Richard saves the day

Arrived in Popayan, another well preserved colonial town, known as ‘The White City’ as it is famous for its white buildings, around 3pm and checked into our Scottish owned Hostel, it’s truly amazing the number of expats who own and run tourist businesses throughout South America.

Popayan is also renowned for its Easter Parades, we of course are slightly late but in the weeks following they have mini parades with the local children. I guess practice for later and lots of “aah” moments for parents.

All dressed up

The buildings are impressive but the overall white makes it seem quite clinical, personally preferred Cartagena and Salento as more colourful and atmospheric.

Out to dinner with Tony, Geoff, Terry and Lesley we stopped for a pre dinner drink and in one of our more bizarre incidents we were served by a dwarf in convict outfit complete with pink bicycle. Still the beer was cold and we got all the popcorn you could want. Dinner was Chinese but not as you know it – a distinct Colombian flavoured twist. Interesting and perfectly edible just not what you expect in a Chinese.

We were due to meet others in a bar but when Kirsten (in her mid-thirties) reported she had doubled the average age of the clientele by going in we had a change of plan and ended up in El Iguana a local Salsa bar. It was great fun to watch the locals strut their stuff to the deafening salsa music whilst drinking Cuba Libras.

Next day the Hostel arranged for us to have Salsa lessons, much more physically tiring than you would think, the trainer was a professional and he could definitely move. The secret seeming to be move your feet whist your upper body appears to remain still. It was great to take part but I think the locals start at around 5 years of age so think we may have left it a little late.

Pause for rest

Some of the group did go back that night and were heartily welcomed by the locals for giving it a go, we opted for dinner at the Italian with Francois, Terry and Lesley. Excellent food and friendly service. Pete and Kirsten found it so good they went for a late lunch – cheese fondue – at 7pm and came back for dinner – cheese fondue – at 8pm ! Yes back to back fondues.

Popayan Photos Here

Our next stop was a brief overnight at the border town of Ipiales, after a long drive. Local speciality was chicken as there must have been 20 chicken places. 6 of us had a soup, a quarter chicken with potatoes and soft drinks for a total price of 24,000 pesos or under £10 for dinner for 6. Bargain.

First thing Karen went with a number of the group at 6.30 am to visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a still working monastery in a spectacular setting across the valley. Sorry I didn’t join her. One of the quirks is that people still post plaques and dedications for the fortunate events in their life.  Photos here

An 8.30 departure, the idea was to get to the border early and hopefully on our way promptly. Little did we know? At the border all the rest of the group and the truck processed in under an hour, then Karen and I presented our passports, mine no problem but there is an issue with Karen’s. Turns out they had no record of her leaving Ecuador in 2005 and so officialdom think she has been an illegal immigrant for 8 years. Another member of the group had also been there 2 years earlier and had a similar issue but they were able to check the computer records and he got an entry stamp.

No such joy for Karen. The immigration people completely accepted that we haven’t been in Ecuador e.g. other passport stamps dating back to 2008 when current passport was issued but without the evidence of an exit for 2005 visit were not “able” to issue entry stamp. The fact they had no record of me either arriving or leaving wasn’t a problem because that balanced, it was an “in” without an “out” that was at issue. Talk about the bureaucratic mindset.

After 2 hours the rest of the group departed for Otavalo whilst we, along with Kirsten, a complete star as it was nothing to do with Odyssey, tried to sort things out. We were sent to the Ecuadorian Consulate back in Ipiales – making an illegal entry back into Colombia as Kirsten and I exiting Ecuador and re-entering Colombia would have added another hour to the process – as it happened consulate was closed for lunch so we went and had an excellent steak  lunch, a wise choice as dinner seemed a long way off, then returned to wait for consulate re-opening which eventually happened 20 minutes after the advertised time.

Staff basically said “not a consular problem but an immigration one” would not talk to immigration officer or even write down why they couldn’t help. Complete jobsworths and not prepared to take any responsibility whatsoever.

Kirsten now on phone to British Embassy in Quito who said “happens all the time, we can sort it”.  Taxi back to border to wait. At 5.30 exasperated Embassy call to say Ecuadorians wont listen to reason and unless we can provide the evidence of exit then no entry is possible.

So I rang Richard at home (gone 11pm UK time) get him to go the house, find old passport and scan exit stamp and email to immigration officer. Smiles all round as “system” now allows issue of entry stamp. Phew. Officer did kindly give us a print of the scans in case we have problems leaving……..

Having arrived at the border at 9am we were on our way at 6pm for a $100 2hr 45 mins taxi ride to catch the rest of the group up, as it happened they hadn’t had the best of days and were late arriving so we arrived in time for dinner. On the way it was raining and I was thinking it was late and dark and we have to set up the tent – thankfully an upgrade available and so we blissfully sank into a comfy bed.

So Karen got into Ecuador by the skin of her teeth as thankfully Richard was at home, we had kept the old passport and knew where it was and he was able to gain access else our Galapagos trip was down the tubes. We definitely owe Richard a sizeable drink when we get back in June.

So if you have been to Ecuador in the past 10 years and are planning to go back make sure you can prove you left!

Popayan Photos Here

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