My last day in Banos was an interesting day for me...probably one that I will never forget. I was kind of in a weird mood because I was leaving a place that I had really grown to love...my home more or less for the past 2 months. I felt weird because I was leaving and I never knew if I would actually see these people or this city again in my life. One thing I have learned about traveling...is you have to say goodbye a lot. It is not one of my favorite parts of travel...
I had gone back and forth about leaving Banos and heading with my friend, Marina, to Colombia. My package had not arrived yet and I knew if I left without it, that I would probably never see it again. But for some reason...I just knew it was time for me to move on. I needed to be in Buenos Aires by the 15th of January so only had about 10 days of travel for Colombia. Marina agreed to travel quickly with me up to Medellin and see me off to Argentina. I thought that was very cool of her to do...she didn't have to travel all the way with me, but we enjoyed traveling with each other and knew we would have a good time.
The last day of Banos was also the day that I had to say goodbye to Tamara. Tamara was a special person to me because she was one of the first good friends I met as a solo female traveler. As I mentioned previously, she is this extremely outgoing, friendly person from Portland, Oregon. I really enjoyed her friendship and learned a lot from her...especially how to be open and meet people and make connections. This skill will help me so much in my future solo travels. Anyways....a few tears later and we said our goodbyes. However, I know I will see her again...we have way too much fun together to not hang out again :)
I also went and said goodbye to my teachers and a couple of friends around town. I soaked up my last glances of Banos....the waterfall that fell into town and the mountains surrounded the city. I really REALLY hope I can come back here someday. I know I have a lot of travel ahead, but I fell in love with this town.
Marina and I boarded the bus and gave each other a look of exhaustion. We had a HUGE day of travel ahead of us. Our goal was to make it across the Colombian border in the same day....a goal that was slim of obtaining since border crossings usually mean hours and hours of lines and bullshit. We had heard HORROR stories of trying to get into Colombia. But we were in it together....we would be fine. As I got on the bus I received a text from my friend Dario who I had a falling out with a few days prior. He wished me good travels and apologized for some things that had happend. I am not sure why, but the text put a smile on my face. I hate to leave things in a bad manner...and I felt good that he sent me the text. In case I ever go back to Banos, we would be friends again.
As one last attempt to get my package, I decided to stop in the town that it was supposed to arrive to, and tell the post office to return the package to sender when it did finally arrive. Marina and I hopped off the bus in the other town and grabbed a cab to the post office. I was still kinda out of it because of the goodbyes from Banos and my mind was a bit cloudy. We got to the post office and I smuggly walked up to try and sort out the situation and see how to get my package back home. Marina is totally fluent in Spanish and was able to help me talk to the clerk. When I gave him my name he looked at me and said "Andrea....Andrea Galant". I was like...yeah thats me...I need to return to sender. Then I looked over to the corner of the room and saw the Trinity Publications box...and the clerk explained that they did in fact have my package and have been holding it since the 16th of DECEMBER!!!!! I was in shock. I could not believe that they had the silly package after all. I had gone to the Banos post office day after day asking about the package and it was sitting in Ambato for the past 3 weeks. I was on cloud nine....the day was so weird and filled with all sorts of emotions. It was like Marina and I were floating on this cloud to Colombia and everything seemed to be working out (which is pretty rare on travel days). I opened the bag and found my ipod, bra, perfume, holiday cookies from Jatana, and our family christmas card. I have no idea why, but I really needed this package....it felt great to see my family in the pictures and to have some personal belongings from home.
Marina and I...totally taken back that my package had arrived...hopped back on the bus and stuffed our faces with holiday cookies. Today was going to be a good day, I could already tell. We went from city to city hopping on buses and getting to the next place seamlessly. We both could not believe how easy everything was going...we knew we would arrive to the border late at night and hoped that it would be open and we would be able to cross. Finally, after one full day of bus travel, we arrived to the border town in Ecuador. We both walked up to the border office and saw a line of people standing outside. Most of them were Colombians trying to get into Ecuador...they would have to wait until the next morning though since the office was about to close. They told Marina and I as well that they were not taking anymore people for the night. We were so frustrated....it was about 15 minute ride back to the border town and that meant more money to spend on a cab. We sat outside for a few moments...frustrated...and then Marina went back to the door and knocked and got the officers attention again. In spanish she explained the situation and we both gave him the puppy eyed look of desperation. He sat there for a few moments...then let us come in the office. There were TONS of people in line inside the office and it was this major cluster. But the guy behind the counter yelled to us and asked for our passports. We ran in front of everyone in line...showed him our passports...he stamped them then told us we had about 3 minutes to run across the bridge to the Colombian side or else we would be stuck in Ecuador the rest of the night. We took off running...still not really understanding how we were able to cut in front of everyone else in line. We arrived to the Colombia border and all the lights were off...shit! we thought we missed it. Then some dude comes out of nowhere with a cigarette and tells us to relax and when he finishes his smoke he will check us into Colombia. Apparently, that was the border patrol guy. So...about 3 minutes later we got stamped into Colombia..NO QUESTIONS ASKED! I think Marina and I made record time at the border crossing...about 12 minutes exact! That just does not happen at borders...it us unheard of. We both sat on the Colombian side of the border and looked at each other gasping for air from the run...WE WERE IN FREAKING COLOMBIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since it was so late we stayed the night in the Colombia border town and had plans to head to Pasto the next morning. Apparently, there was the Negro y Blancos festival the next day and we wanted to check it out.
Colombia....how can I express the emotions of my days in this wonderful country. First of all, I never once felt in danger....in fact...I felt more safe in Colombia then I did in Ecuador. There is military presence everywhere and it is very modern and clean. The Colombians welcomed Marina and me with open arms...They love tourism in their country and will do whatever they can to make you feel welcomed. Everyone was so nice and would go out of their way to help you. From the experiences that I had, Colombians were much nicer then the Peruvians or Ecuadorians...
So we arrived to Pasto which had this crazy festival going on called Negros Y Blancos. The day before was "Negro" day where they smear grease and paint on everyones faces. The day we arrived was "Blanco" where they throw flour and shoot foam at each other. We got off the bus and met some lovely fellows who decided to help us find a hotel. As we were walking some kids ran at us and threw white flour all over us. It was pretty ironic...here we were...our first day in Colombia...Covered in white powder! We found a hotel and put on our worst clothes possible. Then, we headed out into the town to experience one of the wildest days of my life...one of the greatest festivals on earth. Thousands of people were throwing flour and shooting foam at each other. It was all OVER us! Even the cops were getting involved with the festival and they were actually the main targets among the locals. We had plenty of foam fights with the colombian police. Check out some of the pictures!
It was a hilarious day!!!
The next day we headed to Cali, which is the salsa capital of Colombia and also the plastic surgery capital of the WORLD! Not to mention, the city is located in a valley so it is steaming hot. We spent about 3 days there in a fun hostel and met some pretty interesting characters. One night we went to this bar that had a live salsa band. They were awesome. Beautiful girls were dancing salsa perfectly. It was actually really intimidating! I wish I could dance salsa like these women, but my body just won't move like that. The next day, our friend Tim that we met in Banos, met up with us in Cali as well. We all hung out and found this great dive bar. We called it the dirty hot salsa club...it was perfect! We met some guys who tried teaching us how to salsa dance. The club closed at about 2am, but for some reason we were all ready to party. This short, fat, mafia looking guy asked us if we wanted to go with him to this salsa discotec about 12km out of town. Marina and I said "of course we do" and grabbed the 5 other guys we were hanging with from our hostel. I am pretty sure the chubby mafia guy was not planning on us bringing 5 other guys....it was funny. We all found ourselves at this insanely big discotec dancing to salsa and drinking Aguadiente, which is the nasties liquor ever. We danced until 5AM! Finally, we made it home and decided to go grab breakfast....we didn't get to bed until about 8am in the morning! That is how you roll in Cali, Colombia....geeez we were exhausted!
After the blow out night we decided that we should leave and head to a small village town to do some hiking and dry out for a bit. So...Tim, Marina, and I had a full day of bus travel to the quaint town of Salento. Salento is beautiful...it is in the coffee country and is surrounded by rolling hills and lush trees. One of their biggest attractions are the wax palm trees. They are these stunningly tall palm trees that grow throughout the jungle area. When we went hiking we had some great views of the coffee area and the palm trees. After our hike we were starving, but we had been eating so bad and drinking so much. I decided that I would have an attempt at cooking my hostel mates a good healthy meal. I decided to cook my mom's famous taco salad. I forgot, however, that we were in some small village where half the ingredients were missing. So I re-named the salad to Colombian Hostel Taco Salad. It was actually really amazing....tons of veggies, avacado, mango, fresco cheese, chopped beef, with doritos crumbled on top. We grubbed big time!
The next day we headed up to Medellin...my final destination in Colombia. This was my last night to hang out with my friends before we all went in different directions. Medellin was a really nice city. It used to be the cocain capital of the world, but since Escobar died they have had time to clean it up...and clean it up they did do. The city is super modern and very nice...the mayor also declared it a bilingual city so most everyone speaks english as well. Since it was our last night we decided to go grab some drinks and have one last hoo-rah together. We met some other peeps from the hostel and headed out to some trendy bar. When I was there, I met this lovely Colombian fella named Andres. He was extremely nice and we ended up hanging out most of the night. He has traveled a lot and had similar interests so we had some great conversation. I told him how I was leaving at 8pm the following day and how it was a shame that we could not hang out more. He invited me and Marina to lunch the next day and said he would show us the town. So, the next day we met him for lunch and had a lovely time....then he spent the rest of the day taking us around Medellin. It was a really fantastic day. I only had a short visit to Medellin, but thanks to Andres, I was able to see a whole lot! On top of it all, Andres offered to take me to the airport which was 30km outside of town (a $20 cab ride!) Both him and Marina drove me to the airport to see me off to Argentina. Good thing they came too bc it was a bit of a process for me to get through customs. Apparently, since I bought my plane ticket in Colombia, they charged me a "colombian" tax, but since I am not Colombian...they ended up giving me $30 back....they literally handed me money back in the airport. I didn't know what the hell was going on and thought they were setting me up for some drug mule scene. Then, after they gave me money they told me that I needed to prove that I was leaving Argentina. I have an outgoing flight, but my ticket was only online. So I had to go to some random room to print out my ticket to prove I was going to leave Argentina.....it was this whole long PROCESS! Getting out of Colombia was not as easy as getting in. Marina and Andres helped so much with the translations...if I was alone...I think I would still be in the airport at this moment in time trying to figure out the whole process.
ANOTHER GOODBYE.....It was hard to say goodbye to Marina. I really enjoyed traveling with her...she is a really lovely person with an awesome spirit. I shared many great experiences with her. We hugged in the airport and knew that it would be a long time before we ever saw each other again. I got a little teary eyed but did my best to hold everything back.
As soon as I left them my mind went blank....I was on my own again...I had not been on my own for about a month. All of a sudden I realized that I did not remember anymore spanish. I couldn't understand anyone. The security people kept asking me questions and I could not understand them...I walked aimlessly through the airport and somehow managed to get to my gate. My mind was spinning because the last 10 days of my life had been a whirlwind and I just left another travel companion. On top of that...I just met this amazing guy that showed me his city...what kind of life was I living? Each day was so different from the next. I seriously almost had a weird breakdown in the airport...so many different emotions were going through my head. Goodbyes are hard...I miss Tamara and Marina...I miss Banos and my friends there...Colombia was amazing and I wished I had more time to spend there...where was I going? What more adventures did I have ahead of me? Am I stable enough for this type of lifestyle??? So much movement and uprooting and goodbyes and unsettling...but at the same time, so much adventure and meeting new people and experiencing unbeliveable things! I am really enjoying traveling...but it is not as easy as I thought...at least not emotionally. (Gosh it sucks being an emotional woman sometimes :)
The next day I was meeting up with my friend Jeremy. He made a last minute trip to come see me (and clear his mind with some things in his life). So...as messed up in the head as I was during that flight to Argentina...I was really glad to know that I would be seeing a familiar face the next day. Somehow...things always happen for a reason and work out in really odd ways. HELLO ARGENTINA.....HOLA JEREMY! A new country....a new adventure!