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Colombia To Ecuador – A Famous Church, Counterfeit Money, And Drugs

by on March 21, 2012

in Colombia, Ecuador, Happy Nomad Tour, Latin America

Breakfast In Bed

Breakfast In Bed

I left Pasto at 8am with a belly full of breakfast-in-bed awesomeness courtesy of my amazing couchsurfing host Ana.

I caught a bus to Ipialas, a city ten minutes from the Ecuadorian border. But if you are in the area, you have to go to Las Lajas to see the church.

If Nauseas Ask For A Bag

If Nauseas Ask For A Bag

This part of the world is quite mountainous – well, it’s been mountainous since southern Mexico. But I think it’s worse here when it comes to the roads. This bus had a sign saying that if you feel sick or nauseous, ask for a bag.

On my way to Pasto a child threw up on the bus. Thanks to all the windows being open and my distance from the mess, I didn’t smell anything. My stomach didn’t feel great for parts of the Pasto-Quito journey due to all the twists and turns and me concentrating on my computer or my book most of the time.

From Ipialas it only costs about $1 in a shared taxi to go to the church. But the taxi doesn’t take you all the way down. It parks at the top of the hill – or at least it did in my case but maybe it’s because there were tons of people there since it was Sunday.

Needless to say, the walk down with my backpack was fine, but the walk up was grueling!

On the way down I got to see grilled guinea pig for the first time, a llama decorated like a prince, beautiful views of the valley containing the church, placards on the walls I didn’t quite understand, and the church. Pictures below.


Getting from Ipialas to the border costs less than $1 in a shared taxi. Apparently Colombians don’t go through immigration on the way out. I had to ask the taxi driver to stop to let me out right before he crossed the bridge to enter Ecuador. I got my backpack and walked back to Colombian immigration to properly leave.

At the border I saw this RV. They are a long way from home. Very cool!

Swiss RV

Swiss RV

I crossed the bridge and went through Ecuadorian immigration. There were two interesting signs in the office – an anti-corruption sign and one explaining various rules between Ecuador and Peru. The sign was on the wrong side of the country, but it reminded me how close I am to Peru. I can’t wait to get there!


So, I was officially in Ecuador.

Welcome To Ecuador

Welcome To Ecuador

Then I exchanged my Colombian Pesos for U.S. Dollars as it is the currency used in Ecuador. The ladies who sold me my hat and gloves in Colombia told me I’d get a better rate of exchange on the Ecuadorian side.

I only exchanged $23 worth of Colombian Pesos and he gave me two $10 bills and three $1 coins. I used one of the $10 bills right away when I bought my bus ticket to Quito. But when I tried to use the second one at a café, the waiter told me it was a counterfeit and he couldn’t accept it.

I happened to have another $10 bill on me and he was right. I could see the difference. I don’t know if the other $10 bill given to me on the border was fake or not, but chances are both were counterfeit. What a shame.

Below you can see the difference. The counterfeit bill (on top) is smaller, which is obvious in the picture, and lacks the color-changing features of a real bill.

Counterfeit $10 Bill

Counterfeit $10 Bill

I bought a new sim card on the border so I was good to go with my cell phone in Ecuador and caught a collectivo – a shared mini-bus – to the bus station. The guy assured me the bus had a bathroom, would leave in 15 minutes (I even asked if it was 15 Ecuadorian minutes or 15 American minutes. He assured me American minutes), and that it would be direct.

In the end, it left 45 minutes later, had no bathroom, and stopped frequently to let people on and off. Still, it cost $4.50 for the 6 hour ride, which is quite cheap. My bus also had “Air Force,” which I presume is air suspension. This caricature was next to the entrance to the bus, which was strange. Normally the buses here are adorned with religious caricatures since the mountains + bad driving leads to lots of accidents here.

Oh, and I saw this scene from my window at the station. Of course, the gun is fake. But it looks real.

A Kid With A Toy Gun

A Kid With A Toy Gun

Lunch With Aji To The Right

Lunch With Aji To The Right

With my 15 minutes (that turned into 45 minutes) I ate this meal for $1.25. On the right side of the picture you can just barely see a pot with an orange liquid inside. The pot was given to me first and I thought it was a soup. I asked if it was soup and everyone told me yes, but with a smile on their faces. One old lady there was nice enough to tell me it was aji, a spicy sauce.

They would have been disappointed since aji isn’t terribly spicy for me. Mexican sauces were much spicier, for example. So a spoonful of this sauce wouldn’t have done much, but it’s a common prank played on foreigners here.

I should mention as well that the aji pepper looks like it could be a tomato or a sweet fruit. Again, a common prank here is to hand one to a foreigner and watch them take a bite into what could be a ball of fire for the unaccustomed mouth. Be careful..

Once on the road, about 20 minutes into the trip we stopped. Other cars were going by fine, so I didn’t understand what was going on. From my side of the bus, I couldn’t tell that the anti-narcotics police were searching the bus.

Ecuadoran Anti-Narcotics Police

Ecuadorian Anti-Narcotics Police

After 15-20 minutes, and after the driver asked who owned the roosters in the cargo space, the police came on board asking who owned the green backpack. I do…

So I went outside while they went through everything in both of my backpacks. A minute or so into the inspection, I took a couple steps back to take a picture of the spectacle and they got very angry. One approached me with his hand up to cover the camera and told me I couldn’t do that. I said it was only fair that I could take a picture if they were going to inspect every square inch of my stuff. Oh well. So all I got was this picture instead.

Soon after the anti-narcotics inspection, this performer got on the bus. It’s common in Latin America for people to come on buses to sell water/soda, prepared food, snacks, etc. But sometimes street performers bring their act “on the road” and perform in exchange for tips. Below you can see this performer. And yes, I gave him a tip!

The rest was smooth sailing, more or less. I got to Quito at 7:30pm. The bus station had no taxis, which was a testament to how deserted the city. Monday, February 20th and Tuesday, February 21st are national holidays for Carnival. Everyone leaves cold Quito for the four-day weekend in favor of the warm Ecuadorian beaches.

So I caught a bus to a place nearer to where my couchsurfing host lives and then caught a taxi from there.

And to end this post, a picture I took while in the collectivo going from the Ecuadorian border to the bus station..

That's All Folks!

That's All Folks!

About Adam Pervez

In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.

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