Ellen and I left Popayan on Tuesday, and stopped for the night in Ipiales, on the Colombian side of the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. We stayed at a large but inexpensive hotel near the bus station, and had planned to go straight to the border to catch a bus to Quito first thing in the morning.

View from the bus window - I have a lot of pictures like these! My camera really can't capture mountains well.

View from the bus window – I have a lot of pictures like these! My camera really can’t capture mountains well.

Over breakfast, Ellen noticed a cute guy at the next table, dining with a friend our age and an older woman. The woman, who turned out to be his mother, noticed Ellen checking out her son, and struck up a conversation. Apparently Ipiales is famous for a church built over a river, and the boys were going there this morning. We should really see it, too. The three travellers from our hostel in Popayan sitting across the room had already told us we shouldn’t miss the church, so we decided we might as well check it out.

Ellen, Julian, and me on the path to the church. Joey was behind the camera.

Ellen, Julian, and me on the path to the church. Joey was behind the camera.

When I got back to the hotel reception, the two guys, who introduced themselves as Joey and Julian, had arranged for a driver to take them to the church in a private car for a quarter of the price of a taxi, and offered to take us, too. The four of us piled into the car, a beat-up old thing that probably had seen better days sometime before I was born. The driver took us to a dirty alley, where he stopped to gas up. From a nearby house emerged a woman with a pop bottle and a funnel, as well as a small boy about two years old. While the woman was filling the gas tank, the boy proceeded to chew on the hood of the car, much to our amusement. When he finished biting the car, he peed in a pile of sand near the door of the house and wandered off. Our driver got back in the car and drove about 50 meters.

This time, he stopped and got out of the car to trade places with another man, Fabio, who was going to borrow the car and drive us to the church. Fabio clearly wasn’t used to driving stick – the car sputtered and shook as he struggled with the gears. After half a kilometer, the car alarm turned on and the engine switched off. Fabio got increasingly flustered as he fiddled with buttons and repeatedly turned the key, trying to get the car going. Eventually he managed to reach the car’s original driver by phone and discovered the alarm cut-off, hidden under the emergency brake. We limped along the rest of the way to the church, with the alarm going off periodically and Fabio shutting it off.

First view of the church

First view of the church

The church was incredible, and well worth the change in plans. We had a great time chatting and laughing with Joey and Julian while taking pictures of the amazing scenery. The church was a Gothic giant, on huge pillars over a canyon. Imagine a European cathedral, built into the kind of scenery you’d see in the Rocky Mountains – that was this church. The two guys were Colombians who were on an extended vacation, like us, trying to see most of South America. Joey was telling me he wasn’t planning on going home anytime soon, but was trying to find a nice place to stay for a while and write. Hmm… who else do I know like that? Joey kept trying to convince me that Ellen and I could join them for the rest of their sightseeing for the day, and then go dancing in Quito that evening. While we’d have loved to, Ellen and I had made plans to get picked up for our next volunteer assignment the following morning, so we really couldn’t take a day out of our trip to spend with the guys.

This vertical panorama of the church can't quite capture its proportions

This vertical panorama of the church can’t quite capture its proportions

The church from the front

The church from the front

A statue of an angel pouring water - I wonder if it's holy water?

A statue of an angel pouring water – I wonder if it’s holy water?

The church in its natural environment, with Joey on the left and Ellen and Julian on the right.

The church in its natural environment, with Joey on the left and Ellen and Julian on the right.

After an hour or so at the church, we caught a taxi together back to the hotel, so Ellen and I could check out and the boys could make arrangements to visit a cemetary they’d heard was beautiful. On our way to the hotel, our taxi was pulled over in a police checkpoint. Joey, Julian, and the driver were told to get out of the car – Ellen and I got out, too. The police frisked the guys and took their IDs to inspect. Ellen and I got out our passports, but the cops told us they didn’t need to see them. While the police were calling in the driver’s license numbers to check for arrest warrants, Julian chatted them up about places to see in the area and various places in Colombia. When we were finally allowed to leave, we thanked the police, and then laughed as we drove out of sight – they frisked us and we thanked them?

Finally, Ellen and I got back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and headed to the border. The crossing was much easier and faster than we’d been warned about, and it took us less than ten minutes to exit Colombia, enter Ecuador, and catch a taxi to the bus terminal. The bus to Quito was a quarter of the price we’d pay for a similar ride in Colombia, and the empanadas sold by the vendor on the bus were still piping hot – much better than expected! As the bus pulled away from the border town toward Quito, two men with speakers got on and proceeded to rap to the passengers for tips. They even composed a verse about us, two travelling girls with short hair, which earned them a donation from Ellen.

Goodbye, Colombia!

Goodbye, Colombia!

The scenery on the road to Quito was gorgeous – round hills covered in a patchwork of rich green fields, lined with trees and dotted with cows, pigs, and chickens. We drove past jagged rocky peaks and beautiful rock formations, and through clouds and thunderstorms as well. When we got to Quito, the driver dropped us off on the side of the road and pointed in the direction for the bus to Mindo, our destination for the day.

There we were, standing in the rain with our bags, on the side of a busy street in a city we didn’t know. We weren’t sure when or how often the bus would pass, and we hadn’t eaten anything. We decided to look for a hotel and figure out buses to Mindo in the morning. Unfortunately, the first taxi driver who pulled over told us there wasn’t a hotel for miles. Ellen and I weren’t quite sure what to do next.

Luckily, we were approached by a guy in uniform, Homero, who had overheard us being turned away by the taxi driver and had heard us mention Mindo. He was an army officer who was driving in the direction of Mindo himself, and would be glad to give us a ride. We looked at each other and agreed he seemed trustworthy, so after a quick bit to eat from a street vendor we hopped in his car and got a free ride to Mindo. Along the way, he told us about traditional foods in Ecuador, pointed out the equator (half a kilometer after we’d passed it – oops!), and described a few points of interest and parks along the way. As we got to Mindo, it was raining hard and he wasn’t sure if there was a hotel in our price range, so we continued to the next town and he booked us a room in an inexpensive hotel on the main drag.

After a long day on the road, we were able to rest our heads on the soft pillows and go to sleep, with dreams of more adventures to start the next day. Life on the road is good!

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