Our trip from Colombia to Ecuador, despite being pretty well planned, was the bastard child of the devil himself. I don’t blame James for counting down the amount of buses he has to catch before he will be travelling around Oceania purely by plane; although I don’t mind assuming the vegetative-zombie state that you can’t help but adopt when you’re ‘bussing it’ as much as he does.
We set off for the Cali bus terminal, aiming to catch the 12.45pm bus but being offered the last 3 seats on the 11.45am if we can pay for it in time. The cashpoint rejects our cards and we miss out. The original plan of 12.45pm is back on; except the driver doesn’t start the engine until almost an hour has past since we boarded. Ten hours later, we should be in Ipiales; but we’re not. We eventually pull in at 2am and check into Hotel Metropol.
“Cheap and nearly cheerful,” read the TripAdvisor review, which I thought was pretty accurate. £3 each, £9 in total, would get us one room with a bed. Myself, James and our newfound best friend Loic get cosy as we shared a duvet and a mattress that was just slightly bigger than the one in my first year university accommodation. There wasn’t more than a 30cm gap between the end of the bed and the wall in all directions, but we manage to stow our 6 rucksacks and Loic’s surfboard without infringing too much on our sleeping quarters.
The alarm rings on my phone at 7am, a mere 4 hours since we mumbled “Night lads,” to each other. We hail a cab and stamp our passports to prove we’ve left Colombia. It’s only a 500m walk to Ecuador across a bridge, but a two hour queue greets me as we wait in line to receive entry stamps for country #40. The border official is adamant that James’ Colombian stamp is fake, but we kick up enough of a fuss for her to accept that it is a genuine leaving stamp. Loic hears a French accent, and another Adrien joins the gang. Four of us struggle to fit into a small taxi with the surfboard wedged in between the parcel shelf and the drivers’ steering wheel. We arrive in Tulcan.
The going rate for bus travel in Ecuador is $1USD per hour – I assume correctly that our 10am bus should get us to Quito by 5pm having paid $7 for it. I grab some pork broth, feed the bones to a stray Alsation, and board the bus. Uneventful, and only an hour late, we arrive in Quito’s southern terminal – where we will meet Carlos, James’ uncle, on January 9th. With a few days to kill, we say goodbye to Adrien and join Loic on a bus to Esmeraldas, a large city built around a port in the northern-quarter of Ecuador. The conductor is confident that we’ll arrive by 10pm: naturally it’s closer to 2am by the time we check into Hostal Andres – slightly less cheap but twice as cheerful as Hotel Metropol. I get a double bed to myself, a luxury compared to the previous nights ‘sleep’; and waking up refreshed the next day, we are ready to explore the city in 30◦C heat, only 100km from the equator line, with the sea temperature an apparent 27◦C
Our journey to the Centre of the Earth is complete – unofficially, at least, until we reach Latitude 0-0-0 next week.
Keep your eyes peeled (or just subscribe at the bottom of the page!) for photos, videos – including Colombian footage – and words from our time in Esmeraldas and Quito.