Monday, July 28, 2014

Popayan, Colombia

Popayan, the white city. A city of pilgrims during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and one of the most famous celebrations in Colombia. I planned to stay for three days and meet up with my friends Mosan and Georgie (from the UK). I knew I had to make some plans for the holiday week but I hadn't. I like to travel by the seat of my pants and it irritates me to have to set plans. I committed to deciding where I would spend the week before I left Popayan. I walked from the bus station across the footbridge and up and over to the old town. I saw the bright green bikes of Hostal Carocal before I saw the sign. This was my new home.
When I arrived at Hostal Caracol, I was asked if I wanted to stay through Semana Santa. I explained I had not decided and he explained they had discounts if I stayed longer (private room for $150 if I stayed for2 weeks). I told him I would let him know tomorrow. It was time to do some online research. I settled into my room and went to walk around town. As I walked, I noticed the city was getting ready for the onslaught of tourists. Truckloads of motorcycles were delivered for the police and military.   
As I walked around the town, I noticed that everyone was preparing for Semana Santa. The outsides of most the buildings were being painted white.
I found the local Exito (supermarket) and bought bread and cheese for a picnic lunch and some veggies and pasta for dinner. Of course, I bought a bottle of wine for dinner. I turned a corner and there were my friends Georgie and Mosan. Yes, us westerners stand out! We all walked to the town square and enjoyed a picnic lunch as we watched the people and Pepe, the local llama that gives rides to children. Everyone seemed to think we were odd as we sat making cheese and avocado sandwiches. We quickly became a sight for the locals.
We relaxed and watched life in the square. People were talking with friends. Musicians were singing. Children were playing. Men were getting their shoes shined. I realized how different it is from home. I love the social interaction of the parks and talking with the locals. These men serenaded us and allowed me to practice my Spanish. 
We all decided to head back to our hostels for a few hours and to meet back for dinner. I walked back towards the hostel and found this beautiful piece of artwork. It stood out in the stark white buildings of Popayan. I missed the bright colors of the rest of Latin America. I went in to explore and found this was one of the art schools of Popayan.   
When I returned to the hostel, I relaxed and started doing some research. Where to go next? Do I just stay here and then to Bogota? As I was looking up information there was a knock on my door. I was told I had friends here to visit me. It must be Mosan and Georgie! I was excited to find them sitting in the cafe waiting for me. It was dinner time and we decided to try an empanada stand they had heard about.  As we talked, we made plans to meetup the next day for some exploring. 
We tried to go to the museums and they were all closed in preparations for Semana Santa. We decided to explore the art college and were invited to listen to the orchestra practicing for a concert for the Semana Santa. The students and professor were excited to perform for us. This was something Georgie and Mosan frequently did on their travels. They explained the universities often allow tourists to sit in on practices and save money. I thought it was a great budget travel suggestion! 

After our day trip to Silvia, I talked to the owner of the hostel. Most of the hotels and flights in other parts of the country were booked. He offered me a great deal for staying until Good Friday. I decided that I would stay and then he recommended I fly to Bogota. It was the same price as a long bus ride and only a couple hours. Done! I finally made a decision. I told Georgie and Mosan goodbye at dinner and decided to relax and enjoy Popayans festivities. 

Popayan is known as the religious center of Colombia and is home to more churches per capita than any other city/town in the country.  The tradition of processions has been going on for 400 years and each is full of vivid religious imagery. Throughout the week are different processions with effigy bearers taking four images to the center of the town.  On the first night of Semana Santa (Saturday night before Palm Sunday), I heard drums and walked to the street entrance to see what was happening. I looked out in the street and saw men, women and children lining up the sides of the streets with candles. 
 It was a beautiful procession. Marching bands came down the street followed by a religious float with Jesus.
As the float progressed down the street, the people walked along the sidewalks progressing with procession. Woman were dressed in traditional clothing. It was quiet except for the marching bands. Nobody talked.
It was a beautiful and serene sight. As they marched away, I was told this would continue each night with the culmination of the largest parade on Good Friday. 

The next morning, Palm Sunday, was a large parade. I walked to the town square to watch the mass that was being conducted in front of the cathedral. People were selling beautiful palms. These were not the simple palms I remembered from my childhood. The palms were beautifully braided and shaped into hearts. Children and adults were walking with beautiful palms and preparing for the procession.

The procession took a couple of hours and I was lucky I had met a Colombian man that wanted to practice his English with me. He stood next to me explaining the parade and telling me about the history of the Semana Santa celebration in Popayan. I was most surprised that the majority of the bands were military/police bands.  
The next procession was not scheduled until Tuesday night, my last night in town. I spent my days relaxing and talking with other travelers. We were all similar in that we were tired and just relaxing this week of the holiday. On Tuesday, I packed my bags and took a nap so I could make it until 11:00 PM or midnight when the procession would pass through our neighborhood. I waited until I heard the beat of the drums and then walked a couple blocks to the parade.
Once again, it started with the beat of the drums and the military marching band. The religious pilgrims silently stood on the sidewalks with candles. Each of the floats were proceeded by a woman in traditional Spanish clothing and carried by men in robes.

The procession stops several times to allow the men carrying the religious statues to stop and rest. Then, they heave it back onto their shoulders and continue walking around the city past the main churches.

The parade culminated with the military policy and veterans injured in the call of duty.
It was a beautiful religious procession. It ended around 1:00 AM and I walked back to the hostel and crawled into bed for 4 hours of sleep before a taxi arrived to take me to the airport. I left as the sun was rising. Goodbye Popayan. My next stop will be Bogota.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Silvia, Colombia

Georgie, Mosan and I had heard about the Tuesday market in Silvia. The Guambiano Indians bring all of their produce and handicrafts to the town market. The buses arrive in the town square early in the morning. We took a short bus ride to Silvia and arrived at 8 AM. As we stepped off the bus at the town square, it was like stepping back in time. 
The Guambiano's are indigenous to the region and dress in traditional clothing. The women wear black skirts, a blue poncho, black bolo hat and boots. The men wear blue skirts and similar shoes and hats. They do not like to be photographed and I was sensitive to their feelings asking if I could take a photo. 

As we entered the market, we noticed what was farmed in this region, the primary crop was potatoes. Bags and bags of potatoes.  
Georgie, Mosan and I wandered the market looking at the fresh fruits and vegetables. We talked with a man and his family about their fresh made cheeses and they have is a taste. He and his family have come to the market for years and recommended that we go to a stand and order coffee with cheese. Why not? We ordered and sat down at the table. Georgie, Mosan and I sat and wondered what coffee would taste like with cheese in it. We laughed when the saucer was set down and noticed that the cheese was on the side. It was all delicious but we did not put the cheese in the coffee. We finished our snack and walked around the produce market. People smiled and waved to us to look at their products.  
As we walked out the back door, we came upon the livestock market. We saw these 3 women checking out 2 calves for sale. We watched as they talked amongst themselves and negotiated a price.
Eventually, We went over to ask the price of the cattle. The man was very excited to sell them to us. He wanted $250 (USD) for the larger one. He was disappointed when we told him we were traveling and unable to buy one. We were just interested in the going rate.
Around the next corner, I saw the cutest thing! Three piglets in a wheelbarrow!
Three little pigs that went to market. I loved these little guys and wanted to play with them! Such cuties! Every street had something to explore or an interesting site.

This was their big day in the "city" and to sell their goods. One of the things that is noticeable is the women are doing the majority of the work. So, where are the men? They are with their friends at the bar. We saw our share of drunk men in the plaza and stumbling out of the bars. Most of the men were behaving well. A few were drunk and a little belligerent. Most of the women turned their heads and ignored the scene.
We stayed until noon. Many of the Guambiano's were packing up and loading the buses and jeeps with their purchases. The people waited in the town square and then loaded onto a bus to return to their homes until next week.
It was definitely worth the trip to witness this piece of their lives, laugh with the people and to enjoy the market. Another beautiful day spent in Colombia  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beermaking in Buga, Colombia

March 26-28, 2014
Buga is off the tourist path. Most people pass it up in a rush to get to Cali for salsa and fun. The people that come here are traveling a little slower and want to try some of the best microbrew in Colombia. That was what captured my interest! So, the first night I was told Stephan was making a batch of honey ginger beer. I was invited to watch at 9am. I walked the short distance to their house and was introduced to Stephan (German). He was the mastermind and creative genius behind the Holy Water Ale Brewery. I had met his business partner Carl in Salento and we met up again. They had just purchased a commercial beer setup and were altering their recipes for the increased tank capacity. Stephan explained this was only the second batch he had made at this capacity and had to think while he brewed.
They had set-up the tanks in the courtyard of the house. After watching the process, I thanked them and went to explore the town.
Buga is quiet but had a cool vibe. Very laid back with few tourists. Most Colombians asked why I chose to visit Buga. I wanted a town off the tourist path. A place to relax and enjoy. One of the most interesting sights is the cathedral. Why? Not only does it have a black Jesus but the cathedral is hand painted to look like bricks. From a distance you can not tell but up close, it is obvious someone hand painted each brick!!
I walked along the park and found a cafe. I walked in and ordered a cappuccino and relaxed. It was delicious! I followed Julio's recommendations and looked for a cafĂ© that roasted and ground the coffee fresh. As I sat reading my book, I heard someone day "no way!" In English! I looked up and it was Big and Little Jose from New York City that I had met in the thermals at Santa Rosa de Cabel. They sat down to join me and we discussed our travels. They had arrived in Buga and decided to rent a place to start a small taco restaurant. They invited me to their family farm for dinner. I said we would have to see. We said goodbye and I continued walking around the town. Past the stores, churches and the meeting point of any Colombian town - the town square. I can enjoy hours relaxing and talking in the town square with the locals. My Spanish is definitely improving and it is becoming easier. These four were some characters and told me about their lives and the women they loved. I have learned that no matter where I have traveled we are all the same. We want to be loved and provide for our families. As my Aunt Sue always said "Life is good!"

Afterward I went back to the hotel and relaxed before dinner. As I sat enjoying dinner, my friends the Jose's arrived and we enjoyed an evening of relaxing and talking over delicious home brews. We discussed going to their farm again for lunch and to see the farmland. I told them I would let them know in the morning. They left and I finished my drink and went to bed. The next morning I was sick. Dizzy, fever and upset stomach. No way I could do a day at the farm. I called and canceled with the Jose's. I am not sure what was wrong with me. I fainted a few times. One right into the floor after having a light meal. Strangest thing ever. I had been sitting at the bar talking to friends and got hot, sweaty and dizzy. I said I needed to go to my room. As I stood up, I went face first too the floor. I came to and everyone was standing around me. They were worried about me and walked me to my room. Every couple hours they checked on me. I spent the next day relaxing for fear I would faint again. I was told to keep an eye on the fainting and my temperature. Everyone kept suggesting I may have dengue fever. No!! Not the dengue!
Luckily, I had a nice room with windows overlooking the street. I heard music and laughter on the street and decided to get up and look out the window. I looked over the ledge and saw a parade of children and band walking down the street. I watched as they laughed and danced. This young girl was twirling in her white dress, it was a beautiful sight.
Buga was a great little town and the Buga Hostel was relaxing and a great place to recuperate from whatever was ailing me. Sunday, I decided to move on. It was time to go south easy to Popayan. I went to Cali and then took a slow bus to Popayan. 



Periera, Colombia

Street musicians in Pereira
March 24-25, 2014 
I left my home in Salento and said goodby to all my new friends. Lucas even walked me to the bus station one last time. Yes, I had tears in my eyes....this was my home. I was sad to be leaving but it was time for the final portion of my journey. I took the bus to Pereira and was met by Julio for a day of sightseeing. Julio is a friend of Jeff's from Brunch. He is starting a new tour guide service and I was his guinea pig. Lucky for me, I was getting to experience the local perspective. Pereira is skipped by most travelers. Typically, it is a place to get a bus north to Medellin or on their way to Salento. It is a shame because it is a beautiful little city. Julio took me to the hostel, Kolibri, to check in and leave my bags. I love Hostal Kolibri, I had stayed here on my way to Medellin so, returning felt like being back at home. And, I knew they had Jeff's (from Brunch in Salento) peanut butter brownies! My last chance before heading south.

Julio has lived his entire life in Pereira and I was excited to see what he was going to show me. He drove us to the Mirador where he ordered me a small coffee. Julio handed it to me and asked my opinion of the coffee. Wheeeew! I chuckled and said it was awful! Very bitter. He laughed and asked me to point out the espresso machine. There wasn't one. He smiled and asked what that meant to me. No! Seriously? They could not be serving instant coffee. Not in Colombia! Surrounded by beautiful coffee farms!! But he smiled and nodded. They were serving instant coffee! This was a lesson Julio had wanted to teach me, always look for the espresso machine and a grinder. If I am really lucky, the cafe will freshly roast the beans for the day. He promised to take me to his favorite coffee shop the next day. I was holding him to that promise. We walked along the fence looking out over the coffee farms and the cities of Pereira, Dos Quebradas and Santa Rosa De Cabel. The farmland was beautiful. I swear Colombia has 12 shades of green.

Afterwards, we went to the town of Santa Rosa de Cabal. It has a nice town square and old church. As with all town squares in Colombia, this is the center for social activity. I love the little cars that children are pushed around the park.

Julio offered to take me to the thermals but I did not have my swimsuit and nudity is frowned upon there. Luckily, I had made the trip while I had been staying in Salento. It was fabulous! I wish I had grabbed my swimsuit for an afternoon of relaxation but I didn't. Oops! As we drove through the town, I noticed all of the sausage stores. Julio forewarned me to stick with the sausages in these small villages and the countryside but to stay away from them in Bogota. It seems everyone has horror stories of a bad Bogota street sausage and hours spent praising the porcelain God (toilet). That was not something I wanted to experience!!

Next, we stopped at Bonita Finca (Beautiful Farm). As we pulled into the driveway, I saw a sign with a nasty looking snake. Noooooooo! I hate snakes! I had a million questions about the damn snakes. They assured me I was not going to be bit and I would be safe. I knew that meant they had found these snakes on the farm. I was assured repeatedly it would be fine so, I faced my fear and hiked onto the reserve. The farm was an ecological coffee farm but was also a butterfly farm and an ecological preserve. We headed off with our guide to the butterfly house. Our guide explained the importance of butterflies and their life cycles. They were beautiful.
And where there are butterflies there are caterpillars. So many beautiful colors!

Next we headed up the trail. Our guide had worked in the Amazon as a biologist and was quick to point out plants and survival techniques. The leaves of this plant could be used as an umbrella or to collect water to drink. 
We walked through the paths along the fields of bamboo and guadua (larger than bamboo with thorns). Our guide explained pointed out survival techniques "in case" I was ever lost. I hoped that I would not need any of them but I made a mental note to remember the water in bamboo and guadua was safe to drink. 

The landscape was tranquil with a small river. Our guide pointed out the fresh water crabs and nests of the Barranquilla (bird). As we climbed up the hill we passed beautiful flowers. It was a paradise, even a tree that looked like a giraffe. The most interesting sight was these bright pink plants. I did not realize they were pink bananas until he opened them and gave me a bite to eat!

When we reached his laboratory, he pointed out a large iguana living in a papaya tree. The sucker was huge! He was a smart guy, he blended very well!
Then he showed us tarantulas and snakes that were found on the farm.

Give me a spider any day over any snake. Yikes! He laughed as I moved as far back as possible. I looked on but it freaked me. I realized I was in their territory and do not want to find one on the hike back to our car. Before we left, our guide grabbed a white cake box as we left. I asked if it had a snake in it and he told me "No, a special surprise for you!" Hmmmmm. What could it be?

Afterward, we took a different path back to the entrance. Vines grew over the path and made a canopy from the rain. I never realized how beautiful the jungle was in the rain. The large leafs protected us as we continued along the path. I didn't get too wet.

When we returned to the entrance, the guide handed me the box and told me it was filled with butterflies that needed to be released. Most of them only had two days to live. It was my job to release them. They did not want to leave the box. It was hard to get them to fly away and be free. But finally....they spread their wings and fluttered away.
What a beautiful reminder of the beauty of nature and how precious life is. Live every day as it was your last, no regrets! 

Julio took me back to the hostel and told me he would pick me up at 8am. I was exhausted and took a shower then collapsed for a short nap. Afterwards, I walked the area before dinner then returned and read before bed. 

I awoke in the morning, made breakfast and coffee and was ready for Julio when he arrived. We put my backpack in his car and went for a morning coffee at his favorite cafe. As we were waiting to cross the street, I saw a familiar face. It was our friend Jeff from Salento! He was standing on the corner appreciating a Colombian beauty! We said hello and asked him to join us for coffee. I smelled the cafe before we arrived! They were roasting coffee. Fresh roasted coffee. I love that smell. If you have never experienced this joy, you don't know what you are missing! Then they ground it for your individual order and brewed it up. I was in heaven. All coffee should taste like this! It really starts a day right! As we sat enjoying the brew, Julio's shoe shine guy arrived and he got spiffed up for his day.
Julio, Jeff and I discussed the plan for the day. Next, I was having an hour massage  with a healer for $15!!! OMG! Katrina was amazing! Her hands were hot as they massaged my body. I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. She rubbed my tight and sore muscles from hiking the hills of Salento. But the best part was the end when she soaked my feet in hot water and massaged them. She knew what she was doing and it was heavenly! Afterwards, she and I walked back to the cafe to meet Jeff and Julio for a second cup of coffee.

We left the coffee shop and walked towards the town center. Our first stop was the cathedral. I looked up and noticed there were men doing repair work. Nothing but a thick rope to hold them up. I was glad that was not my job! Yikes!

Julio explained that the cathedral had survived an earthquake and the outside was repaired. After the earthquake, the frescos from the interior fell and revealed the scaffolding of the old cathedral. The cathedral has remained exposed. I liked the simplicity and the beautiful bare bones that remained of the cathedral. I would not want to cover up that workmanship either.
We walked around town as Julio explained the sights. We walked to the main square with the most impressive Simon Bolivar statue I had seen in my travels of Colombia. 
Yes, that is Simon Bolivar naked on a naked horse (no saddle) and riding a wave! I have a theory that the size of a Simon Bolivar statue demonstrates the amount of money a city has. From least amount of money a town money gets a Bolivar bust, standing Simon Bolivar, standing with sword, Bolivar on a horse and Bolivar naked on a horse on a wave. Julio laughed as I told him this. He said that may be true but it also has to do with his importance to the city. Pereira is a capital and must have a more impressive statue. Yes, this was an impressive statue!

Julio, Jeff and I walked the streets past vendors and tried churros, fruits and plantains. So delicious! The we walked through the park that use to be covered with drug dealers in the 80's and 90's. Today they are gone and the park is enjoyed by citizens and tourists. As we walked, Jeff asked where Julio bought his hat. Julio is a collector of hats and took us to his favorite hat store.

Everything was hand made in Colombia. The workmanship was beautiful. I decided I was Colombian and bought a handmade hat.   Just like the Colombian women! I think my head is a little big for it but it will look great with my fancy pants for a night out! 

Afterwards we went for a vegetarian meal. Wow! I met my first vegetarian Colombian. They love their meat like Argentinans. I asked Julio when he had decided to become vegetarian. He explained he did it for health reasons a few years ago and family members are still concerned he doesn't get enough protein. I laughed as he told stories about bar-b-ques with friends and family. The meal was fantastic. I must admit, I love the fresh juices in Colombia. Today's was a raspberry ginger. So refreshing! 

Afterwards we decided to go back to his place for a siesta and to wait to see if Julio's girlfriend could come with us to the auction in Buga. The nap was fantastic as I curled up in his guest room with a stuffed cow! I love siestas! I definitely should live in a country where they are the norm.

An hour and a half later, Julio's girlfriend told us she had to work and was not able to go to Buga with us. The three of us piled into the car and headed south towards Buga. It was a beautiful drive through fields of maiz and sugar cane. We were driving through beautiful green plains. I noticed this sight. Not something you see in the states. 
It was sugar cane trailers. I was a little concerned for the man that stands on top. Not a job I would want! 

We arrived in Buga and Julio dropped Jeff and I off at the Buga hostel. It is famous for two things....the best sourdough pizza in Colombia and microbrew! Mmmm! After checking in to my room, I met Jeff on the patio for a pizza and beer. I had the margarita pizza and a ginger honey beer. Ohhhhh! How I have missed a good craft beer. 

As we sat enjoying our dinner we talked to a few others and a couple from the UK decided to join us to watch Julio auction cattle.

We arrived at the auction and Julio was warmed up and going full throttle in Spanish. I did not understand any of it. But I loved the experience. This was a real part of Colombia life.
Julio was fantastic! I had no clue how much people were bidding for the cattle, my Spanish is very slow and elementary. As we walked in, many of the Colombians turned to stare and I know all of them were wondering "What are the gringos doing here?"
A gentleman went and got us chairs to sit and then everyone moved a little closer to us. The way they looked at us with interest and inquisitiveness I think they were hoping to bid on us! I got up and walked around to get a few photos.

I met the gentleman that makes cattle brands. He showed me a book with his work. Then he asked what I was doing in Colombia. I explained I was traveling the world and we talked about my travels and my education. He told me to wait where I was standing. He returned with his 2 daughters and explained to him the importance of staying in school and going to college. If they did that then they can travel the world. Wow! Talk about being humbled! He wanted me to tell them about the USA and my travels. The girls were impressed and wanted to see China and swim with sea tutles. They promised me they would stay in school. Wow! Afterwards, the father told me many girls get pregnant and never finish school. He wanted his daughters to see the possibilities of an education. It is humbling when I am faced with how blessed I have been. I hope these girls and their fathers dreams come true. 
I returned to my group and watched the end of the auction. It was a great night and I enjoyed seeing this side of the Colombian culture. I had a fantastic 2 days with Julio and enjoyed all of the insight he provided about his country. Julio is fun loving and full of information. I was grateful that he had shared his friends and life with me.
I said goodby to Jeff and Julio and thanked them for the past 2 wonderful days. Then, I retuned to the hostel for a mango beer before bed. I was ready to spend a few days exploring Buga.