Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012, 26th June – 1st July Popayán, Pasto & Ipiales - Colombia

My final days were in Colombia were spent in the south before heading for the border with Ecuador, taking in the Colombian cities of Popayán, Pasto and Ipiales.

For the full complement of photos corresponding to this blog entry, use the following link to the set of photos in my Flickr pages:

Popayán: 26th – 28th June

The bus journey from San Andrés de Pisimbalá (near Tierradentro) to Popayán included yet more Colombian mountain road experiences. An extended section was under repair (or was it ever tarmac)? I was surprised the bus could make it through the mud and puddles, though the resilient driver seemed undeterred.

Popayán is a pleasant enough city, with an attractive historic centre. In a similar fashion to many colonial towns in this part of the world it follows the grid system centred on a main central plaza. Having seen quite a few such places that adopted this system I can picture some high-ranking Spaniard turning up long ago and saying something to the effect “Right lads, you know the drill by now. Stick a plaza here, wack a catherdral at one end of it to convince these locals that our religion is the best one. Throw down streets in a grid from there – calles one way and carreras the other. In case anyone forgets how our religion works, bash out a few more churches every now and then on street corners. By the way, the wife arrives from Spain next month so you´ve got four weeks – look lively”.

The streets in the historic centre have a nice symmetry, with all buildings rendered and whitewashed. In terms of classic tourist sites, Popayán does not deliver in spades, but it was nevertheless a pleasant place to pass a few days.

Street Lights & Car Lights in Popayán

Pasto & Languna Verde: 29th – 30th June

Supposedly it is possible to make the journey from Popayán to Quito (Ecuador) in one day. But what with South American bus journey times generally being longer than published and not being that fussed about making border crossings at night (frontiers always have a few shady characters lurking about), I decided to stop over in Pasto.

Pasto is not particularly attractive, but there is some wonderful countryside nearby, with numerous deep mountain valleys. I originally planned to spend a day visiting Laguna de la Cocha. However, while checking into the hotel in Pasto, I eyed a poster of Laguna Verde which looked stunning and I thought “that looks nice, I want to go there, I shall go there”. The hotelier gave me some tips on how to get there (which proved correct in some respects and questionable in others).

The laguna is best viewed in the morning since it is more likely to rain in the afternoon, so I got up very early to get a collectivo from Pasto to the nearest town to the lake – Túquerres, about 70 km (1.5 hours drive) to the south west of Pasto. In Pasto I was advised that I could walk from Túquerres to the lake, but the Túquerres townsfolk said otherwise as it turned out to be around 10km to the start of the trail (all uphill), with further 6 km walking from the trail head to the lake.

To avoid losing too much in the event of being robbed, like many days out during my travels I had only brought enough cash for the day with me and no bank cards. However, I had not banked on having to pay transport to and from the trail head. Some nice women in a cafe took it upon themselves to help me out and called upon the local men. A mother´s meeting ensued and in the end I negotiated a price for a ride to the trail head on the back of a motorbike.

From the trail head (and Park Ranger´s station), it was about an hour´s walk to Laguna Verde. The lake is in the crater of the extinct Volcán Azufral which is at an altitude of 4070 metres (13,353 feet). The sight of the lake exceeds expectation by a long way. One might expect a lake called ´Green Lake´ to have a green hue in certain lights, and be happy with that. However, the lake is very green indeed – without any blue hues that you might expect for a lake.

The Very Green Laguna Verde

No doubt the colour of the water comes from all the concoctions of elements and minerals that rise to the surface and mix with the water. Evidences of this deposition of unusual substances are the large sections of white and pale yellow rock that spread out up the sides of the crater at one end of the lake as well as the bubbles of gas that rise to the surface of the lake at various points.

Gas Bubbling to the Surface of Laguna Verde

Element & Mineral Laden Rock by Laguna Verde
(Note the Yellow Sulphurous Deposits)

Element & Mineral Deposits Scar the Landscape of Laguna Verde

After enjoying the lake from many vantage points, my early start paid dividends as the clouds rolled in at lunchtime and it started to rain heavily. I then had to turn my attention to how to get back to the town. I left the town knowing that I did not have enough cash on me to pay for a ride back to Túquerres and had set out from the town with the philosophy, oh well something will turn up (ha, a more adventurous spirit). Well something did turn up.

At the start of the trail back to the ranger station I encountered a young man and his girlfriend. The guy had thought it would be cool to venture off the trail on his off-road motorbike – bad move as it was stuck. By the time I got there the poor lad was exhausted after an hour or so of trying to get the bike back up the slope to the path. I helped him out, and after much heaving and straining with the 300 kg bike, we got it back up the slope and onto the trail. I figured after getting him out of a bad situation, a ride back to town would be in order and he kindly obliged.

Being a trail bike, there was no proper seat for a pillion passenger, so with two passengers (his girlfriend and me) this made things a little tricky. With no bars to hold onto at the back of the bike I had no choice but to grip onto her thighs with mine (I hope she didn´t mind too much). After 40 minutes like this, we arrived back in Túquerres. I was so stiff in legs and back, for ten minutes I walked like someone who had laid cable in my underpants – but a lot better than having to walk the total of 16 km back to the town.

Ipiales & El Santuario de las Lajas: 1st July

Ipiales (around two hours south of Pasto) is the last town before the border with Ecuador. I am afraid to say it is pretty unattractive. But it does have one site of note about 10 minutes away by collectivo, namely El Santuario de las Lajas – a church that spans a gorge (picture a tall arched bridge across a gorge with a church sitting on top of the bridge at one end). Its architecture is neo-gothic and its rising spires sit nicely within the vertical natural setting.

El Santuario de las Lajas

I then set off for the border with Ecuador, saying goodbye to Colombia after four months (wow, my longest period in a country outside of the UK).

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