14 February 2014

Popayán to Salento, via Cali: Entering the coffee region

We departed Popayan in a merry group of five, having found Martin, who we knew from Tumbaco, in Popayan also. Having been advised for one last time to stick to the Pana for security purposes, we made for Cali, some 140km away.

The Pana was rolling and we made fast progress, despite Martin breaking a spoke in the morning and a long stop for lunch in a restaurant and pineapple farm (yummy pineapple juice with lunch!). The progress was so good that we eventually decided to push on to Cali directly in one day. The outskirts of Colombia's second biggest city were hectic, both for the traffic and for the number of cars and motorbikes pulling up alongside us to ask us what our story was!  

How can you not stop at a restaurant that has this display outside?

Flat road, group riding, and a wide shoulder help us cover 140km in a day 

 After crossing about 80 per cent of the length of Cali we arrived in the barrio of San Antonio. With all the stress at the end, plus 140km in our legs, we were tired when we arrived just before sundown and decided to take a day off to see Cali. Irene and Alle decided to continue on though, so we said goodbye to them before our day of some mild sightseeing.

Cali is very hectic on the main roads...

But the roof terrace was an oasis of calm as we said goodbye to Alle and Irene

We didn't have particularly high expectations of Cali, but it turned out to be a nice city. San Antonio has a quiet colonial charm while the main area is more hectic with plenty of street vendors and interesting architecture. We filled our afternoon by laying in hammocks on the rooftop terrace at our hostel and cooking up a taco feast to eat al fresco.

Cali had a very tropical feel in parts

And a colonial aesthetic in others

The view from the hostel roof terrace wasn't bad either

A day off was all we needed though, so the next morning we found ourselves battling the Cali traffic again as we headed out of Cali and off of the Pana for the first time since Pasto. Our route was a flat, small road following the Rio Cauca, which gradually got less busy as we moved out of Cali's sphere of influence, and then got busier again as we got closer to our destination for the day, Buga.

We arrived in Buga quite early in the afternoon and were able to enjoy an afternoon walking the streets of this very nice colonial town, my favorite of the trip so far. Buga gets a fair number of Colombian tourists because its church is a site of pilgrimage, but few foreign tourists. It was delightful. In the evening we had pizza and microbrewed beer at the Buga Hostel cafe, a nice European treat.

Buga's charming architecture stole my heart

After a disappointing first try in Ipiales, we tried the Colombian specialty of arepas again in Buga with much better results. Now we're hooked!
From Buga we had a bit longer on the Pana, but with a wide shoulder and light traffic we couldn't complain too much—it's just that the sights of a major highway get monotonous after a while. In Uribe, we turned off the Pana for some rolling hills on a truly excellent road, followed by a tough climb in the afternoon heat to Sevilla. For some reason I coped with it better than the boys, for what must be the first time ever!

One of the nicest roads of the trip so far... a breath of fresh air after so many kms on the Pana

On the way to Sevilla a bridge had been downed leading to an impromptu feet washing.
We tried for a while to find a place to put up the tents, but eventually gave in and settled into a hostal where the owner could count on two hands the foreigners who had visited in the last year. She was rather intrigued at Martin when he asked to use the roof to cook dinner on his stove and later brought her neice up to see him at work.

While doing errands in the morning before leaving Sevilla Lucy was offered a cup of coffee from the pharmacist!

From Sevilla we enjoyed a mostly descending morning, before a short climb left us feeling out of sorts in the heat. We pushed on regardless, hoping to reach Salento with a good amount of daylight left, when a guy pulled up next to me in a motorbike and started to ask me questions. This is something we have become accustomed to on Colombian roads, but these questions were different. He led with, 'are you Irene?' No, but I know who she is! Turns out that Nando is a host on Warmshowers (like Couchsurfing for cycle tourists) and Irene and Alle had emailed to see if they could stay with him, but he hadn't received the email in time and was feeling guilty about it when he saw us pass, so he jumped on his motorcycle to chase us down!

He invited us back to his restaurant for lunch, and after a bit of hesitation (it was already behind us) we decided to go. What a great decision that was! Nando and his wife Lisa are incredibly welcoming and they own a hospedaje and restaurant where Nando is the chef. We decided to stay the night, and even got to go for a swim in his pool! But even better than the incredibly generous facilities was the food. It was definitely the best food we have had in South America, and for quite some time in Europe as well. I restricted myself to a ladylike one portion, but Alberto and Martin each ate two, it was so delicious! If you find yourself anywhere near Calarca and you don't stop at the Asadero Combio, you are making a big mistake!

Relaxing at Nando's hospedaje... a.k.a. cyclists' paradise
The next morning being Sunday, Nando and Lisa accompanied us on our short ride to Salento. We departed at 7am and saw so many cyclists on the road, it felt like the South Downs on a Sunday morning. We took an unpaved road for most of the way, arriving in the town of Boquia which again, was like the Peaslake of Colombia. It was great to see the cycling culture of Colombia. We had agua panela con queso and said goodbye to Nando and Lisa as they headed home, while we headed up the stiff 3km climb to Salento.

Early morning ride to Salento

Making friends with cyclists as we go
Martin enjoys the dirt riding into Boquia

Just some Sunday cyclists at a cafe stop

Arriving in Salento, we settled in to one of the ubiquitous eco-hostels for some days off. We could pitch our tents for a low price, which was nice after so many nights in a row sleeping in beds! Salento is a very cute town, and the second most popular tourist destination in Colombia after Cartagena. It's a nice place to relax, but after a few days off we were itching to get back on the road and a little off the tourist trail.  Next stop: Parque Nacional Los Nevados!

Salento's Calle Real - very busy on the weekends, but cute every day of the week

The view from our hostel outside of town isn't bad

Coffee growing... the red ones are ready to be picked

Harvested and dried coffee beans, before and after roasting 
Route notes:

- Popayan to Cali was pretty straightforward on the Pana, initially a bit rolling, then totally flat. The last stretch, as seen on our route page, was a dual carriageway with very little shoulder and all sorts of traffic. Best done in the off-peak hours. Cali seemed to have some cycle lanes that went South to North and viceversa, if you can take them. 

- Cali to Buga: There's a less busy road that avoids the Pana to the North of Cali, via Yumbo and Yotoco, and then gets progressively busier as you approach Buga.

- Buga to Salento: We left Buga on the Pana, to then take the secondary scenic road from Uribe to Sevilla, Caicedonia and eventually Calarca, near Armenia. This road is mostly paved, although there's a small river crossing and a section where there's a landslide which will oblige you to push the bike for a while. Plenty of small roads and trails that will take you to Salento once past Calarca. We made a right near this latter town, then went on a trail parallel to the river Boqueron to Boquia, which avoids almost 300 m of climbing on the Pana. The trail was wet but perfectly doable on thick tired bikes.

1 comment:

  1. Lucy and Al- you're wearing the exact same outfit on the roof terrace! I have a feeling there will be a lot of clothing coordinated photos this year...