10km from the border with Ecuador we turned off the Panamerican highway to find a place to camp. We climbed slowly and steeply up a dirt road. I pushed for some of it as I was exhausted after having climbed nearly 2000m already that day. We asked some locals for permission to camp by the basketball court of a school. Five kids followed us down to the grassy stop and watched us put up our tent. They edged closer and closer and followed our every move with interest.
Finally I broke the silence and asked them a question. We ended up talking with them all for over an hour. They were all so very curious and asked many, many questions. What sports do you like? Whats your mum called? Where did you meet? Sometimes they would giggle or scream with laughter when our response, or our Spanish, amused them. They became more and more confident with us and eventually they were all huddled around the door of our tent in a tight circle, while Stefan and I sat inside. We told them about Europe, the Alps, Aeroplanes, snow and skiing. My favourite moment was when Stefan showed them a photo on his phone of him skiing down a mountain in the Alps. They all leaned in to get a closer look, eyes wide, they all gasped in amazement. Some of their parents came to say hello too. When they discovered where we were from, England and Germany, they were very surprised and said it was an honor to have us camp in their village. Foreigners never normally came this way. Some of the boys had bikes and they were very excited when Stefan let them try his bike. They said they loved going down hill fast and never used their breaks. They also asked funny questions and then it was our turn to laugh. One little girl, laughing her head off, said, are you millionaires? No, I exclaimed, look at us, we are sleeping in a tent!! She looked confused but then laughed again. One boy asked if we had cycled here from Germany, I said no, remember there is an ocean in between. Oh yes, he thought to himself, but everybody else was already laughing again.
All the kids ran off for dinner and then floodlights on the basketball court came on. 20 young men turned up to play football just as it was getting dark. They all politely greeted us and then played an aggressive and loud game of football until 10pm while we were trying to sleep in our tent. But then, it was beautifully peaceful for the rest of the evening and at 7am the next morning we quietly slide off before the kids could come back and interrogate us some more before school. We continued on the back roads until the little town of Potosi where we had breakfast. I said to the woman, eggs and rice is good, NO meat. She looked very confused and when our breakfast plates arrived there was the eggs, there was the rice and on the side, a massive wedge of fried chicken on the bone. Oh well, i thought, the Colombians really really do love their meat.
The trail continued and the last site to see for us in Colombia was the famous Las Lajas Cathedral. A beautiful and delicate, white and grey building constructed on a bridge over a canyon. There is a good reason for this rather unusual location. Many years ago, in the same location, there was a wooden bridge. A woman and her deaf, blind child were crossing this wooden bridge. When they reached the other side, the child could see and hear! Now people come from all over the place to pay homage to the virgen of Las Lajas. The walls of the canyon, surrounding the cathedral are decorated with many tiles, with many messages, thanking the virgen of Las Lajas for all she has done for them. We pushed our bikes over the bridge and carried them up the steps and towards the road. 2 separate men stopped me and said, Where are you going on your bike? Where have you been on your bike? When they heard the response they were absolutely amazed. The second man even took my photo!
We spent our last Pesos in the drab border town of Ipiales, and then free wheeled down hill towards the border with Ecuador. Colombia was finished. What an amazing country, we had always felt safe, happy and very, very welcome.