It was time to depart the Galapagos Islands.
After a breath-taking series of adventures in the remote archipelago little did we know we were about to embark upon our longest journey of the whole trip.
After a quick breakfast we were shuttled to the airport where to our dismay we were met with horrendous queues. They’re such a soul-sapping way to spend your time but often unavoidable. It was getting a little touch and go but we finally made our flight and once aboard it was an easy transfer to Quito.
Conscious that we were only a few weeks away from our return home we elected to sacrifice Ecuador in favour of a decent galavant around some key spots in Colombia – this meant that as soon as we left the airport we hopped in a taxi over to Ruta De Americas hoping to book a transfer that evening. Initially it look to all the world like the place was closing up but a short conversation later and were on a last-minute bus to Ibague, Colombia within a few hours. From there we knew we could catch a short further bus to Bogota – by the time we reached there however we would have effectively been transferring for the best part of 48 hours!
We left our bags and tootled into Quito quickly for some tasty Tandoori before returning to settle in to the back seats of the bus. We made the acquaintance of a fellow traveller Simon whom I think was from Oz, a South American couple Jason and Marjorie and a somewhat ill-prepared Christian Missionary called Thomas. Eventually, despite the Ecuadorian road maintenance authorities’ best efforts, we fell asleep.
We awoke at ludicrous o’clock in the morning to find ourselves at an extremely disorganised border crossing. If it hadn’t been for the incredibly kind Jason & Marjorie I’m pretty confident my sleep-addled self would have wandered aimlessly down what at the time looked like a perfectly reasonable road and become an illegal immigrant / cartel food.
In a rare quirk of fate we found ourselves with dollars to exchange at a somewhat spectacular rate – I can’t remember precisely what it was but by this time we were much more awake and conscious that we had no more need for them so we sorted ourselves out and proceeding, again with the assistance of Jason and Marjorie, through our final border crossing of our journey.
Legally in Colombia it was back on the bus for some sleep before waking to a checkpoint. Confusion ensued amidst passengers and as we watched from on board at first and eventually from around the bus something like 20 oddly shaped, black wrap covered packages were removed from the luggage hold of our coach and thrown into the back of a police pickup truck. While grumbly from a far from perfect transfer so far [and little to no information throughout] it was pretty obvious when faced with this situation that now was not the time to ask questions. Within 2 hours – and constantly fearing the bus would depart at any moment, so fearful of any attempted wander save for the brave few of us that trekked to a nearby shop for sodas and crisps – we were back underway.
When the bus driver decided to ignore any need for us to eat breakfast we collectively assumed the mornings’ events had left him attempting to make up lost time at our expense – this does wonders for your mood. For his trouble we were all treated to an hour long traffic jam and thus by the time we reached a late lunch stop we were in frankly shitty moods and very hungry.
Jason and Marjorie again helped us make sense of the mechanics of our latest food acquisition challenge – and please remember here that we’d covered most of the continent by this point and managed perfectly well, so were pretty upset by the odd approaches Colombian road cafes took to food. We bumped into Thomas, who’d given up trying to share religious magazines with us by this point, and it turns out he’d not bothered to bring / acquire any currency and so was facing the prospect of continuing without eating. Instinctively you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some clever ruse to attempt to prey upon the better nature of others for a free meal but you only needed to spend a few minutes with the chap to realise he was about as sharp as a marble. He still had dollars from Ecuador so I offered him a generous swap and found myself again with currency I’d just gotten rid of.
An uneventful long journey followed, reaching Cali by 9pm but not allowed to stop for food until 11pm – a fact that served only to further degrade my patience and mood. We dined again with Jason and Marjorie who were lovely and easily the high point in an otherwise pretty poor slog of a journey. To be fair the distance or time aboard would have been far, far easier and more comfortable with somewhat more regular breaks – I’d have rather endured 8 more hours if that had meant a short break every 4-6.
The comedy highlight was the slow but consistent breaking of Thomas. You see Thomas had boarded the transfer blissfully unaware of the journey time (how?!?), ignorant of the need for Colombian Pesos, and – here’s the best part – he wasn’t even stopping in Colombia. He’d booked the journey all the way through to Venezuala – to this day, given the state he was in by the time we left the next morning, I cannot be sure he survived the ordeal.