I'll be succinct: crossing the border from Cotacachi into Cali, Colombia was an effort. After getting grilled by a creepy old man about our incomes and possessions ("I will be your friend! I invite you two to my house!" he offered effusively. "We have enough friends," we answered warily) and got offered a $10 taxi ride by the bus assistant that would most likely have turned out to be some kind of jaunt into the jungle to take all the white girls' stuff, we fortunately joined forces with a rotund Ecuadorian, his sweet wife and energetic baby and got our newest passport stamp with zero hassle.
Ok, it's not like we weren't expecting to get to know the military really well on our way through southwest Colombia, but the bus ride into Cali was REALLY a stop and go affair. Men with machine guns as big as my leg cleared the bus shortly after we left Ipiales, and we stood around on the side of the road as they examined passports, crawled around the luggage hold, and looked stern. This happened four more times on the journey, with variations. Once they tore apart the driver's area, banged on the ceiling looking for trap doors, and scowled at us as they gripped our passports ("They are looking for something specific!" our new friends said. "Something must have happened!"). At 3 am, as we pulled into the outskirts of Cali, we realized that WE WERE THE ONES DOING THE DRUG RUNNING FROM ECUADOR when our driver stopped the bus, a mysterious, darkened doorway appeared from a sketchy building, and he and his assistant lept from the bus, quickly unloaded four large packages wrapped with garbage bags and duct tape, and sped off into the city. UM? Pretty sure those weren't blanket donations for Haiti.
But for all the varieties of military and police and riot officers and other peace-keeping measures that are ubiquitous in this country, we have only been greeted by wonderful people on every side. After an uneventful day in Cali, we arrived on yet another overnight bus in Medellin and stumbled into the early morning light more than a little disoriented. The only other people we saw was a literal army of 18 year old army recruits, standing around with the aforementioned machine guns and looking like it was military picnic day or something. Within 30 seconds, we had a thick clump of about a dozen of them begging to help us. One particularly short one took it upon himself to hail us a cab as the others explained the neighborhoods in Medellin and were being all-around adorable. They loaded our backpacks into the cab trunk and waved goodbye sweetly. At that moment, we knew fully that we were in a superbly unique place that would be hard to leave.
We're on the three week countdown until we fly out of Bogota, and if anyone has any ideas on how to extend that to another two months, let me know.