Crossing the border into Colombia proved to be a fairly painless if mind-numbing process. We flagged a bus heading north out of Otavalo towards the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan and from there we had to take a taxi to the border. It was a fairly quick process to get our exit stamps on the Ecuadorian side but the Colombian side had a long line and there only seemed to be one person stamping passports. After almost 2 hours we made it to the front of the line where we our passports were scanned and summarily glanced at before we were sent on our way. Then it was another taxi ride to the town of Ipiales where we stopped to take in the true highlight of our day: the Sanctuario De Las Lajas.
This gothic cathedral spans a narrow gorge outside the town of Ipiales in Colombia. Built on the site of a supposed miracle, the church is literally built into the side of the canyon where a vision of the Virgin Mary was said to have healed a young girl. The church is an active pilgrimage site and countless people visit each year a blessing from this holy place.
After checking out the cathedral for a few minutes it was back to the highway for a few more hours of travelling before we reached the Colombian town of Pasto. We had been warned by multiple people not to travel overnight in southern Colombian and we tried to heed this advice (yet we met many people who traveled and night and took roads not recommended by the guidebook and they had no problems so . . .). But with the twists and turns of the road we did not arrive until after dark. However, we easily found our hotel - a beautiful Spanish Colonial home converted into a lovely hospedaje. The owners were absolutely charming and offered us tea when we arrived.
After we had checked in we asked the dueño if he could recommend somewhere for dinner and although he seemed a tad concerned for us should we go out he recommended one of the best dinner options nearby which was Cream Mister Pollo. We thanked him, checked TripAdvisor and headed out. However, as luck or fate would have it everywhere we went within walking distance was either closed or closing and so at last we were guided by our now very real hunger into what seemed to be the only option available: Cream Mister Pollo. Imagine a poor South American translation of a 1950's diner-meets-Mcdonalds and you will approach the vibe of CMP. I ordered a hamburger, Annie had fried chicken and a real Coke and it was all delicious. Interestingly, and much to Annie's horror, Colombians will eat fried chicken while wearing gloves-which to me seems an ingenious and practical solution to a very real problem (I was prevented from trying it myself due to my wife's aforementioned disgust at the very idea).
In the morning we set out early once again, this time bound for the town of Popoyan. This was an uneventful day devoted to travel. However it was made memorable by the sheer size of the landscape - I am constantly in awe at the magnitude of the Andes - and by an incredibly fierce rainstorm that pounded us during a roadside stop. The roadside cafe had a tin roof and the sound of the rainfall was so loud that if made conversation impossible. To entertain ourselves, Annie and I watched mudslides build on the cliffside above the road and facing the cafe. These would start as tiny trickles and build until stones - some quite large - began to give way and fall onto the road. No worries.
The road to Popoyan dropped briefly into the lowlands and we got a taste of the intense heat and crazy fast Spanish of the Cali region of Colombia. However, the road quickly regained its lost elevation and we arrived in the colonial town of Popoyan. Arriving in the evening, we discovered that all of the restaurants were closed except for the fried chicken place. So we ate there and found out, to our disappointment, that it was not as good as Cream Mister Pollo.