So after ninety-six days, sixteen days more than metaphorically granted, and over two weeks late, I finally made it to Cali.
But not in the capacity that I had anticipated.
Indeed, this screenshot is the only evidence I have that I was actually there, given that I merely passed through it on my sleeper bus to Bogotá.
I might be kidding myself to suggest that this blog has any regular readers, but if you think I’ve cheated the system by not actually spending a night in Cali then cuff me and call me Billy, Raff, or Zeberdee.
My excuse isn’t that six tourists were stabbed in Cali a couple of weeks ago, but more so that I’ve been itching to get into the heart of Colombia for a while now, so much so that I essentially slept my way through Ecuador.
The bus to Bogotá was my third 18+ hour journey in the space of a week, largely thanks to the fact that I only made a brief stop in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito before eating up a large chunk of South America to reach the Colombian capital.
After a brief moment of respite at the Peruvian sea level, Quito was an abrupt return to high altitude, and the climb up to Parque Itchimbia brought back cruel memories of gasping my way through Bolivia.
However, high altitude tends to mean decent views and Itchimbia didn’t disappoint with it’s picturesque panoramics of the colonial city, and there was even a conveniently placed Hollywood styled ‘Quito’ sign so I could prove that Ecuador has indeed been ‘done’ on this trip.
However, only allowing myself one full day in the capital meant that things were a little rushed, but climbing up the largest Basìlica in the Americas and trying some Ecuadorian chocolate in the city’s effervescent plaza made it feel like a day well spent.
So with the Ecuador box well and truly ticked, I embarked on what was a truly emotional thirty hour journey to the Colombian capital, and not only because I spent the majority saying ‘si’, ‘no’, and ‘bien’ to a friendly Venezuelan who didn’t speak a word of English.
The crossing between the two countries was probably just as sketchy as you might expect the Ecuador/Colombia border to be, simply walking over a big yellow bridge to be greeted by faulty passport copiers, dodgy money exchange men, and rip off taxis.
As my new Venezuelan friend said after we crossed the bridge: “Adios Policia!”
But in reality, police appear to be everywhere you look in Colombia, with the nation continuing to work tirelessly to restore a reputation that was repeatedly damaged by its dark drug history.
And their presence is especially prominent in Bogotá, where the National Police Museum serves as a metaphorical pat on the back for a force that has spent years trying to put away notorious criminals.
Putting crime to one side, Bogotá is somewhat of a monster that you can only truly appreciate by climbing to the top of Monserrate, the mountain that towers over the city and provides a view that highlights the true scale of the gigantic Colombian capital.
And like a lot of cities, it’s only from the perspective of a bird’s-eye view that you can appreciate that there is more to a city than the small tourist pocket that you’ve confined yourself to.
Because in reality, tourists tend to flock to the nicest area of a city for the best safety, littest snaps, and the finest food, but in doing so we surround ourselves with other travellers rather than getting a legitimate experience with the locals.
Indeed, in Quito the most popular place to stay is the colourful colonial old town, and in Bogotá travellers rarely tend to stray from the charismatic old neighbourhood of La Candelaria which is decorated with old houses covered in charming street art.
But in fairness, in a city with a reputation like Bogotá’s, it might be wise to situate yourself in one of the safe zones, especially given that there is so much to do in and around La Candelaria.
Not only is it located right next to the big old mountain, but there is an excuse to act cultured with a free museum on every corner, with highlights including the Botero Museum, dedicated to the Colombian artist who seemingly had a fetish for fruit and obese folk, along with a collection of original Picasso paintings.
And in reality, like Quito, Bogotá can offer you a lot of the things that any capital city can, with cheap eats to prepare you for the equally lively nightlife that almost previews what is to come in the country’s party capital of Medellín.
So although my visits to the capitals of two of South America’s adjacent countries (and Cali) were brief and riddled with sleep deprivation, it was enough time to sample some of the best bits they had to offer, in the race towards the business end of the trip.
Next stop, Pablo’s old stomping ground, Medellín. Until then.