As we researched how to make our way across the border from Colombia to Ecuador, we decided to avoid rushing the enterprise by taking an overnight bus, and opted instead to treat ourselves as a form of homage to Colombia and the marvelous experiences we had. The first part of this indulgence started in Buga, at a hostel known for brewing their own craft beer and baking their own bread (its all in the yeast). We thoroughly enjoyed both hand crafted offerings, before waking the next morning to catch a $2 bus to Cali. A bus ride directly from Cali to Quito, Ecuador was not an option, as travelers are required to walk across the border. We caught a bus from Cali to Pasto instead, and while most travelers simply catch a taxi to the border, we decided to further celebrate Colombia by visiting the spectacular Las Lajas Sanctuary.
Famous for the topography it rests on, this beautiful church is built inside the deep canyon of the Guáitara River, and is known to be the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1754. The story goes, according to the chaplain of that time, that the indigenous woman María Mueses and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in an unusually strong storm. They entered the canyon and sought refuge between the large slabs of lajas (a local varity of shale), when suddenly a lightning strike illuminated the canyon and the deaf-mute Rosa pointed to a large laja and exclaimed, “The mestiza is calling me!” Lightning illuminated a silhouette of the Virgin Mary on the stone. The fame of this site spread among the people of this region and many miracles have been witnessed in this river valley.
What started as a simple hut built in the 18th century from wood and straw has now been made into an impressive structure that towers over the Guáitara canyon. The current church was built from January 1, 1916 through August, 20 1949. In 33 years of construction, a daring achievement of structural engineering was accomplished, all paid for by the contributions of many faithful citizens from both sides of the Colombian / Ecuadorean border. The church rises 100 metes high from the bottom of the canyon, and is 27.5 metes long and 15 meters wide. Locals visit year round, and numerous plaques adorn the rocks around the church as testimony to countless miracles of healing.