28 September, 2012

Day 85, 300km: Southern Colombia

Ipiales was a nice stop for the night. The night was cold! I haven't seen a heater yet in South America, I guess people have a higher level of tolerance than in Europe. Exiting the warm comfort of the blanket was however rendered easier knowing that I'd spent my day travelling in the southern Colombian Andes. Mountains!

It's dry! Looks like Utah
Now the big surprise was the weather. Hot (went up to 38C and stayed over 30C most of the day) and dry! Can you believe it? Not what I pictured for Southern Colombia.

I guess there is a wet season judging by the river banks. No signs of rain however!
Police presence is quite strong in Colombia and I have seen police checkpoints several times every day. The army also is very present and gives the thumbs up to everyone on the road, that's pretty cool. Really makes drivers feel safe.
The police is maybe less friendly, although they usually wave me through. Well not today.

A checkpoint was setup on top of a hill just before a sharp curve. The speed limit where they were was 30kph. I was probably doing 80 when I saw them and tried breaking "casually" so that the bike's front wouldn't dive and reveal that I was really driving too fast.
Still, this time I was invited to park by the side of the road.

There were 3 officers. A young one and two older. The young one approached to check my bike and papers. That's good news as rookies are usually easier to handle.
He proceeded to go through the checklist he probably learnt at school a few months back. He must have been a good student as he's the first policeman who noticed that the passport I give is an old, cancelled, useless one.
So I proceeded to give him my current passport, and he continued to check my paperwork. I didn't have any insurance but apparently that didn't matter.

Since everything was in order, he tried another approach. (The conversation went in English, he spoke fairly well)

Him "Did you know how fast you were driving?"
Me "30kph senor"
Him "No you were driving faster, too fast. Here the speed limit is 30kph."
Me "Yes senor, I was driving at 30kph."
Him "No you were going faster"
Me "I don't think so, but if I did I'm sorry."

He looked back at my papers, searching for inspiration. After a minute or so he talked again, this time more aggressively.

Him "Why do you travel alone?"
Me, surprised "Sorry what?"
Him "Why not travel with your family?"
Me, laughing "Well I ..."
Him, getting angry "Why not travel with your wife? Huh? Why alone? Why?"
Me, looking at the ground, in a low voice "My wife ... is dead, senor."

(I have obviously never been married, even in Vegas)

He said something that I didn't get, probably "Sorry" (or "f*** you") and looked back at my documents. My answer seemed to have destabilized him. One last glance at my passport and he gave everything back reluctantly.
I put my helmet back on with a huge grin. I'm not sure what he was looking for, probably just doing his job, I don't think there was an intention to extort money. Still, a fun time.

Dry andes
Back in the mountains, I decided to setup today's restaurant at the spot pictured above. The heat and the road made me tired. Some sections are filled with potholes, potholes that are filled with sand. Probably an appropriate solution to limit the damage trucks make but for motorcycles that's rather dangerous especially in the middle of a curve.

It was hot, I do look miserable when hot (not only though), like an old dog walking with towards the shadow with his head down.

Nearing Pasto (50km from the border with Ecuador) the landscape finally turned green again. The temperature dropped around 15C. One of these days where there are no appropriate way to dress.

The city of Pasto. Glad I didn't stay there for the night.
Gas in Colombia is around 10,000COP/Gallon (1.15EUR/L) for Premium. In Ecuador it's much cheaper as we shall see tomorrow.
So other travelers need to anticipate the fact that gas pumps near the border have no regular nor premium, most offer only diesel! Make sure to fill-up in Popayan.
What's funny is that there is still a regular number of gas stations. The most boring job in the world, working for a gas station with no gas.

Las Lajas sanctuary, nested in the valley

I arrived in Ipiales around 6H after leaving from Popayan, so I had time ahead to visit the city. Back in Bogota with Amelie and Daniel we played a game of Colombian Monopoly and Las Lajas was pictured. Naturally I headed there when I saw signs along the road.
(Who needs Lonely Planet when you have Monopoly?)

Someone must have lost a bet
Walking down the hill towards the church, I kept wondering who got the idea of building a church across a river valley in the middle of nowhere. I guess some night a couple monks had too much beer and one ended up loosing a bet which would cost him the rest of his life building this sanctuary. That or the Virgin Mary appeared, I guess.
Ipiales church on the main square
After this visit I went into town (oh yeah) looking for a place for the night. Ended up in a hotel nearby the main square. Had dinner and off to bed early for the next day's border crossing.

Wish everyone a great weekend ahead,

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