After the tour, I headed back to the apartment to get my stuff packed up, and I made a quick trip to the ice cream shop that Franco had recommended on the city tour, because how could I not? In the evening, Raul, who rented us the Airbnb apartment, made arrangements for the airport van to stop by and pick me up. I was in for a long haul back to Colombia.
Here was my itinerary
Santiago -> Lima, Peru 10:50 PM – 12:30 AM (Christmas Eve into Christmas Day)
11 hr 55 min layover in Lima
Lima -> Quito, Ecuador 12:25 PM – 2:55 PM
45 min Layover (on the plane, as some passengers were getting off in Quito and some were continuing on)
Quito -> Cali, Colombia 3:40 PM – 4:50 PM
1 hr 30 min layover in Cali
Cali -> Bogota 6:20 PM – 7:20 PM
So I was looking at a good 24 hours from the time I got to the airport in Santiago to the time I landed in Bogota. However, it turned out not to be as bad as I imagined it.
The flight to Lima was quite pleasant. We were on a huge plane (it was continuing on to LA after making a stop in Lima). I had an open seat next to me. We got served a nice dinner with complimentary wine. And an elderly man in a Santa hat came through the aisles at one point playing Jingle Bells on the accordion while a flight attendant followed him and handed out candy. Because LAN airlines goes the extra mile.
In the Lima airport, I found a nice, unoccupied row of chairs next to other sleeping travelers. I made a pillow out of my carry on, wrapped my purse straps around my arms, put my headphones in, threw a scarf over my eyes, and had quite a nice sleep. I woke up in the morning, snacked on some goodies I bought in Chile, walked around the gift shop, looking at alpaca sweaters and reminiscing about my Lima days, and before I knew it, it was time to board the plane to Quito/Cali.
There was a really nice guy in the seat next to me who was originally from India, but had worked for quite some time in San Diego. His Christmas plans fell through, so he decided to take a last minute trip to Ecuador. We passed the time exchanging travel stories, and he put my 24 hour trip to shame when he told me about the hell he has had to go through to get from San Diego back to his hometown in India to visit his family. He got off in Quito, and a few hours later, I arrived in Cali.
As I stood in line to go through immigration, I had a brief moment of panic. Before coming to Colombia, I was told that my visa would last til the end of December, so if I stayed, I could leave the country at any time, and come back in on a tourist visa until my work visa for the following semester was granted. That was part of the point of the whole Chile trip. However, at that moment, I realized I still had a valid work visa, as it didn’t expire until 12/31, and what if they wouldn’t give me a tourist visa since while I still had a valid work visa? That would really throw a wrench in my plans, since instead of spending New Years in Cartagena with Bianca as was the plan, I would have to be border hopping to Panama. I got to the immigration desk and my fears were confirmed. The officer told me he couldn’t give me a tourist visa while I still had my work visa and that I would have to leave the country at some point and come back after the 31st if I wanted to stay there til January 8th when I had booked my flight to the U.S. I gave the officer my best puppy dog eyes, and asked if he was sure that was the only way. He told me to hold on a second, and he went to the other desk to confer with his coworker. The other officer shrugged and said it was fine, and that he could give me a tourist stamp that would let me stay in the country legally til the 8th. I gave them my best brimming-with-gratitude eyes and went on my way.
When I arrived in Bogota on Christmas Eve, I got a taxi to take me to La Candelaria, a historical neighborhood in the center of the city, which has turned into a backpackers paradise, with tons of hostels, good food, arts and crafts, street art, and bars. This was my first time there, and on Christmas Day it looked like a ghost town. I checked into the hostel, and headed for a much needed shower.
As I was walking down the hall in nothing but a towel and flip flops, I saw a familiar face at the end of the hallway. It was my first time seeing Bianca, my FEMA Corps teammate who I had lived and worked with for 10 months, since the end of the program the previous November. Her family had dropped her off, so I got to make a good first impression meeting her mom, aunt, and cousins while I was wrapped in a bath towel and dripping on the floor.
Bianca stayed at the hostel with me and the next morning, we met her family at the bus station to go to a nearby hot spring for the day. The hot spring, which I can’t remember the name of, was set in the mountains, and had about 4 pools of varying temperatures to choose from. It also had a restaurant where we got some mojarra frita for lunch. There was a path leading to a waterfall nearby, where you could stand under the freezing cold water if you’d been in the hot too long and needed to give your system a good shock. Next to the waterfall was a small cave with clay walls. We exfoliated with the clay, and then washed off in the waterfall, to reveal some very smooth, and slightly orange-stained skin. At the end of the day, we caught the bus back to Bogota, and moved on to a new and much nicer hostel in La Candelaria called the Masaya Hostel.
The next morning, Bianca left to go to a family member’s wedding. I was invited as well, but seeing as I had absolutely no clean clothes, much less any wedding appropriate clothes, and I was completely exhausted from the past week, and especially the past few days of getting back to Bogota, I decided to take a few days to recuperate in Bogota. I moved to a new hostel, because that’s what you have to do when you make last minute reservations during peak season. This one was called The Cranky Croc and was a few blocks away from Masaya. And they had a laundry service, thank the lord. After lots of sleeping, some clean clothes, and some good Juan Valdez arequipe macchiattos, I felt like a new woman. I spent some time at the museums and wandering around the city until Bianca came back.