Saturday, February 02, 2013

Colombia- Popayan, Silvia: All with a view

J and the Tourist Police
Crossing the border into Colombia was so hassel-free that J and I stood in front of the immigration officer staring at her in stunned silence for a good five seconds before we actually turned and walked away with our stamped passports. There was no line up, no forms to fill out, no visa payment, no questions really. Scan, stamp and done!

Actually arriving at our first stop in Colombia, however was a very long, exhausting day. We were up and out of the hostel in Ecuador at 6am. We caught a bus to Ibarra, a town 'half an hour' (right) north. After pulling off the road for every body and their dog, we finally got to the bus station just as the bus we wanted was pulling away! It all worked out though because on our bus (an hour later) was a great English couple, Steve and Caroline,  and we all then had the privilege of suffering through the following 17 hours together. The bus took us to Tulcan where we got a (dishonest) taxi (who told us it was going to be $2.50 but then charged us $3.50 when we got the few kilometers to the border-its the principal more than the dollar- but anyways). We went in to check out of Ecuador and get our exit stamp and then walked across the bridge to Colombia to get our entrance stamp. Then we were in another taxi to the closest Colombian town- Ipiales. We exchanged $20USD with some guy on the street flipping through a huge stack of Colombian pesos. We canvassed all the bus companies at the bus station and found a bus going to Popayan, our first city stop in Colombia, in an hours time. Apparently bus prices in Colombia aren't fixed and are bargain-able. Not that they would give us a discount-but we tried. Buses here are significantly more expensive than in Ecuador. Buses in Ecuador were about $1/hour of travel. Here in Colombia they are 2-3times that price. Then again, gas in Ecuador is subsidized by the government and is about $1.03/GALLON (a GALLON!!) and in Colombia we've seen the prices at $4/gallon. Anyways. We had a huge typical 2 course lunch with soup, chicken, rice, veggies etc. to tide us over for the 'eight' hour bus ride. For the remainder of the day our bus driver stopped to talk to any number of people on the side of the road- not picking up any of them. Various roadside shacks delivered pop and snacks to him, we stopped to re-fuel twice- and then, at 10pm- a mere hour from our destination- and long past dinner time- we stopped at an overpriced restaurant for everyone to eat a full 3 course meal! AHHHH! Ten LONG hours later, at 11pm, we finally arrived in Popayan- the 'white city.'

Sheep on a Chiva in Silvia
We were eventually able to convince a taxi driver to take us to the hostel we had reserved. It was the most bizarre taxi experience ever. There were about five taxis lined up outside the bus station and none of them wanted anything to do with us- usually its the other way around. The taxi sped through the deserted streets like he was being chased by a drug cartel. He pulled up to a hostel that wasn't ours, but thankfully ours was just down the street. Then he couldn't get the trunk open where Steve and Caroline's bags were. Seriously couldn't open it. One too many accidents seemed to have jammed the back into uselessness. There didn't seem to be a trunk release. No amount of jingling the keys in the lock helped, there was no lever on the back seats that would allow the seats to be folded down. We tried everything. There we were - Colombia Day #1- in the middle of a deserted street at 11pm at night- 4 gringos, 1 taxi driver and the receptionist from the hostel that we weren't staying at and a locked trunk full of bags. The trunk ordeal lasted ten unbelievable minutes before J's special touch somehow managed to convince the trunk to accept its given key- and voila- the trunk sprang open! We walked down the street to our actual hostel and were greeted warmly by the Irish owner. (There are actually 3 owners- the Irishman, a Spanish guy and a girl from Romania- all super helpful) Our room was ready, our bed was comfy and someone was nice enough to be playing a flute in the main square just under our window to lull us to sleep!

Silva Market
The bus ride, before it got dark- was spectacular. I really wasn't expecting the scenery to be that gorgeous- that extreme, right over the Colombian border. Rolling green hills quickly transformed into towering cliffs, narrow canyons and imposing mountains. Any direction you looked- mountain vistas stretched to the horizon- so vast and so varied- it could have been a fake backdrop for a movie.  It was made even more enjoyable by the smooth paved roads and re-assuring guard rails. Points for Colombia!

The next day we went on a flight booking adventure. Who knew booking a flight could be an adventure? We had heard from other travellers that domestic flights in Colombia, particularly with budget airline Viva Colombia- were super cheap and after that 17 hour bus ride- we were REALLY interested in the prospect. We had been keeping an eye on the flight we had in mind, but were advised by fellow travellers to wait until we were actually in Colombia to book it. Why? We found out. We log onto the Viva Colombia website and find our flight. We fill in all the info, blah blah blah- and our credit card gets denied. Apparently the website usually doesn't work with foreign credit cards. There is another option. We can reserve our ticket and then go to a 'somewhere' to pay for it before the end of the day. We have to go to wherever this place is after noon that day, but before it closes. The super friendly hostel owner says that he has tried to book with this airline before and went through all the riga-maroll and it didn't work. Our hopes aren't high. While we are awaiting noon, we go with Caroline and Steve to the Avianca office (Colombia's main airline). They need flights too. And we are pretty sure our reservations aren't going to work- so we need a backup plan. We wait in line and get helped just as the doors are being closed up for siesta. The tickets are double the price. So off we go in search of the magical place where we can pay for our plane tickets. We find the little window, barred with wrought iron directly off the sidewalk. It has the little lotto sign that we recognize from Viva Colombia website. There is a young girl behind the bars. We say 'Viva Colombia' and give her the confirmation number we had written down. She says a bunch of things that we don't understand. So we take back our scribble note, say thank you and trudge back to the hostel. Thankfully the hostel owners are super fantastic. J goes with the Irish owner back down to the barred window. Apparently she doesn't do "that" but there is a guy that does and he'll be back in half an hour. Whatever that means. Later that afternoon J returns yet again to the barred lottery selling window (which also seems to serve various other mysterious functions). The Spanish hostel owner is with him this time. Thanks to people who are multi-lingual it is discovered that there is a second confirmation number that the man who does such 'things' needs to do whatever he is going to do. Back to the hostel. Open the email. Get another confirmation number. Scrawl that beside the first one. Back to the window, our linguist in tow. Maybe it was because we were with someone who could actually communicate, maybe it was because there was some sort of cosmic karma- or maybe it was because the girl behind the bars thought J was cute (our translator told us that part afterwards)- but whatever stars aligned to make it happen- we had a flight reservation! Then again, all we have to show for it is a lottery looking ticket that in no way indicates that it has anything to do with an airplace- but apparently we show up at the airport with this slip of paper and they trade it in for boarding passes and off we go....

Popayan itself was an interesting city for strolling. All the buildings in the 'centro' are whitewashed and quite attractive. Our favourite day trip from Popayan was to an indigenous Tuesday market in a town called Silvia, 53km north. We took a minibus there and loved seeing the vibrant traditional wear of the people who had all gathered in the main town to trade veggies for meat, compressed sugar cane, clothes, knickknacks, electronics, spices and lots of other random items. Wandering around the streets and inside the market square was a treat- especially because of the beautiful hilly scenery that surrounded the town.

Where we stayed: Parklife Hostel, Popayan Colombia: 42,000 COP/night for private room with shared bath. Great place in a great location with super friendly and helpful staff, clean, speedy wi-fi, nice common areas, laundry services.. etc. Parklife also had a wall full of travel info. It recommended routes and bus companies- not surprisingly, in big capital letters beside the name of the bus company that we had just taken, some smart soul had advised : AVOID! haha We agree.

ps. The first picture is of J and his 'tourist police' buddies. By the size of their guns, I'd say the tourists really misbehave in Popayan.

pps. Happy Birthday Airica and Ed!


Gina said...

There is certainly an ongoing theme on this blog of people and animals being attracted to J ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi J and K,
I had a comment and lost it for some reason.I'll try again !
You are certainly getting around and seeing wonderful places which you describe so expertly. You have a knack for meeting up with good travel companions. Your descriptions of the places you visit are second to none.

Yogi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yogi said...

Hey C&J ,
any chance you could get an Alpaca sceen for Jen? That would be awsome! I'll pay you when you get home.

See what you can do. If you can't, don't worry about it, but if you can I would be delighted if you could bring back a sceen or something made of Alpaca wool.