I arrived in Cali around 2PM on Friday, June 10th. From the bus terminal, I took a taxi to my hostel and that was quite hard for me; I’m still very paranoid in buses and taxis, even more so in cities. The bus ride had only taken 3 hours, but it had been a very hot minibus and so I was very happy when I finally arrived at my hostel.
Eddy had said some friends of his had stayed at the El Viajero hostel and had quite liked it, so I went there. The staff could not have been more welcoming and friendly and the hostel was very nice. Dorms were spacious, everything was clean, there were lots of hammocks and a nice pool area with a bar. After lunch, I went back and relaxed in the pool area, reading and drinking a few beers. Unfortunately, all other people were in groups spread out around the pool and I didn’t get the chance to meet anybody… I had planned to go to this famous salsa bar, La Topa Tolondra, anyway and didn’t want to stay in the hostel, so never mind. At 8 PM, the girl from the reception came to tell me that I should better get to the bar early, because that night a famous group, La-33, was playing and it would be full early (very nice of her!). So, I changed and took an Uber to the bar. It was only 20 minutes walking from the hostel, but the receptionist told me it would be safer to take an Uber; well, that’s fine with me!
When I got there, 2 surprises awaited me: 1) the event was sponsored by a rum company and you could not drink beer or get a single glass of anything, you had to take a whole bottle or a jar, which was too much and too expensive for me alone…. 2) nobody in the room knew when the concert would start…
I was a bit annoyed because I sat there all alone on a small table; there were only couples in the bar, the concert was not about to start, I couldn’t get a drink and I was really hungry – the latter was my fault, I had been too lazy to go out and get food before arriving to the bar… I was thinking about just going back to the hostel but I had paid 40.000 pesos entrance fee and it would be quite stupid to just leave, so I went outside, got some chicken wings and a beer in a restaurant next door. Feeling much better, I went back to the bar, which was now much more crowded. I found another small table for myself and sat down. The band was still nowhere to be seen, but the music was good and there were lots of people dancing. Suddenly, there was a guy next to me asking me to dance. It took me a bit to get back into it and the first dance was bad, but hey, I had danced, that made the entrance fee already worth it! 😁
At the table next to me, there was a group of guys and a blond girl – I learned later that she’s from Germany – and slowly, one after the other, these guys came and asked me to dance with them. I don’t know if it was out of pity or because there were not enough girls on their table, but who cares!? At some point, the German girl came over and asked me to join them and so they shared their rum with me. They were all super nice and I wasn’t the only stranger at the table; Carron from Montreal had met Tess, another girl on their table, just a few hours earlier and had also joined them quite spontaneously.
We had an absolutely amazing night and danced a lot! These guys were really good dancers and I enjoyed it a lot, most of all dancing with Christian, I liked this style. 🙂
Shortly after midnight, the band finally started their concert and they were really really good! We danced and cheered a lot and even though we all were tired, we managed to stay until they finished around 2:30AM.
I had only been in Cali for this: 1 night of Salsa, and I had not been disappointed! ❤️
The next morning, after a really good breakfast, I took a bus to Popoyán. This town is only 155 km away from Cali and a good stop on the way to the border. The ride was supposed to be only 3 hours, but, in the end, it took us 5 hours and the bus was too hot and made no bathroom or food stops… I was so glad when we finally arrived to Popoyán!
I hadn’t booked a hostel yet, so I just showed up at the ArteHostel and, since it’s the low season, they still had a lot of space. They were friendly there and the hostel was very nice. Wifi was great and its location was perfect. After arriving, I first spent an hour or so in my room because there was a huge thunderstorm going on and I didn’t feel like going out and getting all wet. When the rain slowed down, I walked around the city centre for half an hour, but, honestly, it’s cute but not worth a visit.
I spent the night cooking and watching a movie since there was almost nobody else in the hostel and there was not really a social atmosphere. It was ok though; I was tired anyway after my night out in Cali.
The next morning, I got up at 5:50 to go to the bus terminal. I had asked the day before and one bus company had told me that there was a bus going to Ipiales at 7AM; in the hostel, they told me a bus was leaving at 6:30, so I thought it would be a good idea to leave the hostel at 6AM and see what first bus I can catch. The bus terminal of Popayán was weird; everybody there was super unfriendly and I seemed to be the only tourist around, even the day before… The company that had told me the day before there would be a bus at 7 AM had changed their mind, the bus was now leaving at 8 AM ; there was another company leaving now at 6:25, so I took this one. Of course, I could not get a nice big bus, but I got an overcrowded minibus and it didn’t leave at 6:25 but at 7 AM… Welcome to Colombia…
The bus ride was surprisingly good, even though there was barely any space to sit and there was no AC. We made every 2 hours a stop for food or the bathroom and it only took us 8:45 hours instead of the announced 8h, but never mind. I had planned to do some writing on the way, but the bus was just too small to move, so I watched a movie and the rest of the time I looked out of the window and listened to some music. The landscape was really beautiful, but I would still recommend that you fly from Cali to Quito and not to go by bus.
During the bus ride, I checked for hostels in Ipiales and was surprised there was none. Instead, I found a nice apartment for only 13€ (Mansión Blanca) and it was a really strange feeling to have so much space to myself: my own bedroom, my own shower, my own kitchen. Incredible! 😄 In the end, I think I prefer a crowded hostel, though, it’s much more lively than a small apartment for yourself.
Shortly after getting to my apartment, I took a taxi to El Santuario Las Lajas. It’s a church build on a bridge in a canyon. It’s inspired by an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a girl and her mother in 1754 who were caught between the huge rocks (lajas) of the canyon during a storm. It’s a very beautiful place and worth a visit. My taxi driver was even so nice as to stop at a viewpoint on the way so I could take some pictures. 🙂
I stayed there only a short time because, if you’re not Catholic, there’s not much to do except for taking a few pictures. I was very hungry anyway and wanted to have a nice quiet evening after being in a bus all day and not having lunch.
And that’s the end of my 2 1/2 wonderful weeks in Colombia. It’s a shame I didn’t have more time here, Colombia is such an amazing country and there is so much to see! Colombian people are super friendly and open people, even after all that has happened to them in the past, and they are much more respectful in what concerns women than any other Latin country I have visited.
I am definitely coming back here, for a longer stay next time, so I can visit all the places I had wanted to see but couldn’t, like Los Llanos, Caño Cristales and Desierto de Tatacoa. If you come here, you should definitely plan on staying at least one month, maybe even two, you won’t regret it.
Colombia still has a very bad reputation, but I can only say it’s wrong. Sure, there are dangerous places and you should not walk around alone in the night in dark streets, but hey, it’s not different in other countries, even in Belgium. The people here are so nice, the culture is so rich, the landscape so beautiful, it would be a shame to miss out on that.