Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, August 20, 2011

So, here we are! We talked about it, planned it, dreamt it, and now we are living it! South America has amazed us already.

Bogota - city at 2,625 meters (8,612 feet). 8 million people (plus us!). The things we noticed most: awful pollution, the altitude and how hard it was to breathe (especially when we decided to try to go running on our first day!) and that we were the only tourists we could find and that most of the people in the city seemed to have ever encountered. Our fellow hostellers were S American tourists only- deciding to ditch the lonely planet guide is paying off already, although we were a bit surprised to find some armed police chilling out at night in the hostel and regretted asking why they where there!

We went to the Museo del Oro (gold museum) and Museo Botero, which surprised us by having some incredible pieces by Degas, Picasso, Monet, Miro, and of course Botero. Even stranger than finding such a gem down an unlabelled side street in bogota was that there was little to no security surrounding such amazing pieces of art!
We sampled local cuisine - empanadas from a street vendor for under 1USD for both of us for a very filling lunch as well as some fruit completely unknown to us that was a mix between a tomato and peach. Interesting.
After few days in the high smog it was off to Cali, a city of salsa and famed for the cartels due to its strategic position between the (coca producing) mountains and the sea. The bus ride from Bogota (11 hours) took us over the Andes (up past 3,000mtrs) up and down hairpin turns into an area we later found out was the coffee region of Colombia. The scenery was stunning, yet interrupted about every 30 minutes by armed military blockades safeguarding the main road.  We decided that this was reassuring.  Upon arrival in Cali, we hustled to a hostel and were excited for a restful evening, only to be awoken at 3am by Colombian musicians having a jam session in the street outside for about an hour. Culture and music at all times down here!
The next morning, our first move was to find a new place to stay. Called a cab and pulled up to a new hostel in a lovely historic neighbourhood with charming owners and free coffee...only to realise Anna had forgotten her hiking boots in the cab that has so swiftly delivered us... We were very surprised when the cab driver brought them back 30 mins later! Wouldn't have happened in a US/UK town! We met a good group of fellows travellers here, and hiked the 3 crosses mountain (leaving everything we owned at the hostel after some advice from owner and also some helpful Colombians we met on route!) and had some nice chilled out food with our new friends.
After a few days in Cali we headed to Popayan, a gorgeous colonial town on the road to Ecuador- this reminded Alex of the colonial cities of Charleston and New Orleans as well as the small villages in Italy.

Popayan captured us more than we expected it to.  We took a tour of a small coffee farm outside the city and saw every aspect of the coffee industry on the production end - from tiny trees to sale of the dried beans.  We explored the city and were continuously amazed by the friendliness of the people there and the colonial charm that seemed to embody the city from sidewalk to mountaintop.  We also made friends with Ally, the hostel dog and took her on runs with us (which are now almost daily unless we are hiking!) We also discovered tons of hidden squares which you can usualy just walk into after flashing a smile and your camera to the guard (allways armed) in the city which is really interesting.

We loved the food too, with a typical Colombian meal consisting of soup (often chicken feet which actualy tastes really good) followed by but weirdly served at the same time with the soup of rice, meat, veggie in really good sauce. At the local resturants theres never a menu, you just sit down and they bring the food instantly and its usualy really really cheap...

Colombia couldnīt hold our attention for too much longer once we left Popayan and realized the opportunities just across the border in Ecuador. We stayed one night in Pasto (at a dizzying 2,500 meters) and quickly moved on to Ipiales (2,900 meters) where we took a few hours to detour and see a breathtaking church set in a canyon built on a bridge (see pic).  From the border town of Ipiales, we taxied to the border (and encountered a few immigration snags and endless queues) and have made it to Ecuador! Will update on this in a while.

Our limited  Spanish (which is improving fast) does hinder in a country with few tourists, but we've been amazed by Colombia and Colombians and are realising this is a special place, and to appreciate it fully we do see ourselves returning after doing the rest of the S American backpacker route to relax for a while... it has been so nice being off the main `gringo trailī though and avoiding the (mainly english!) backpackers determined to drink and party their way through this beautiful continent...

PS We have a few more photos to add which will appear here in a week or so...

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