Week 10 & 11 - From Coffee to Cali...and beyond.
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
We left the coffee region...well, for now at least!
We headed on the back roads towards Sevilla, North of Cali, then to a huge lake (Calima) where we actually got the tent out, finally arriving in Cali a couple of days later. We again met up with our friends from South Africa, Michnus and Elsebie, stayed put for a few days in an awesome house close to the city before heading into Cali itself for the weekend. We then rode to Popayan for a week of chill-out, chatting, Netflix and 'work'...oooh, and much rum! Time flew by as usual but it was nice to have a good rest, get some research done for a new blog idea, and cook our own food, so lots of fresh veggies! We even got marmalade and peanut butter! Heaven!
Pijao, Buenavista, Sevilla and Calima Lake
The aim of the first leg of the trip to Cali was to get 'off-road', and that we did. We rode from Calarca to Pijao, and after that the roads were dirt track, mud and rocks...and before you ask, no, I didn't drop the bike! Woohoo! We had aimed to get all the way to Sevilla, via Genova, on the back roads, however it hammered it down, we got lost and almost ended up in someone's farm (Finca), but were pointed in the right(ish) direction by some locals who looked extremely confused when we said we actually wanted to go on the back roads! Crazy english!
Despite not achieving what we set out to do, we had an awesome day, and I challenged myself more than I have done yet in terms of off-roading, especially when back-tracking and having to go down some rocky slopes that looked so much less frightening when going up them. For once I just about managed to keep my head from telling my hand to grab the front brake and I just let the bike roll (or more like bounce) down the slope with a little bit of directional persuasion! Happy days!
Once arriving in Sevilla, a nice little town, we had actually managed a couple of hours off-road, and we found a hotel to stay in...well after getting completely lost and a very kind local stopped in the middle of the track, blocking everyone else, and helped us out showing us the way to the hotel. We also had a local cyclist stop and check that we were ok. Such a nice bunch of people.
The hotel had the most amazing view of the Andes mountains, between two of the Andean 'Cordilleras' or mountain range branches (there are three in total). I think we were between Cordilleras 'Occidental' and 'Central', the other one being called the Cordillera 'Oriental'. We had our first 'Bandeja Paisa' (a typical dish of the region), and an awesome coffee. The locals were super friendly, and one happy chappy really wanted us to come to his restaurant for breakfast...unfortunately for him our hotel included breakfast. He was so enthusiastic I actually felt a bit bad to let him down.
Next was a big lake, not too far from Cali. It was called Calima lake, and it turned out to be quite a popular place for camping and watersports. It was more of a tourist destination for Colombians than 'gringo's' I think. It was beautiful. Before finding our campsite (yes, we actually got the tent out), we stopped at a viewpoint on the South side of the lake and we were quickly surrounded by a couple of Colombian families who were really intrigued by what on earth we were doing. They even wanted photos with us! Nothing like being a tourist attraction. The thing I like about it is that the people are so friendly, they give you local knowledge and the kids love Cyril (as do the adults often) and sitting on the bike, which we are more than happy to allow...we just have to make sure they don't fall over with our weighty bags loaded on them...squashed child would not be good!
The camping was actually not too bad, and not too hot...the only issue was that we had forgotten how long the tent was. Each camping plot had a frame over the length of it so that you could rig a tarp over for shade. Most people just had small dome tents. We had to turn our tent sideways so that we could fit on the plot, and luckily the couple next door had a tiny tent so they were happy for us to use some of their plot. I assured them, in charade-spanglish, that we would put the sleeping side of the tent furthest away from them, not that it really makes much difference. Luckily it didn't rain as we discovered that since pitching the tent over a year ago on our Italy trip, two little holes had appeared in the fly sheet. Bugger! Add it to the 'to-do' list.
The rest of the trip to Cali was all on tarmac, but the scenery was still beautiful. Initially, we stayed with Elsebie and Michnus in an awesome air BnB house for a couple of days. The house was incredible, and I doubt much else will match up to it. Having free reign of a kitchen and fridge complete with ice-maker (oh the joy) was great.
On a little walk to find food we came across 'Obleas' stalls, multiples of them with little baby goats dressed in neon outside (see photo at bottom), I guess to attract attention. This was my first taste of Obleas and I declined the cheese so I just had Arequipe (a sticky sweet spread that's amazing!!!) So Obleas is two round wafers, in this case about 6" in diameter sandwiched, with the Ariquipe in the middle...mmm, mmm, mmm!
We then moved to a little hotel closer to the city for the weekend.
One thing I had hoped to see in Cali was salsa, however despite a decent effort to find some salsa going on in one of the plaza's, there wasn't any...we did however catch the end of a salsa show, so we got a taste. We got to see some other dancing, more what I would term 'folk' type dancing, where the women wore long, floaty dresses and there were four sets of partners in the dance. We then discovered the best grilled meat I have had on our travels so far. They bought out a huge plate of fresh, succulent meat (beef I seem to remember) complete with potatoes, and we all tucked in. Yumm yumm!
On one of the days, whilst chilling in the room, we suddenly heard lots of music and people...so being inquisitive we ventured out to see what was going on. It was a huge LGBT parade, full of colour, dancing, smiles and music. It was quite good to watch and lots of the people who joined in loved being in front of the camera. Even the people in the traffic that got held up by it all seemed to be happy, and quite un-phased about the extended journey!
On our wandering around Cali we discovered two more places I particularly liked. The first was the Parque Gato (Cat park), which had many statues of cats all painted and decorated in different ways, and each with it's own unique description. It was similar to what happens in Bristol (UK) every so often, e.g. Gorillas, Grommits and Shawn the Sheep statues.
The second was Phillip Flamingo!!! We ended up in there completely by accident when the skies decided to open and drenched us all, so naturally we had to find suitable shelter and this was a great option...even better when they said that it was happy hour all day so 2 mojitos for about £5, and they were gooooooood! I was very happy!
One other thing that Cali has is a great selection of graffiti or 'street art'. There were huge walls covered in colourful, vibrant and interesting works of art dotted all over the place and we spent a bit of time just going around and looking at loads of them and taking many photos, as you do.
We reached Popayan on some of the smaller roads, including a small section of dirt-road where we stopped in a tiny village in the middle of no where for a drink. Needless to say, four big bikes coming into a tiny place like that and the whole neighbourhood came out. There was one little girl who really liked Cyril, and a slightly older boy who was keen to help out with serving the drinks. The young man sat in the bar had a set of decks in a small open air room next door with wooded pallets as the dance floor and he was keen to get a picture...whilst Kelvin poured his beer all over the floor!!! Oopsy! It was a lovely atmosphere and experiences like that are priceless. You just miss it all if you stick to the main roads, hence why we love our bike choice more and more as they allow us to go to the smaller, harder to reach places.
On arriving in Popayan we found the hotel and then headed into the old town. It was a picturesque setting with white-washed buildings. All buildings were in-keeping including all of the banks, shops and restaurants, with a lovely central plaza. We wandered around, looked at the market stalls, bought some mini sweet biscuits, found some nice food in one of the few available restaurants and then headed back. Popayan is definitely one of the prettiest cities I have seen so far, or at least the old town is.
We had found an air bnb to stay in for a week so went to find that the following day. It was a small place but we had a kitchen, so it was really nice to be able to cook all our own meals for a week, and I had the first proper marmalade I had eaten in months! It also gave us the opportunity to do some writing, for me to do some research for a new blog idea (coming soon) and just really chill out. I love travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people, but sometimes it's just nice to settle for a few days without a huge agenda and just do whatever, even if I do end up binge-watching stuff on Netflix!! Needless to say the week flew by and before we knew it we were on our way out of Popayan heading East.
A Few more photos from our time in Cali, Popayan and in between: