Popayan & Ipiales, Colombia
The bus ride from Salento to Popayan was another long 7 hours, but thankfully I was able to do some research and make some reservations on my phone. I don't remember much of the scenery, it was mostly mountains and just as beautiful as the bus ride to Salento, though the ride to Salento was definitely the best with all the coffee plants and luscious green mountain sides.
Popayan is considered the “white village” of Columbia - every country in South America all have a town or village that is completely covered with all white buildings which I think is pretty neat and very traditional. And Popoyan was this religious indigenous village right near the border to Ecuador. I arrived at my hostel which was this older colonial boutique-type hotel and thankfully had my own bathroom and a window in this private wooden room on the second floor. As it was approaching dusk, I quickly decided to go watch the sunset at the mirador viewpoint/statue of the founder of the village (located on the top of this mountain cliff). It was an amazing view, a very steep hike up this hill with the statue on the top. Many locals were there to watch the sunset as well, it was a Tuesday evening. Afterwards I went to the restaurant that the hotel receptionist recommended and it was packed when I got there because it closed early at 7pm everyday so I got there at 6:30pm. There were many tourists and locals there and I ordered the most Colombian dish I could find on the menu including empanadas and a "Lulo" drink (fruit that only grows in Colombia and Ecuador) which was a bit sour from what I remember. I went to the market to get some water and wine and made it back to my hotel by 8pm. I felt more comfortable drinking bottled water in South America but would drink tap if I really had to, as I was fine drinking water from the faucet in Costa Rica and Panama, but did spend the money on bottled water when I could and it ended up all being okay in the end- never got sick!
I was exhausted from the 7 hour bus ride, I hadn't gotten much sleep before Salento and was still catching up. I woke up to get breakfast by 9am and then went on a walking tour at 10am which I ran into some of the people I saw at the restaurant the night before (one person from the UK, another from Luxembourg, and a couple from Switzerland). And then an American! He was a 33 year old guy from the NewJersey/Philly area and was very much a nomad - had been traveling for a year and a half starting in Europe. We all grabbed coffee after the tour and I was going to meet up with them for sunset but ended up going to the Natural History Museum (which was not what I had expected it to be because I had thought it would be real animals but it wasn't - such a waste of my time and money) and then went back to my hotel and had to lay down. I didn't realize how tired I was but it was probably from the two long bus trips (and possibly altitude sickness). I did some yoga and research and went to dinner at this restaurant the receptionist recommended and then the American guy meet up with me there for a drink. We talked about random solo traveler stories and he gave me some pointers on the rest of Ecuador. I had to get up in the morning to take an early bus to Ipiales (last stop in Colombia) so went straight to bed.
I arrived at the bus terminal right before 10am thinking I could make the 10am bus but there wasn't one until 11am so I grabbed coffee and sat and waited until 11:30am (of course it was late). We didn't leave until 11:45am and I knew it was going to take at least 8 hours. Well, instead of it taking 8 hours, it took about 10 hours. Thankfully the bus was really nice with air conditioning, comfortable seats, and a bathroom. There was a family and many couples and single people and we didn't stop that often thankfully, but it was mostly the construction that backed us up. We did stop and get more people at the end which took longer and so I grabbed a bottle of wine to drink during the last hour or so. Once we finally got to Ipiales (I studied Spanish most of the time and didn't have data), it was like 11pm. I was nervous about arriving too late to my hotel but since it was a hotel, I didn't think there would be any issues. I was also a little buzzed from the wine and when I got off the bus, I was approached by many taxi drivers asking me if I needed a ride. I knew there wouldn't be Uber as it was too late and the town was very small so I got a taxi (who brought me to an ATM for 5 extra pesos because I didn't have enough cash). He had definitely overcharged me but it was late and I needed to get to bed. I gave him 35 pesos and him and his son (who helped me find the hotel entrance), walked me to the hotel and thankfully there was a bell because it was locked and most of the lights were out. There was a lady that came and got me and brought me to my room and I was so happy that I was in a room because for a second there I was getting nervous that the hotel was closed and I wouldn't have had a place to sleep because it was too late - it was almost midnight and everything was pitch black. It didn’t seem like anyone was staying in this modern, clean, fancy hotel on the side of a cliff but thankfully it ended up working out for me for the night. I had to get up early again to cross the border so I went to bed and woke up and had breakfast (again, no one was around) then quickly left in a taxi which was 20 pesos to the border...what a relief to have made it to the border alas!