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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Election Sunday in the Polack Town of Colombia

Looking back across the border from the Colombian side towards Ecuador

We are now in Pasto Colombia, the butt of 'Polack' jokes throughout Colombia as a result of its heterogeneous, partly Ecuadorian character. Things are very different from Ecuador, both in terms of ethnicity and culture. There are fewer tourists and people are more curious than exploitative.

Ipiales from the bus station

We may decide to hang over here for another day because today is the Colombian election to find a successor to Uribe who has been pivotal in bringing the country out of being wracked by civil war. The two successors are the green party candidate and Uribe's military General. Hostel trail in Popayan have suggested travel today might be difficult.

Yesterday morning we set out from in a Taxi to the border 6 kms away. I'm usually very reluctant to take taxis, but it's essential in some places and the fare was only $3.50 US for the two of us. The border is the only one deemed safe by Lonely Planet and its a fractious one because of the dispute between Colombia and Ecuador over Ecuador's alleged support for the left-wing FARC. There are no through buses so you have to take a txi to the Ecuadorian side and go through the chaotic immigration, which kept everyone waiting because they had only one person servicing everyone.

Then we had to drag our stuff across the bridge and up the slope to the Colombian side through the traffic, me hobbling on crutches and Christine struggling up with the trolley. Then we were helped up the step to Colombian immigration, who promptly stamped our passports with no forms to fill in and we were able to turn around and load everything into another taxi for Ipiales without any sign of the ruthless baggage inspection we had been led to believe was the norm.

Ipiales was a strange town built of faceless brick buildings on a hilltop. We negotiated the bus station and caught a bus for Pasto which wound down a precipitous Andean gorge with vast views of the green escarpments to either side and the river winding far below. After about an hour it hit a tributary and wound back up again, finally rising to rolling high country. Pasto is at the same elevation as Otavalo, about 2,500 m.

From the bus station it was another taxi. We were going to g to the slightly more expensive Chumba but it looked like a commercial nightmare in a bad setting, so ordered the driver on the the classic bottom market Koala, which is a quaint back-packers out of the ark, with wifi situated right in the centre of town where I can walk out in crutches and actually see the place. As we arrived there was a tropical downpour and we were drenched from head to toe in the traffic trying to get our bags in the door. Followed by a precarious climb up the marble steps in the wet nearly slipping half way.

Strangely it has been almost impossible to find milk, or anything resembling a supermarket so we had to settle for a pizza and later a fried Bass in the up-market panaderia on the corner.

Today we are trying to decide whether to get going for Popayan - the "White City" which will take a reverse taxi ride in the wet. It is a Sunday and the streets are almost deserted and there is little traffic. But the Koala proprietor has phoned up and there is one lone Boliviana Frontiera bus at noon so we may head off.

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