Semana Santa celebrations and our journey to Ecuador

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South America » Colombia » Popayan
April 5th 2012
Published: May 8th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Popayan, Pasto and Ipiales

We just about had tears in our eyes as we had to say goodbye to our favorite spot in all of Colombia. But, if we didn’t tear ourselves away we might have gotten stuck there for a hell of a lot longer than we wanted to. Popayan was the next stop as we started to make our way towards the border of Ecuador. Cali was another spot that came up in discussion as a possible stop-over but we opted against it since Nate’s toe still wasn’t in any shape to get his salsa on. As we had been hearing, Popayan was a pretty cool place to be for Semana Santa. Every night they closed off a section of the town to carry the floats around in celebration of this holy week. The floats and bands were fun to observe, but we were actually expecting a bit more than it was. Maybe part of it was just how slow the whole precession was. No joke, watching a turtle race would be like watching the Olympics compared to this. Nevertheless, it was something different and a first time experience for us. It’s interesting to see how graphic some of the floats can get, decorating Christ on the cross with blood running from open wounds as if a Hollywood costume design artist had created it for a horror movie. The floats don’t have wheels on them either and need to be carried on the shoulders of a group of men who also have stilts to balance it while standing still to save their shoulders a little bit. We sort of wondered how they picked the guys for THAT job, flip a coin...paper-rock-scissors…who had the worst confessions of the month? Obviously we’re only kidding.It’s most likely quite an honor to be part of those groups.

Before we ever left Salento we knew we were going to meet up with some friends of ours we had first met back in Guatemala at Spanish school. Ironically, we didn’t even have to get in touch when we got there…we randomly ran into them right in the street packed with locals! It’s always good to see familiar faces. Our experience getting home that night proved to be quite interesting. Somehow the blocks that were closed off happened to wrap us up in a big circle and prevented us from getting back home (outside of the circle). Jessie and a friend of ours who was with us were able to make it across one of the streets between breaks of people. Of course when the white GUY crossed the road with the 2 cute white girls, what do you think happened? Was he allowed to walk through…or would he be escorted back to where he came from? Would he hear whispers in the crowd saying, “stupid gringo” in Spanish? You bet your ass he did! Instead of being able to cross the street (which by the way was the ONLY way to get back to our hostel unless we wanted to wait for 3 hours), he was forced to find an alternative route. Obviously calling for reverse discrimination wasn’t going to help in any way, but it felt a bit like that. It was definitely one of those times it paid to be pretty with boobs and an ass. Sorry Nate, you’re shit out of luck! Even if you were the kind of guy who was cool with shaving his legs, stuffing his shirt, and throwing a mini skirt on…you just can’t compete.

The only thing we really wanted to see in Popayan was the celebration and our friends, but our night spent together before we had to part ways yet again was much better than anything we experienced in the city, even though it was just a nice quiet night in. Jessie had learned from a girl in Salento an amazing maracuya mojito recipe, which meant that was exactly what we were drinking that night. Good food, good company and good drinks were plenty enough to make us happy, but Nate was EXTRA excited when he got surprised by Carlo and Geneva with a big piece of chocolate cake. We seriously wonder who the girl is in the relationship when it comes to sweets. Aren’t women the ones who are supposed to crave chocolate and sweets (especially when “Aunt Flow” comes to visit)? Oh no…not if you’re Nate. There’s no amount of chocolate cake too great or chocolate bar too big for that choco-holic feine. He always down for tearin’ up some sweets, that’s for sure! If he spilled chocolate syrup on his pants, he just might take em off to lick of the chocolate so NONE of it went to waste (maybe not that far). Needless to say he was definitely grateful for the late birthday cake.

We pretty much just killed time during the day until we were ready to head to Pasto which wasn’t far away. Going for a walk to try finding a good local place to eat turned out to be the best thing we could’ve done that day. Somehow we managed to find a place that absolutely topped our list as our favorite typical Colombian food we had eaten the entire time we were here. It was the kind of meal that made you want to ask for another order to go just so you could have a decent dinner that night. Thanks Popayan for sending us off on a high note! All in all it hadn’t been one of our favorite spots in the country, but that’s probably not very fair considering the amazing places we saw and things we experienced.

Our time flew by in Popayan and before we knew it we were off to spend a night in Pasto to break up our trip to Ecuador. We were trying really hard to think of what we could write about Pasto, and here’s what we came up with. Nothing. Instead of trying to be creative but failing miserably and boring you half to death, we’ll just skip to leaving Colombia. Because, when it comes down to it, our favorite thing about Pasto was our flat screen TV with cable in our room. Thank God for CSI, NCIS and Lost…AND in English! It’s kind of nice not to watch TV once in a while without seeing the characters lips moving at completely different times that the voices coming from them. Ever see those old westerns that were translated into an Asian language back in the day…ya know…the ones where somehow John Wayne is talkin’ shit in Japanese but his lips aren’t moving? It’s kind of a step down from that. At least technology has developed enough to attempt matching voices a little bit better with certain characters.

MORE than eager to keep moving to Ecuador, we blew out as soon as we got up the next morning so we could stop in Ipiales to see a well known church that was supposed to be worth a visit. We had read we could leave our stuff safely at the bus terminal for a couple of hours while checking out the church. At first we were offered to leave our things at one of the little stores inside the terminal, which we quickly decided against. Instead, Jessie found the official area where a man stood guard all day long and gave you a number for the spot you used for your things. Before we left for our little adventure, we met a girl who was making her way up through Colombia who started to ask us about getting stamps in her passport. She somehow managed to get out of Ecuador without a stamp, and into Colombia without a stamp as well. We think she got scammed by an old lady she met on the bus who’s “son” was a taxi driver and took her over the border and booked her onward ticket, etc. Obviously we’ve had quite a bit of experience with border crossings by now, so we told her we would take her with us to the border, since she had quite a few hours before her night bus, where she should be sure to get the stamp she needed before having issues when she left Colombia. Hopefully we’ll have some good backpacker karma coming our way, not like that’s why we would do something like that. Let’s face it, most of us would….travelers help other travelers, we’re like a family.

Having hours to kill she actually decided to come with us instead of just sitting at the terminal going stir crazy until we got back, so the 3 of us made our way out of town to Las Latas. We really weren’t quite sure what was going on as we got dropped off on a road that pretty much looked like a street market with all sorts of things to buy. In fact, this was the road we had to walk down in order to see the church. Little did we know this was probably as good as seeing the church itself. Well, mostly it was the dressed up llamas we saw that did it for us. No, literally…dressed up llamas! These guys had some traditional dress covering them up, some even sporting little hats, while people set their little kids on their backs for a picture. This was definitely another first for us. We wondered, “Where the hell are we ever going to see little kids decked out in cowboy gear sitting on a llama almost just as dressed up?” You couldn’t quite say “giddee-up cowboy” in the moment, but the kids were absolutely adorable! At home we have little street fairs where you can put your kid on a pony and take a picture, but here they get to sit on a frickin’ llama! How cool is that? How would you like to be at school the next day as a kid and the teacher asks you in front of everyone, “So what did YOU do this weekend?” “Oh not much, I just got my picture taken with a pimped out llama!” Pretty lucky I’d say. The biggest thing we weren’t expecting to see quite yet was the much hyped up cuy, grilled guinea pig. We had heard all about seeing it in Peru, but never did we think in Colombia we would see one of those little rodents grilled up on a platter, teeth still intact! And no, Nate didn’t sink HIS teeth into it…yet.

We finally reached the bottom of the stairs only to be in awe of the church we saw as it was built into the side of a ravine with a river running through the deep gorge. It was a hell of a spot for the church and unlike anything we had ever seen before, not to mention the actual architecture of the church was just beautiful. Of course we had to be sure to get plenty of pictures in, all while being the center of attention. Just about everywhere we go, Nate says he’s reminded up a Tu Pac song from back in the day, “All eyes on me.” Well, more like “all eyes on J”, but you get the picture. It was totally worth the stop and couple hours spent before making our way to the border, especially since our bag storage and the taxi were cheap enough. All of us were pretty pumped when we got back to the terminal to find all of our bags intact and exactly where we left them. It almost makes you want to give the guy a tip just for taking care of your crap…almost.

It didn’t take long to get to the border where we were immediately hit up by money changers, most of whom took us for travelers who either had absolutely NO idea what the right conversion rate was or never made it past 2nd grade in order to perform simple multiplication. Although, after 4 different changers took a crack at us after we told them we actually DID have some Colombian currency to exchange. The commission started at about $30 on the $120 worth we had to exchange. Once they knew we were more than willing to hang on to it if we had to and change it on the other side of the border, we finally got a decent rate. It was interesting to us that only ONE in the group of 10 was willing to give us the rate we wanted. We were more than willing to let the guy make some money. After all, that’s his living and we get that. But by no means were we nailed harder than a first time buyer at a used car dealership. We got our friend for the day her stamp and said our goodbye’s before looking back at the entrance to Colombia with frown’s on our faces. Along the way there have been a few different countries that have surprised us…most in a good way. Colombia was definitely one of those countries. Part of us wondered if we were making a mistake by not staying even longer, but “the show must go on”, and we have plenty more we want to see coming up.

Traveler Tips

Getting There

Popayan: From Salento we took a bus to Armenia for 3,400COP and then on to Popayan for 33,000COP. Again, prices were inflated due to Semana Santa and there was no negotiating. We walked to our hostel from the bus terminal once we arrived in Popayan.

Pasto: Leaving Popayan we took a cab to the terminal since we were up super early for 3800COP. We took a bus to Pasto for 30,000COP and arrived before dark. The terminal is a few kilometers out of town so we took a taxi for 3500COP to our hostel for the night. You can catch an overnight bus from Popayan to Ipiales but we heard there were frequent robberies and that is something we will pay extra and travel during the day to avoid again.

Ipiales: A taxi to the terminal was 3500COP where we had a SUV take us to Ipiales for 8,000COP each.


Popayan-We stayed at Hostal Trail, it was a decent place to stay for a few nights running us 55,000COP for a private room.

Pasto-Koala Inn was great for a stop over in Pasto, we had a private room with a great TV for 38,000COP. The private was only a few dollars more so we opted for the TV, duh!

**If we did it again, we would stay in Pasto over Ipiales…as we always say, border towns are shitholes!


In Popayan and Pasto the only transportation we took was taxis to and from the bus terminals.

Getting to Las Latas church: 4000COP RT per person in a collectivo, baggage hold is 2000COP per big backpack.

Additional photos below
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12th May 2012
Always fun to meet up with friends along the way

Hello there!
Hi you 2! Just want to let u know I still wait (with anticipation) for your next posting! Please know all your efforts with the blog are NOT going unnoticed! Jessie - You are such an incredible photographer! Are you thinking of continuing with photography when you are settled back down in the states? I can just imagine what you could do with weddings ... AMAZING! And Nate, I have often commented on what a great writer you are! Perhaps the 2 of you have founds new careers through your travels! :) Jonathan and I continue to love Belmont Heights, and everything with work is good for both of us! Jonathan is also doing great in college, so I continue to be a proud Mom! I continue to pray for your happy and safe travels. Looking forward to the next blog! xoxo, ...Karen

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