Cali to Popayan

Kicked the gang out of bed so we could reverse back to the bus terminal and see if there was a bus leaving for Popayan. Cali is Colombia’s 3rd largest city and there’s probably some cool stuff to do, but we’d read it was also super violent (actually the first thing that pops up when I googled Cali was this). We had a hankering to hit the road and were fortunate to jump straight on a bus as soon as we got to the terminal. It was only 7 bucks each and it left in 10 minutes. Let’s do it! Oh there’s one in 30 minutes? K, let’s grab some breakfast, then boogie.

Being stupid gringos we were easily duped by the big ol’ pretty bus in the picture at the ticket booth and were instead thrown onto a much smaller and shittier shortbus (which may be appropriate). The bus takes over an hour to get out of Cali. Dropping off and picking up people. As we drive through Cali it doesn’t actually seem like we’re missing much. Granted this is on the outskirts of town and not the centro. Vendors keep on hopping on and off the bus at every stop trying to sell papayas, mangos, gum, drinks, tamales, meat on sticks, etc…

Finally breaking the Cali border the scenery changed quickly to mostly rice fields and coffee plantations. Cloud wrapped mountains off in the distance, green with agricultural stamping a quilt-like pattern along the sides. More vendors jump on the bus at random stops. One dude is up front of the bus addressing everyone with something that sounds urgent. Is this some religious preaching? Some apocalypse shit? Maybe some political ranting? Nope, he starts handing out Breast Cancer pamphlets. Odd place to promote breast cancer awareness, but whatever floats your boat.

We roll into Popayan 4 hours later and hop a cab to the historical center. I’d looked up a hostel that seemed pretty great location-wise and wow did it pay off. The place is called Hostel Parklife and it’s right in the main square of the city center. We walk into the hostel foyer and there is a great view of the plaza out front.

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The lounge area is super colorful, rooms are decent, staff is friendly, and there is a secret clubhouse above the kitchen. What more could you ask for?

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We walk around Popayan to see what it’s all about. Great central park with all white, colonial architecture encircling, but surrounded by banks instead of anything cool. We round the corner down some one way streets and it seems this is a major shopping district. And not cheap. Interesting. Lots of people going about their days, we have to step off the narrow, uneven sidewalk and into the narrow cobblestone street to get around everyone. Agent Getz bails and nearly takes a header. Almost every block. Vendors on each corner selling some interesting colorful fruits or nuts or some sort of street meat. Really cool place, very pretty. Lots of beautiful churches and plazas in the area.

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After a little walkabout we were thinking about a nice patio and some cervezas. Adventure detectives were on the case. We find a university building, some political rally going on. No bars. Hmmmm. Down to the next busy corner with a bunch of lights. No bars. Damn copy place though. Man I hate copy shops after those border crossings. Ok, back towards the central plaza. Nada. What is going on here?

We go back to the hostel to inquire about where to snag a drink and a snack. On the wall in the lounge area is a list of local dishes that all look pretty interesting. The one that really grabs our attention is some sort of soup with cow fetus in it. Grab some beers from Desk Guy and head up to the clubhouse. There are a couple of American girls in the kitchen and we stop to chat. One from Ventura, the other from Santa Cruz. The latter is working on what looks like a kickass journal. “If I don’t write it down while I’m thinking about it I’ll forget.” I hear ya, I’m always swiping details into my phone on a notepad app for the same reason.

Hanging in the clubhouse and a middle-aged dutch couple comes up to join us. They’re travelling around Colombia over 5 weeks. Been to a lot of great places. We were telling them about our trip and they perked right up. Apparently they did something similar years ago. We swapped horrendous Central American border crossing stories and consmagulated on details about places we’d both been.

Alright, we’re gonna check out the town again. Back in the room we grab a few things from our bags. Drisdelle realizes that when he threw his backpack up onto the bed earlier he slammed it down on some liquid soap in the front pocket which then shot out all over the bag and onto his top bunk sheets. Made an awful mess but man did it smell fantastic. He proceeds to frantically unpack all of his clothes from the bag for a damage check, straight onto my lower bunk and manages to pile all his underwear right into my STP hat. Thanks Getz!

Backpack hanging in the bathroom and we stroll back out on the town, now our mission is cow fetus (and cervezas). Eyes peeled for any restaurant with any sort of scene. Walk walk walk. Seriously what is up with this town? The only places we find are little nooks. All of the bigger restaurants are closed. Hmmmm our Bardar is seriously broken. Found lots of Orthodontist shops though. Then we started noticing how many people were sporting braces. Maybe we were in the first UNESCO world orthodontics city and not gastronomy?

We find a cafe/bar and saddle up. Cool vibe in there. Really creepy, dark artwork on the walls. The girl working there serves us up some empanadas that are really good. We also get some of the local swill, called aguardiente, which tastes like sambuca/ouzo. But a little worse. We shoot it up and get some cerveza backs. Alrighty, moving on.

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Walking around some more we find a few more cool churches and plazas but still no scene to speak of. Alright here’s another cafe. We go in. Another cool little nook, red walls and nice black tables. Pretty chill playlist on the go, our spy ears pick out an eclectic mix of some Thievery Corp, Paul Simon, and of course November Rain (which we’ve heard about 23 times during the trip so far). We get three more aguardientes and three pokers. Alright, our detective skills are currently bunk. McBurger and Getz start brainstorming on what to do. Grab a taxi and describe what we want and hope for the best. Let’s do it.

Hit the street and hail a cab. McBurger lands in the front street and enthusiastically Spanospits out what we want counting it off on his fingers, “Tavernas, cervezas, chicas, discoteca!”. Cabbie is on it. He takes us out of the central plaza area and around the side of town back towards where… we.. got.. off the bus? Really? He let’s us out at Pignik and we’ve come full circle. We’d grabbed a light snack of pork with some sort of stuffing and chiccharonnes (sp?) here after getting off the bus earlier. The cabbie describes that this area and the few streets south are where shit happens in town. KXB, posse out.

We walk past the terminal and down the street a bit. There is nada going on around here. It is a Wednesday I suppose. We find a spot on a busy street that looks pretty authentic. They’ve got Gordon Bleu! Nummmmy. We each opt for something more localish though. MacKay and I go for the.. something crazy.. that starts with an S..or C…me no member. Drisdelle shoots for some horse. Atta boi! Our dishes come out and mine and MacKay’s are basically open-faced Gordon Bleus but mine with a fried pork base and his with pollo (although he’d asked for carne). Drisdelles’ is dark brown horse meat with some sort of red salsa. It was all delicious. Commence full body shut down. Deeee-eeerrrrrrrrp.

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We slug walk over to the Exito to grab some blogging supples then cabbie book it back to the hostel for a blog catch up session. It’s dark and no one is around. The whole plaza outside the hostel is completely dead. Back inside and it’s dead too. Nobody about. Where are the zombies? We go up the narrow spiral stairs from the kitchen, duck through the hobbit hovel, and emerge into the clubhouse to set up shop.

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Bust out some Jungle and Benjamin Booker on the mobile bose and I’m getting some sex tips from a french cosmo mag that someone left up there. Crank out a few posts and ramp up some local ron. Back through the hovel, spiral down, through the kitchen to our room. Man does it smell good. Agent Getz’s backpack has saturated the room with manly soap smell. Getz swoops up his clothes and slams them on the bunk above McBurger.

We decide to crash early to bed so we can get up at the MacCrack of dawn and nab a bus out of zombieland to Ipiales close to the Ecuadorian border, cross into Ecuador, and then bus it into the capital of Quito. That’s the plan. Gonna be a crazy day of bus riding, probably 16 hours worth, but we’ve got leads to follow and direct orders from Commissioner Gordon Bleu.

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