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February 09, 2005

Cali, Colombia

so finally i make it to a computer, and find myself with some catching up to do. The last i wrote in here, we were in Quito, preparing to head north. from Quito, we went to Otavalo, the most touristy and crummy town in all of Ecuador. we hung around for a few nights as i got through a bout of Giardia, which involved me staying up all night keeping the bathroom company, and then running to the pharmacy the next morning for some antibiotics. i can't imagine where i got it, i am always careful to drink purified water, so it might have been some unwashed tomatoes at a resturant in Vilcabamba.
matt and denise decided not to come to Colombia, so aaron, kristy and i headed to Tulcan, the border town in Ecuador. the town was buzzing with people getting ready for Carnivales, all the little boys and teenagers were throwing water balloons at the school girls, and a good nervious energy was in the air. this was probably my favorite border town ever, it even had an amazing topiary garden which we walked around for half an hour right before it closed.
the next morning before 7 a.m. we were up and headed for the border. leaving Ecuador was simple, but there was a huge line on the Colombian side. standing in line we met Cristian, a Colombian headed back home after traveling through southern south america for a few months. he helped us handle dealing with the border guards, who had a new rule that any foreigner entering the country has to have a ticket showing that he/she has sufficient money to leave. we got fake tickets from the bus company then changed them for real ones. kind of a hassle, but we did get to meet a little old colombian cab driver, who wanted to talk about the drug cartel leaders who were being extradited to the u.s.
Colombia has a much different feel then Ecuador, this we noted as soon as crossing the border. the people are more expressive, more friendly and likely to start up a conversation with strangers, and the air here has a tension from all the chaos that has occured and will continue to occur.
The first town we visited was Popayan, about 8 hours north of the border. The busride was wild, the driver alternated between driving as fast as possible on windy narrow roads, accomplishing amazing passes of semi trucks around blind corners going up hills, and then he stopped and ate 3 leisurely meals. By the time we arrived we were exhausted, and glad to pile into our room at the hostel. We spent the next day walking around the city and getting used to Colombia. Popayan had these empanadas filled with potatoes and spicy peanut sauce, aaron and i thought we´d died and gone to heaven. You got about 10 of them for 80 cents. After a day and a half we were ready to hit the road, though not before spending out last night in the oldest bar in Popayan, a dark smokey place full of colombians singing along to colombian songs from the 50´s to the present, almost all on old vinyl records on shelves behind the bar. The bartender, a very short man, played dj as he and his wife served drinks, and the atmosphere was so good, so untouristy as we chatted with the locals and a mexican girl from the hostel had the bartender play the song from her town.
Our next stop was san augustin, a terribly bumpy 6 hour busride from popayan. the second we stepped off the bus we we accosted by people trying to rent us horses or have us stay at their hostel, it was very annoying. eventually we found an ok place to stay, and later that evening made plans to go on a horseback ride the next day with a guide and 2 euros we met, steve from norway and dewey (nickname) from holland.
the next morning we met in a plaza and mounted out steeds. horseback riding for me brought back memories of when i was a little boy and would ride the horses of my folks around the arena. the horses were better suited for small latin american people, and we found them small for me and kristy, and very small for aaron. we rode for 4 hours, visiting 4 sites and managing to hold our horses to a trot and occasionally a canter, since they had obviously done the circle hundreds of times and were itching to get back home for lunch. on dismounting the pain in my tender bits reminded me of why i preferred bikes as a young boy to horses.
the horse wrangler dropped us off at the archeological park, and we walked around for a few hours, listening to a nice guide explain the geological, geometrical and cultural history of all the carved statues. towards the end i tired of translating what she was saying to steve, who doesn´t have such good spanish, so i began making up history about that statues that, while it was totally untrue, everyone agreed was much more interesting.
the next morning, having tired of people asking us of we needed horses (too late i realized i should have been replying whether they meant if we needed horses to eat), we caught another bouncy busride to san andres, so that we could visit tierradientro. this much quieter town suited us very much, and we settled in at the house of dona marta. dewey had come along with us, and the next morning he lurched out of bed at 7 am. letting him leave, we slept in till past nine, and then went out to hike to the tombs in the surrounding area.
in the 70's, graverobbers discovered underground tombs housing urns filled with the bones and possessions of important shamans from the cultures that had inhabited the region around 600 a.d. examination by scientists in later years showed that, while the tombs held no gold, there were a whole lot of them, filled with artifacts and scattered around the surrounding valleys. climbing down steep stairs, aaron, kristy and i found ourselves nearly speechless at the intricate painting to be found on the inside of the tomb walls. from when they were buried, these caves were sealed and untouched by human hands for nearly 1400 years. there was a sense of mystery and awe as we peered into these holes, trying to fathom what 1400 years really is. this site ranked in the top 5 man-made monuments that i have seen in my travels.
bidding dona marta farewell, we caught an early morning bus to cali. the music on the busses and indeed in the streets is much more enjoyable then in ecuador, it appears the 3-legged horse has finally passed on, thank goodness. we arrived in cali yesterday, and today we have so far had a nice breakfast, and then spent the afternoon visiting the modern art museum, which had a really cool lithograph exhibit and 3 floors of heartwrenching photos from photographers who have been documenting the war here in colombia between the various guerrilla groups, the army, and the army sponsored paramilitary groups. the photos showed the human cost of the war, from churches blow up to children armed with automatic weapons fighting for a cause that seems to me so muddled as to be nearly indeciferable. sad sad sad. walking around the streets, there is the usual feel of a latin american city, mixed with a slight edge of danger, as people recognize that we are foreigners and attempt to talk to us and sell us things. i have become adept at ignoring when someone yells ¨hey mister.¨
tonight i think we will go out for my birthday a bit, maybe eat at one of the FIVE vegetarian restaurants in this town. Cristian who we met at the border plans to meet up, as do Dewey and Steve.
tomorrow the plan is to look for a tattoo parlor for aaron, and i may try and get in touch with some colombian punk rockers, to see if there are any shows.
i am well, looking forward to the caribbean coast,and i hope everyone is enjoying february as much as we are so far.

Posted by bendan at February 9, 2005 06:45 PM

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