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Published: November 29th 2014
So I finally arrived in Colombia following a 1 in the morning bus to the border from Quito, a taxi from immigration to the bus station to an ATM in town back to the bus station and a daytime nine hour bus ride to Popayan city. Colombia has been the country I have been most looking forward to experiencing since the start of the trip as the few people who"ve journeyed there brought back tales of unbelievable landscape, exotic birds, fruits and flowers, a shady history and scarcely believable stories of Colombian peoples' friendliness, hospitality and generosity. Intrigued as to how much a dark past had blossomed into something so positive, my plan was and is to find out more.
While many travellers rush up to the big urban cities of Medellin or Bogota or head straight for the Carribean Coast, I decided I wanted to explore Southern Colombia for at least a week even if it was just to compare how the people were to the rest of the country. Military presence and police was evident in force as the south is still considered potenial guerrilla country (FARC) My four stops were Popayan, San Agustin, Cali and Buga.
Popayan aside from the friendliness of the locals doesn't have a major amount of tour attractions. The two main highlights for me were an excellent natural history museum and an hours trip from town to a Tuesday market in the town of Silvia where the indigenous Guambianos people come down from the mountains to buy and sell produce. One of the first things I noticed about the Colombian people is there is always acknowledge even if just walking by a person and people go above and beyond for simple queries on directions or when giving simple advice. A local off duty policeman called Ary spotted my puzzled self trying to find Parklife hostel my first night and proceeded to walk me not just to the building by all the way to reception where he stopped to chat! Almost a week later after being to San Agustin and back, I heard someone call my name and it was Avy who asked if I could help with his foreign coin collection by sending on old Irish pence to him once I got home - I now have his address and email in my wallet!
I was all set to head for Cali the following day till I bumped into my old pal Marc who I meet on the Galapagos Islands and between himself and another girl Stacy who I'd become friends with in Parklife, I was talked into heading to UNESCO site San Agustin, famous for its imposing stone heads, tombs and carvings created about 2000BC and still going strong! Once I made up my mind I hopped on a five hour bus (terrible bumpy) journey down to check the place out with Marc to make his way down the following day!
First stop the next day was the main Archalogical Park which I managed to hitchhike out to on the back of a motorbike that was passing by! I suprised myself at how much I enjoyed it. I was skeptical, expecting old statues (which it was) but when you're up close and personal to witness the artistry and design and shape of done 4000 years ago with primitive tools and how well they still looked, it was a serious jaw dropper!
After a quick visit to another local hostel to check how Stacy was settling in and hear how
Courtesy of Natural History Museum, Popayan
her "special tour" (how cocaine is made) had been that day, myself, Marc and two Italian girls from our hostel popped down to the local guides Carlos" house to see could we organize to go horse riding the following day. He wasn't there but amid the ten or so children in front of the house babbling Spanish to us, I heard perfect spoken English coming from somewhere. I looked down and a ten year old was the speaker, Carlos nephew Santiago who it later turned out could speak five languages.. an unbelievable gift which would be at home in the world's top schools but instead whose talent could possibly go unnoticed in rural San Agustin (hopefully not!) We had great fun waiting as we were shown the families farm and the guinea pig which granny was fattening up for a special occasion dinner, I showed all the kids the pics on my camera and we talked at length with Carlos's brother who was the spite of Diego Maradonna! Colombian family hospitality is the best! Just when we were about to leave Carlos shows up where I used my best negotiating to get the price down to 35k from 45k pesos
Courtesy of Natural History Museum, Popayan
pp or about 13e for 4 hours in Irish speak. DEAL!
The following day we were up bright and early. Despite my initial nervousness, I got used to it quicker than expected. We had a wonderful day not only riding out to the archaelogical sites but also admiring the amazing San Agustin countryside. Coffee, lulo, oranges and tomatoes were all growing in the fields and flowers of all sorts were in bloom making for a nice contrast of different colours. Carlos had a great knowledge of the countryside though he neglected to mention the yellow and red tree sap should not be put on ones face.. nearly two weeks later and the bruises below my eyes have finally disappeared. The horse riding got competitive at the end and I was regretting my intial request for a quiet horse as the best I could get of my horse "Hummingbird" was a canter and not a very long one at that ! Still though, a great day out 😊
Due to my time in SA, Cali was a short stay for me but I was quietly impressed of a city that I had heard was recently
Or so I thought!
declared the third most dangerous city in the world. Admitingly I didnt get to explore the city much as the hostel El Viajero was very good. Myself and Marc headed out the Friday night to sample the famous Cali nightlife. It was good but turned out we"d gone to the wrong place for Salsa as the DJ seemed more a fan of R+B music. Following day I had plans to go Buga but not before I got to finally do what Cali was famous for .. a class of SALSA! It was brilliant, I could still do with about 1,000 more classes but the thrill of learning something new was cool!
Buga itself is off many tourists radar but extremely popular with Colombians and 3m Colombians come on pilgrimage to the city each year as its considered a very holy place. My time however consisted of recharging the batteries as I wanted to be 100% for what was on the itinerary for Central and North Colombia.
Therfore my time in Buga consisted mainly of
- Some good home cooking (Dave style)
- Doing laundry and charging cameras
Doing some exercise
- Failing in my quest to get a mohawk!
- Setting up a duolingo account, why didnt I know about this website months ago !!
- And finally a bus to Salento, in coffee district country...
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