Salsa y Rumba – Ecuador and Colombia

I entered Ecuador from Peru at “the worst border crossing in South America,” according to Lonely Planet. Once I got off the bus to do my exit formalities in Peru, I quickly noticed how disorganized and terribly slow the service was.

Then I entered Ecuador and the formalities were on the other side of Aguas Verdes. I got my entrance visa and was whisked away in a car by a bus company employee who told me I had to go back into town to await another bus to Quito, Ecuador. Confusing.

At this point it’s around 7pm and I’m about to do another overnight bus, but once back in Aguas Verdes there’s no electricity. So I sat and waited in the dark for my bus to arrive, knowing that Ecuador is not the safest of countries in South America.

I arrived in Quito to news of an Irish traveler who was violently robbed and held hostage for hours by crazed Ecuadorian thieves, so right away I knew the city would be a challenge for me as a “gringo” backpacker. I strolled through Old town Quito, where many churches and museums line the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and felt like I was walking back in time.

After talking with many other travelers coming from Colombia, I knew my next destination would be great. At about 11pm one night, I took a taxi to the edge of Quito and caught a bus to Tulcan, where I arrived very early and was able to sleep a few hours in my seat before getting up and catching a taxi to the frontier.

I walked across the border into Colombia and found a bus in Ipiales to Cali, the world capital of salsa dancing, where I relaxed for a few days. From there I shared a bus with a few other travelers to Medellin, the city I call the “cocaine capital of the world” and in the middle of the night I was awoken by the sound of repeated gun fire along the side of the road.

Other than that experience I found Colombia a beautiful and peaceful place, but you never know when conflict may arise between government troops and FARC- Marxist guerrillas. I read that FARC territory extends from Medellin to Cartagena, my next destination, but luckily didn’t have any other late-night awakenings.

Cartagena is one of the most magnificent colonial cities I’ve seen and it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the warm weather and sunshine. I spent countless hours wandering along the fortress walls built around Cartagena and marvelling at the architecture. The beach in Bocagrande was also a nice spot to relax amidst the throng of tourists.

The next stop was Santa Marta, a Caribbean city known for its beach, which was a little disappointing I must admit. From there I bought a bus ticket to Maracaibo, Venezuela and will continue on into Caracas and finish my South American journey in Bogota, Colombia.

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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