It was Day 169 of the tour and it was one of the toughest days logistically. We left Popayán at 05:00 needing to get to the Colombian/Ecuadorian border before its closing time of 18:00. Unfortunately we had only been able to make running repairs to the broken suspension of the truck, so we were limited in speed, unless we made the cab rock so much to make myself and the driver sick. We had made the decision not to stay in the designated stop of border-town Ipiales for security reasons, as last year’s driver had been robbed at gunpoint. This is Colombia, after all.
Also on the itinerary was the requirement to get to Las Lajas Cathedral (in the photo above). Talk about a sight for sore eyes. I kept the group to a very military-style quick visit in order to get to the border in time. But it’s the kind of place that I could wander for hours. The drive down the valley towards the Cathedral was majestic. I shudder to think of the price of a wedding here.
It’s a pity our visit was a bit rushed, but we managed to get through the border in time. This was despite the usual delays and a small ‘processing fee’ to get the right ‘insurance’ to enter Ecuador. We arrived in Otavalo around 23:00, a long travel day even by our standards. But seeing Las Lajas Cathedral in the flesh was worth all the hassle.
Queues can take a few hours on certain border crossings, especially on the notorious Honduras to Nicaragua frontier, so you have to get creative. The first time I went through, clearing just the Nicaraguan side took us over two hours. A sloth smoking a joint would have moved quicker than that queue. Therefore I started devising schemes to get the group across more efficiently in future.
Two months later we had to go through the same border, so I pitched my best idea to our driver, and we went for it. We arrived at the migration offices, where a lengthy line had already formed, and we both acted as if we were in a huge hurry. We jumped to the front of the queue, shouting “We’re press!” to anyone who would listen, loudly claiming that we represented a group of important international journalists working on a documentary for the BBC in Nicaragua. It worked beautifully. Plus we didn’t even have to pay a tip!
Next time I fancy being a group of important international film producers. Efficiency rules.
Our van was searched by police at the Costa Rica to Panama border at Sixaola last week. Usually this is a cursory glance around the occupants of the van, but this time round they opened up the van, checked passports, and asked a few questions:
Police: “What are you carrying?”
Driver: “Just the pure white stuff.” [Gestures to us tourists]
Police: “Oh they’re definitely contraband alright! Go on.”
It’s nice to see the locals can have a bit of a laugh at us foreigners’ expense. Although later on the driver revealed to me the actual reason they searched the van was the escaping of three prisoners from the local jail. Joke’s on us.