Popayán

On the Monday i has decided to go to Popayán, but as it was only a 3 hour journey I wasn’t in a huge rush. I took my time in the morning and arrived at the bus station around 10:30. The uber driver flagged the police as he dropped me off asking them to direct me to the bus. I knew where to go and was keen to get moving. I waited as they had guns and I didn’t want to cause a misunderstanding. One of them spoken some English and was proud to talk. I went up the stairs and on the advice of the Uber driver decided to book a collectivo, it was supposed to be much faster and I was told it would leave in 20mins. I went outside and realised I’d been lied to as I was currently the first passenger. It was more of a car than a minibus and I waited in the heat getting more and more annoyed as it slowly filled up. I was on the back seat and a huge guy ended up sitting between me and another guy, squashing me against the side of the car. Luckily for me he jumped out at one point and a much smaller woman came along. As the others tried to tell her that the seat was taken I quickly saw an escape and told her she should sit there. And this is why I need to remember that i should always take the bus!

The traffic leaving Cali was terrible and after we made slow progress through the city, even taking backstreets, I could imagine that this was probably a quicker method even with the delay. A few hours into the journey I was rereading messages and was sad to realise that Shirley wanted to meet up again and I had misunderstood. I felt bad as I realised it then just looked like I had ignored her. Luckily I was able to explain but it still felt like a stupid thing to do.

Arriving at the bus stop, which as always was about 2km out of town, I toyed with ordering an Uber or getting a bus. For some reason I didn’t want to get a taxi. The Ubers were taking ages and the busses were tiny so I decided to walk through the rain. It was cold and by the time I reached the centre I was soaked, as it seemed wise not even to bother stopping and putting on my coat. 

The staff at the hostel were really friendly and I soon discovered that I would yet again have a 4 bed dorm to myself. I went to the supermarket across the road as directed and was excited to find out is was huge and after not being able to find stores throughout most of Peru and Ecuador (Quito excluded) it had lots of things that made me excited. So I stocked up went back to the hostel for a 4pm lunch and crashed in my room to plan the next day.

I had wanted to climb the Purace Volcano which meant a 4am rise but I was talking to  Katha, who I’d met online in Ecuador, and by coincidence she was going to be in Popayan the following day and convinced me to hold off on the hike. Which I’m actually really glad that I did-you’ll find out. I needed a rest anyway after a hectic time in Cali and I just stayed in the room, not even going out for dinner and enjoyed a sleep.

I had read that Popayan was a beautiful city and to be fair it lived up to its name so I took advantage of the free tour at 10am. Although I was a little aghast to find that yet again I was the only person on the English speaking tour. There were about 10 on the Spanish speaking, and I would have not just one, but two guides. I can’t remember their names now but they were both in their early 20s and studying at university and I was happy when they thought I was much younger than they were. I also helpfully explained that the word “can’t” needs to be pronounced in a different way to how they said it which was closer to the worst word you can say in the English language. I’m always hesitant to teach swearing in English, which means I must have maturated at least a little, but I felt that in this case it was important.

The took me on a three hour tour around the city which was really informative covering everything form holy week (Easter), which I’ve not heard about before so I don’t know if its a Colombian thing or across South America, and its much more important than Christmas, to the student protests and why everything is painted white. Honesty if you come all this way take the tour.

We walked a little way out of town and up the hill and as what seems to happen in this region all the time is that it had become cloudy, which is a shame as from here you can see the whole mountain range. Some of which used to be covered in snow but no longer are, again the weather here is all messed up. Yeah, global warming. And we took a photo together for their blog.

After the tour I headed back to the hostel and met up with Katha. We chatted for a while and then went out for lunch and got on really well. I was glad to have a friend to hike with the next day. After wondering around town and picking up supplies we retired to the hostel and agreed to meet for dinner. We headed to a delicious Italian restaurant where I devoured my first lasagne in a while and returned to the hostel for an early night.

Waking at 4am we packed and jumped in a taxi to the bus terminal with enough time to buy a ticket for the 4:45am bus (17,000 pesos) for the two hour ride to the volcano. After being a little confused with where to get off we managed to walk back to the trail head, brought the park entrance fee (40,000) and refused a guide, because seriously who needs a guide to climb a volcano 4600 metres. With all this in hand I started drinking my walking Coca-Cola and we headed up the road. At this point you could already see the clouds rolling into the valleys so I wanted to make good speed.

Our speed was hampered by the park ranger who insisted we hired a guide. We tried to argue but reluctantly agreed. The ranger went inside and we waited for 15 minutes before going to tell them that we would start walking and the guide could catch us up. The ranger refused to take the money saying that we needed to pay the guide directly and so we figured that we would pay him when he arrived. The ranger pointed us in the right direction and off we went. I can remember the starting point altitude but I remember that I found it a little hard going to begin with and realised that I’d been at around 2000 metres for a week and wasn’t used to being this high. 

Annoyingly right at the beginning of the trek there are lots of paths and we took a few wrong turns. If you do hike this then just trust maps.me and try to look for the path poles. If you don’t see any or drift too far from the trail on maps.me then you have chosen the wrong path and essentially you want to just walk straight up the hill. The wrong turns wasted about 20 mins and annoyingly made me start to wonder if we should have taken a guide but after the first few minutes when you are on the correct trail its really hard to go wrong. And Katha was a genius in finding the way. I’m not really sure that I could have done this alone so very glad I waited.

Soon we had walked pretty high above the valleys below. It was slow going and poor Katha was fining it hard and kept needing breaks. I was much more used to this and wanted to push ahead as we were told the final bus back was ta 3pm. We had lost over an hour waiting for the guide, buying the tickets and walking back to town so I was anxious to reach the top.

At one point the path leaves the open expanse of the hills and becomes a wet but very clear trail. You can see the road leading to the top of the hill, well it goes to an area where there is telecommunications equipment. At this point Katha wanted a break and we realised that we wouldn’t make the top if we kept going at this speed. Katha suggested that I keep walking and at a certain time I would turn around and she would continue until we met again. I powered on conscious of the time and wanting to take advantage of the good weather. I still couldn’t see the volcano let alone the top of it, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’d hiked to the summit and then the weather had cleared.  

I left the path between two pools and joined the road which I followed for a few more km. Towards the top of the road I spotted a car and soon afterwards I met a man. We had a brief chat and I told him that Katha was behind me and asked him to look out for her. He told me I was near the top and according to my map there was just under 2km to go. I relaxed as I assumed that he could give us a ride back to Popayan if we missed the bus and I then continued up a much steeper path. 

I stopped as soon as I was out of sight and had lunch. I knew I was going to need some energy to get to the top and all I saw in front of me was clouds. After the quick break I continued up to see what I would find. 

I was now pretty high and nearing the summit. You can see in the photos below the road that I was walking along and how high it is compared to previously. The wind was picking up and I turned around and saw the sky had briefly cleared so snapped the photos where you can see down into the valley, but this gap did not last long and the cloud soon closed in but I continued as I was still optimistic about it clearing. 

I climbed higher across the rocks and the path pretty much vanished but I was following rocks, as you can see in the photo below, that lay along the ridge-line. It was soon after this that the wind picked up, it started to rain and I realised that I couldn’t see more than about two metres ahead of me. I think its in these situations where you would need a guide but I’m not so stupid that I can’t find my way or know when to turn back. With the weather getting worse I decided today might not be the best day to reach the peak, and to be fair this is the first time on my trip where the weather has prevented me from getting to the end of my hike. I figured that is not a bad record considering I’d been here for more than 9 months at this stage. So I decided to walk back down. The rain really didn’t help since covering my glasses it made it much harder to see. I ended up taking them off in the end as the fog made it difficult to see far. So I’d rather see things being blurry than clear though extra misty glasses.

I walked slowly and carefully and found Katha very close to where I met the man. It turns out he was a guide who had driven up his party of one to this height and they went up form there. Katha had been having a fun conservation with him and she was very happy to have reached this height. This is the thing about hiking is its all about the goals you set yourself, its not a race and Katha was the highest she had ever been. I was very happy for her. We decided to head back to where we brought our tickets.

And I kept these photos in as it just goes to show you how different the weather can be in the mountains. On this day over 4000 metres was covered in clouds and at 3000 metres there were beautiful blue skies. So you really just don’t know.

We reached the rangers station really quickly. Going down was at least 2-3 times faster than going up, so if you try this trek then just remember you don’t need to give yourself the same amount of time to get back down. That does sound logical but its not the advice you are given at the start and the 3pm bus did make us feel that we had to rush. 

When we got back t the bottom we saw Debbie, Roberto and a Colombian girl form our hostel were waiting at the bottom. We joined them and started chatting whist we were waiting for the bus. We were then told by a local villager that the bus might not come at 3pm. It might come at 4pm or 5pm or whenever it felt like really. Which was even more annoying considering we had rushed the trek to be back by this time and no one knows when it will actually go…joy.

So when a cow truck dropped off a cow and seemed to be heading back to town Debbie asked if we could all get a ride. The answer was yes and we spend two hours experiencing the roads as cattle would. I’m sure its not so much fun for the cows but this is one of my highlights. I was able to look our the front and side and nearly had a bad accident when the truck turned a sharp corner and I wasn’t holding on. Thank God for my reactions is all I can say.

On the way I waved at everyone I could and received some big smiles, especially in town, when people noticed we were in the back of the truck.

That night Katha and I decided to go to San Agustín together and that became the beginning of nearly two weeks of travel. It was Halloween today and when we got back the whole town was alive and all the kids were dressed up. Evidently Halloween is a big thing in Colombia. Sadly we were exhausted and needed to return to the hostel. Later that evening we headed out to have some Mexican food and there were still plenty of people about in costume but mostly teenagers and it didn’t seem wise to start taking photos so we just headed to the restaurant instead and after went to bed early as we had been up since 4am. But it has been a fun hike and a great day.

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