Colombia; Arriving

After spending three weeks in Ecuador, meeting and building relationships with artisans I had met, and unearthing product I just had to invest in, we headed north to Colombia.  While I had put in a good effort trying to find the leather manufacturer, and resource for good hardware (zippers, rings, zipper pulls etc.) I wanted, I gave up looking for it in Ecuador. 

Bogota is where I’ve had a lot of my leather bags made in the past, but I wanted to explore other areas to see if I was missing anything.  I wasn't so I quickly decided to head back to Colombia to start production. 

Ecuador had offered me a bounty, however, and I’ll build more business from that part of the world in the future.  But, that bounty needed to be shipped!

The plan was that I would send all the fair trade goods bought in Ecuador to the U.S. direct and get on a bus and head north.  But, you know what they say about plans? Turns out God is getting himself in on a healthy Ponzi scheme with the mail in Ecuador.  At a whopping $33 per kilo for sending regular mail or $100 per 10kg for sending it with a shipping company (I’d have to take a 6 hour return trip to Quito to send) someone is kicking back with more than a few latte’s and mojitos.  Compare that with $7 per kilo in Colombia and it was a no brainer that we would have to send it all from Colombia.

Easy, right?  Except the part where we had to lug four massive (I mean really oversized – 50lbs worth) duffle bags on 4 buses (I’ll get to that in a minute), and risked the Colombian police stopping the buses and seizing the goods realizing we were moving it all for commerce.  If ever I had to play the dumb tourist, it would be on this journey.  My Colombian friend squeezed my hand, and held his breath more than a few times.

The other factor was that we were traveling on a weekend and wanted to take a few days off in San Augustin; a village known for its archeological finds and coffee fields.  Besides two days off in Banos two weeks earlier, I hadn’t stopped working and my mind was in overdrive.  Truthfully though, I never stop working because I’m always in search of that thing I didn’t know I was looking for wherever I go.  San Augustin was going to be our retreat before jumping fully into production in Bogota.

Traveling overland is made up of its own adventure.  In fact, you have to factor it in as part of your journey, not the thing ‘getting you to and from’ your journey.  Land based travel is a bumpy, windy, and olfactory experience in South America (in fact, this is true in most developing countries).  The journey consisted of a bus from Ecuador to a town just south of the border (2 hours), a taxi to the border (half hour).  Carry all our luggage into the Ecuadorian immigration to get stamped and exit the country then, carry our luggage over a big bridge to walk to the other side and get our stamp entering Colombia.  Then, a taxi from the border to Ipiales, a bus to the town of Pasto (5 hours, no suspension), arrive at 5am, wait for 4 hours in the dark - frustrated - but get to watch the sun rise to reveal the toasty landscape of the Colombian mountains bathed in orange sunlight.  Get crammed into a truck with other locals and our bags and drive 3 hours to the town of Macoa…..fight motion sickness while the driver insisted on traveling at one speed (breakneck) along the perpetually winding road.  A taxi (really a flat bed truck) to San Augustin and then, finally, a taxi to our hostel about 1k out of town.  

I’m happy to report that we were still in pretty good spirits. We’d crossed the border with little fan-fare over our pregnant luggage, the sun was shining and we had found a beautiful homestead/hostel set back off the main road.  Within 10 minutes of arriving at our hostel, my friend had rigged up a hammock for me to relax on, and the senorita of the house was cooking up a feast of eggs, arepas and fresh hot chocolate (this is one reason why I have fallen in love with South America…hot chocolate is a staple for breakfast!)

It was an adventurous 3 days in San Augustin for sure.  We managed to secure two horses to take a rogue trip out into the mountains, among the coffee fields to look for an artisan we had heard about (no luck finding him) and to visit some of the quirky and ethereal archeological structures (read a little more about these important figures).  We found ourselves rubbing shoulders with the army while rummaging through an open field looking for magic mushrooms (…didn’t find those either) and simply wandered the streets eating good food and relaxing.

While I didn’t secure any product, lots of spontaneous opportunities unfolded for us, as they have done this entire trip.  I used the downtime relaxing and designing some of the bags I was to have made in Bogota, using the local landscape and colors for inspiration.

I’m excited to show you what came from it.