Southwest Colombia: Cali, Popayán & San Agustín

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October 21st 2012
Published: October 24th 2012
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Me and the Superstar CatMe and the Superstar CatMe and the Superstar Cat

At the Parque del Gato in Cali
Hi all,

I've gotten a bit behind again with the blogging, so as I write this blog, which covers my travels between the 25th of September and the 4th of October, it is actually the 18th October and I am back on the Carribean coast, sitting in a cafe drinking a mocha. The mocha business may be shocking news to some; it seems that 5 weeks in Colombia has changed me at least in one respect in that I seem to have a developed a slight fondness for coffee! But before I go too off-topic, let's return to the intended subjects of this blog entry...

I left the Carribean coast (for the first time) on the 25th of September and took two flights over to Cali, the 3rd largest city in Colombia and self-proclaimed ´Salsa Capital´. Those of you who have been attentive readers may recall that whilst I was in Taganga I tried my hand at some scuba-diving, which was fun but did result in some fairly unpleasant pain in the ear department. It seems that the altitude changes on the flights over to Cali did not help that situation. So after a long, boring (and delayed!) journey, I arrived in Cali in the dark, feeling pretty unwell and, I'm not going to lie, pretty sorry for myself. However, upon arrival at the aptly named Colombian Hostel, Cali, I was greeted by wonderful hospitality and, more importantly,, a homemade white chocolate cupcake. So that was quite the mood-booster. The hostel itself is fantastic: extremely well-run, modern and clean. So after chatting to the owners for a while in a mix of Spanish and English, and a couple of painkillers for my earache and developing headache, I had an early night. The next day, after a yummy and free breakfast at the hostel of scrambled eggs, tomatoes and bread (I am a big fan of this hostel - can you tell?), I went for a little look around the Parque del Gato (Cat Park) before spending 3 awesome hours at Cali Zoo. My one criticism of the zoo, although it´s a criticism which could probably be equally aimed at the majority of zoos in the world, is that some of the animal enclosures seemed a little too small for the animals. The tiger in particular looked a little bit sad and blue, unless it was just my imagination. But I have to admit that for the most part I was quite happy to put my doubts about how ethical the treatment of the animals was, and go into big-kid mode and gape in awe at the impressive collection of birds, fish, mammals and reptiles that Cali Zoo had on display. Indeed, when another tourist asked if I would like my photo taken by the aforementioned slightly-miserable-looking-tiger, I jumped at the chance. Later that day a few new (English-speaking) people arrived at the hostel, so I passed some time sitting, drinking (free, hostel-provided) rum & coke, and chatting to them. Unfortunately my ears and head were still playing up at this point so I am (almost) sorry to report that I passed on the opportunity for a night out with them. I say that I am only almost sorry, because in lieu of a night-out, I curled up on the sofas at the hostel and watched Horrible Bosses on their big-screen TV. Awesome movie. The following day me and a few of the others that I had met the evening before went out to explore some more of Cali´s sights. In truth, I had only really gone to Cali because it was a convenient place to go between the Carribean and Popayán, which was my next destination. I had just booked 2 nights in Cali originally but the combination of a good hostel, a good city and good company (and the fact that I'd missed out on any salsa party times because of the pesky ear situation), prompted me to stay another night. We climbed to the top of a hill where there was a cute little church and woods and a nice view of the city. On our way back we detoured to some areas where there was a lot of good street art and I had a good time snapping away with my camera. I was surprised to find that Cali's street art scene is probably a legitimate rival to Bogotá's, which was awesome. We bought a strange fruit called 'chontaduro' from one of the many street vendors. It is a bit like a sweet-tasting carrot, which they cover in salt and honey. I wasn't blown away at first but I later found myself craving them when I was in Popayán and buying myself a bag of 20 of the mysterious little fruits. That evening after some drinks
Popayán CathedralPopayán CathedralPopayán Cathedral

In the main plaza
at the hostel a few of us went out to check out the infamous Cali salsa scene. I was definitely not disappointed; I think that Cali lives up to its title, and some of the dancing we saw was seriously impressive. I even tried out a bit of salsa and merengue dancing myself - although I certainly wouldn't call myself a natural! I left the following morning to catch a bus to Popayán, but I should pause here to point out that it was in Cali that my taste for coffee first began. Along with more free homemade cales we were also given free coffee at the hostel. The student which still resides in me won't allow me to turn down free food or drink when it's presented to me, so I gave it a go, and was pleasantly surprised by it, although I wasn't a big fan by this point...

The 3-hour bus journey to Popayán was reasonably uneventful from the little that I remember about it, although the landscapes that we passed through, with their lush trees and crops, were wonderful. I got to what is known as 'The White City' owing to downtown Popayán's uniformly white
An Interesting Painting at the Museum of Religious ArtAn Interesting Painting at the Museum of Religious ArtAn Interesting Painting at the Museum of Religious Art

From what I could understand from the tour guide, this painting was supposed to depict everyone from all over the world coming together to give thanks and to follow Jesus
colonial buildings, some time in the afternoon. I don't recall much from the first evening - not due to alcohol and crazy party times, but probably just because I didn't do anything particularly memorable! The next day I went out and explored the city which was absolutely beautiful. There are a lot of nice churches and Cathedrals which I enjoyed exploring. One of them had its doors open and a service was going on, so I figured I would make the most of the opportunity and go sit in and observe a Colombian Catholic church service. I must have come in near the end as it was over in about half an hour, but the general gist of it seemed to be the priest standing up and doing some bible readings, and then a young guy standing up and singing (the congregation didn't join in) and so on and so forth. It was a rather sombre affair but nevertheless, despite not being Catholic and despite not understanding everything that was said (or sung), it was cool to experience it. After that I checked out the modern art gallery which was pretty minimal but still had a decent enough collection, and
A View of the White CityA View of the White CityA View of the White City

From the hilltop church
then the Museum of Religious Art where I got a tour in Spanish despite advising the guy that I couldn't really speak much Spanish. (Just as an aside, it does seem that, for a lot of Colombians at least, being told that you don't speak Spanish is viewed as some sort of challenge to teach you, and they seem to believe that if they just continue speaking to you in Spanish, then you will eventually just start to understand...) Luckily I did manage to follow a decent amount of what the tour guide was telling me, and the collection of Catholic art was certainly impressive, even though most of the paintings were plagued by themes of sadness and pain, and then framed in garish frames (usually of gold or bronze). Colombians seem to be quite fond of their hilltop churches and in Popayán there is a beautiful little church at the top of a tall hill, which is surrounded by lush tropical trees and green hills, and boasts a very picturesque view of the city. After taking in the lovely views from the church I climbed back down the hill, which was lined with religious statues depicting Jesus at various
One of my favourite statuesOne of my favourite statuesOne of my favourite statues

In the Archeological Park, San Agustín
times of his life (and death). It appears that Colombians are also rather fond of such statues, especially when they flank the route up to one of the many hilltop churches! My last stop of the day was another hill with another slightly different view of the city. This time, instead of a church, the hill was topped by an equestrian statue of the main man, Simón Bolívar. The view here was even better, although whilst I was sitting on the top of the hill eating my packed-lunch of ham sandwiches (you can take the girl out of England but...) and enjoying the view, a guy who was staying at the same hostel as me came over to let me know that he'd heard of a few people being mugged up there, and to be on my guard. Heeding his advice, I politely declined an offer from a Colombian guy who came over to me barely 5 minutes later and asked whether I would like him to take a photo of me with my camera. I'm sure it could have been a nice photo, but I figure it is better safe than sorry. In the evening I went to a music concert at this stunningly gorgeous theatre which I'd visited earlier in the day. The support acts were great but the main act talked for about 10 minutes about Jesus between each song, which got a big dull after a while!

I left the next day for the small, charming town of San Agustín. The 6-hour bus ride was pretty brutal as the roads were dreadfully bumpy, and I was sharing my seat with a large man who took up all of his seat and half of mine. In my haste to leave the bus I ended up forgetting both the food that I had bought with me, and my hoody, so that evening after getting settled at the very peaceful and magnetising rustic hostel, Casa de Nelly, I set out into the town in order to replace my lost items. The mission was successful, but after it was completed it started pouring down with rain. Luckily whilst I was taking shelter in a nearby cafe in town I got talking to a guy (who spoke English - yay!) that owned the place, and he kindly called a taxi for me. On Monday the 1st I went for a beautiful walk through the farm land and rolling hills to the equally beautiful archeological park, which is full of zaney, simple statues, that often had both animal and human elements, created by a people that archeologists seem to know very little about. I liked the statues a lot, partly due to the mystery that surrounds them and their creators, and I particularly enjoyed wandering through the Forest of Statues, which is exactly what it says on the tin, but what made the Park so incredible was the astoundingly beautiful views from the Park. The hills, plants, trees and farmland that surround the area are truly just incredible. Once I was able to put my camera back in my bag and pull myself from the park, I headed back into town and went to the cafe whose owner I had met the evening before. I had a chat with him for a while which was nice as I hadn't met many English speakers in the previous couple of days, and got the most delicious fruit salad ever. Seriously, the fruit in this country is just so damn good. I had planned to take a jeep tour to some nearby places of
Funky TreeFunky TreeFunky Tree

At the second archeological park
interest the next day, but in the morning I found out that it had been cancelled. Seeing this as a clear-cut sign to be lazy, I spent the rest of the day in the gorgeous tropical garden at the hostel, reading a book which I had picked at the hostel's book exchange. The jeep tour was rearranged for the next day so early on Wednesday I loaded into the jeep along with a very nice couple from Bogotá who were holidaying in San Agustín and we set off to take in some of the breathtaking sights that the area has to offer. First we drove to a peaceful spot on the Magdalena river which was really lovely and tranquil. Next on the itinerary was a stop at another archeological park which contains more simple but interesting statues. The views from this park were not quite as stunning but they were beautiful nonetheless. After stopping for lunch we pushed on and went to visit a couple of lovely waterfalls and took a quick tour of a sugar-processing plant.

And that just about finishes up my story of the time I spent in the Southwest of Colombia. The following morning I headed off back to Bogotá on a glorious (not) 12-hour bus journey. Until next time! Ciao x


31st October 2012

Hey there - keeping up with the usual high standards I am glad to read. It all sounds so truley amazing - you do like rocks and old buildings :-). You look lovely and healthy - good times all around hey. Have you thought of doing this for a living you would be brill for the Rough Guide Publications. So much more enjoyable than the standard boring stuff. Take care - love Jo
7th November 2012

Superstar Cat
Your obvious lack of explanation about the Superstar Cat is disturbing. I am disappoint.

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