A bus from Cali to Popayán took about three hours. When I arrived it was threatening rain, but I made the mile walk from the bus depot to my hostal before it started. Popayán was the main commercial center for this area in early colonial times when river traffic was the thing, but eventually when roads were built, Cali took over that role. Consequently Popayán is kind of stuck in time. The area around it is low mountainous, very green and pretty.
The next morning the sun was shining and I explored the white historic section of this city. My hostal, the Park Life, was adjacent to the Cathedral on the main plaza. (those four second-storey windows) Popayán has a pretty theatre, as well as quite a few churches and museums. Almost the whole four blocks around the plaza are beautiful, big, white banks! For a city of 260,000, that’s a lot of downtown banks!
Just north of the plaza was a small bridge crossing the Molino River, which was built in 1713 so that the priests could cross to the other side and minister to the poor people who lived there. In 1873 a much bigger bridge was built which is still used today.
It was fun to be living right on the plaza so I could observe all the goings-on. What a busy place!
It was a beehive of activity all throughout the day. A man was selling corn with which to feed the pigeons; a cool dude with a fancy haircut was selling CDs; and a street sweeper was keeping things tidy.
I visited the Church of San José, a couple of blocks from the plaza. Some young people were assembled, watching a cartoon that was being shown on a big screen TV, right above the Crucifix on the Main Altar! AND they had the sound turned up to about a hundred decibels!
After so many days of eating a nutritious ‘menu of the day,’ I decided to have a ‘junk food’ linner. I started with a buñeulo (round corn bready thing, deep fried) and coffee; then moved on to a big plastic cup of mango pieces; then bought another round fat-fried thing with rice, potato and a bit of meat (probably a croquetta); then brought homemade potato chips and banana chips back to the hostal to finish off with a beer. I enjoyed it, but the next day I was back to normal eating.
Tuesday I took a bus 53 km to Silvia, a town surrounded by four villages of the Guambiano people. There are about 12,000 of them who speak their own language and wear their traditional clothes, and they come to Silvia on Tuesdays to sell their produce and handicrafts.
When I arrived at 9:00 the market was going full tilt. Many of the Guambiano women were spinning wool as they walked or visited with their friends. They arrive in chivas, which are open air buses, and haul their produce on top.
I enjoyed looking at the produce market, especially the potatoes. They have lots of different varieties for sale. Additionally there were electronics, school supplies, clothing, shoes, baby chicks, meat, utility items and many other things on display.
The plaza of the town is beautiful, fronted on one side by a huge church. The interior is unusual, as it is kind of circular, resembling some of the modern churches in our country. Some of the people seemed to enjoy visiting with their friends and just hanging out in the plaza, while others were selling their things in the market or on the street.
After I had eaten empanadas (my breakfast) and had hot chocolate with cheese, and thoroughly looked at the market, it was time for me to go back to Popayán and for the Guambianos to go home to their villages.
Three small museums were on my morning agenda in Popayán after the rain finally quit. The people here say this is the dry season, but like all over the world, odd weather conditions prevail. We had big rain last evening and again this morning.
The House of Guillermo Valencia, a Popayán-born poet, was a pretty colonial home with many momentos of his family, and also his son, who served as President of Colombia from 1962 to 1966. The 19th C. furnishings in this large and rich house were notable. In what in former times was the kitchen, now was Valencia’s grave.
A second colonial house belonged to General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, who served as Colombia’s president on four occasions between 1845 and 1867. Goodness, that must be a record—four times? His heart (el Corazon) is ensconced in a wall urn in one of the rooms.
The third colonial house held the treasures of the Museo Arquidiocesano de Arte Religioso. The other two were free admission, but this one charged 5,000 pesos ($2.40)—they didn’t have change for a 10,000 peso bill. When I left I was made whole! I enjoyed Popayán’s version of ‘The Last Supper.’ I think those cakes are arepas—yucca bread circles which I eat most mornings for breakfast.
I have been on several hair-raising bus trips, but the one on Thursday from Popayán to Tierradentro took the cake. It started nicely with beautiful green mountain scenery and a nice paved road. Goodness, since the LP guide said it was 78 km, it didn’t seem that it would take the four to five hours predicted. Yes, we were half way in just 1¼ hours. But hold on—-they were paving sections of the road, which hadn’t been previously paved and it had rained—even though it’s the ‘dry season.’ The roads got muddier and slippery-er, which was disconcerting when we were next to a thousand-foot dropoff. I just assumed we would make it with such an experienced bus driver. However, I couldn’t help thinking about the return trip—if it rained hard (which it has been doing) it didn’t bear thinking about. There were also some landslides due to the rain. Meeting big construction trucks was awful—sometimes we had to back up.
I had told the conductor three times that I wanted to get off at the museums. There are two museums and quite a few guest houses about a 25 minute walk from the town of San Andres de Pesimbala, and I wanted to stay there as there really isn’t anything of interest in the town. For some reason, he insisted I should get off at the town, which is where he stopped to let me off. In the meantime about 30 school children had gotten on the bus, crowded as could be. When I was getting off, the children had all gotten off, and another 30 were getting on! What a mess! A woman next to me was holding a wobbly carton of three dozen eggs; she finally traded the eggs for a toddler who needed a nap. On top of that, the LP guide was way wrong on the km. They said it was 78, and it turned out to be 105, by the roadside markers. Boy that seemed like a long trip—in fact it was. It took 4 ½ hours.
I went to the nearest restaurant and had my linner, then walked the 25 minutes to the museum area, booked a room, and collapsed! Actually I did a little laundry and planned my next day.
The LP guidebook said that the tombs were kind of a sideline to the beautiful walk laid out to visit all the tombs, which had gorgeous mountain scenery. Two things they forgot to mention: 1) The first part of the four-hour walk went up at an alarming incline—I guess mountains are like that. 2) To climb down into the tombs, (and get out again) one needed to be an Olympic-ly-fit climber. The original steps were not made for old tourists! They had gigantic steps, ‘one foot here and one foot there’ pointed out by the attendant. “Not for me!” I exclaimed. He said that another tomb was much easier, and we walked to it. It had kind of a circular ‘stairway’ going down, and it looked like I could manage that one with his help. I climbed down and down and was rewarded by a wonderfully carved and decorated tomb. It was kind of circular, about 15 feet in diameter with several niches around the periphery for several bodies. And I made it up and out again! He proposed another tomb, but I thought I would quit while I was still ahead. And yes, the mountain scenery was spectacular.
I retraced my steps down the mountain and got back to the area of the museums. The museums had some interesting ‘daily life’ exhibits and some interesting old statues. They also had some coca plant specimens, which, I guess, has been a blessing and a curse.
I had thought about staying over another night, but the weather was so blue-sky beautiful this day—it really couldn’t rain, could it? Therefore I decided to get the 1:00 bus from Three Cruces—25 minutes walk from my casa—and go over that muddy, slippery mountain road while it was still semi-dry. I arranged with my landlady to have a motorcycle man take me to Three Cruces at 12:30. They always make me nervous, and this road was very rocky and irregular, but we made it in fine shape at 12:45. The bus was supposed to come at 1:00—it came at 2:15, finally! When it stopped, five people crowded to get on as the bus was very full. I was last on as I had to check my bag in the back of the bus. So, I was standing on the bottom step of the entrance to the bus, with the door open. We went lurching along and I was in mortal danger of being thrown out. The conductor was standing next to me and I said, “Es muy peligroso para mi” (it’s very dangerous for me) and he replied, “Claro!” (that’s clear!) I thought I saw a bit of room among the standees in the isle, so I pushed myself through and took command of that tiny space. At least I wouldn’t be thrown out of the bus. A young man kissed his girlfriend and then offered me his seat, which I took! The bus ride was going to be about five hours long! Bless his heart!
There were about 20 seated passengers and 12 standing in the isle—the bus was seriously overloaded. It turned out that my seatmate (the girlfriend) was a teacher and there were about 10 of them on board, celebrating Friday night. They had a bottle of Aguardiente from which they were serving shots in a plastic shot glass, communally. (Well, some people do this in church, too!) Of course they invited the gringa to participate, and so I did have two such shots. It’s quite good, I think—I had had some earlier on my trip. It’s kind of like our anisette.
Well, the party progressed—this bus ride lasted for 5 ¾ hours. Actually, they had to buy more Aguardiente through the bus window at some point. It really did liven up the long bus ride, which, by the way, was way better than the going ride since it hadn’t rained. However, it did rain after a couple of hours, but by that time we were through the muddy parts. I did hear a thump under the bus at one point, which I think was the exhaust system coming undone when it hit a rock, because after that it thumped a lot. But eventually we got back to Popayán and I got back to my hostal.
I shall spend a day in Popayán before going on to San Augustin.