Damn, we thought, were we going to make it to the border before we ran out of gas? No, we didn’t forget to fill up but there were some unforeseen circumstances… the following is a flashback.
Heading south of Popayan towards Pasto in Colombia’s most southwesterly department (state), Narino bordering Ecuador, we were delighted by the nearly truck free two lane highway. This was great we thought- the drive through the mountains was beautiful devoid of all the slow truck backups on non-passable hills and curves so common in Colombia. But then we wondered…why not? Was there some disaster in the south we hadn’t heard about during our wi fi free day in Parque National Purace, our visit to the thermals (hot springs) and our evening in the cabin by the river in Coconuco? Suddenly there was a long line of trucks coming in the opposite direction most of which had smashed windshields. We wondered if there was a rock slide off one of the many steep rock faces lining the highway but somehow that didn’t seem very likely. Approaching Pasto a sea of parked semis and dozens of police officers mulling about painted a clearer picture for us. That’s right, there was a truck strike going on and the truckers who chose to continue driving paid for their decision with smashed windshields. I believe we arrived minutes after the melee. The problem for us (and everybody else) was that gasoline had not been delivered to the stations and there wasn’t any available! Fewer semis on the road meant longer trailers. we passed a few with five trailers!
Deciding not to fret about something we were unable to control we decided to take respite at Laguna de la Cocha. Said to be unmissable when in the Pasto area, the lake located at almost 9,000 ft. elevation set among rolling green hills is often shrouded in mist. Isla Corota is a national park located in the lake with a rare evergreen cloud forest.
We found the hotel we’d read about located on a hill overlooking the lake. In a 1960’s built lodge setting it had a faded but very appealing imperfect charm about it. We had two choices, the standard room with lake views- it would do. But the two room suite with fireplace, two balconies with wrap around views – we were sold. For only ten bucks more, come on…we deserved to splurge a little. After dining in yet another room with a view we headed for our room wondering how we would get the fireplace going without paper or starters but the fire had been started for us while we were at dinner! We laughed at our surprise acknowledging that we’d stayed in so many budget hotels we had forgotten what this kind of service was like. Then with a knock on the door we were presented with hot water bottles! When was the last time we used a hot water bottle? We needed them at 9,000 feet in a cloud forest.
With less than a quarter tank of gas we headed for the Ecuador boarder while calculating the gallons that we presumed were remaining in the tank and the distance that may take us. Most of the drive was downhill but using the motor to control speed in second gear required more RPMs than some of the steep climbs so there wasn’t much fuel savings there. One’s perspective surely changes with scarcity. In the end we made it through the smoothest border crossing to date with less than an eighth of a tank. We assumed as soon as we crossed into Ecuador there would be plenty of gas and no lines. Gas station number one in Ecuador had lines with those drivers crossing the border for fuel so we gambled on the next station. Gas station number two also had lines but we felt our luck (and gas) was just about gone so we waited the 45 minutes and filled up at $1.48 per gallon!