Published: March 30th 2010March 25th 2010
Wednesday morning I was awake at about 6am. I was already basically packed (give or take a few bits like the phone and computer which always get thrown in at the last moment).
I had breakfast, got some photos of the hostel, updated the blog and ran to the shop to grab a bottle of water and some cash before the cab arrived.
Of the cities that I've been to in Colombia, Medellín is certainly the best. It has a lot to offer the tourist in terms of things to do. It's Metro system is just phenomenal and makes getting around really easy. The night life (when Ley Seca isn't in force) is great. The only complaint that I would have is that there's too much traffic - pretty much everywhere that you go there are 6 lane roads with cars and trucks belching out their toxins. It's a problem that blights every modern city, I guess (and no worse than Bogotá, for example).
The hostel itself (Global Hostel
) was nice. Well located just three blocks from Zona Rosa. I didn't find another zone where I would rather have stayed. The rooms are comfortable (well, mine was anyway) and cleaned
The Shower at Global Hostel
Featuring ceilingless design
daily. And the staff are friendly and helpful.
But you shouldn't come to this hostel thinking that it's a party hostel - it's really not. The communal area is pretty small and typically only used for breakfast. This wasn't really an issue for me because I had other places to be - but if you're thinking of staying here, it's something that you should know.
My taxi was booked for 9am but remarkably turned up 15 minutes early.
It was sad to leave Medellín - it seems that every place that I go in Colombia, I want to stay longer. A good sign, I suppose.
As we drove up the mountain I looked down at the hazy city-scape in the valley below, knowing that for sure I would return...someday.
I was heading for the airport at Rionegro - my journey would involve a flight to Bogotá, then another to Cali, then a taxi to the bus terminal, then a bus (I hoped that I could get a bus) down to Popayán terminal.
I wonder how many times I can try to describe the the scenery in this country without ever being able to describe it exactly.
It's really something that you just have to see...to experience.
Towering mountains with a thousand shades of green interwoven in a rich tapestry of natural beauty. Small, white, fluffy clouds hanging lazily across summits that, whether above or below you, always seem touching distance away - every turn in the road offering a new feast for the eyes. And to be there, to be (literally) surrounded by it is to feel part of it. It's impossible to not be inspired by such majestic surroundings.
It makes travelling overland in this country such a genuine pleasure...and it made me a little sad to know that I would be bypassing so much more as I jetted my way down to Cali and beyond.
Ever eager to impose my broken Spanish on the nearest unsuspecting pair of ears, I chatted to the taxi driver on the way to the airport and he told me about Medellín and the surrounding area and I told him of my travel plans. A well-rehearsed conversation but so much better than sitting in silence.
We arrived at the airport and I was surprised that my driver actually parked up (usually they drop you off at the
The view from my room
Onto the tiny courtyard
passenger drop-off point). Then he picked up a black marker pen and square of card from the glovebox - and I realised that he had other passengers to pick up. And it suddenly became clear why he was early - he might have been early to pick me up but he was already late for his "other passenger pick-up". He helped me with my bags to the check-in point and we said farewell.
Check-In was a breeze (almost second nature these days). Apparently, you're supposed to fill in your personal details on the back of the boarding card (it says that it's a legal requirement). I certainly didn't do this for my trip to Medellín and I wondered just how legal this legal requirement was. I climbed to the first floor of the departures area, sat in Café Presto (which seems to be something of a chain of fast food restaurants here) and filled in the details.
I remembered that it was unlikely that I'd get food on the flights (I was right) so, despite the fact that I'd already had breakfast, I grabbed a breakfast muffin and a coffee.
I didn't have too long to wait for my flight
so I just got some shots of the inside and outside of Medellín airport, picked up a copy of Semana (a Colombian current affairs magazine that I'd become acquainted with during my 2 hour stint in the hairdressers the day before) and headed for the gate.
As I approached the gate I could see that my plane was already waiting for me. This was good - I only had a 40 minute connection and I really didn't want to experience another mad dash in Bogotá airport.
I had my boarding card scribbled on and I sat down and watched the bags being loaded as I waited for the call. There were about a dozen people in the waiting area - looked like this was going to be a quiet flight.
Then, suddenly, the gentle winding up of jet engines and the plane was pushing back! What was going on?? That was my flight! Apparently it wasn't. Despite the fact that we were supposed to be boarding already, my plane hadn't yet arrived! Eeek. I spoke to the check-in girl and asked whether she thought there would be a delay to the flight - her reply of "let's hope not" didn't
really inspire confidence. If we were to be on schedule, we had 25 minutes for the plane to arrive, to board, and to take off. It wasn't going to happen. As ever, I found it difficult to panic - I knew that it'd work out in the end. But somehow, we actually pushed back exactly
on time. And the flight landed ahead of schedule. This was a good thing because we landed at the international terminal in Bogotá and there was a 15 minute bus ride to the domestic departures area.
A quick word at the (now familiar) connections desk (again no queue) and I was ushered (inexplicably through security again) to gate 2 for my flight to Cali....which also pushed back exactly on time.
Each flight was about 30 minutes in total. It's really odd taking 2 (extremely) short-haul flights back-to-back. You get a false sense of deja-vu as you sit on, effectively, the same aircraft, listening to the same safety announcements, get offered the same drinks etc.
We landed in Cali. Immediately I could tell that this was a HOT city - despite being at about 1km up, the difference between Cali and Medellín in terms of
temperature is marked. Sweatily I headed for the baggage reclaim and it wasn't long before my backpack rounded the corner of the caroussel. Again, everything had worked out swimmingly.
The next leg of my journey had been entirely unplanned. I had hoped to be able to get a bus to Popayán but that hope was inspired entirely by blind faith rather than anything more informed. I had no idea where the bus terminal was (there had to be a terminal, surely?).
The baggage collection point at Cali airport leads straight out to taxi rank and (despite signage to the contrary) I couldn't find an information point. So in the end, I just enquired at one of the multitude of car rental companies as to the best way to get to the terminal. It seemed that I had two choices. 3.000 COP would get me a ride in the tiny bus (which already looked filled beyond capacity) - my luggage would ride on top (it looked like, at this rate, I would also ride on top). The other option was a cab. My preferred bet. As I remember it cost about 20.000 COP and, at about 25 minutes, was one of
...it arrived eventually.
the more expensive taxi rides that I've had in Colombia.
Still, I arrived safe and sound at the terminal and tried to hunt out a firm that would take me to Popayán. Unusually, the ground floor of the bus terminal in Cali is nothing more than restaurants, shops and fast food outlets. The coaches appear to depart from the ground floor with the smaller buses departing from the first floor or second floor (depending on where you're going). Seems a bit odd to have buses departing from anywhere other than the ground floor, but I guess it shouldn't be. It took me a while to work out that all of the ticket offices for buses are on the first floor. I found a Copetran ticket office...but they didn't go to Popayán. I really desperately wanted a comfortable air-conditioned ride for the final leg of my journey so I asked a few people who was best. They all said somebody different so in the end I just wandered out into the departures area of the second floor of the terminal and looked what was on offer. Ultimately, I was lured into a the minibus of a company called Tax Belalcazar - the promise of air conditioning sealed the deal. And it was actually a pretty comfortable journey down - there was ample legroom and the air conditioning did actually work. I think that total journey time was about 3 hours (although it took about 45 minutes just to get out of Cali).
The really noticeable aspect of the journey from Cali to Popayán is that, for the first half, you are travelling along an enormous plain that stretches almost as far as the eye can see. In fact, in the distance you can see the mountains - but it was the least mountainous area that I've seen so far in Colombia. The mountains that I could see were the ones that we were approaching and eventually we climbed up along the usual twisty mountain roads. There is still a lot of greenery around but it's less dense than Medellín for example, and where there is no greenery there is orange earth which was highlighted beautifully by the sun as it began its descent.
As we entered Popayán itself I realised that this was actually a bigger place than I had expected. I was expecting a more sleepy Villa de Leyva type place, but this was actually a city (albeit a small one). We headed down the length of the Cali road, passing what looked like a new shopping center, rows of small restaurants and shops and houses. Eventually ending up at the terminal.
Now I should point out that I actually have a contact in Popayán - a girl that I'd met previously called Yissel. She owns a small clothes shop here in the city. Anyway, we'd agreed that I'd call here when I got into town. So getting off the bus, I did just that. As (bad) luck would have it, she was due to go to Ecuador that night on business - although she planned to be back the following day. Any way, we agreed that we would meet in about an hour (at the Campanario Shopping Center that I'd just passed) and we'd grab some dinner before she left.
I jumped in a cab and gave the driver the address. He looked at it once, twice, three times (this time with his glasses on) before jumping out of the cab and running up the road to ask his friend where the place was. Not a great sign.
He eventually returned assuring me that he knew exactly
where to go. Right!
We headed back up the road that I'd just come down and into (what I later learned) was the Campobello area. We stopped at a block of flats - the driver insisted that this was the place. I knew that it wasn't because the address was wrong. But I got out and asked (the driver was apparently unwilling to do any of the donkey work), but the security guard had never heard of the hostel. Certainly this wasn't the place.
I suggested that we continue up the road which we did. A manned barrier blocked our route and we asked again where the hostel might be. Again, no idea. But it was probably up this way somewhere.
Finally we turned off the main road and into a quiet square with a playground for kids. A group of people were getting out of a car and, as luck would have it, they spoke english. It looked (from the address) like we had found the place but the person that I spoke to said "no, this is a private house". Well, to cut a long story short, it IS a private house but they also rent out rooms. And what a lovely house it is! Well, I'll tell you more about that in another post.
I had 30 minutes to get changed, get a cab and get to the shopping center. But it seemed that we were really out in the sticks - certainly I wasn't going to get a passing taxi here. So I asked the cab driver to wait for me and he obliged.
I literally threw my bags on my bed, jumped in the shower for about a minute, dried off got changed and was back in the cab in 10 minutes (having first got a key to the front door of the hostel).
I arrived in time and managed to meet up with Yissel. We headed off to a restaurant called "La Cosecha Parrillada" and I had a GLORIOUS steak and a couple of beers. We chatted over dinner about her upcoming trip (and my trip) and her plans to go to work in Canada later this year. Yissel's English is pretty good so we had a sort of Spanglish conversation througout the night.
In the end I walked Yissel back to her place (pretty close by) and jumped into a cab back to the hostel. I was exhausted it'd been a long day....I opened the door to the hostel (finally working out that the key to the door works in the opposite direction to that which you would expect) , threw my bags off the bed and fell into a deep sleep.
And that was my Wednesday trip to Popayán...only five more days to catch up on! It's going to be a long day! :)