Sunday, May 19, 2013


The first city I went to in Colombia was Popayan (capital of the Cauca Department) despite the current Australian Government warning:

"We advise you not to travel to the departments of Putumayo, Arauca, Cauca, Caqueta, Guaviare, Valle de Cauca, NariƱo, Norte de Santander, Meta, Choco, Cordoba and Huila due to the very high threat of terrorism from guerrilla organisations, drug related criminal activity and recent border tensions between Colombia and Venezuela. There is a high risk to your personal safety in these areas."

Whatever. Government's don't know shit.

My journey started off well in Ipiales. The couple I met back in Quito had told me that you can negotiate bus fares in Colombia. So, armed with this knowledge, I walked around the station while bus touts tried to get me to buy a ticket for their companies. I bargained my way from 30,000 down to 20,000 (which is about AU$5.50) but a significant saving in COP. I was pretty proud of myself for not being a naive Gringa and for my Spanish negotiating skills. Little did I know, I was getting on the bus ride from hell since Colombian buses and roads are so shit!

I get on the bus, or should I say mini van, and since I was the last person to board, we left pretty much straight after. I took the one and only empty seat next to some old woman, who then starts yelling at me and being all annoyed cos she had to move her bag. Why she couldn't put it in the back I don't know. Pretty sure my stuff (which was in the back) was more valuable than her falling apart bag of old lady cardigans and hankies. So me and the "abuela" got off to a bad start. But by the time we got to Pasto, she'd come around and started making sure I knew we were stopping for the toilet, etc. She said a whole bunch of stuff I couldn't understand, but she was definitely being more friendly. 

I've since learnt that you should NOT trust old ladies in Colombia. Every crime I've heard about has involved an abuela. I think the criminals pay them off since you naturally trust your granny, but this backfires and you end up robbed in an empty street or you wake up in a hospital with no memory of the last three days and without any of your belongings and an empty bank account.

So next time a granny offers you a biscuit, tell her to fuck off since it's probably laced with drugs and she's in cahoots with a criminal gang.

Back to the bus ride. The scenery was stunning. The mountains here and in Ecuador are so beautiful and I feel very lucky to be travelling through them. However, the roads are death roads. If you went off the side of a cliff, you would fall a couple of hundred metres straight down and you would definitely die.

The fun really started about 1.5 hours into the trip between Pasto and Popayan. There was about 200km of roadworks, a car accident and various army checkpoints. It just took SO long. We got stopped by one army checkpoint and some army dude came on board and checked everyone's IDs. Obviously they are all carrying big guns and his got stuck between the seats (given this was a van not a bus). Hmm, that seems safe.

Anyway, about 9 hours later, we finally arrived in Popayan. The abuela, having moved on from complaining about me, was now complaining that she still had God knows know many hours left til she reached Cali. But thankfully Popayan was my stop. Adios shit bus!

I found my hostel and checked in. It was really nice. I like hostels where thought has gone into the design, compared to the ones where they've just shoved a bunch of beds into a room to maximise revenue with little regard given to comfort. This dorm had personal lights and a shelf next to every bed, so you didn't have to turn the main light on and wake everyone up. However, I managed to bang my head on my shelf and it really hurt. The next thing I see is blood dripping onto my sheets so I go to bathroom mirror and there is a blood trail running down my forehead. And I'd literally just washed my hair, which was now covered in blood. Good job AM.

The next day, I took a walk around the city centre, which is really pretty. All the buildings are white washed.

Except for this one yellow church:

I also found an awesome vegan restaurant 'Restaurante Comida Sana' that did "almuerzo" (lunch) for about $2.50. This included freshly cut fruit, soup, a main meal, a fresh juice and dessert. So good and really fresh. I would have gone back on the Sunday if they weren't closed!

This is the main square in the city centre, which arguably has the best real estate in town. It occurred to me while I was walking around the square that all the buildings facing it are occupied by banks.


In the afternoon a Dutch girl called Marlynn turned up and we started talking about places to visit in Colombia since she'd recently arrived too. I'd been reading about San Agustin on the posters downstairs and she was also keen, so we decided we would travel there together on Monday. We both needed at least a day to recover from our respective traumatic bus rides before getting on another one.

Speaking of traumatic bus rides, I met some Brissy girls going to uni in Bogota for a semester. They were on a night bus to Popayan with no lights and a guy shining a torch out the window so the driver could see. Even the locals thought this was dangerous (since we're talking suicide roads in the mountains) and told the driver to stop and ring for another one. On the same road but during the day, a truck went around a corner and it's back wheels came off the road and were basically spinning in the air like you see on tv before the balance changes and it goes over the cliff. I'm very glad I wasn't on that bus!

On the Sunday it pretty much pissed down rain and I didn’t do anything except watch tv and study some Spanish verbs. In the evening I had another attempt at a vegan curry with lentils and fresh coconut. It was tasty.

But I still think there is room for improvement in my quest to make a great hostel curry.

Next stop: cool statues in San Agustin.