I arrived at the Tulcan border harbouring a mix of feelings… Relief and stress. Fatigue and exhilaration, all at the same time. The only thing on my mind was crossing the border, and finding a nice hostel in Colombia where I could have a drink and a cigarette with some new found friends… Alas it was not to be.
Despite my taxi driver watching me exchange all my dollars for pesos when I got off the bus, I still had to bargain with him for the length of the journey about which currency to pay him in (he wanted dollars). When we pulled up to the border I felt an overwhelming sense of relief because I’d made it! I got out and walked confidently to a window stating I was ready to cross the border. Finally, this trips troubles were soon to be over… Psssssh.
After looking at my passport I was asked where my stamp into Ecuador was. I said it must be in the passport as I am, in fact, in Ecuador and have been for three weeks travelling. An English speaker was sent for and I was asked to stand to the side. Attempting to keep down the fear that had settled on my chest since the lost bag incident, I flipped through my passport in a nonchalant sort of way. I couldn’t see the Ecuador stamp either admittedly, but clearly it must be there.
Pretty annoyed at this point thinking about how much money I was about to waste on a fine, I sighed and asked what the damage was. Before my nice helper lady could explain that it was going to be difficult, a stone faced bitch in the next window barks in Spanish, “Tell her she has to go back to Quito and get a stamp. It’s not our problem”…. SORRY??!!When I was seen for a second time I was told that when coming in from Peru I got my stamp out but failed to get one in (I’m guessing this was due to no-one explaining this to me and the bus driving off without me at the border…see earlier border crossing blog for reference).
My thoughts of Quito being in no way positive, and the idea of going 10 hours back on myself to a place I’d already had a troublesome experience in, whilst not having budgeted in any way for was more than my fragile self could handle at that point. I was tired, confused, my brain had gone into panic mode so I couldn’t remember any of the shit Spanish I had stored in the back… So I started to cry. At the window. Uncontrollably. It was in no way pretty.
As locals started to edge around me whilst not making eye contact, and the people behind the window started to back away and congregate in a back room, the reality of the situation hit me and I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. What on earth was I thinking, coming to a foreign place with no concept of the language?! Who the hell did I think I was?! Now, I was going to be stuck at the Ecuadorian border and knowing myself I’ll probably leave my passport somewhere, pay for a taxi with all of my money, and then wander off without my bags. And THEN I’ll have to call my mum from a tiny shack somewhere covered with mud and bruises (because I’ll probably fall down somewhere, trip over a chicken or something) and ask her to bail me out. And THEN I’ll be forever in her debt when I go home and I’ll have to go and work in a call centre to pay her back and suddenly I’ll be 30 and I’ll have wasted my life working for NHS Smoking Helpline and will have picked up a 50 a day habit in the process!!!!
Variations of these thoughts circulated around my brain in the twenty minutes it took border control to decide my fate and as my melodramatic mind pictured all the worst outcomes, I had become really quite hysterical. I was pulled out of my hysteria when my nice woman shouted “TRANQUIL” and I realised I was making a bit of a scene. She asked me when I was next planning to come to Ecuador to which I practically screamed “NEVER”. She looked a bit shocked, though relieved, and said that this time I could go through with a strong warning.
As I picked up my bags with shaking hands, and tried to subtly dry my face on my jumper, which I then realised had mud on it…which was now on my face… I got my stamp and crossed the border thinking how lucky I’d been. Guess this whole going to another country with no language skills was an OK plan after all…not a good one maybe, but an OK one.
I walked over to Colombia where I was greeted with smiles, but I kept down just in case someone from Ecuador ran over saying they’d made a mistake and wanted me back (HA! As if.) and got a taxi to Ipiales immediately. Can’t say I loved the look of the border town, and I really wanted to spend that night somewhere safe after my traumatic journey so got a bus to Popayan which I’d heard was nice and near to Pasto which was my buses first stop.
However, Colombia is huge. What was ‘near to’ Pasto turned out to be another 8 hours so I arrived in Popayan at 2am in the pitch black with no hostel reserved, no taxi’s in sight, and thought ´fuck this I’ll stay on till Cali, which was where I was heading tomorrow morning anyway. And so, my first ‘safe night’ in Colombia was spent on a night bus, which I was told should never be done in South America because of robbers and such. Due to this, I made sure I stayed awake the entire time with my iPod in my bra and my brain in alert mode. Good.