One Night in Ip Ip IpialesMarch 27 in Colombia
Early in the morning, we headed from Ibarra to Túlcan on the Ecuadorian-Colombian border to try and beat the rush hour. We had heard horror stories from friends who had waited eleven hours to cross the border, due to the overwhelming number of Venezuelans fleeing their homeland. The bus took us to the terminal at Túlcan and then we shared a taxi with an Argentinian girl that we had met on the bus. Once we arrived at Ecuadorian immigration, the fun began with a two hour wait to simply stamp our passports. This gave us time to get more acquainted with our new Argentinian friend, Maria. Fortunately for us, Maria spoke English quite well. She punctuated her sentences with “fuck” but, with her Argentinian accent, it sounded more like “fark”. Sometimes the placement of “fark” sounded odd and out of place but it made us chuckle.
While we were in the immigration line, we were mistaken for refugees by the Red Cross, as they handed out care packages to people.Once we finally got to the front of the queue, it took all of one minute for the immigration officer to stamp, scan and hand us our passports so that we could walk across the border and stand in line for another three hours on the Colombian side to repeat the process. Bags were not inspected or scanned. In fact, most of the cars crossing the border were not even inspected; some were sprayed with chemicals, presumably to prevent biohazards from crossing the border, but even this seemed random and when customs officers could be bothered.
We joined the end of the queue on the Colombian side of the border and settled in for the long haul. A young German boy in front of us struck up a conversation, telling us all about his travels in South America during his gap year. Soon, the German boy disappeared and was replaced by one of his friends. It felt like groundhog day as we relived the same conversation with the second and third friend, with slight variations on the same theme. At least it made the three hours in line go by a little quicker.
The next challenge was to find a taxi from the border to the town of Ipiales, the city of green clouds (la ciudad de las nubes verdes), only a short distance away. Somehow when we got to our hotel, the price had increased from the originally agreed price. We thought he had said that the price was 4 each, and we assumed he meant 4000 pesos each (about AUD$2 each), which is the normal price. At the hotel, the price became US$10 until we questioned the amount in front of the concierge. Miraculously, the price went down to 10,000 pesos, which was still 2000 more than a local would pay.
After a night in Ipiales, we got up early to travel to a nearby church, las Lajas, which is built in the canyon of the Guáitara River. The church was built on the spot where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a visually and hearing impaired girl and her mother in 1754. Legends claim that when the young girl died, the mother returned to las Lajas to pray to Mary and miraculously the daughter was revived and came back to life. Over the centuries, this place became a pilgrimage site before the current church was built in 1916. Still today, many people go in search of miracles or place plaques to ask for a miracle to occur. While we respect the belief's of others, each to their own and everything, for outsiders/atheists, we couldn't help but think that in any other context these behaviours or beliefs would be construed as a mental illness. It's all about perception!
The non-believers, observing from afar, retreated back to their hotel, without experiencing any visions of “sacred” dead people or witnessing any miracles. It was a miracle that the church remained standing after two gay atheists entered the “holy” grounds. From an architectural perspective, the neo-gothic structure is breath-taking as it sits wedged at the bottom of the gorge, overlooking a waterfall cascading into the river below. It's not hard to see why las Lajas is a popular tourist destination for both believers and non-believers.
Next stop: Pasto
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