I had breakfast again with Maddie and Nick, who were then going off horse riding before catching a bus to Cali. I was intending to catch the 10.30am bus to Popayan, but ended up chatting for some time to Harry, which meant I missed that one! Luckily, there were several buses a day.
Harry booked me on one that left at 11.45am and called me a taxi to take me to the booking office. However, when I arrived, it was explained that the bus left 5kms out of town at a crossroads, something I would have been suspicious of if Thorr (from the jeep tour) hadn’t already told me that he had been dropped off there when he arrived.
The taxi took me to the appropriate spot and it wasn’t long before a Popayan bus came past. I flagged it down but, unfortunately, didn’t think to check the bus company and naturally it was the wrong one. This wasn’t discovered until the bus made a lunch stop at a roadside cafe and the conductor wanted to see my ticket. There was quite a lot of consternation and they weren’t keen for me to stay on the bus, causing me some angst. However, they eventually agreed that I could pay them the fare and I would be allowed to stay. It meant I paid twice for the journey but decided it was a better option for me that staying at the cafe in the hope that the right bus came along.
The bus was quite small and very full (which is why they didn’t want to take me) and at first I had had to sit between two seats in the front, perched on the seatbelt fastener, with my backpack blocking the aisle in the back. However, it wasn’t long before some people got off and I was able to have a seat in the back, in front of a vomiting man. Lovely!!
We arrived in Popayan at about 4pm and I got a taxi to my hostel in the old part of the city. I had booked a room with a private bathroom, but when I arrived, the lady on reception explained that a discotheque was right next door, which made a lot of noise until 3am. She offered me a 3 bed dormitory instead that I could have to myself, but without a bathroom. This seemed to be the better option, especially as I could still hear the disco, but it was much more muted! I have become a little paranoid about noise after my experience in Bogota.
Popayan is known as the ‘white city’ as all the buildings in the old part are white. (No photographs as haven’t replaced my camera yet.) I had a wander around town for an hour or two, stopped for a coffee and then came back to the hostel as it got dark.
In the evening, I gradually became aware of some drumming and tinkling getting closer. My lovely room had a balcony overlooking the street, so I was able to watch the procession of children coming all the way along. It was obviously a Catholic festivity, as everyone had candles and the children were carrying palaquins (for want of a better description) that supported religious figurines and candles. They looked quite heavy and I felt quite anxious for the children as they wobbled around a bit! I was talking to a Colombian staff member afterwards and he explained that it was like an Easter parade for children.
I spent a chunk of the morning in my room, sorting out my insurance claim, uploading the very few photos I had left on my ipad, and doing various other bits, before venturing into the streets to try and buy a watch, as I had been relying on my, now non existent phone, for the time. I also had to pick up the large sum of money that Alan had sent me via Western Union, as without a bankcard, there was no other way to obtain cash. The Colombian monetary unit is pesos, with approximately 2,000 to $1US, so even $100 is quite a lot of notes. I would have to say that I felt very conscious of the 1 million pesos stuffed in my bra when I caught the local bus later on!
Checkout of the hostel was at 12 noon so, once I had bought a watch and a day pack, I packed my bag and got a taxi to the bus station. There seem to be a large number of bus companies plying backwards and forwards between the towns and cities, so I bought my ticket from the first office that had a Cali sign (my next destination). This proved to be a very local bus and, as I approached, the driver and conductor were trying to manoeuvre a couple of very oversized boxes of, what appeared to be, recycled cardboard, into the boot of the bus. My backpack was tossed, unceremoniously, on top of one of them, and the other was manipulated onto a seat in the bus. (Luckily, my pack survived its ordeal.)
We drove out of Popayan, which seemed quite busy, and on to the main highway. This, seemingly very long, trip took me through mountainous countryside, planted with coffee and sugar etc and then onto the plains around Cali, where sugar cane plantations predominated. There were a lot of wayside stalls selling pineapple, so it must also have been a big pineapple growing area.
We stopped in a couple of very Wild West looking towns, complete with horses and carts, hundreds of buses, hundreds of street hawkers and hundreds of motor bikes. There were also a few people! It was fascinating to watch the comings and goings as the bus invariably stopped for 15 or 20 minutes (not that you ever have any idea how long you are going to be there). With the strong African, Spanish and Indian historic influence, the people here are every size, shape and colour, the latter ranging from deep black to very pale. There were also a number of people, whom I assume were Ecuadorians, judging by their clothing, who were dressed in hats, brightly coloured, long, wrap around wool skirts and shawls.
I eventually arrived at Cali Terminale de Tranportes at 4.30pm, having stopped and started all along the way. I’m not really sure if it is meant to take that long but it is all part of the experience. I got a taxi to the hostel which is in the old part of the city and immediately went out to try and find a camera. The French owner pointed me in the direction of a shopping area specialising in electronics, but I found that it was full of small shops selling, predominantly, mobile phones, so I ventured further down the road to another mall where there were camera sellers and was successful in my purchase although not so in my negotiating (never have got the hang of that!)
I started walking back but as it was getting dark and I didn’t have a good map, I caught a taxi. I was in a bit of a rush as I had arranged to meet Nick and Maddie at their hostel and go out to dinner with them. We ended up in a ‘fusion’ restaurant that they had been to the previous evening. The Thai curry was excellent, particularly as I was starving, not having had lunch, and the menu was ‘interesting’! It was quite a mix of Asian, American and French and had such accompaniments as ‘stump’, a mixture of mashed potato and carrots.
Nick and Maddie walked me back to the hostel and we arranged to meet up and travel together tomorrow.
I had intended to travel with Nick and Maddie today but, after I had done some research on the destination, San Cipriano, I decided that I had concerns about the safety aspect, as it a very remote and poor area, so I spent a much needed lazy day around the hostel instead.
When I arrived yesterday, I was offered a room next to the common area with no window. However, after being shown a room with a city view for a little extra money, I took that and certainly reaped the benefits today. I woke to the sound of the bread sellers coming around on motor bikes and throughout the morning there were various other salesmen, including one with all sorts of brooms and cleaning equipment tied to his body, calling out their wares.
After going to the bakery and meeting Maddie to tell her of my decision, I did a load of washing and then retired to my room and spent a happy morning, sitting at the table by the window, reading and wasting time on the internet. There was not a lot of activity in the street as it was Sunday, but it was interesting nevertheless.
I eventually went out at about 2.30pm. Everywhere was closed and there were very few people around, apart from various bored looking policeman, playing with their mobile phones, strategically located around the area. My walk eventuated into a cafe crawl, the first stop being at another hostel. However, it wasn’t particularly welcoming and I continued on my amble up towards the park. Having found one open shop and a wallet I wanted to buy to replace my stolen one, I returned to my room for my Visa card and then stopped for the second coffee at a lovely art shop/cafe/garden on my return. This was a very peaceful place and I lingered over my coffee, as I sat next to the fountain and admired the garden.
Back at the shop, I made my purchase and then ascended the steps to the cafe on the roof, which had an amazing view over the city as well as the park. The latter gradually came to life as I ate my very mediocre vegetarian pizza (which had lettuce as one of the more unusual toppings!).
Down below, there was much manoeuvring and lining up of motor bikes in the allocated spaces, which was quite fascinating to watch. Surprisingly, given how close together they were parked, none of them fell over or appeared to damage adjacent bikes. The park was quite thronging with people ambling or just sitting and socialising by the time I left the cafe and walked back to the hostel.
The rest of the evening was passed very much as the morning had been – idling!
It was a beautiful smoggy day across the city, as I took in the final view from my window before heading off to the bus station for the next step along the way.
The bus to Aremenia, this morning, was the complete antitheses to that on which I arrived. I had so much leg room I could almost lie down, the seats were comfortable, the bus was air-conditioned, a film was playing and the bus had wifi for those passengers who felt obliged to connect with the world whilst they were on the move. (I really must be more selective in my bus companies, in future!)
We travelled out of Cali and past mile, upon mile, upon mile of sugar cane plantations. Eventually, the terrain became more hilly and the land more pastoral and, by the time we were approaching Armenia itself, the hillsides were quite steep and cultivated.
We were stopped twice by police en route. On the first occasion, they collected everyone’s I.D., excluding mine (obviously decided a foreigner was too much trouble) and checked them using their mobile phones. Whilst we were waiting, a young man was led away in handcuffs, so they obviously have success occasionally in whatever it is they are looking for. The second time, they just checked the baggage in the hold.
In Armenia, I changed onto a very local bus for the hour long trip to Salento, which is in the heart of the coffee growing region. We crawled out of town, as the bus driver chatted to the front seat passengers and stopped and started and waited for people to board. We had not even gone half way, when the heavens opened and it poured with rain. This continued for most of the remainder of the afternoon, so it was difficult to see Salento in all its glory.
The bus terminated in the main plaza and I walked the short distance to the hostel where I was checked in by a very friendly man, with about as much English as I had Spanish, but we coped! I then went for a walk in the rain, stopping first at a cafe, the Jesus Martin, for a much needed coffee. It was such a lovely place, (only serving coffee and cake), and as the coffee was the best I had tasted so far, it could well become my ‘regular’ place for the 2 days that I am here.
After this, I wandered around town and was amazed at the number of souvenir shops that lined the main street. I had a look in one or two (after all, what else do you do on a rainy afternoon in a strange place?) and climbed some steps for a murky view of the town and surrounding countryside. After this, another coffee was required, followed by a trip to the supermarket, where I tried to buy a bottle of wine but, for some reason that escaped my comprehension, wasn’t allowed to buy it today but could come back tomorrow afternoon, when I could!
Back in my room, I read for a while and decided to have an early dinner. Normally, I have not been going out at night on my own, but the town here is very small and I was close enough to the centre that I thought it would be safe. There had also been soldiers lining the streets earlier, although, strangely, they had all disappeared when I went out this evening.
I ate spaghetti on my own, in the cafe, with an accompaniment of red wine, and returned to the hostel, where I had a chat to the very disillusioned and cynical Dutch owner before retiring to my bed and reading.
This morning was spent at Plantation House doing a coffee tour. I had already done a tour in Panama, so it was interesting to see the variations, which were only slight, in the coffee growing process.
Plantation House is owned by an Englishman who grew up in Australia, called Tim Edwards. Judging by the comments he made during the course of the tour, he has not made too many friends in the area! There was definitely a slight arrogance and he was going to do what he wanted to do, regardless of any objections.
My hostel was very keen for me to go on a different ‘finca’ tour, but it was a 45 minute walk out of town and in Spanish, so I opted for the English tour instead. I met up with Nick and Maddie, but there was quite a group of people, so it was just as interesting chatting to everyone else, as learning a bit more about coffee growing.
This farm (finca) was growing traditional, Arabica coffee. This is grown throughout Colombia, as opposed to the Robusta variety, which is grown at lower altitudes in other countries and produces a lesser quality of coffee. There are traditional plants, which are more prone to diseases, and hybrid plants, which are the modern varieties and more robust in terms of disease (just like roses!) As there is no variation in the price of modern or traditional arabica, most farms in Colombia grow the modern plants, as the preferred option.
Whilst Plantation House had been a growing farm for many years, Tim had only been farming it for the last five. It was not clear whether he had had coffee experience beforehand but he certainly gave the impression of being familiar with the process now. However, when it came to showing us something that involved a bit of work rather than chat, he was very quick to call over a staff member to do it!
Once he had finished his blarney, Tim handed over to a staff member to explain (in Spanish) the final stages of roasting, demonstrate the grinding and roasting of the beans, (using the high tech equipment of old fashioned mincer and frying pan) and then we were each offered two cups of coffee, one made from the traditional variety of plant and the other from the modern. They were both quite strong (no milk or sugar) and made one or two of us a little light headed!
After chatting to a young English couple, who were doctors heading back after 2 years in Australia, we had a wander around the property, as we had generously been invited to do by Tim. After this, I walked back to the hostel, where I spent a lazy hour or two before going out for a walk. In the main street, I bumped into Michael, the American from San Agustin and walked up to the lookout with him. As we are all on the same tourist route, it is inevitable that we bump into the same people over and over again.
Back in the hostel, I had a glass of wine (the supermarket actually let me buy a bottle today), whilst chatting to yet another English couple, who were travelling for three months, whilst on their way to Australia. Another English couple joined us in the kitchen and then Nick and Maddie appeared as well, so it became quite a little English conclave!
I went to a very cheap and cheerful restaurant with Nick and Maddie for dinner and then had an early night (just for a change!).
It was an early start today, as I was intending to catch the 7.30am jeep to Cocora Valley with Nick and Maddie. As it happened, I woke extremely early, so there was no problem getting up in time. There had been a few dogs barking in the night and, as it got lighter, there was the odd horse or two clip clopping up the road outside my room. Horses are quite prevalent here as a means of transport for both people and goods.
I had breakfast and walked up to the plaza. It was a beautiful morning, the first one we had had here, and waited for Nick and Maddie. We had been told that the jeeps leave as soon as they are full, even if it is before the scheduled time so we made sure that we were there early. This morning, however, there was no problem, as we were the only tourists and the vehicle was then filled up with locals (and their goods).
We drove for about 30 minutes, before the driver told us to get off. We then commenced the most beautiful walk up the valley, with mountains rising on either side. There were quite a number of swing bridges to cross, none of which would have met any of the safety requirements required in NZ!
It was a very good track that did a loop around and back to Cocora. There was an extra kilometre up a hill to a house where we could get a ‘free drink’ (once we had paid the 5,000 pesos entry fee) and watch the humming birds on the feeders. These are such delightful birds, I could watch them for hours. The drink we opted for (as there was a choice, surprisingly) was hot chocolate with a slab of cheese on the side. This seemed a strange combination and we weren’t quite sure whether we were supposed to dunk the cheese in the chocolate, or what. (We didn’t!)
After this, we had a very steep climb up to a ranger’s hut (or it may just have been somebody’s home), where we ate lunch, which Nick and Maddie had very kindly made for me. By this time, we were well up into the clouds and there was definitely the threat of heavy rain. In theory, we were supposed to have a fantastic view of the valley at this point. In practice, we saw a lot of cloud!
The next stage of the walk, took us past the wax palms, for which the area is famous. These are extremely tall palm trees with very straight trunks, which, today, peaked out from the clouds and appeared quite mysterious.
The weather cleared slightly as we descended to Cocora village. The people on the 9.30am jeep caught up with us, as we had been dawdling along for most of the way and, in this last part, Nick decided to play with the ball that goes everywhere with him and was whacking it around the valley with a bamboo stick, all of which added up to very slow progress.
We treated ourselves to an ice cream at the end and then got a jeep back to town. This was a smaller vehicle than the one we had arrived on but, nevertheless, the driver managed to cram 13 of us into it. There were 5 people hanging off the back, so that was fun!
Back in town, I returned to the hostel briefly, before going for a coffee with Maddie, whilst Nick tried to persuade one of the ATMs to give him some money. (The ATMs are very temperamental, so it is very hit and miss as to whether they will deliver or not.) We then had a wander round the many souvenir shops, inevitably meeting other people from the hostels along the way.
Once back in the room I caught up with the diary writing and drank the rest of my bottle of wine before reading in bed.
The weather was overcast and drizzling again today as I left the hostel and walked down to the bus terminal to meet Nick and Maddie. It seemed that just about everyone I had met in Salento was leaving today on the bus to Pereira. This trip took about an hour, during which time there was quite a lot of political discussion between an American, a Spanish girl and Nick (with a small contribution from me), which was very interesting.
We had to change buses in Pereira for the long trip to Medellin. There are a number of companies plying the route and we just picked one that had a bus going the earliest. The bus itself was middle range (i.e. not local but not luxury with plenty of leg room and comfortable seats either). We were not really sure what, if anything, we were going to meet along the way, as currently the farmers are striking around various parts of the country and blockading roads. (One of the young men I had been talking to in San Agustin is still stuck there as there are no buses getting through.) Consequently, there are a number of soldiers lining the roads, as well as police checkpoints scattered around. The bus was stopped between Salento and Pereira, when we had to show identification, and then again on the way to Medellin, when all Colombian men had to get off the bus, were patted down and their I.Ds verified.
We made very good progress for the first 100kms but then we crawled up and over the mountains behind truck after truck after truck. There were also roadworks part way up and we had to wait for some time before the traffic began to flow again very, very slowly in both directions. It must have been horrendous for the drivers with all those hill starts! At least it presented a market for the food sellers.
However, the scenery was just beautiful, so it certainly wasn’t arduous for me to sit and admire the view. The more I see of Colombia, the more I like it. We stopped about half way along at a roadside cafe where I decided to follow Nick and Maddie’s decision to have a fish dish, something I would normally never do as, to me, the buses never stop long enough to eat a meal (even though all the drivers seem to manage it!). It was a mistake though. As the meal took a little time to arrive, we had to keep a constant close eye on the driver to made sure he didn’t depart without us. Inevitably, he ended up tooting his horn to make us hurry and, when we came to pay, the price was astronomical. Definitely a ‘gringo’ tax on that one!
We arrived in Medellin at about 3pm and took a taxi to the hostel and were overcharged again. It was obviously just one of those ‘rip off’ days. However, my room in the hostel was excellent – basic, but clean with private bathroom and TV that I can lie in bed and watch should I so desire. I have still yet to acquire the taste for dorms!
We went out to the supermarket, which is just around the corner and I came back with a large amount of fruit and a bottle of wine, so an almost healthy dinner for me. It was quite a novelty going into a large supermarket that had a huge range of goods. I could have spent hours in there wandering around. (How sad is that?!)
The rest of the evening I spent in my room, reading, watching TV and eating.