Nothing beats a hot shower after my tedious ride from Tierradentro… except having a good dinner with beautiful company ;). I dedicated the next day to rest and I went strolling the city with Arianda. Popayan is a very picturesque town with its white colonial buildings boasting typical XV century Andalusian architecture (Mudéjar) with heavy Arab/Moorish influence: Colonial houses have an enclosed courtyard surrounded by arches and in the middle a patio and sometime a water fountain. We even managed to have a peak inside a couple of them while visiting the town. We spent most of the day hopping from church to museum and dropping by Popayan Art College to witness their Christmas Novena celebration before heading up a small hill for tremendous views of the city. At night, we went to admire the Alumbrado Navideño, i.e. Christmas light, in Plaza Mayor: it is a custom all over Colombia to illuminate the central Plaza with beautiful X-mas lights in a multitude of shape and forms. It’s nothing like you ever seen before and it really puts you in a joyful X-mas spirit. And since it was the Novena, we were treated to a concert by the local school children with each class vying to win the X-mas prize.
Next morning, my riding cloth + booth still wet, I rode up to Cali, a short 2 hour drive from Popayan: Kilometer 35,563; Cali, 17-Dec-10 @ 13:10. This is another famous Colombian city: no, not because of its cartel history, rather its women and salsa dancing. And being the weekend, I was going to be treated to a few wild nights. While the nightlife surely lives up to its reputation and the party doesn’t end until the wee hour of the morning (although it continues longer if you want to ;), the city itself is a letdown. Poor, dodgy, somewhat dirty and a badly maintained center will only solidify your plans: Party hard, dance all night and sleep during the day.
By Monday, I was ready to leave Cali and head to Salento, a small village close to the enchanting Valle De Cocora and a perfect getaway to relax and rest after my long weekend. Yet again while riding I was caught up by the rain and I was drenched in less than a minute. That’s it: next time I see a hint of a black cloud, I am putting on my rain suit. (The reason I don’t wear it defacto is because it’s some sort of non-breathable nylon, once you put it on, you sweat as if in a sauna). Kilometer 35,777; Salento, 20-Dec-10 @ 13:10: Salento is a typical Colombian village except for the hoards of gringos that visit it, a matter exacerbated by the fact Salento is so small: you bump into a tourist at every corner. But I was in luck; at my hostel I hooked up with a cool bunch of backpackers and we formed a fun group for the next couple of days: we ate from the many street vendors in the plaza, walked the city and surrounding viewpoints, savored cakes from the local pasteleria and shared a few drinks with the local in the town’s tavern/bar where the “paisanos” congregate to play pool and cards.
The following morning the rain stopped and we were treated to a beautiful sunny day. We all headed to the Valley de Cocora to hike through the wax palm tree. These palm trees are endemic to this valley and they grow thin and tall up to 60m with the palm branches only in its top extremity, a mesmerizing sight (check pics!). It was definitely worth the strenuous hike through the muddy trail caused by the heavy rains pouring on Colombia since October. Back to Salento late afternoon, we visited a local coffee finca (we are in the midst of Colombia’s coffee region) to learn about the coffee plantation process and to savor the different coffee they grow here.
I wanted to stay longer in Salento but since everyone was leaving today I just followed suit and saddled up to head to Medellin; finally I will discover and live the city so many travelers crave: Kilometer 36,038; Medellin, 22-Dec-10 @ 17:50. I checked in at Casa Kiwi, a nice hostel right in the Zona Rosa (where all the nightlife is) and with a beautiful patio looking into a small wooded park. Again, there was a cool bunch of travelers also crashing here, each on her/his long travel journey, and we all hooked up to visit the city during the day and hit the bar and club scene during the night. Medellin center is OK, nice to visit for 1 day, but the city’s true beauty lies in its people. Yes, the girls are gorgeous but what I mean is everyone around here is out to have a good time and people mingle, chat and dance with any inviting soul. No wonder tourists love it so much (specially guys ;). And being in the holiday season only adds to Medellin social scene. For example, when we went out to check the tremendous alumbrado Medellin is crowned champion for, it took us 4 hours to walk along the river lights: Many locals wanted to chat or take a picture with us: it’s as we are celebrities surrounded by our fan; got to admit, it felt sweet.
For X-mas day, we prepared a huge BBQ dinner (I made my avocado specialty 😉 but what I am really waiting for is New Year’s Eve celebration. Tomorrow, I will be heading with Alvaro to his home town Jardin – which Carlos didn’t stop raving about during the 15 days we spent it touring Cusco and its surrounding. Can’t wait.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.