Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Days 59-62: Through Colombia and Home in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador at last!

Driving from Cartagena, Colombia, to the border of Ecuador was relatively uneventful. Once we got off the Ruta Caribe (Carribean Road), we were reminded to fasten our seatbelts and not drink and drive.

I also loved they the Colombians let you know of points of interest nearby.

And, hitchhikers are always able to find a ride! This is a container on a car hauler with two guys on the back. This was not an uncommon combination!

In the northern part of the country, the landscape reminded me of the area in which I grew up, except the hills were bigger and steeper. In my part of Kentucky, the hillsides tended to be dotted with cattle, predominantly Holstein. Sometimes, those cattle dotted the road, too. (At least ours did!)

We were also driving up and down hills, seeing nothing other than farms and a few houses. Suddenly, there was a little town that may have a cross street, but not necessarily. These little towns all had the same makeup: A few houses, a restaurant or two, a gas station, and a little market. Every two or three towns, there would also be a farm supply or feed store.

The architecture was different, too. In Kentucky, the homes tended to be colonial-style farmhouses or ranch-style homes. In Colombia, the buildings are the tradition block and brick structures.

As we drove further south, Colombia began to look more like an Andean country than Appalachian. These mountains really can make a person feel small.

We made it almost to Medellin the first night. We stopped for gas. This station was definitely full service.  They had gas, rooms, and a restaurant. Pretty handy! They had serious chuckles at our shorts and T-shirts while they were bundled up in winter coats. It was pretty cold! So glad there was somewhere around 20 blankets on the bed!

The next day was a difficult drive. The mountain roads in Central and South Colombia aren’t wide enough to accommodate one-way traffic when you consider semi-trucks and hairpin curves. They are two-way roads, though. Often, trucks had to stop and wait for traffic on the other side to pass before they could enter curves, or oncoming traffic would have to stop and wait for the truck to complete the curve. Passing was treacherous but possible, trust me – Bruce was driving! 

There was a heavy military presence throughout Central and Southern Colombia, especially guarding bridges. They were all very nice and waved back at us and smiled. About half of them would give a thumbs up when traffic went by. They had huge smiles when we gave them the thumbs up back! I’m really not sure what it meant, but it was fun.

The award for best police officers is going to have to go to Colombia. We got pulled over for document checks a few times. I feel confident we were pulled over a few extra times because Florida doesn’t issue a front license plate, but that was only an issue one time. In Medellin, the officers that pulled us over seemed very frustrated that they pulled us over and couldn’t find anything to ticket us for. They circled the truck a few times, made several comments about the lack of a front plate, and examined all of our documents very closely. They finally let us go, though.

Other than that, the police were exceptionally friendly. Once they saw that we were driving a US vehicle on a temporary import permit, they wanted to just chat for a bit. One officer didn’t even take our documents to look at. He just noticed that I had them. “Where did you come from?” “The United States, but we entered Colombia in Cartagena.” “How do you like Colombia?” “It’s beautiful and so full of history!” “Do you like the food?” Bruce says “Yes” with me and pats his belly. The officer laughs and pats Bruce’s belly, too!! He wished us a good trip and sent us on our way, never having touched any of our documents that were sitting on the console during the exchange.

Another one noticed that when he would ask Bruce questions, I would answer, so he asked if Bruce spoke Spanish. “He only speaks a few words.” The officer: “Gracias, Buenos dias…” Bruce: “Cervesa.” Me: “More cervesa!” The officer: “He’s learned a lot! That’s all he really needs to know!” He briefly glanced at our documents and wished us a pleasant trip.
The Colombia-Ecuador border crossing was one of the easiest, and definitely the cheapest! Processing out of Colombia was easy. We went to the Dian to cancel the TIP for the truck. We could have just gone right on past. No cancellation paperwork, stamps, or anything. Just turned in the original permit. I’m glad I had an extra copy! Then, get the exit stamp in our passports. That got us out of Colombia.

Entering Ecuador just required filling out the immigration form and getting our passports stamped. One of the aduana guards noticed that I was standing in line a long time to get the TIP for the truck, so he went to a different building, came back, and escorted me to that building, where we sat down in a comfortable office, and a guy took care of our permit. Unlike most other countries where you can get a 30-day permit that can be extended, he issued us the full 90 days to correspond with our T3 visa. We asked about SOAT insurance, and he told us it was no longer required, so to not worry about it. I had copies of everything, but he just took pictures of my documents and uploaded them into the computer and gave me back my copies. I’m not sure what’s going to happen when we try to extend it, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. This was the first country we entered that did not charge for the permit, inspection, insurance, or any number of assorted fees to bring the truck (and often ourselves) into the country. I was so excited about how easy and free this crossing was, I forgot to take pictures of the processing center, but here’s the Welcome to Ecuador sign taken from outside the Colombian side.

We’re definitely back in Ecuador! The slower drivers are hugging the shoulder of the road so you can pass, and three wide over a speed bump is the norm, especially if you’re passing a truck or bus. The landscape is beautiful, and livestock is herded on the roads. We stopped for the night just past Quito. Initially, I had planned to see a few things in the northern part of the country on our way, but we’re ready to get home. We decided to just get to Puerto Lopez, and we’ll make a trip back up to see the things we missed later.

Loved seeing the palm trees on the side of the mountain along with the trees expected at certain altitudes, though I believe we had come down from official “altitude” by this point, I think we were still pretty far up.

There have been a lot of changes to Puerto Lopez since we’ve been gone. The next post will either talk about the changes in town or run down some of the expenses on our trip.

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