Sanctuary of Las Lajas from the viewpoint
Ipiales is definitely a mountain town. At about 9100 feet it gets cold in the evening but the sun is quite strong. In the morning I went to see the Sanctuary of Las Lajas which is this big stone church set across a river gorge in the mountains just outside Ipiales
. After bargaining with the cab driver I was on the way, it was only 7km so a pretty short ride and the cab driver stopped at the viewpoint overlooking the valley for a nice view of the church. It looked much smaller nestled between the giant mountains. The little village next to the church was really touristy, but being early in the morning on a weekday it was really empty and some of the little stores were closed, which was a good thing since there was already enough repetition between the stores that were open.
Tasty looking guinea pig
A few places were selling cuy or guinea pig but unfortunately I had just eaten and they were pretty expensive, about $12, so I decided to save that for Ecuador. The church itself was quite nice, it had heavy gothic decoration and there were trails leading to the river below and up to the mountains surrounding it. Walking up and down was tiring due to the altitude but the views of the church were nice. After walking around the church area for a while I went back to Ipiales to pack up and get ready to head for the border.
We hailed a cab for the border and got a fair price. But much to our dismay as we passed the Colombian immigration complex and continued toward the large sign that said Bienvenido a Ecuador we kept going. I told the cab driver to let us off there but he continued into Ecuador where the road looped around and there was a big parking lot where many other cabs were waiting.
From one side
He let us off there. In Ecuador. We had to walk back across the bridge and back into Colombia to get our exit stamp from the immigration office. It was about 1:30pm and two large lines had formed because apparently the immigration workers shut the office down to go to lunch for 90 minutes. Oh you wanted to leave or enter the country, too bad. So we waited in line for about two hours and they promptly stamped our passports with no questions asked and we headed back across the bridge into Ecuador for the second time. There is a big sign that urges people not to traffic drugs. Seeing how secure the border was I´m not surprised that it is a problem. No one searched our bags, nor anyone else´s that I saw; we could have easily been carrying a lot of cocaine and gotten through undetected.
The church from the front
And if the official border crossing is that secure, I can only imagine what it is like off in the mountains and valleys off the roads.
The immigration office on the Ecuador side was an even bigger mess. There was a serpentine line about a hundred yards long that wrapped around the interior of the office, outside along the edge of the building and was beginning to curl around the corner of the building towards the highway. We waited as this line crawled along, in full exposure of the hot mountain sun until finally making it into the office where we had to fill out arrival cards. The office was truly a site of great efficiency, two people processing passports, one guy cleaning his nails, two people doing something not helpful on another computer, and four people standing and talking in the lobby next door.
The church crypt
After a total time of three hours waiting we were on our way. A taxi to the bus terminal was quick, as was getting a ticket to Otavalo, about three hours away. We went to get something to eat and the service was slow and they were slow in getting us change that we almost missed the bus that already had our luggage on it. It was waiting for us outside the restaurant next to the bus terminal and they had given away some of our seats as well. But at least we made it. It was a pretty bad bus ride as it so hot on the bus that the windows were fogging up and the Ecuadorean police and military stopped the bus at least three times to check everyone´s documents. And the bus didn´t so much as go to Otavalo as it passed by it on the road to Quito, despite what they said. So the bus stops on the roadside outside this place and the attendant comes back and says that this is Otavalo and us and two other tourists get out on the side of the road. There weren´t any road signs so we had to ask directions towards the center of town and walk about a kilometer to find a place to stay. But at least we were there with our luggage.