Coffee Plantation, Chocolate and to the Border

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May 17th 2012
Published: May 17th 2012
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Salento to Ipiales


Coffee Beans
Day 212 Thursday 10th May

We had an early breakfast and were at the hotel reception for the 9.00am Coffee Tour which was done by Tim the owner of the hostel and for the past 3 and half years the proud owner of a coffee farm. The farm was well on the decline when they brought it but is now slowly improving, with them implementing many new things e.g. worm farm for organic fertiliser, solar panels and water management making the farm more self-sufficient. The talk on the coffee production was very interesting and we learnt a lot and even thought of buying his neighbours farm for a split second a shame it is overpriced this is a beautiful part of the world. We learnt about some of the different types of coffee and the harvesting procedures and roasting. The farm administrator roasted some coffee for us in a fry pan and then brewed it up, it was great to have fresh coffee which was stronger than the normal Colombian coffee we have had so far. After the formal part of the tour we were able to walk around the farm for as long as we wanted, the

Coffee Plant
coffee farms here also have other crops like pineapples, bananas and other food crops for the family’s food source and the coffee is the cash crop. During the course of the tour Scott asked “What’s with the South’s shirt” and we found out that he had lived in Sydney and followed the Rabbitohs. We also had a discussion about starting a business and living in Colombia which was interesting and almost had us enquiring about that property next door again.

At 1.30pm we walked back up the muddy trail to the hostel and then onto town for a good look around as we will be moving on tomorrow. We walked up a heap of stairs at the edge of town that had a great view over the town and then looked through the shops, this is a pretty town in a great location.

We went to the supermarket and brought some shoe polish and back at the hostel we gave our boots a long overdue clean and polish it took us ages as they were encrusted with mud and even before that were looking worse for wear.

In the evening we decided to try another restaurant, the

Roasting Green Coffee Beans
food was great and again huge portions so a very cute but skinny dog just outside also had a good meal so we were all happy. The little dog snuck into the restaurant and hid beside our table for some attention which was very naughty but he left with us and took up his spot at the French door near the tables waiting for the next suckers.

Day 213 Friday 11th May

We are on the move again so grabbed our backpacks said goodbye to Tim and got some last minute advice and then walked to the Fire Station at the bottom of the street to catch the bus to Armenia. This took about 1 hour and we arrived at the Armenia bus terminal just before 8.50am and got the 9.00am “Directo” bus to Popayan, which turned out to be another minivan (hence no toilet) which was three quarters full when we hopped on. We got the back seats which turned out to have more leg room then the other seats and because they were higher I had a clear view so I did not feel claustrophobic, plus the window opened. The only problem

Coffee Beans turning brown
with being at the rear of a bus and higher is that you get thrown around a lot more on the curves and get spring boarded on every bump. The trip was similar to others but the road in places was a dual carriageway so it was a fairly smooth trip to Cali about 3 and a half hours away. At this terminal everyone hopped of the bus and we were the only ones left. I went up to ask the driver if the bus was going to Popayan and what time we were leaving, as I needed to use the bathroom and wanted to make sure the bus did not leave without me, unfortunately our driver was having a bad day and he just yelled at me. We started to move so I thought that’s OK I will cross my legs for another 3 hours, but we only moved up to the second storey of the terminal and parked again. I just said “Bano” to him and jumped off and asked someone else who pointed the way, when I got back we worked out we were here for an hour while we collected more passengers. Scott got off while

Making Coffee
I minded the seats & bags and got us some lunch as we had not had any breakfast. As the journey went on our driver either ignored anyone who asked him a question or grunted so we were all in the same boat (bus). Just before we reached Popayan the rain started which made our driver more and more grumpy as every time someone got off and needed their bags from the back he got more and more wet.

By the time we reached the terminal at 3.30pm it was pouring so we opted for a taxi instead of the 10 minute walk with all our bags. The hostel we have chosen is near the Old Town and very friendly and clean, our room has a private bathroom and even a small sunroom so we are very happy as it is only 50,000 pesos (AUD$28.00) a night. We settled into the room which means opening our backpacks and watching everything explode out doubling in size, I have no idea how we squeeze it all back in each time we move on. We checked out the notice board in the foyer for food options and went for a walk to

Friends at the Coffee Plantation Kiera and Ipod
check out the town and get our bearings, by 6.00pm we decided to have an early dinner. The nearest choice was a Mexican restaurant which was OK, but not too spicy even though we begged for spicy and hot. The waiter was lovely and brought out a more spicy salsa so it improved the spice level. We went back to our room and chilled and read for a few hours before going to sleep.

Day 214 Saturday 12th May

Today is Mother’s Day in Colombia and it is Sunday back in Australia so it is also Mother’s Day, we saw children making cards for their Mums in the street and flowers for sale. Our hostel does not provide breakfast so we went in search of a café, the one we chose was more coffee oriented than food so will need to find somewhere better tomorrow. We went for a long walk around the Old town checking out the interesting murals on one of the walls and beautiful buildings including the Teatro Guillermo Valencia built in the early 1900’s which had interesting statues on top of the façade. We walked down to the Puente del Humiladero which

Coffee Plantation
is a bridge with 11 arches built in the 1870’s, it was here that we saw a site that you do not see every day a group of people on stilts trying to walk up the stairs. We watched them try to walk up some did better than others and there were some spills and screams, we are not sure if this is just a fun thing to do on Saturdays or they were practicing to join the circus. We walked over the bridge and saw the Puente de la Custodia which is a small bridge built in 1713 that is beside the newer bridge. This small bridge was built for the priests to cross the river to the northern suburbs to poor and sick. Talking about sick Scott has picked up a head cold so after a couple of hours we went back to our room for a rest as we don’t want it to get any worse. In the late afternoon we called home to our Mums to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day and catch up with the news.

At 7.30pm we started the search for dinner we have heard about a restaurant called Limon Pollo

View from Alto De La Cruz of Salento
(Lemon Chicken) so this is where we headed. The restaurant is very busy with people eating here and also getting takeaway, so we find a seat and order a chicken dish, it is nice and fresh. Being Saturday night we walk around to look for a bar, but nothing appeals to us as they all seem to be behind closed doors and we were hoping for something overlooking the street. We give it a miss and go back to our room for an early night.

Day 215 Sunday 13th May

Forget the healthy breakfast option we decided to go the sugar hit but we got more than we bargained for, the attached picture, death by chocolate. A fellow traveller at the next table who had ordered eggs said he thought we made the right choice, his eggs did not look that appetizing. We had thought that we were going to get a couple of small cinnamon donuts but what we got were large chocolate coated, stuffed with caramel and stale but the croissant and brownie (which was three times the size I expected) were really good, even the coffee was drinkable. We

Main Street
did a short walk around to check out the Sunday’s activities of the town and then walked back to the hotel to relax for a few hours, as Scott’s head cold was getting worse.

In the late afternoon Scott was feeling a bit better and we were both a bit stir crazy and so headed out to see if we could get a beer before dinner. We have found in our travels that if a town has one good bar it will have ten, but others just have none. We soon discovered that Popayan had none other than a billiard hall filled with about twenty guys that were all on the other side of ninety. It wasn’t exactly a hip new place but I am sure the patrons were all on the waiting list for new hips, but the beer was cold and it was a different experience. We stayed for a few beers and as we left all the old boys became animated and sang out “ciao” (bye) to us. For dinner we went to a nearby Italian restaurant, which was one of the few places open and got a reasonable feed of pasta.


Our healthy breakfast
style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;">Day 216 Monday 14th May

I (Scott) woke up feeling a lot better which I put down to the beers I had last night but unfortunately I had transferred some of my germs to Shelley who was now feeling crook. First task of the day was to get some breakfast and because it was Monday we had more choices, and we ended up settling on a funky little café a few blocks from the main plaza. We got a slightly healthier breakfast this morning with a sandwich and coffee. After our feed we wandered down to the bus station to check out tickets for tomorrow and then onto the nearby Exito store, which is the Colombian equivalent to Kmart. Picked up a whole bag full of supplies we were running short of and took them back to our room.

In the arvo we once again went for a long stroll around town checking out all the old churches and stores. This isn’t much of a tourist town and hasn’t a lot to hold your attention but is still a pretty colonial town. We ended up back at the café we started the day at for a drink

before going back to the Italian restaurant for a feed of pizza. Moving on tomorrow so the night ended with us once again packing our bags

Day 217 Tuesday 15th May

Up at 6.30 and got all our stuff together for the move today. We had paid last night so it was a simple easy exit from the hotel, and we just walked outside to a taxi that was passing. We could have walked the kilometre to the bus station as most of it was downhill but when the taxi only cost 3,000 pesos ($1.50) we couldn’t be bothered. At the bus terminal we had a choice of companies to go with but we stuck with Bolivarino as we have used them before and they are fairly reliable. We had to wait about 30 minutes for our bus, which was coming through from another town so it was half full when it arrived. We are always allocated seat numbers when travelling in South America but in Colombia we are yet to ever get our seats as someone is always sitting in them. Hasn’t ever caused a problem for us though as there is always

Teatro Guillermo Valencia
other seats.

The journey today started well with us climbing up the mountains around Popayan but about an hour out of town we came to a halt, due to roadworks. For the rest of the morning we spent almost 2 hours of our trip at a standstill waiting for lollypop men to turn their paddles. This road appears to have major subsidence issues and most of the work appeared to be just to hold the road in place. Finally at 12.30 we made it to a small town and the bus stopped at a horrible looking roadside restaurant. Most of the places the bus stop for lunch aren’t too bad but nearly all are overpriced, but this one the food looked and smelled like crap so we opted not to eat. Shelley was by this stage feeling as crook as rookwood. The head cold I have given her was giving her hell and the windy road had compounded the problem with a good dose of motion sickness. We may not have eaten but the break off the bus at least made Shelley feel a bit better so that when we got underway after an hour she was feeling a

View for our room of Igelsia San Francisco
bit better.

Around 4.00 we made it into the town of Pasto and after a short break at the bus terminal we started the last leg to the town of Ipiales. The scenery all day has been nothing short of spectacular but the final stage is breathtaking with large mountains and deep gorges. The whole area varies in height between 2500 to 3000 metres so we are once again well and truly back in the Andes. We arrived at Ipiales at 6.30 just as it was getting dark after being on the bus for over 10 hours, our last bus trip in Colombia.

Ipiales is a border town and sits only 7 kilometres from Ecuador, and because of this it isn’t exactly a nice place to stay. I am unsure why border towns are universally horrible but they just are. Arriving in Colombia all those weeks ago we immediately pushed onto the nicer town of Pasto, but we want to see a nearby site and so decided to stay here on the way out. The Lonely Planet didn’t give any great hotel choices and the internet gave us less so we opted for the Hotel Metropol that was

Street view
across the road from the bus terminal. This is on the fringes of the town about a kilometre from the centre, but Shelley still wasn’t feeling well and figured it was an easy choice. We walked across the road and managed to get a room for 2 nights at 20,000 pesos ($11) a night, yes that’s right $11 a night. The Lonely Planet warned that the hotel is used by the hour by amorous locals and this was confirmed when two young kids came in wearing T-shirts that read I (heart) Vicky and the other I (heart) Alex. They looked about 16 and as nervous as hell as they crept along the corridor, and if I could have spoken better Spanish I would have said “Hi Vicky, I know your mother, does she know you are here with Alex?”

At this stage you maybe asking what do you get for $11, well we got a room painted up like a bordello, frilly curtains, a nice timber backed bed with matching writing desk and chair, really lovely actually. The room however doesn’t come with a toilet seat or hot water, but I guess you can’t get everything. The woman told

Old Buildings
us we wouldn’t have hot water till the morning but we both figured from previous experience that this wasn’t going to happen. Other than a packet of chips on the bus we hadn’t eaten all day and so after dropping off our bags we went out to see what we could get. Wandered around the bus terminal and the nearby area without finding anything that remotely looked edible and so decided to get a taxi into town. It only cost 3,000 pesos ($1.50) and took ten minutes to get us up to one of the town’s main plazas. We picked up an average feed of Churasco at one of the many restaurants that lined the plaza and then got a taxi back to the hotel as quick as we could. The temperature in Ipiales must be about 12 degrees at night and our room was probably a couple of degrees colder. Thankfully our bed comes with 5 layers of blankets so at least Shelley could keep a bit warm.

Day 218 Wednesday 16th May

Despite having a room at the back of the hotel we could hear the television blaring from the foyer all

People on stilts
night, but the real noise didn’t start till about 5.30 as all the other guests started getting up. People showering, talking, more televisions, kids screaming, doors slamming slowly grew in intensity till about 6.30 when the kitchen downstairs started kicking in with pots and pans, followed quickly by a car alarm, taxis at the bus station beeping their horns and then finally a guy next door started up with a circular saw. Noise in hotels don’t generally worry us and we can sleep through most stuff, and this comes from living on busy roads for most of our lives, but this place was something else again.

Poor Shelley really is crook with this cold and should have tried to sleep in as much as she could but the racket had her out of bed before 8. As expected the hot water didn’t really materialize and the best we got was a vague feeling of warmth. It is such a shame as the room is actually a nice little room, but from the looks we got from the staff as we left it made me feel as if they thought we may be mad for staying two nights. As explained

Puente Del Humilladero
before most people are only here for an hour or two, a whole night is probably out of the ordinary…but two nights? The reason we are doing it is to go see the Santuario de Las Lajas, an important church 7 kilometres out of town. Most people fly out there for a few minutes as they pass through, but we opted to give ourselves a bit more time. Had thought about seeing it this morning and then moving on to Ecuador in the afternoon but crossing borders isn’t fun and I just didn’t want to push Shelley.

We wandered over to the bus terminal and hired a taxi to take us out to Santuario de Las Lajas for 8,000 pesos ($4.50). Being only 7 kilometres from town it only took us about 15 minutes and we were dropped off on the fringe of a small town where we could take a leisurely stroll downhill to the church. The Santuario de Las Lajas is a beautiful church built on a bridge over a steep gorge at the spot where the image of the Virgin Mary appeared on a rock face 45m above the river below back in the 18th century.

Puente De La Custodia
Since then countless miracles are attributed to the vision and it has become an important pilgrimage for the faithful in Colombia and South America in general. The walkway down to the church is lined with plenty of religious souvenir shops and food kiosks. The final stage of the walk is along a lovely pathway alongside the cliff face that is plastered with plaques of thanks from people who have had wishes granted and/or miracles applied. There are hundreds, maybe thousands and they date back to the 1940,s.

The church is really beautiful and the setting is magnificent and that alone was worth the pain to get here. We walked across the bridge to the other side of the gorge for some photos before going inside. Rather than a huge gold encrusted alter the rear of the church is the bare rock face of the gorge with a painted image of the Virgin Mary along with Santo Domingo and San Francisco who have now joined the act. Two floors below the church is a small museum with a short history of the site with some great photos of the building of the church back in the 1930’s to 1940’s. Also

Iglesia San Francisco
was a small collection of ancient indigenous artefacts and rather oddly a stuffed two headed sheep and a 6 legged sheep.

Outside it was starting to rain, but thankfully nothing heavy so we didn’t get too wet on the long walk back up to the car park. A couple of taxis were waiting and they quoted us 10,000 pesos ($5.50) for a journey back to town. Now normally being ripped off a dollar wouldn’t worry us too much but these guys were just smug a-holes and were just having a good laugh about it, so we walked off. A few metres up the road one of them came running up to us and said he would do it for 8,000 pesos, so we took it. We had asked to be dropped off at the Plaza Indepencia in town, but half way there he told us he couldn’t do it but would drop us at the Plaza Pola, which was about 5 blocks further into town. Didn’t worry us but when we were stuck at lights a block from where we wanted we paid him and jumped out.

First thing was to pick up some more tablets for Shelley and my running nose. Got them fairly quickly and because it was now midday and we hadn’t had breakfast we stopped for a sandwich and a hot chocolate at a café before having a walk around town. Ipiales has a population of 75,000 people so it isn’t huge but it is a busy little town. It isn’t exactly pretty but it was an interesting walk around the shops and then we decided to walk back to the hotel which was mainly downhill.

For dinner we found a flashy restaurant, well for Ipiales that is, just off the plaza and had a nice meal which made us both feel better.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


21st May 2012

That is beautiful.
How lovely Santuario De Las Lajas looks from these photo's. Sounds like it was a nice day to have and visit. Goodbye Colombia! Hope you get better soon Shelly, I'm sporting on of those myself at the moment. I'm voiceless, Andi loves it xx

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