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Virgin of Las Lajas

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

19 September 2005 (Monday) – Pasto to Ipiales, Colombia to Otavalo, Ecuador

I had left Pasto after 10am, and I was surprised to reach Ipiales before noon. I originally thought I would stay 1 night in Ipiales before I cross the border to Ecuador tomorrow morning. But, I believe I have time to make a little trip to see the Iglesia de Las Lajas, about 7km from Ipiales and still have ample time to cross the border, making it to Otavalo, Ecuador, by tonight, even.

I left my baggage at the Left Luggage and went to the centre. There were many shared taxis heading to Las Lajas and within half an hour of arriving at Ipiales bus terminal, I was already in Las Lajas walking towards the famous church.

Along the way, there were many plaques prepared by the pilgrims, giving thanks to Virgin of Las Lajas for whatever miracles and wishes they had asked for. These plaques were fixed onto the rock surfaces along the route all the way down to the church.

Plaques giving thanks to the Virgin of Las Lajas

What was special about this church was that it was built down in the dramatic gorge. When I turned the corner and spotted its backview, I actually let out a gasp. The church is truly beautiful, with Gothic designs all over. I know, there are tonnes of beautiful churches everywhere, but this one, is truly the most beautiful one in such a dramatic setting!

The gorgeous Church of the Virgin of Las Lajas

The picture of the Virgin was painted on the cliff surface, so the altar of the church is actually undulating cliff surfaces. The rest of the church was built jutting out from the cliff, supported by arched bridges built to the base of the canyon. It was truly fascinating, definitely worth the detour to take a look at this impressive church while one crosses the border between Colombia and Ecuador. Wow, I was floored! a truly dramatic setting!

 One of the most stunning churches I had ever seen!

The rest of the day was spent in a series of micros and buses, as I made my way to Rumichaca bridge for the border-crossing formalities and to Tulcan’s bus terminal to decide if I could get to Otavalo. I was simply scooped up by a bus outside the bus terminal. Although the sign on the bus read ‘Ibarra’ and ‘Quito’, they promised me they go to Otavalo as well. They left when the bus was rather empty but managed to scoop up more passengers along the mountainous road. I saw many, many people with Indian features now. Ah, the other face of South America! I feel great to be in Ecuador.

My hostel was absolutely lovely, truly, my favourite hotel so far. It was a little expensive for me, as I intended to stay til the weekend. But by late evening, I had made friends with the owners and they gave me many helpful advice, and I would feel bad about moving to another place. I mean, if I hated the place, I would move. But I loved this place very much. Sigh, we shall see. I would have to eat very little the next few days then.


Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

18 September 2005 (Sunday) – Pasto, Colombia

Sunday in nearly all South American towns are dead towns. Pasto was very quiet today, as well, with nearly all the shops and restaurants shut.  However, there were still some healthy sporty activities in the morning as certain lanes were closed for the Sunday cycling event commonly seen in other Colombian towns as well.

Lanes are closed for cycling in most Colombian towns on Sundays

Still, I walked all over the town, making detours to check out interesting churches which I had glimpsed in the distance. Although I had seen quite a number of churches now, some of the ones here in Pasto were indeed very lovely.

Another gorgeous church

Shopping is often done behind locked bars, for the protection of the shopkeepers 

I found a Parque Infantil, which is a children’s park and settled down to read. I noticed a family of 3, sitting some distance from me. They seemed to be observing me. Then, to my surprise, when I happened to look up from my book, their little son was apparently sent over to check me out first. He was looking at me and smiling shyly. I immediately greeted him and asked him to sit on the grass next to me. He is Juan Felipe, just 6 years old. As we chatted, he would look back at his parents, apparently for prompts on more questions for me. I then joined them over at their side and spent a while talking with them. They were really nice.

Family I met at Parque Infantil

Later, over lunch, I had to share a table with a guy due to the crowd and this guy immediately started a conversation with me as well, about God, Christianity and other oriental religions. Wow, although it was a topic that I could not really contribute, I was delighted at how friendly he was in sharing this topic with me. What a refreshing conversation!

Even by evening, when I went out for dinner, the waiter also came over to chat with me. He later gave me a card written, “Me gustan las mujeres chinitas… como amigitas” (I like Chinese women… like friends). The last bit ‘like friends’ was added as an afterthought in order not to have his card misunderstood, I think. Haaha…

Wow, time and time again, I am amazed by the friendliness and smiliness of the Colombians whom I could simply fall into conversations with easily. I am leaving Colombia soon, and I must say that I am leaving with a tinge of sadness. Before I came, I had some fears, having heard all the bad news of Colombia about kidnapping of tourists, drug-wars, murders, guerilla activities, etc… But I wanted to do a trip around the northern part of South America and that meant passing Colombia. I knew I would have more fear about a lot more things as I grow older. Hence, I really wanted to do this trip now, before I totally chicken out. And so, I was determined to come to Colombia to see for myself how things are. Yep, why hear things from other people when I can experience them for myself? And boy, am I truly glad that I made the effort to come here for Colombia has been very special and very memorable for me indeed!

To Pasto

Sunday, September 18th, 2005
17 September 2005 (Saturday) - Popayan to Pasto, Colombia The guidebook had advised to travel by day for this part of the journey through South Colombia for safety reasons. Well, why not? Coz the view from Popayan to Pasto was apparently ... [Continue reading this entry]

Red Roses White Town

Saturday, September 17th, 2005
16 September 2005 (Friday) - Popayan, Colombia I woke up and found the guy next to me gone. Uh-oh... have we passed Popayan? It was more than 2 hours after Cali. I peered outside and spotted a sign with the word ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Popayan

Friday, September 16th, 2005
15 September 2005 (Thursday) - Bogotá to Popayan, Colombia Yesterday when I bought the bus ticket to Popayan, the lady at the ticket office had told me that for the bus leaving at 12:30pm, we would arrive at 1pm. Huh??? ... [Continue reading this entry]

Adrenalin Now!

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

14 September 2005 (Wednesday) - Bogotá, Colombia

I asked Herman about the photograph I saw at the Museo Nacional over breakfast this morning. He was surprised, and no, it was not his photo, but most likely, it belonged to his father ... [Continue reading this entry]

Tome La Sopita

Thursday, September 15th, 2005
13 September 2005 (Tuesday) - Bogotá, Colombia Today would be my first day let loose in Bogotá by myself. Herman himself kept saying to me, "Gosh, Trisha... you are in the most violent city of the most violent country! You will ... [Continue reading this entry]


Tuesday, September 13th, 2005
12 September 2005 (Monday) - Bogotá, Colombia Felipe, Herman's brother, offered to show me around today. Great! As Herman's family lives quite a distance from the centre, I had to learn how to take the bus to the centre and back. Bogotá ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, September 12th, 2005
11 September 2005 (Sunday) - Bogotá, Colombia Lina had suggested yesterday that we head to Zipaquira, a town about 1 hour away, where there is a Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral). Sounds interesting! I had been to the salt mines ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bogotá Night

Monday, September 12th, 2005
10 September 2005 (Saturday) - Bogotá, Colombia Although I had replied to Lina, my Hospitality Club host from Bogotá, on the date and estimated time of arrival, I still caught her by surprise when I called her from the ... [Continue reading this entry]