Cali, Popayán and Otavalo
After Salento we made two more stops in Colombia, Cali and Popayán, where we spent Christmas. Afterwards we moved on to Ecuador.
From Salento it was a two hour bus ride to Cali–where Salsa is king. This large city is not exactly on the gringo trail, perhaps partly because it has a reputation for being far more dangerous than many other large Colombian cities. However, we always felt comfortable and safe. We chose to rent a room through AirBnb with a local couple, who also were happy to dispel the concerns of many travelers about safety. They also had a really cute dog, Bella, that would follow you around making grumbling noises and snore with open eyes.
Cali is not necessarily a beautiful city, but what it lacks in that department it makes up in spirit. The people are friendly and certainly enjoy a good party, it became clear on the first evening that this city becomes alive at night. We spent one day there relaxing and then finding a cinema to watch “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. We went to the Cinépolis VIP cinema and it was outstanding. We had reclining chairs and service to deliver food and alcoholic drinks. We also visited the zoo, the Río Cali runs through the zoo creating a very beautiful ambiance. Megan did find it necessary to point out that their cage system for the larger cats is similar (perhaps with less of a gap between enclosure and people) to the one used in the San Francisco zoo before the tiger attack in 2008. It was especially eerie to see a hyena stand on the edge and stare down a group of kids harassing it. They did have a guard with a rifle stationed at the tiger enclosure, as well as staff member to tell the kids not to make noises at the tigers and educate them. Markus was less concerned about this and all in favor of natural selection. The zoo also had giant wild Iguanas roam around everywhere.
During one of the evenings we went to Cristo Rey, a giant Jesus statue on top of a mountain overlooking the entire city. We made it there before sundown, it was lovely. We then headed to an outdoor Christmas market downtown. They had something set up similar to a beer garden, you could go in and sit at different stalls to have a beer and some food. Many couples danced salsa next to their tables as they ate and drank–it was a great atmosphere. Not wanting to end there, we took a bag of empanadas and headed into the night. We stumbled into a nice salsa bar and bought a bottle of Aguardiente. The rest of the evening became a blur of salsa dancing and shots of Aguardiente.
Nursing a bit of a hangover, we took a four hour bus ride on Christmas Eve back up into the mountains to the colonial “white city” of Popayán. Popayán gets its nickname because it’s filled with large, white colonial buildings. For Christmas, we splurged a bit and stayed in an old monastery turned hotel: Hotel Dann Monasterio. Besides a few walks around the city, we honestly didn’t do much. The main point was to enjoy our hotel, talk to family back home, and relax for Christmas.
The day after Christmas we began our long journey to Otavalo, Ecuador. We took an eight hour bus ride to Ipiales, a city near the border, then another short bus directly to the border. Our bus was already delayed and the border was a nightmare. It took nearly two hours to cross because of the line. However, the process to get our stamps was simple. Once we crossed it was another short bus ride to the border city of Tulcán. From here we needed to board a bus to our destination of Otavalo. We were sold a ticket for a bus that was departing, and literally ran onto it as it left the station. All in all it took us 16 hours to finally reach our destination.
Otavalo is located in the Andean Highlands and is well known for its markets. It pained Megan to walk through the market filled with beautiful sweaters, scarfs, and jewelry and not buy anything. We also went to the food market and shared a plate of hornado, a version of whole roast pig. We walked to visit the Peguche Waterfall which is also an important spiritual place for the local indigenous people. Megan fell in love with the traditional dress of the Otavaleña women, in particular their sandals –they’re super trendy at the moment.