We decide to hit the road as we don’t have a clue about our shipping date, but do know that there can be serious delays at the wharf, so we need to err on the side of caution and get GR2 onto a ship pronto!
As always we enjoy being back in our own “casa” as we head north up the Ecuadorian coast. The weather is grey & cloudy, not at all conducive to swimming, so we are not tempted to stop. We camp overnight on the beach, & visit some amazing fish markets right on the beach at Puerto Lopez. The weather has deteriorated, & it is now raining. This continues as we head through lush banana plantations & on up to Cloud Forest. As we head over another massive mountain range the weather clears & we can see volcanoes all around us. We are heading back towards Quito & then north to the border at Ipailes. We cross the equator 5 times today, stopping at Mitad del Mundo - the centre of the earth. A very touristy spot (you pay to enter) with a monument & lots of shops & restaurants. We don’t stay long.
Our final stop in Ecuador is to visit the markets at Otavalo. The best day is apparently Friday, but Tuesday isn’t too bad. Lots of locals out & about in traditional garb, and of course lots of tourist stuff for sale in the Plaza de Ponchos. The side streets are much more interesting.
Anyway time to cross the border. Unfortunately we arrive just behind a group of 14 Swiss & Italian 4x4 vehicles, (not very friendly) so we have to wait an extra hour while they do their paperwork. Of course only one person is processing Vehicle Import Licenses.
We have already driven this route, so we only stop to visit the Sanctuary Las Lajas. It was packed with people when we last came past. We should have given it a miss as it was a very puffy walk back up to GR2. And it did look more spectacular from a distance. On past Pasto & on an amazing mountain drive to Popayan. The scenery was spectacular, the road…. Interesting, to say the least. The traffic as usual is downright crazy. We decide to start looking for a spot at 5.15pm as it gets dark by 6.15. At 5.17 there is a small petrol station. I say “No, I’m sure there will be a better one.” Big mistake. It is very dark when we finally pull into a petrol station near Popayan. We have been crawling along in queues of trucks over some very rough road for hours! Poor John.
A quick visit to The White City (Popayan) on Sunday morning. Our favorite day to negotiate our way to the historic centre. There are no parking areas, so we simply stop and explore before the place gets too busy. There are heaps of police, but they don’t care.
We now continue north to the Café Zona along lots of lovely, flat, tarsealed motorways. Sugar cane as far as the eye can see. As we head back to the mountains there is coffee growing everywhere. It is incredibly lush & tropical. The farms certainly look much wealthier. Some of the houses are gorgeous, and the motorway is pretty impressive. Lots of tolls as usual.
We now know that there is a ship on the 7th (not Roro, but flat rack) so we work out our schedule to arrive in plenty of time. But we do have time to detour off the main road to visit the cute town of Salento & the Valle de Corcora to see the tall wax palms. It is here that we meet a lovely Canadian family who are travelling for a few years in their 4x4 Bigfoot slideon camper on the back of a dual cab Chevy truck. We break our schedule to stay overnight and talk. They have come from Central America so we have lots of stories to swap.
Time to hit the road again, as we drive more mega mountains back to Bogota. Again, a change of route. We had planned to detour past the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but it was so cloudy, we decide to give it a miss, thus getting back on schedule. Again it is a long slow drive - 5hrs to do 135km on the main hiway – read bumper to bumper with trucks – stopping only to get GR2 washed. She looks like a different truck now.
At Bogota we head straight back to the tyre shop for a balance, then to our secure parking lot. We want to visit the museums we missed last time. So another quick trip into the city to Museo Botero to see some “fat” paintings & then on to the Museo Oro to see some fabulous gold. There is heaps more to see, but it is time to hit the road. It is still a long way to Cartagena.
We travel north through the Andes, before heading down to the Magdalena River valley, and drive through miles of flat countryside to Cartagena. We have 3 detours along the way. The first is to the salt cathedral at Zipaquira. It is way too touristy for us. Even the mine tour is pretty ho hum. Next stop is to the small colonial town of Villa de Leyva. It is very cute, with overhanging red tiled roofs & white washed walls – but again pretty touristy. The last detour is to Barichara another colonial town – but much less touristy. Much more enjoyable, & we have a lovely lunch there.
Finally we are on the last leg. We are back in truck territory. We even camp overnight with them at the guarded truck stops. Yes more big guns! We finally pull into Cartagena on Sunday night & camp on a lovely grassy spot beside a lagoon, right behind the Hilton. We even use their Wifi. We have an appointment on Monday with our shipping broker.
By Monday afternoon paperwork is completed, Gr2 is booked onto the ship & we have stood for an hour in the bank waiting to get out millions of pesos to pay for our shipping.
We have Tuesday free so we have time for a final trip in GR2 to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo where we can “swim” in a warm mud pool. It also gives us a chance to do a final load of washing, fill up with water & do a final tidy up. Wednesday GR2 has to go to the wharf, and we have to find a hotel again.
Finally on Friday John returns to the wharf for a narcotics inspection. Then GR2 is strapped onto a flat rack. She is already to be loaded onto the ship. I am not allowed on the wharf so I take the chance to do some serious shopping.
Tomorrow we fly to Panama.