Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ipiales, Otavalo, Quito and Colombia by the Numbers

Greetings from Quito! We got in on Tuesday to our friend Andrey's house here in Quito after quite the adventure. Sarah knows Andrey from UCLA (Go Bruins!). We left Pasto on Sunday morning and caught the bus to Ipiales. Ipiales is a relatively small town near the border with Ecuador. There is a magnificent church nearby called the Santuario de Las Lajas which everyone told us we had to see, so we piled into a collectivo and headed for Las Lajas. As we were descending into the canyon with our heavy backpacks we realized that it wasn't going to be a fun trip back up, but the church is really amazing. It is built on a bridge over a small river near the border, and since it was Sunday there were quite a few worshippers. One wall of the inside is the mountain itself, and the rest is painted white and gold with beautiful stained glass. After taking a few pictures of the outside, we slowly ascended back to the road with our backpacks. We had originally planned on staying in Ipiales for a night, but since we had already seen the church, and it was only about noon, we decided to head for the border and go into Ecuador a day early. We caught a collectivo back to the bus station and took a taxi to the border. Formalities were very straightforward, and there were no lines, however a cambista did try to cheat us. Luckily I know how to multiply and we saved $20. After crossing the border we caught another taxi to the small city of Tulcan and caught a Quito-bound bus which would let us off near Otavalo. It literally dropped us off on the side of the Panamerican so we wandered for about ten mins before we got to the center of town. First we checked out a few hotels in the Lonely Planet. Then we walked across the street and found a hotel that was charging half the price, seemed like a good deal and it was operated by an indigenous family. Later on we discovered a delicious chifa called Chifa Mi Chifa. A chifa is basically a Chinese restaurant with some local influence. We decided to each get our own dish which turned out to be way too much food. The next day we checked out the local crafts market where Sarah bought some fancy new pants. We also hiked up to a waterfall, the Cascada de Peguche. We went to the Parque Bolivar, which has free wi-fi and piped in music through a bunch of hidden speakers. We had some pie at a pie shop recommended by the guide book which was delicious, albeit a little expensive. On Tuesday we went up to Parque Condor where injured birds are nurtured back to health. The Andean Condor is an enormous bird with a three meter wingspan. They also have a flight show which includes an American bald eagle who was really having fun flying around. We walked back to the town (about five kilometers) and grabbed a quick lunch at our chifa before catching the bus to Quito. We have been hanging out in Quito relaxing, and last night our host had a concert (he plays the French horn) so we went and watched. Afterwards we had a few beers and Indian food (as in Indian from India, not indigenous to Ecuador). Tomorrow we will probably head out to Baños to check out the thermal pools.

Colombia turned out to be a more expensive country than I had anticipated. It is a much more advanced country than state dept warnings and guidebooks would have you believe. That said, we did a lot in Colombia, went to dozens of musuems, took several guided tours, and ate a ridiculous amount of food. In addition, our camera failed so we had to buy a new one and we both had to buy new hiking shoes. In regards to the camera, technology and electronics in Colombia are more expensive than in the states and are essentially last year's model. That said, with the new free trade agreement that will probably change. Anyways, here are the numbers. We entered the country with $217 and left with $118. We withdrew $3117 from the bank account giving us a total spend in Colombia of $3216. We were in the country for 48 days which comes out to $67 per day, way over budget. However when adjusted for the shoes and camera purchases it comes out to about $56 per day. Either way we were significantly over budget, but there is just so much to do there. That said, so far Ecuador seems much more affordable, so aside from the trip to the Galapagos, we should be able to save some cash. ¡Hasta Luego!

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