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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Popáyan - Pasto

You will be relieved at at the absence of a lot of narrative in this post. The incredible scenery between Popáyan and Pasto spoke for itself. That, and the comfort and lack of many passengers on the bus made for a delightful trip. A few words on random details of travel first.

  • In Colombia, there is a huge military presence everywhere you go. They're all along the highways packing semi automatic rifles and peering out from behind sandbagged posts. Each motorist that passes gets either a thumbs up or a summons to pull over. In most cases it's thumbs up and I don't want to know the consequences of the alternative.
  • Every so often along the highway there will suddenly be a cluster of flower vendors selling elaborate arrangements. I discovered that that is an indication you're passing a cometary.
  • There are a couple of phrases one hears everywhere in Colombia many times every day. One is, "a la orden" which means "at your service" in a formal spence and "what do you want, what can I get you?" more loosely translated. In a sales context, it can be a come on vendors use as soon as you approach, "c'mon, c'mon, buy, buy" or, in a more courteous sense, "how can I help you?" To end any transaction, the phrase is, "con mucho gusto", more or less, "you're welcome". To me it has the connotation of enthusiasm and it amuses me to hear it delivered in a mumbled monotone by surly clerks.
  • Latin American street type vendors, and probably ones in other places, have ritual chants for promoting their wares. Every time the bus stops, a gaggle of them gets on to hawk some sort of food, usually potato chips or ice cream, that sort of thing. Here's what they sound like:


Back to the journey. This part of the highway passes through some of the most beautiful Andean landscape I've seen in Colombia.

I've come to the realization that I like staying in nice hotels. Given a good hotel, preferably with a nice outdoor space, I can spend most of a day just hanging out, talking to other guests, reading and writing. To break up the journey from Popáyan to Ecuador, I decided to stay in a town called Pasto. My choice of that town was heavily influenced by there being a highly rated hotel there; #1 in Pasto in trip advisor. I don't think there's much competition in Pasto, a pretty ugly, unremarkable town otherwise but the reviews were glowing. And Hotel Casa Lopez richly deserved them. The gracious and engaging owner, Jaime, greeted me and we spoke for sever minutes before checking me in. In the typical style of old colonial homes, there is a central courtyard with two floors of rooms, kitchens and dining room opening to the flower-filled courtyard.
After settling in to my beautifully appointed room, Jaime brought me coffee on the balcony where I sat in the sunshine, got caught up on emails and enjoyed the comfy ambiance. I wish that Jaime's restaurant recommendation had been as good. From what he said, I had a couple of options there in the centre of town, one slightly better than the other. I'd hate to see what the other was like. I have to say that it was one of the more comical meals I've eaten. Mister Pollo was a sort of fast food place, plastic and vinyl decor. After pondering the unappetizing choices I chose smoked ribs. I'm not sure why. I don't usually eat that sort of thing. It was partially because, when I asked the server about a couple of the other, more appealing items, she said there would be a 25 minute wait for those. I was really hungry so made the speedier choice. It probably wouldn't have made much difference. The ribs came quickly, that was good. A generous amount of them, a baked potato, deep fried yucca patties, all on a bed of popcorn. Yes, popcorn! Unadorned at that. No butter, no salt. Plain old popcorn. They eat a lot of it in Colombia and Ecuador. Yet another carb and further evidence of the highly evolved cuisine. With a liberal application of lime and aji (hot sauce) it was edible.
When I returned from that sumptuous meal, one of the housekeepers met me at my room, a hot water bottle and a bottle of drinking water in hand. She tucked the hot water bottle into the foot of my bed, turned down the covers, drew the curtains and bid me a good night. In the morning there was a fine breakfast with freshly squeezed juice, fruit, eggs, rolls and good, strong Colombian coffee. If you're ever in Pasto.......



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