Saturday, October 29, 2005

Popayán, Colombia

Well, I've moved 75 miles (a two-hour drive) down the highway, to the picturesque town of Popayán. Enrique recommended I stop here: "more culture."

Just as I was packed and getting on the motorcycle, he returned from an errand. I was able to thank him for the wonderful hospitality. "Con mucho gusto!" His emphatic reply. (I believe it's "you're very welcome!") He clearly has a big heart, and has created a very special atmosphere at Pensión Stein.

Soon after finding a little hotel, the "Los Portales" the clouds let loose rain and lightning. Good timing. This simple and well-maintained establishment is a bargain at 25,000 pesos, around $11.00 for the night.

After unloading everything in the room, I stepped into the adjacent comedor and asked when they would serve dinner. One of the women, who seemed to be the proprietor, kind of cornered me, and leaning a little bit too close, wanted to know all about my trip. Then she asked about exchange rates and how many pesos I had. ("This is going in a strange direction.") She pulled out $30 in American currency, which at first I thought she was trying to tell me was counterfeit. At length I realized she wanted to exchange the dollars for pesos. She was unable to do it in town. I couldn't help, having only about $5 worth of pesos.

I went out for a walk, and to visit the ATM. On the town square, there are three ATMs, all doing a very brisk business (I assume since the local economy is pretty much based on effectivos, cash, not credit cards.) None of them worked, and at the last, I got a message that the system (the "Star" system?) was down. I have about $5 in pesos left. That won't get me to Ecuador!

Around the corner from my hotel is an internet café, with a 1,000 peso (less than 50 cents) per hour rate. Continued this morning's monologue ("monoblog").

At 6:30, I moved my motorcycle into a compound with brick walls shared with adjoining buildings. A free-standing wall is topped with shards of broken bottles set in concrete, a common security measure seen south of the U.S. border.

The ramshackle dirt compound is guarded by a man, who with his family of four (or more?) live in a tiny shack just inside the gate.

I went back to the hotel comedor and reported I had no luck with the ATM; could I pay in pesos? When the woman asked how many pesos I had, I showed her the 11,000. "Rico!" (Rich.) That is enough for dinner, she said.

I was served a big bowl of a chicken soup, a plate of grilled beef in gravy, rice and something resembling a potato (but not a potato), with an excellent salad, chili and garlic salsa and sweet tea. With a "Pepsi" added, the total was 4,500 pesos, or less than $2. Amazing.

Went for another walk later. This historic downtown district was alive with people out walking, shopping, visiting restaurants and bars. It feels very comfortable. I continue to be surprised how warm and easy-going the Colombian people seem.

The ATMs were still not working for me. I'm back at the internet café, but it's time to wrap it up. I hope to have an early start tomorrow, and get close to the Ecuador border, almost 200 miles south.

1 comment:

Drew Kampion said...

Great description of Popayan, Tim. Let us know when you're safely in Quito!