December 17, 2011
I got my things together and headed for Ecuador, this was no easy task because the city streets were confusing and I had to keep stopping and asking directions every 2 to 3 blocks. I finally found the road out and made it to the border.
As I was cycling past some official looking building I was yelled at and stopped. The man said I needed to go inside with my passport. I asked if this was Ecuador and he said no this is Colombia but I needed to go through Colombia customs first. As I approached the building the man also asked if I wanted to change money. Something I remembered from just over a year ago is that Ecuador actually uses US dollars as their national currency so I kept a stash of US money with me. I went ahead and exchanged what I had left of the Colombian money too. It felt a bit odd holding US dollars now in a foreign country.
I went inside and waited in a line. It was not very long before I saw two people that were definitely not Latin. A tall man and a blue eyed, blonde woman. They got in line behind the person who was behind me and I made a comment like "you're not Colombian" she smiled and said "no", I asked if she spoke English and she said yes. Her name was Inga and she was from Germany. We all had a chat while waiting in line and talking about our travels. Inga is traveling with a friend backpacking through South America and hopping buses, at some point, I think Quito, they were going different directions. It was great to have a conversation with someone who spoke good English and it was the first non-Colombians I have seen since being in Colombia.
After I got my passport stamped for my departure date I exit and cycle up ahead looking for the Ecuador customs. I get waved on through by some Ecuadorian officials and never did see where I was supposed to go for customs to enter into Ecuador. I thought it must be a couple of miles down the road so I kept going and going and then I reached Tulcan, Ecuador. I am now in a big city so I just looked for a hotel and got checked in.
Once I was checked in I decided to look for someone who might speak English in town. I went online briefly at an internet cafe to the couchsurfing group, sent a message to a young man named Gabriel and then went for a short walk in town, and found the ATM.
About two hours later I walked back to the internet place and checked my email and found I had a response from Gabriel, I gave him a call and 15 minutes later we where headed for coffee. Again I discussed what I was doing and what my intent is of this journey. After coffee he showed me "the most beautiful cemetery in South America". It was crafted with formed hedges to create many shapes and it also had tunnels that we walked through.
While walking around I asked Gabriel about entering into Ecuador and why I did not need to go through customs. He said I should have gone through customs and that I missed the place I was supposed to go. My only other experience passing between the US and Canada on a road system is absolutely no one gets by and there is no way to miss it. I have found many things so far are not marked at all and there is a lot that is assumed people would know. Gabriel said I can ride my bike back up to the border and I asked about a taxi, he said a taxi would cost about 80 cents. That sounded much more like it to me! He advised that a taxi costs about $1.00 per hour so the 4.5 hour ride to Quito should cost $4.50. Gabriel also told me that no one speaks English at the immigration office and it might be a problem trying to explain the discrepancy on my passport. I asked if he knew anyone that could go with me and be my translator, he immediately called a friend and got that set up for me. I felt a great sense of relief at that point and very grateful for more generosity being given to me.
At one point while walking down the street I hear "Anderson" and it was Michael and Loreno that I met the night before. We chatted briefly and they met Gabriel my new friend and they were on their way. That was a unique encounter, they were not even planning on coming to this town and to happen to be in the right place at the right time for another encounter.
After showing me around on a walking tour, Gabriel called his friend, who he said is the Queen. I did not know what that meant exactly but he said he needs to go with her tomorrow to help distribute candy and clothes to some children that are needy in another town. After a bit of back and forth of questioning and finding the right words it ends up she is the beauty queen. Mireya meets up with us and she wanted to give me an authentic meal for dinner. She drove us in her official "Queens" car with decals and writing all over it in Spanish. We stopped at a street vendor and ate a mixture of grilled potatoes, intestine and pig skin. It was actually tasty and if I did not know what I was eating I would just consider a very nice savory "comfort food". She told me that most foreigners will get sick because of the different bacteria in the foods here that we are not accustomed too.
Mireya has pretty good English because her father is an American that moved to Ecuador a long time ago. Her mother is from Ecuador and Mireya was born here in Ecuador. We talked some about the differences in the cultures between Latin America and the United States. I have been surprised at the level of openness in which people live there lives. She told me that people are very open in Ecuador but not quite to the extent of Colombians.
I was also advised me to stay in the highlands, the road to the coast is not good and the south coast in not a good place to cycle through. She said her sister rode a bicycle from Quito to the southernmost point in South America for a cause she was promoting having to do with water. I was also informed that the mountains after Colombia are not as bad, so it looks like I may continue on in the mountains for now and see how it goes.
After dinner I got dropped off at the hotel with a plan to meet Gabriels friend, Lady, tomorrow morning at 8am.
My first day in Ecuador!
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