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Popping in to Popayan

Once at the bus station in Pasto we booked our onward journey to Popayan for the next day. Pasto’s a relatively big place but there’s not actually a lot to see so it was more of a stopover to break up the journey. We got a taxi from the bus station and the driver guessed where we were heading – the Koala Inn. It’s pretty much the only hostel in town so we weren’t expecting much. But the welcome was very warm and the hostel building was gorgeous, colonial style with a huge, airy, sky-lit central courtyard. Our room was enormous, with two extra beds, just in case we got into a fight! We’d arrived at about 5 and only had the evening to explore the town – which turned out to be sufficient! After getting a quick dinner at Mister Pollo, a Colombian fast food chain, we wandered around the main square and admired some of the attractive buildings. And then it started to rain! So we dashed back to the hostel and stayed in for the rest of the night. Despite the limited time we had in Pasto it seemed a nice enough place.

The next morning we were up quite early to catch our bus. We had a delicious breakfast in the hostel of pancakes and mountains of fresh fruit (not so popular with Dan!) and then made our way to the bus station. There was no need to hurry, however, as we were left waiting for about an hour in the bus station. No reason for this; the bus was sitting outside for pretty much the whole time! But eventually we were on our way. After about 20 minutes and 2 police checks we started climbing the mountains. This has been a common theme throughout the last few weeks and we were relieved that this would be our last bus journey in South America. Those windy, somewhat perilous mountain roads will not be missed! But the views will; one spectacular panorama after another. The journey took about 6 hours, including a lunch stop, and we arrived in Popayan at about 4. Our hostel, HostalTrail, was a 20 minute walk from the bus terminal. Always feels a bit longer with rucksacks on! Popayan is a pretty colonial town in the south-west of Colombia and we spent the one day we had there checking out the sights.

In the morning we climbed the Morro de Tulcan  hill, which has a statue of the city’s founder Sebastian Belalcazar and is also a view point overlooking the city. On clear days, the coastal mountains can be seen on one side and the Purace Volcano on the other. Looking over the church spires and slate roofs we didn’t manage to see the volcano but it was a pleasant spot.  And then the rain started, again! Of course, being on top of a hill meant there was no shelter so we had to scuttle back down to find cover. It was a really heavy downpour and it took us a while to dry off! The rest of the afternoon was regularly interrupted with further showers but we did manage to spend some time in the main square, Parque Caldas, watching the world go by. We also witnessed yet another demonstration beside San Francisco church – something to do with public health. There was a lot of bad-mouthing Coca Cola!

After treating ourselves to an iced coffee from Colombia’s equivalent to Starbucks we hit the supermarket. The hostel had a modern kitchen so we thought we’d cook up a storm. No prizes for guessing what was on the menu – pasta! Dan also managed to slurp a litre of chicken soup as a starter! About 10 minutes into preparing dinner we remembered that it’s a bit of a pain having to share a kitchen with 10 other people! Still, happy with the end result.

The next morning it was off to our final stop in Colombia and, indeed, South America. To save ourselves the hassle of a 24 hour bus journey we’d booked a flight to take us up to Cartagena. We actually had 2 flights – one up to Bogota and then a connecting flight to the coast. We dutifully arrived at the airport in Popayan 2 hours before the flight. BIG mistake! It’s the smallest airport I’ve ever seen and there was nothing to do so we were sat waiting for about 90 minutes. Half an hour before the flight was due to leave the other passengers began to trickle in! Eventually we were called into another waiting area and finally we were told we could begin boarding. Just as everyone made it outside we were, for an unknown reason, sent back into the waiting soon. There seemed to be a dispute between the pilots and ground staff but we weren’t sure why! All this to-ing and fro-ing was not good for Dan, who’s a rather nervous flyer! But we did finally board the plane and take off successfully. Unfortunately we were sitting right next to the propellers (it was a small plane) so Dan spent most of the first leg eyeing them suspiciously. Because we were late taking off it meant we were running late for our connecting flight. So we legged it through Bogota airport, which is something of a maze, only to find that that flight was delayed, too. We’re not big fans of Aires airways! However, we did eventually land safely in Cartagena, and the heat as we got off the plane was very pleasant. We’d made it to the Caribbean!

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