The death road to Ecuador and Las Lajas Cathedral

We hit the highway once again from San Agustin. Looking at the map we are so close to Ecuador we could taste it.

There are 2 routes from San Agustin towards the border. One involves a bit of back-tracking north to catch another highway back south again. I hate going backwards. The other route led us straight down to Ecuador but our friends at fromAtoB.org warned us of poor road conditions. Apparently the route between Mocoa and Pasto was very rough, rugged, and dangerous with lots of wash-outs, large trucks, and little clearance between you and a sheer cliff drop-off.

Being the kind of people who usually hear good advice and then completely disregard it, we of course chose to take the hard route.

It started off easy enough from San Agustin. We were on smooth well-maintained highway. After about an hour I started to wonder what the hell AtoB was talking about…

We were in some pretty remote country, apparently popular with Colombian FARC and guerrillas. The military presence was strong along the highway. We passed a few of these bad-ass truck TANKS.


We hit the town of Mocoa and the pavement ran out. We were driving on a very poor rubble road. I checked the maps and GPS a few times to confirm we were on the right track. Guess this must be the rough part they were talking about?

The poor road started to wind up into the side of the mountain. This road is the most direct route between the border and the interior of Colombia’s Amazon jungle. It is primarily used by hardcore semi-trucks hauling logs/goods and the occasional lost gringo.

The road was chopped out of the side of the mountain. You could see many wash-outs where it completely had fallen away and road crews dug deeper into the side of the mountain to keep on truckin. The drive was actually quite beautiful. We were inside a mix of cloudforest and rugged mountains. We had to drive through tons of waterfalls and rivers which were slowly eroding into a muddy soup which made traction diffucult.

Eroding Cliff roads+No traction+No guardrails=Sketchy

In many parts you would have to stop before a blind corner and listen for a giant truck coming and sounding his horn. If you hear the horn you better back up and get the hell out of the way before you get run off the cliffs.

We plied this unpaved mountain route for most of the day. I think in total the route was less than 100 miles but it took us around 7 hours or so to cross. When we finally reached pavement I got out and kissed it.

Sweet sweet tarmac!

We pushed on spent a night at a hostel in Pasto near the Ecuador border. Next morning we were up and headed to the border.

One last stop before we cross though. Ever since I first saw a picture of the Las Lajas church I knew we had to visit it. The pictures made it same like a surreal castle nestled in a magnificent valley, the whole place looks unreal.

The inspiration for the church’s creation was a result of a miraculous event in 1754 when an Amerindian named Maria Mueces and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in a very strong storm. The two sought refuge between the gigantic Lajas (Stone walls), when to Maria Mueces’s surprise, her mute daughter, Rosa exclaimed “the mestiza is calling me…” and pointed to the lightning-illuminated silhouette over the laja. This apparition of the Virgin Mary caused pilgrimage to this location, with occasional miraculous cases of healing reported. The image on the stone is still visible today.

Ever since then the area has been blessed, the church was built between 1915 and 1949 with donations from the local churchgoers.

The intricate patterns and level of detail on the church is quite impressive.

In the parking lot, We saw our first BBQ’d Cuy (Guinea Pig) on a stick! Looks delicious!

5 minutes down the road, we hit the border for Ecuador. Stood in line for about 15 minutes to get stamped out of Colombia and into Ecuador. Then walked down the street to get our car permit. All in all it was less than 20 minutes and best of all COMPLETELY free! I am loving South America borders.

WELCOME TO ECUADOR!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.tierney.9 Matt Tierney

    So did you try the Cuy or not?

    • http://homeonthehighway.com James

      Ya boyeee, tastes good, kinda like rabbit

  • James Mom

    I am glad you made safely throught that mountain. The church is amazing did you take any pictures inside?

    • http://homeonthehighway.com James

      It was really cool church but we went on a Sunday and service was in full-swing. Standing room only out the doors, had to be 2000 people crammed in there

  • Bad & Muna

    Hi James & Lauren,
    We salute both of you for taking this overland journey and all the interesting experiences you shared so far.
    My wife & I are planning to do the Overland Round The World Trip and your experiences really helpful.
    Should you include your overland journey to South East Asia the future, kindly inform us through our email, so that we can show you around our beautiful & interesting, country MALAYSIA.
    Have a Wonderful & Safe Trip!….
    Bad & Muna

    • Ken

      Hi, fellow Malaysians.

    • HomeontheHighway

      Thanks Bad and Muna. I am 100% positive one day we will find ourselves in your neck of the woods. Not sure when, but someday!

  • Ken

    Why was the comment section in the last post closed? Anyway, the names of the statues from your last post was f-ing hilarious. Mr Burns, Wanker rofl.

    • HomeontheHighway

      lol thanks for pointing that out, i accidently clsoed them they are fixed now.