Surreal cemetery, living green sculptures and white stone sepulchers

Been a few days since the last post…

Got a taxi from the Metropol in Ipiales to take me to the border. The immigration process exiting Colombia was very simple. Next, walked down the steps of the building and across the bridge into Ecuador I went. There is a pedestrian walkway that runs in the center of the roadway. About 200 feet from the Ecuador side of the bridge is the immigration office there. There is a large parking lot in front of the entrance. Entered and was given a blank form to fill out detailing my info and purpose of visit. Many countries have similar forms… but not all.


The immigration officer asked me if this was my first visit to Ecuador (trick question… because I had a brand new passport). If I had answered no, hoping that they would not check and then they discovered that I had been there before, it is unknown what might have happened, but for sure, it would not have been to my benefit. I did answer the question in the affirmative, stating that this was my fourth entry into Ecuador.

The man turned to his computer and asked when was my last visit. I told him. He tapped his keyboard a few more times and then grabbed his stamp machine (the magical temporary visa stamp!) and then took a pen and wrote something over the stamp he had made in my passport. He placed my passport in the metal tray under the thick glass between us and slid it in my direction. I retrieved it and inspected the stamp. He had written over it with his pen, ’57 dias’.  That meant that my stay in Ecuador was limited to 57 days. 

The normal stay for people visiting for the first time is 90 days. Ecuador calculates their ‘year’ as 365 days like everyone else. Difference here is that many countries do a ‘do over’ at the beginning of every ‘calendar year’.  Not Ecuador. They calculate their ‘year’ as counting the time spent in their country beginning with your last entry. My last entry was sometime in May of 2013. I spent 23 days of my 90 days. So, my next 90 day period does not begin until May 2014. 

I already had US currency (that is what is used in Ecuador) so no need to exchange currencies. Total time elapsed from arriving at the ‘border’: 70 minutes. Now, having officially exited Colombia and having officially entered Ecuador I was ‘free’ to proceed further. Got a taxi to take me directly to the cemetery in Tulcan. Ride took less than 10 minutes. Fare 3 dollars.

The municipal cemetery of Tulcan, Ecuador is something that I stumbled across on the web. Didn’t know it existed. It is highlighted in most guidebooks as an interesting site. It is.

Words and  pictures can only begin to give the reader or viewer a sense of this incredible place. It is magical in an eerie sort of way.

EntranceCemeteryTulcanENTRANCE TULCAN CEMETERY (my pic)

The topiary gardens cover over a hectare of land. A hectare is about two and a half acres.  There is not one piece of the topiary that is identical with another. They are all different. Topiary is the art of trimming a living bush, tree, or shrubbery in a way that closely resembles the way a sculptor chisels a piece of marble or granite to create a sculpture. The difference of course is that marble and granite are rocks and bushes, trees, or shrubberies are living things.

(From Ecuador News Magazine: Tulcan:

—Creator Jose Franco himself is buried within his cemetery under the Sculpture of the Green Holy Field. Franco left a written ode that reads, “In Tulcán, a cemetery so beautiful that it invites one to die.” His five sons continue the maintenance of the Topiary Garden Cemetery and the creation of its fascinating shrubbery to this day.—)



What a marvelous idea frothy with contrasts!  This place is one man’s idea of a sacred dedication comprised of living beings from the plant kingdom contrasted with the remembering of departed humans (which in scientific terms are animals) living plants/dead animals. Jose Franco began his life’s work in 1957.

Some of the sculptures are repeat forms of a series of arches. Some areas give the feel of being enclosed in a kind of massive green, castle courtyard.  Some of the sculptures are of various human forms, some animal forms. Some whimsical, some sacred. Some of the sculptures resemble large green ‘tiki gods’ reminiscent of Easter Island. Some are like totems. 

Standing at the entrance to the cemetery one can only see one of the walkways. The experience of ‘perspective’ is powerfully present. One can see that the (approximately 15 foot) walkway is lined on both sides with a near continuous hedge of topiary. Off in the distance are glaring white stone edifices. These visual feasts are contrasted with the sky that is filled with white to grey long clouds that loom against a blue grey sky. I took many pictures and a few videos. Upon reviewing them, it is evident that they in no way capture the scale or the variety of the place.



Tulcan (as are all parts of South America) is home to indigenous tribal peoples.  These humans have made this their home for at least 10,000 years. Some archeological evidence suggests a human presence in South America as far back as 20,000 years. Long before the European/Spaniards arrived, there existed these tribal human cultures.  One can sense an ancient connection to this land, this place, in the faces of the inhabitants. The faces here have the appearance that tells of strength, health and overall contentment.

Why some humans seek to rule, dominate or control others is something that I do not fully comprehend apart from recognizing that it is so. 

From what honest investigators have discovered (have actual physical evidence of) is that the first humans were all African. From Africa we (as a species) began fanning out all over Europe, then East to Asia, and then floated to Melanasia, and Australia (the Australian aborigines are still very much a mystery). The best guess at interpreting the evidence is that there were at least two different times when the earth went through ice ages followed by thawing events.

It was during the ice ages that humans migrated from Northern Europe, across the Bering sea on an ‘ice bridge’ and into what we now call North America.  The first human immigrants fanned out across the North American continent. Gradually more humans migrated Southward.  It therefore, seems to me, that South America is indeed, the real ‘New World’ as far as humans are concerned.

Back to the tale of my intrusion into this land…

After spending a bit over an hour at the cemetery I got another taxi to take me to the bus station. Arrived there about 11AM.  There are so many people who travel by bus here that buses are going every direction at nearly any time during the daylight and often into the night. The cab driver nearly handed me off to a bus that was departing immediately. My luggage was picked up from the pavement where the taxi driver put it on the ground from his trunk…and off it went in the hands of one of the men from the bus. I paid for my ticket to Otavalo and saw my bag enter the bus I was going on.

One thing I learned having been in this part of the world before is to keep track of your luggage! Don’t assume anything. Watch, ask, and be absolutely sure. Many times (but not always) bus attendants will put a sticker on your luggage and then give you a matching numbered receipt that you must show to retrieve your luggage from the compartment in the underbelly of the bus upon your arrival. I have found that the rural Andes highland people to be generally very honest and hardworking folks. As everywhere, there are exceptions to the rule. Trust wisely.