Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘Popayan’

Rearviewmirror

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I feel the need to tell you about my last few days in Colombia, before moving on to my new location. Here is the story:

Saturday: Hung out with a guy from the D.C. area, who was in my dorm. A decent guy, ex-military, currently does security type work on contract, and studying international something at a college (may be an assassin).  We found a Brit and an Aussie to watch the US/England world cup match with and searched for a local hangout.  Stumbled upon the ¨Cafe Colombia¨, an old school guy hangout in the heart of the city. Containing a small TV area with plastic tables in front, a large pool table area, slot casino in back, poker tables up a floor, and completing the man cave – a trough urinal openly installed on a main wall. A lot of action all around, with some guy trying to get us to place wagers and many people hawking lottery tickets. A fun game to watch with the Brit left shaking his head and us feeling very satisfied.

Back at the dorm, a Brit girl joined our group seeking Colombia travel advice. Being the only one heading south, I dispensed what I could to all interested parties and soaked up valuable info about my next destinations. They now have me excited about future treks and volcano watching.

Later: The Brit girl (Lucy), the D.C. guy (J), and I hit the town for street food and drinks. After checking out a few overpriced bars, we found a small cheap liqour store with 2 tables, and sat. Aguardiente, an anise flavored drink, is the liquor of choice down here, and it doesn’t taste too bad.

The highlight of the evening was the inebriated man, close to my age, who wanted to talk. He slowly forced out the few English words he knew and I tried to move the converstaion along with the even less Spanish I knew. At one point, an older lady came to the entry of the shop and called the man over. A few minutes of what seemed to be scolding and finger pointing, had the room holding back laughter. The 3 other Colombians around (all 20 something and one spoke English) told us that it was the man’s mother-in-law, and that she informed him that all of his things would be on the street when he got home. Undeterred by the news, the man proceeded to restart the talk and share shots. The whole scene highly amused me, despite a lack of understanding.

After parting ways with the town drunk, we hit a salsa club with the 3 Colombians from the store. Interesting to watch, though I did not participate. A few songs were too slow but when they moved, it was with ease and grace. They move their hips to the beat and stare off, nonchalantly, like they were walking. Sometime on this trip I will try, just not on that small floor during our short visit.

Sunday: I continued my journey south, to the town of Pasto. A man from wee Britain, was heading my way, so we traveled together. He had taken classes in Medellin and was a master at the art of flirting. That came in handy when he bargained our bus prices down and when he chatted up a pretty lady, a row in front of us. He did it with words I could understand, he just knows how to put them together. We crashed in Pasto 2 nights, he was sick the next day, so I headed off to see ¨Laguna de la Cocha¨, a good size lake with a densely forested island.

view of lake

view of lake

Tuesday: Farther south to Ipiales, 3 km from the border, where we parted ways and I headed to nearby Las Lajas. A small village around a stunning church, I shacked up at a large hostel, formerly run by nuns. Being basically the only person there, I got views of the canyon and the Santuario that spans it.

Santuario de Las Lajas, (not the view from my room)

Santuario de Las Lajas, (not the view from my room)

The next morning I was awaken by the sound of a marching band. Looking out my window, I saw them coming down the hill and suited up (it was raining) to check out the action. Young kids pounded drums, leading a caravan of cars, all for a gold relic on the back of a truck. The streets were decorated with yellow and white, but they misjudged the height by a little bit. I snapped the photo below, seconds before the relic caught the overhanging line and fell off it’s pedestal.

look closely

look closely

hanging down

hanging down

The parade stopped for about 10 mintues while they tried to fix it, with onlookers looking very concerned. It ended up just being carried to the church by a man in a coat, where it was prayed to all day. That night, I followed as a procession took the relic to a chapel in town and from there I can’t tell you what happened (Not because of any laws or anything, I just don’t know). A good day to be in Las Lajas, and people thought I was crazy for wanting to stay in this small one-church town, for 2 nights.

Well rested and cleaned up, I headed for the border, where I sailed through the necessary formalities. I will have to save any word about Ecuador until the next post, as this one is categorized as “Colombia”. All I will say is that I am hoping for more interesting food and cheaper days. Todavía no están en el hemisferio sur

Gore-Tex

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I don’t know how I would have survived this past week without my titanium rain jacket, made by Colombia Sportswear, product # 205 SM7478. It is the wet season, so please don’t feel sorry for me, no matter what I say in the next few paragraphs.

It began in San Agustin, a little sprinkle the first night while I curled up in my hammock. Then steadily increasing throughout the morning, before the downpour during my walk to the market. Turning Monday into a good day for a blog post. It continued throughout my stay, but the show must go on.

I saw most of the main sites, including the signature Archeological Park, despite my moto-taxi breaking halfway there. A well preserved area, with many rock carvings guarding tombs and a nice round path they’ve lined with 35 interesting figures. I also attempted a hike to sites normally seen on horseback, resulting in a wet muddy affair. Not really worth the effort, but I do love getting dirty.

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín

The highlight of my stay in San Agustin was hanging out at the hostel. No ping pong was played, but I met some more cool people. Two more British girls as roommates, a guy from NoCal, a girl from Germany, and a talkative Aussie gal. With the kitchen connected to my room, I got to witness money saving ways to feed yourself, with the cheapest being, hangout and eat their leftovers. Although, I still think the best value was the $1 – $1.50 full meals I was getting from the market every morning. If only every town had a daily mercado where I could sit at a counter with the locals.

I completed my circular tour of central scenic places, with a 5 hour bumpy bus ride back to Popayan. Three nights were spent there, a slight altering of my original plans. The Aussie guy I met in the desert, showed me pictures of a hike he did around these parts. I had thought the trip was too difficult and expense, thus passed on it my first go around, but he painted a different picture. Stunning scenery, a way around the park entrance fee, and my male ego, all sealed the deal.

Friday: I set my alarm for 3:45 am to catch the bus out of town, got on the right bus, was dropped off at the turnoff around 6 am, and began to put one foot in front of the other. Destination: The rim of Volcan de Purace (a volcano that last erupted in 1949). With the early start, I was able to cruise past the dreary eyed visitors center without paying the $10 fee.

The trail traveresed along cow pastures, muddy forest, gravel road, rocks, and then volcanic ash. Wind and mist were a constant throughout the 4 hr ascent, with boulders providing the only shelter.

rest stop

rest stop

I thought about turning back many times. The altitude (summit = 15,600 ft) was dizzying, shoes were wet before I started, and I was tired from little food/sleep. Keeping me going, a group of 5 Colombians that caught up and eventually passed me, plus my trusty rain coat. With hood up and head down, I tried to not let my mind think that each false summit was real and plugged away, never actually seeing my finish line until the end. The conditions up at the rim were nasty, forcing rapid fire photography followed by hands inside coat. With the Colombians motioning me into their group photo, I reveled in the feeling of pushing myself beyond pain and raised a thumb.

at the top

at the top

Micah

Micah

I always love the descent, the speed and the recap of what I have accomplished. At this point, I made my second great decision in the past 24 hrs (first was the night before, finding fresh street potato chips to go with my 2 street hamburgers). I was confident enough in the reply I got from a climber and my directional instincts, to take an alternate way down. Following the gravel road we briefly used in the middle, for as long as it was white. I have a theory that all roads connect to another road at some point in time, and needed to test it. The result: a smooth mud-less path, a stroll past the restricted sulfer mine, no sneaking past the visitor center, and a direct line to the main hwy. I was lucky to have a bus roll by within 30 minutes of my arrival, and sat on the hump near the driver, enjoying a victory lollypop. I really do love it when a plan comes together.

At this point, I could tell you about the entertaining weekend I had in Popayan, about the drunk local who tried his best to have a conversation with me, and about my first visit to a salsa club, but all that will have to wait. I need food and this post is getting long, check back in a day or 2. Ahora estoy en Pasto, Colombia y usted no está

Electioneering

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Mockus para Presidente! Pledging to change politics-as-usual, bring transperancy to the office, and continue to stand firmly on his pro-environment platform. It is Election Day down here in Colombia, and they have their own multi-ethnic, internet savvy candidate who is firing up the younger generation via Facebook. Representing the Green Party, Antanas Mockus seems set to unseat the current administration and their chosen successor, Juan Manuel Santos.

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Many Colombian’s believe they are ready for a government which does more than just quell gorilla attacks. Though, I personally would like to thank their current leader for making this beautiful country very safe for travel. For me at the moment though, it all adds up to being stuck in Popayan with sites already seen. Thus, I would like to share the following message with you, my constituents.

Next time you get the urge to travel, make Colombia one of your candidates. I am not yet giving it my full endorsement, but do believe it is worth a look. For example, it’s well preserved colonial neighborhoods that are fun to stroll around in. Like Cali’s San Antonio district and Popayan’s Centro, which are filled with white walls and red roofs. Something about these areas just feels safe and peaceful. You can wander aimlessly, looking at churches and museums.

Streets of Popayan

Streets of Popayan

Every city also seems to have a hill, topped with a shrine or monument, allowing panaramic views. In Cali it is called “Cerro De Las Tres Cruces”, a steep, 1+ hour climb to three large white crosses, communication towers, and some weightlifting equipment. An interesting site to see, with a number of exercise buffs who seem to make the trek on a regular basis. Decent views at the top, better on the alternate way down.

Last night, it was “El Morro de Tulcan” in Popayan, a grassy knoll providing great views of the old town and sunset.

Top ó Hill

Top ó Hill

That pretty much sums up my last 2 cities, walking around the old towns and checking out every accessible vista. In Cali, I stayed in a dorm at the biggest hostel in town and got to witness the true Lonely Planet backpacker crowd. My Aussie roomates had an interesting sleep schedule, grabbing supper at 11 pm and heading out to the clubs at 1 am, a routine I was not able to follow. The next night, the election weekend “no party” period began, and I watched the Celtics/Magic game with some guys from a New Mexico.

Today in Popayan: I got to sleep in, my laundry is drying, plus I enjoyed some of the finest empanadas so far, which came with a spicy avocado sauce.

Mañana: The plan is to catch a bus to Tierradentro, a collection of ruins and tombs surrounded by stunning scenery. Five hours off the main hwy down to Ecuador, the area contains a few sites to see, like San Agustin and some small desert place. Thus, I may be out there for a while and am unsure if it’s wired. Feliz Día de la Recordación

E = 35