fit. It was starting to drizzle and getting dark fast. We revisited the app and found that a local restaurant was known to be helpful to travelers at the end of the day and would allow parking in their lot as long as you ate at there. This was great! We would get dinner and have a place to stay. As it turned out, we had passed the place on our way into town. Now, we just needed to backtrack to Senor Pollo and settle in for the night. Using our phone app called Waze (maps with local user input), we typed in Senor Pollo and set out. Unfortunately, there are more than ten Senor Pollo restaurants in the area and after visiting 6 of them without finding the very first one we spotted, we gave up. Running low on gas, driving in areas that seemed extremely unfriendly in the dark, and without dinner Jorge finally asked a gas station attendant if we could park in the gas station for the night. It was 11 PM.

As we climbed into the bed of our truck, tired, hungry and frustrated I began to cry.

Today’s theme – The unfortunate fortunes of traveling…

One comment

  1. Whoa, what an experience! Sometimes, the present moments just become too overwhelming and there’s nothing left to do but cry. It’s unpleasant being in those moments as sometimes, they are just unavoidable. Such experiences makes us stronger!
    Life down there is very different than my experience. It’s nice to hear that people passing by were pleasant and trying to be helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience and happy to hear no one was injured!


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