0059: The Great Escape

0059: The Great Escape

Leaving a country is often a melancholy experience.
Colombia no different to the rest.
Having spent almost 2 adventurous months travelling through from Medellin I was ready to begin again in Ecuador.
Ipiales is the border town and cycling from Pasto was a long and challenging uphill struggle.
This region is high, averaging above 2500 metres and for some reason, the weather is much cooler and wetter than the surrounding high mountains.
After a tough day of cycling I arrived at my hosts English language school.
I was extremely tired, cold and hungry after climbing continually for almost 90 kilometres. I was looking forward to a good meal, relaxing for a few days and cleaning up and making plans for crossing into Ecuador.

Along the way I met Jason from Taiwan on his heavily overloaded machine and we shared a lunch together.
It was one of the rare occasions where I didn't have much of an appetite so just had a bowl of Chicken soup.

Chickens are the favourite meat in the southern parts of Colombia and frankly I am getting sick of it.
Delicious and flavoursome as it is, too much of a good thing will definitely turn your stomach after eating it almost daily for weeks.
I continued climbing to Ipiales and arrived with an empty stomach.

My host runs an English language school in the town and the address I was given was his school.
He offered to host me in exchange for conversational practice for his students.
It sounded interesting and a good way to meet the locals and find out a little about Colombia and their various views and opinions on the world in general.

I walked in and introduced myself.
My host came to greet me and the very first thing he asked me was to come and join in the conversation in one of his classes.
"Actually I would like to use the toilet and perhaps get something to eat. I am very hungry after cycling 87 km's"

"Actually its only 83 kilometres!" he told me bluntly.

Hmm, my cycle computer said 87 km's but I am not going to argue about it.
He offered to buy me some water and went also for some cake from a shop across the street.
I used the toilet in the mean time.
A moment later he returned with food and drink.
It was refreshing but my tiredness was beginning to kick in.
"Are you ready to join the class now?" He looked at me blankly.

"Erm well I could......."

"Ah great come on in, I will introduce you!"

I had wanted to say that I was very cold, wet and no doubt smelly and would prefer to sit it out and begin fresh in the morning.
I was almost pulled into the room and introduced to a group of 8 who were already chatting about...Actually I am not sure what, I was exhausted!
I was also introduced to my fellow couchsurfers.
Fabio and Gaia.
Two Italians who arrived equally tired, after hitch-hiking from Quito, Ecuador a short time before me.
We spent about 2 hours chatting with the students and eventually the class ended and finally left to the host house.
All three of us were very tired.
I had to cycle again, but only a short distance to his home.
I can't remember much about the events of the evening.
I was introduced to his family.
Wife, Sons, daughter in law and granddaughter.
They were polite, but immediately distant. I had a cold shower and was given a meal. I was shown my bed, a comfortable mattress on the floor "You might need to move it if it rains" I was told and soon fell asleep.
The Italians were not far behind.

I woke briefly in the night to move my mattress away from the leaking window then finally woke about 0930. Very late for me and proof of my tiredness.
After a quick breakfast I decided to walk to the school and see about the arrangements for the conversational classes. I was quite keen to join in.

"YOU ARE LATE!" My host reprimanded me.
"I told you the class starts at 8 am! I though you would be here on time, the students are waiting to be taught!"

I was a little stunned.
First I don't recall having the conversation and to be bluntly reprimanded for not arriving to TEACH a class?!
I never agreed to teach anyone. I am not qualified.
I thought this was a casual conversational exercise.
You ask me questions I answer and vice versa.
Not a good start.
I joined in though and spoke with the students.
The Italians was already chatting with them.
A nice group of 16-20 year olds.
We talked for about 15 minutes before Fabio was pulled out of the group and sent to another room while Gaia and I chatted to a couple more groups over the next couple of hours.
I liked the students.
They were naturally nervous about their language abilities, but the majority were keen to learn and soon opened up and began speaking.

Lunch break and the Italians were keen to go and research Bus tickets for their onward journey.
Gaia pointed out that she had picked up a gum infection and wanted to try to find some antibiotics. Her face showing signs of swelling.
I wanted to take a break for lunch, wander around and try to find out a little about the town I was in and the country I was about to enter.

I asked my host about the points of interest in the town. He spoke to all of us briefly about Las Lajas, the famous local Cathedral and gave us directions to various locations
"But you should go later. There is plenty of time. In the evening you will have plenty of time and the Cathedral is better to visit on a Sunday" I got the impression he didn't want us to go.
"But the next class starts at......"

We walked out a little surprised and went to find some lunch. After a couple of sentences the Italians and I had formed more or less the same opinions of him. We parted company and I went to eat.

The Italians arrived back at the school before me.
Gaias face had swollen up dramatically and she was talking, well more mumbling to the host, asking about a Doctor or Dentist he might recommend. It seems her Wisdom teeth had taken this moment to flare up.
She, of course, was not able to help with the classes that afternoon and left with her boyfriend to try to find some medical relief.
I noticed our host was scowling as they left.
I was asked to teach a class.
"Erm......OK. I will try." It was actually invigilating in an English exam then marking the papers afterwards.
Bearing in mind this student may rely on these results for future achievements I was not the person to be assessing them.
But having read through the papers and the paper with the correct answers printed, there were immediately quite a few errors on the exam paper.
I pointed them out and asked the student to raise the issue with their 'proper' teacher but she was not too happy she was making mistakes that were not her fault.

Another long day finished at 8 pm.
I walked back home to find Gaia in agony in bed and Fabio trying his best to nurse her.
Our host seemed disinterested in the situation as we chatted later over dinner.
I was given a large plate of food and the others for some reason a noticeably smaller portion of the same.
We looked at each other. I offered my food as I was not actually that hungry.
Gaia naturally didn't eat much anyway. And soon retired to bed, now struggling to talk at all.
But they were still asked if we would be attending classes the following day.
I couldn't believe they were even asked?!
I said yes, but I also wanted to do a few chores. And generally be a tourist.
Actually, I wanted to try to find a new host or a cheap hotel.
This home environment was not relaxing at all.
I felt very uncomfortable here and as though I was being taken advantage of.
Despite having very positive feedback on his profile something must have changed and now we were being treated as objects rather than guests.
The Italians had already planned to move on the following morning and I made arrangements to leave the next day. I managed to contact another host in the town.
I was given lunch one day, and quite enjoyed a meal of home made Colombian Potato 'Tortillas'

After being given a second large and delicious portion the Italians arrived back, and were given one small portion each.
Gaia couldn't eat anyway and was somewhat disgusted at the measly offer.
She went to lie down.
Later on they both cooked a meal in the kitchen and cleaned and washed their plates after use. (But were later accused of leaving the kitchen a dirty, filthy mess!)

After another day of pleasant conversation with the students and a not so comfortable day with my host. I spent a final night and made my excuses to leave the following day after the Italians.

In fairness the family were polite, and sort of friendly. They provided me with food and shelter and were curious about my travels.
They had hosted a lot of people and generally had good feedback. I couldn't understand what had changed or if it was US that was the problem.
But they always maintained their distance. Apart from a polite hello and general courtesies, I only spoke with my host and his wife.
But it was his pushy, bossy nature that immediately put me off.
He barely smiled and seemed to lack empathy.
It was not a bad experience but it was definitely an uncomfortable one.
I had no issues at all with either Gaia or Fabio, We talked a lot, had some similar interests and exchanged information about our experiences in travelling.
Naturally one cannot predict an illness and one so prominent as a tooth infection.
But this host seemed to have no sympathy or interest in their plight and had essentially ignored them since they had not attended his school.
I even quizzed him about it in casual conversation but he quickly sidestepped the subject entirely.
I knew I was right to be leaving.


A whistle and a shout "Matthew! Are you looking for me?!"
I met Ozcar on the street and he guided me to his home. A truck repair garage he operated and offered touring cyclists space to sleep in one of the many storage sheds.
Trucks, Cars and parts of other vehicles, tyres, Engine parts, Exhausts and other components littered the compound. And Oily greasy marks stained the floor.
The place was scruffy, but Ozcars cheekiness, charm and the friendliness of his wife and daughter was a complete contrast to the previous family. And more than made up for the surroundings.
What a wonderful, welcoming family!
"There will be 8 of us tonight!" Ozcar said, smiling. Already there, were a group of 4 American cyclists making a documentary about their travel.
Team Pedal south.org were also travelling to Patagonia from Prudhoe bay and had started a few weeks after me. I had heard tales of them along the road all the way back to Guatemala and finally we had met up.
They also visited the farm in Costa Rica where I was falsely accused of theft and vandalism.
Apparently, they were also wrongly accused of similar misdemeanours by the owner.
Someone needs to take greater care of their property!
Not guilty your honour!

Also there was another cyclist.
A Colombian from Medellin who I had actually met on my arrival in Ipiales.
I didn't pay too much attention in my exhaustion as he was riding a scruffy bike and didn't look like a cycle tourist.
He was chatting to me enthusiastically and warning me to be careful.
In my tired state, I more or less ignored him thinking he was another overattentive local.
It turns out he had been robbed of his bike and equipment as he arrived late one evening and was set upon by some local thugs.
And he was trying to warn me to be on my guard.
He had spent the subsequent days with bruised ribs wandering the streets seeing if he could recognise anyone and making enquiries, as the police were barely interested.
Ozcar and his family had taken him in and loaned him some clothes, food, shelter and a bike to get around town.

Finally, later in the afternoon, Daniel and Barbara arrived.
Two young Argentine cyclists, a chef and a surgical nurse heading to their final destination in Bogota before flying home to Buenos Aires.

Laura, Ozcars daughter was quite excited to have all the cyclists and was darting between us chatting and trying to find out about our various adventures. She had a wonderful happy spirit and curiosity but was especially proud when her father was interviewed by the Americans as part of their documentary.
A keen and very talented musician, he had lots of interesting views and opinons about Colombia, the indigenous peoples of the region, their skills, history and heritage and the world in general.
And demonstrated his talent on several string instruments.

We spent quite a while listening and watching the documentary makers doing their thing.

After sharing a very nice surprise lunch together, Daniel and Barbara joined me for the 8 kilometre walk to Las Lajas the famous cathedral.

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Insert I had wanted to visit since my arrival but had been put off....

Along the way we passed through the famous Charco barrio where Cuy are freshly prepared and roasted for your culinary delight!

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Cuy are more commonly know in the UK as Guinea pigs.
The cute cuddly household pets are the main course in this region of the world!
It was obvious it is very popular and I'm told delicious.
And yes, I will eventually be tasting it.

The Cathedral was stunning.

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I also made a new friend!

Who promptly annulled the friendship by standing, turning and urinating in my general direction!
Alpacas and Llamas have a permanent and generally unimpressed expression on their faces!

We returned by bus as we were all tired.

The following morning, I had to return briefly to Cali to claim a package that had gone missing in transit.
12 hours on the bus was depressing. Following exactly the same route as I had cycled.
That journey had taken over 2 weeks.
I spent a couple of nights back in the highly recommended Kingbird hostel as before with Jose, and the team who were equally welcoming then returned by bus to Ipiales.

The Americans had already moved on but Daniel and Barbara were still there making plans to travel to Bogota.
I spent a final comfortable night there.

Then, the following day, after a couple of hours confusion and looking for the bike shed keys that were just on the wrong hook finally, I collected my bike, packed my bags and began the short ride to Tulcán on the Ecuador side of the border.

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Post by Matthew Hopkins

An avid cycle tourer and Bicycle Mechanic, I also enjoy cycling, cooking, camping, cinema, computers, internet and tech.

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