Friday, September 14, 2012

Day Ocho: 12+ hours on the road

The problem when you visit a large country, and you want to visit multiple locations, is that you're going to have a day or so in the vacation completely consumed by intra-country travel.  Day Ocho of La Gran Aventura Colombia was a travel day.

Hacienda Anacaona in San Agustin
We start off by saying good-bye, adios, and tchau to the Hacienda Anacaona in San Agustín, my home for three nights in that part of Southern Colombia.  From San Agustín, we left for the very difficult five-hour drive over a mountain ridge to Popayan.  Did I say difficult?  It was raining.  It was foggy.  It was cold (3000m elevation at the peak of the mountain ridge).  The road was unpaved for many, very long stretched.  It was one lane in many parts.  My guide and driver pointed out which rebuilt bridges had recently been blown up by FARC in the wars.  The "road," such as it was, was under repair or construction in many other.  There was traffic.  Lots of it, coming in the other direction, usually big trucks.  I don't think a Chevy Spark would survive on this road.

We did.  (So for those of you who in the pool of many days in Colombia would it take for me to be kidnapped by guerillas or narco-terrorists:  if you had a number 8 or less, you lose.)

Finally, as we began descending the mountain, the fog lifted.  The temperatures warmed.  The rain stopped.  The pavement returned. (!)  The road widened.  Soon we were descending into the beautiful, old colonial city of Popayan, La Cuidad Blanca, the White City.  Why La Ciudad Blanca?

Popayan: La Cuidad Blanca

La Cuidad Blanca indeed

View from across the square
All the buildings in the core are white-washed white.  Blindingly white.  Alec Guiness in "The Man in the White Suit" white.  Even the coffee shop is white.

Juan Valdez Cafe is a national chain of coffee shops. Seriously.
And they are working hard to keep it that way.

A white llama in a white town
Even the llama in the town square was whiter-than-Clorox white.

But there was no time to see this beautiful white city in any sort of detail. I had to get to the bus station to catch an inter-city bus to my next destination, Armenia. We missed the "2025" bus, which would've been direct from Popayan to Armenia (with a stop in Cali).  So I had to take the "2065" bus to Cali, where I would transfer to the 2025 bus that, supposedly, hopefully, would be waiting for me in Cali.

Cali is a not-very-nice place.  There was litter eveywhere.  The rest of Colombia is immaculately clean, so it was jarring to see all the trash on the roadside in Cali.  There were squeegee men at all the intersections.  )Where's Rudy Guiliani when you need 'im?)  It didn't seem like a very Colombia city, at least as far as my impression of Colombia has been set.

I got to the Cali bus terminal.  I go to get Big Green, my suitcase, out of the luggage compartment.  A man grabs it, starts barking at me in Spanish, and goes to put my bag in the main part of the bus that I thought I was supposed to get off.  I was confused.  After a few repetitions of me taking my bag off the bus and asking how I get to the 2025 bus, I finally understood that the driver of the 2065 bus (assisted by the guy who grabbed Big Green out of the luggage hold) would now drive me to the part of the huge terminal where the 2065 was patiently waiting for me.  Turns out, my guide from San Agustín had made arrangements for the bus driver and bus personnel in Cali to be on the lookout for me to make sure I was properly transferred to the 2025 bus.  I felt like a rare, valuable Faberge egg, being handled with such precision and care.

Or maybe a urine sample where chain of custody has to be precisely documented, being handed off from one caretaker to the next.

Because of all the work being done by these folks, I was soon safely on the 2025 bus, bound for Armenia.  Country #17!  Well, no, not that Armenia, not the country next to Turkey.  Armenia is one of the three anchor towns of the Coffee Triangle, the Zona Cafetera, of Central Colombia.

Three hours later, #2025 pulled into Armenia.  My Zona Cafetera guide was waiting for me to take me to my hotel, which was not in Armenia, but in a small town northwest of Armenia, Quimbaya.  So, about 13 hours after pulling out of the Hacienda Anacaona, I arrive at the Hotel del Campo.  The hotel is very nice  It has some sort of island hunting camp motif going for it:

Room 14 at the Hotel del Campo, Quimbaya
 It even sort of, kind of, has a semi-quasi outdoor shower.  The bathroom is open to the air, at about the eight foot and above level.
Semi-quasi outdoor shower
And, life gets better, I'm only about a quarter of mile from the original PANACA, the Colombian agricultural theme park/tourist trap.  Will I have time to go?  Ooo.  I hope so.

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