Carnaval de Negros y Blancos – Popayán, Colombia

More transport drama.

The Aussie guys that I met in Bogota had recommended a hostel in Cali where some people they had been traveling with had gone to. They said that, if they were still there, they’d been planning on heading in a similar direction to me and that I should try and catch them up. I booked the hostel, received an email explaining how to get there, and I set off.

I slept pretty well on the night bus, once I got to sleep. I’m getting used to sleeping upright these days. All I need is something to cover my face, i.e. a hoody worn backwards, and I can sleep pretty easily as long as the ride isn’t too jolty. I woke up as we entered. Cali Terminal, collected my bag from beneath the bus, and jumped in a taxi. The address of the hostel was Carrera 3 Oesta. I’d circled an area on the map in my Lonely Planet book where it must’ve been. It didn’t say Carrera 3 Oesta, but the other Carreras and Calles around it were all ‘Oesta’, so I assumed it had to be around there somewhere. We drove around in the taxi for a while, and eventually I asked him to drop me and I’d try and find it on foot. I wandered around for a while, as the sun rose in the sky. Bogota had been fairly cool, being at altitude. I wasn’t expecting Cali to be much hotter. It was.

I walked around for half an hour before I found a guy cleaning his bike outside his house. I asked him if he spoke English. No. But I tried anyway. “Done esta Carrera tres oests?” He pointed in a direction that I’d just come from and I knew it wasn’t there. I asked some more questions and eventually he went back inside his house and came out with, presumably, his daughter. She spoke to me in perfect English with a North American accent and told me that the place I was looking for was actually in a different area of town called Bellavista and the confusion must have arisen because some of the road names had changed recently.

Anyway, she pointed me in the right direction and I set off, only to get lost again.

Luckily, I was armed with the new Bellavista information. I found the zoo, something I’d read wasn’t too far from the hostel, and I hailed a taxi. Bellavista wasn’t far, in a horizontal sense. But it was about 150m uphill. I think it was best I took the taxi so as to avoid heat exhaustion in my comfy bus clothes.

I got there eventually anyway. I met my German room mate, and his three Colombian friends, and they told me they were going to the zoo that afternoon. I decided to join them. There wasn’t much else to do on a Sunday in a small Colombian town like Cali. The zoo was a lot of fun, and the Colombians had a great time teaching me some Spanish.

Early the next day, I got up, packed and headed back to the bus station for a bus to Popayán, a 3-hours closer to the Ecuadorean border. I went up to a few bus company ticket windows and was told that the last buses for Popayan had already departed. “Oncé (11) mañana!” “No, gracias” I continued searching until I found a guy who sold me a seat in his car to Popayán. Luckily, he spoke a bit of English. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But, luckily enough, he got me and three others there in about two and a half hours — quicker than it would’ve been on the bus.

Once again, I jumped into another taxi when I arrived and asked him to take me to Parque Caldas, where Parklife Hostel was located. I paid the driver, and got out the cab. The moment I stepped out, I was pelted with a handful of flour and squirted with water. Shocked, I looked up and noticed that everyone (now including me) and the entire square were covered in flour and paint.

I wandered around the square, getting pelted a few more times on the way, and found the gate to the hostel. I went inside, dumped my bags and went for a wander down to Puenta de la Custodia and Puenta del Humilladero, two bridges built for monks back in the 1700s. I crossed one of the bridges for some ‘comida’ (lunch), now covered in flour, and decided to get in on the action. There were guys selling huge cans of foam for COB$4000 (US$2) — so I bought one.

The next three hours were spent chasing and being chased by people around the square and getting covered in paint, foam and flour. Everyone was getting involved, from kids to the elderly, but more notable teenagers, who were understandably enjoying the destruction of public property without consequence. It was a helluva lot of fun. Even after getting two eyeful a of flour — my eyes are both still quite sore.

At one point, an entire gang of teenagers decided I was their nr 1 target and proceeded to chase me round the square at 5 minute intervals with different coloured paints and bags of flour. Soon some kids had found a sprinkler system in the park and were filling up water balloons, meaning they could now hit targets at distance, i.e. the conscientious objectors standing on the outskirts of the square.

I decided to go for a walk to see if the mayhem was confined to the square that my hostel was situated on. Apparently not. Anybody who had a tap, had hooked up water hoses and spray guns and were squirting anybody and everybody that went by. Motorcycles with passengers on the back were sneaking up on pedestrians and throwing flour at them, while people in the backseats of cars were squirting foam out of the cracks in the rear windows.

I’m now back at the hostel, after a very long shower, and I’ve just discovered some more flour in my ears. What an unexpectedly interesting day.

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