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Mucho Gracias, Colombia!

On our last day in the rough port city of Buenaventura we decided to venture out of the small tourist center for a meal in the one restaurant that was recommended to us. We carefully made our way a few blocks from our hotel for some local seafood. The meal did not disappoint.

As we navigated back to the hotel down the gritty streets we heard someone call our names.

“Oliver, Jennifer!”

We didn’t know anyone in this town and no one even knew we were here. Then, we noticed a young man rushing across the street toward us.

“Hello my friends! What are you doing here?”

“Edwin!” We yelled. We had certainly not expected to see anyone we knew in this remote Colombian port.

It was a young man we had met while hiking in Cano Cristales. Edwin works in Colombian tourism. Now he was on a tour for whale watching for his agency.

That is how Colombia is. Visit for a short while and you have friends everywhere.

So, it is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Colombia and the friends we have made here.

We would especially like to thank all of our hosts, who after having just met us opened their hearts and homes to us. They took time to personally show us their beautiful country. They also showed us that the true beauty of Colombia lies in it’s people. We feel so blessed to have made such wonderful new friends. We cannot wait until we have the opportunity to return the hospitality and show them our country.

Our biggest regret is not having more time to spend in this beautiful country. We especially regret not being able to get to Medellin to spend time with our friends Alberto and Shirley who offered us a place to stay and a full itinerary for their beautiful city. Oh well, we now have a reason to return to Colombia in the near future!

Just some of the things each of us will miss about Colombia:

Jen: Colombia’s happy warm hearted people, the dozens of fresh fruit juices, especially coco-limonada, the beautiful green hillsides and the snow topped mountains, the flowers and dozens of variety of hummingbirds, the perfect weather, no bugs, Adriana’s pan de yucca and empanadas, San Geronimo ice cream, the hundreds of different palms, the art, museums, parks, Ol asking me for 50 million on a daily basis, the prices, traveling by bus and seeing glimpses of farm life and the beautiful countryside, waterfalls, whales, the vibrant colors, the music, the cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, the nuns, the children in their school uniforms, the crazy dogs that really run the country, hot chocolate, food, anything grilled, rivers, the horses, cows, donkeys, llamas and chickens that roam free, free public wifi zones, hospitality of everyone you meet, the winding Andes roads, Spanish moss draped oaks, tropical everything, star filled skies, cows, lighting candles for my mom and other family members in the beautiful chapels, churches, cathedrals and basilicas, not worrying once if the fruit, water, vegetables were safe to eat, feeling like a millionaire daily with our 50 mil pesos, the children’s laughter and sing song voices …

Ol: Crepes and Waffles.

Some of things we won’t miss: the one small paper napkin you get, no toilet paper or toilet seats in public bathrooms, the long hours people have to work for such little pay, lack of information, the litter in the water in the port towns, Bogota traffic and cab drivers, cyclone fences with razor wire, the necessary military and security with automatic weapons, the communities that feel “hardened” by the recent violence.

We are off to Ecuador if we are to meet Liv and Ollie for Navidad in Santiago, Chile at the appointed time. It was easier to catch a bus than a flight, so from Buenaventura we bordered a bus to Cali and then a bus from Cali to Ipiales. I may need to revise the above list and add bus drivers to things we won’t miss.

A trip that was to take 12 hours took only ten as our bus driver was exceeding speeds of 74K an hour around hair pin curves. It was the most winding route yet through the mountains. Maybe because it was at night and I took two Tylenol PM, but the driver passed trucks on blind curves and many times I thought the bus would tip over. Did I mention it was a large bus.

In all it took us around 14 hours in total to get to the border. One of the wonders of the Colombia bus system, there is always a bus leaving within minutes of your arrival. You just have to decide on price and comfort level. The difference of less than a $1 US is wifi, a large comfortable first class seat, bathrooms, air-conditioning and TV screens.

We arrived in Ipiales at 3:30 a.m. and thanks to the internet and fellow travelers blogs, we walked across the street to the hotel that was recommended, paid our 25,000 pesos ($8 USD) and fell asleep until 10:00 am. We then paid 10,000 pesos to a taxi driver to take us to our final Colombia attraction.

We started our trip with prayers in Colombia’s beautiful churches and we ended our trip at one of Colombia’s most beautiful basilicas, Santuario Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas. An architectural wonder of Colombia. It also hosts a wonderful museum housing artifacts from indigenous people.

In 1754 a young girl was hiking with her mother going through the boulders of “Las Lajas”towards Ipiales when she heard the “Mestiza” is calling me. That year the priest organized the first pilgrimage to the cave of “Las Lajas” and the first chapel was started on that spot the very same year.

Through the centuries the church was added on to. The hillside walk to the basilica is lined with plaques and monuments from the thankful pilgrims whose prayers have been answered. Today pilgrims still come and fill jugs from the miraculous healing waters.

We felt blessed to arrive just as mass was starting. We lit our last candle in Colombia and filled our water bottle with the healing water.

We then caught a taxi to the Colombia border. It took less than 5 minutes to have our passports stamped. We exchanged the last of our pesos into $5 US and walked across the border into Ecuador.

To be processed into Ecuador it also only took about 5 minutes. When we talked with the immigration official she welcomed us back and asked if we would be visiting the Galapagos again. We told her we weren’t sure as we only had a month to see the rest of the country that we didn’t get to see when we visited a few years ago.

We plan on spending four weeks hiking our way through Ecuador. We will start in Otavalo and hike Ecuador’s beautiful volcanoes, crater lakes and waterfalls. We hope you enjoy our journey!

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