25th-28th December Cali
Located at an altitude of 1000m Cali is the 3rd largest city in Colombia and also the capital of salsa; as we are walking around, we see one salsateca (salsa club) after the other lining a busy street.
On Christmas day, we leave the confines of our comfy hotel getting a taxi to the Cali Christmas Fair festival; the driver seems to have a death wish and he bumps into the vehicle in front of us, luckily they don’t seem to notice and he carries on with his race car driving all the way into the downtown.
Relieved to finally get out, there are so many people around, all watching the parade with dancers in elaborate costumes coming down the street on floats. Amongst the mayhem, teenagers (and some adults) are spraying people in foam and there is alcohol being sold everywhere. We walk down the street following the parade for a while then decide to get a taxi back to town.
The main street is much more relaxed with families ambling along enjoying the Christmas lights and a food market selling corn on the cob, arepas, and chorizo sausage. We stumble on a courtyard area with a stage and band getting a seafood rice dish from one of the food and drinks stalls which line the sides whilst people salsa dance in the square.
We walk back through the park, where there are more stalls and lights. It seems like one huge unofficial street market, with locals from all over the area selling their food.
It is quite bad timing but our vehicle insurance was running out over the Christmas period and so we search on-line for the address of around 6 insurance companies that may be able to issue it to us. We spend the whole day driving around but no one is able to, or they were already closed. The few people who try to help send us on a wild goose chase to the other side of town… again the insurance company is closed. We finally give up and decide to head back to the hotel.
After the Christmas break, Martin finds another company which may just solve our problems, it’s just a few hundred metres from where we are staying… he leaves first thing in the morning and is back within 30 minutes with the insurance 🙂
We also venture out to the wonderfully named Chipichape mall for some shopping and food…
Our next destination is the colonial town of Popayan to meet up with some Colombian friends for New Year; it‘s around a 3 hour drive on the PanAm climbing to 1760metres before arriving in the traffic mayhem of the town centre. The streets are packed with people selling all kinds of things on roadside stalls from grilled meat to underwear, spilling out onto the road itself.
The town was capital of the southern region of the country for hundreds of years before Cali took over.
After driving around the one way road system a couple of times, we make it to a hotel car and check in. We take a walk out to find something to eat but find all the restaurants shut and end up walking quite a way out from our hotel through the square with its white façade buildings and churches. Popayan is known as La Ciudad Blanca (the White City), and is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture.
Ordering some trucha (trout) and a steak, we are given a delicious avocado salad as a starter and we almost don’t need the mains! Both of our meals are good and we feel it warranted the long walk to get here!
The next day we venture out to the mall in the hope of finding the sales on but there does not seem to be too much happening. Back in town, we get a menu del dia for 6000 Colombian pesos (around 2 pounds each) consisting of a potato, coriander and beef soup, meat and fish for mains and some tea.
Just before heading over to our friend‘s place for new year, we try to get something to eat but again find ourselves traipsing around town seeing all the restaurants with their shutters down. There’s one place open but they don’t have any tables available…
The taxi ride is a scary one, as usual there are no seat belts and we are thrown all over the place by another crazy driver! We manage to make it in one piece but when we get to the apartment, the security guards tell us the address we have does not exist even though several cars have been let through and they are all saying the same name as our friend had given us!