Friday, August 30, 2019

An Alternative to the Long Bus Rides

Yesterday was a long travel day: 12 hours total from door to door. But that's not as long as it would have been had I traveled the 1,126 km from Cali, Colombia to Guayaquil, Ecuador overland. That would have taken more than 30 hours on multiple buses, taxis and a border crossing on foot. After some pretty rough rides through southern Colombia, which involved not only the usual winding mountain roads but also major road construction and/or horrible road conditions like huge potholes, on buses and in minivans with no air conditioning which means inhaling tons of dust and diesel exhaust through the open windows, I didn't want to experience that again.
Standing on the Pan-American Highway outside Otavalo waiting on a bus.
Thus I decided to fly from Cali to Guayaquil to position myself for a return to the Galapagos Islands (more on that below). Direct flights were over $400 so I looked at other options. After diligent research, I did something I would never recommend to the average traveler: I bought three flights on three different airlines on the same day. My itinerary was Cali to Bogota (on Avianca), Bogota to Quito (on Wingo), and Quito to Guayaquil (on Tame). The total cost for these three flights was just over $200. The bus(es) plus one overnight along the way plus the taxis at the border crossing would have cost at least $100.
The Colombian side of the border crossing at Rumichaca.
Because I flew on different airlines, that means I had to check in three times, clear security three times, and reclaim my checked luggage three times. Plus I had to go through immigration twice (out of Colombia in Bogota and into Ecuador in Quito) and customs once. Obviously if a flight had cancelled or been significantly delayed then I would have been in trouble and at risk of missing the next flight and therefore forfeiting my ticket. I was willing to take that chance because I'm not on a set schedule and don't have anywhere I have to be on a specific date or time, and, worst case scenario, I could always take a bus.
The minivan I took from Popayan to San Agustin, a 6-hour journey on horrible roads.
Each airline has different requirements regarding carry-on and checked luggage. The only one that was strictly enforced was Wingo, which is a budget airline that charges extra if you don't print your boarding pass in advance, if you want to choose your seat, if you want a drink of water on the plane, etc. They have a 20 kg checked bag limit and my bag currently weighs 22 kg so I had to remove a couple of small packing cubes to reduce the weight. No problem!
My luggage at my Airbnb in Cali. I have a suitcase that normally weighs 20 kg plus a
backpack for my electronics. I also have a collapsible day bag for carrying food on travel days.
While I was standing in line to check in for my second flight, I remembered that you are required to have proof of onward travel when entering Ecuador. When I entered by bus from Peru they did not ask. But it is much more common to be checked if you fly into the country. If you really don't have definite onward travel plans like me but need to have something to show the immigration officers if they ask, then there's an easy solution. Buy a one-way airline ticket out of the country through Expedia, as they have a 24 hour free cancellation policy. I purchased a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru while I was standing in the check-in line in Bogota. Then I cancelled it after I cleared immigration in Quito a few hours later.
Traveler's tip: purchase a refundable flight for proof of onward travel.
As it turned out, the immigration officer in Quito did not ask for proof of onward travel. She only asked if I had visited Ecuador before and how long I planned to stay. I told her that I knew I could only stay 47 more days (because you can stay a maximum 90 days in one year without a visa and I've already spent 43 days in Ecuador on this trip) and that I knew what date I had to be out of the country. She was happy with this answer and stamped my passport while saying "Welcome back!"
I'm collecting a lot of stamps in my passport on this adventure.
So now I'm in Guayaquil and plan to go to the beach for the next few days. From there I will decide if and when I will return to the Galapagos. It would be nice to spend a month there just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife and not feeling obligated to visit all the islands. As I wrote in my recent blog post, it's really not that expensive, especially if you're not spending money on day trips. Also, I'm in no rush to go to Brazil and particularly the Amazon while the fires are so widespread. Of course, I will get there eventually and am looking forward to spending several months exploring a new-to-me country.
I miss these Galapagos sunsets!