Thursday, September 13, 2007

Roadside Donkey

AKA: Visiting Popayán

This past weekend a small contingent of us import teachers embarked on our first trip outside of Cali to a smaller city about three hours south called Popayan. This city is notable for embracing and attempting to preserve its colonial roots and architecture.

Our journey began when our hired driver, Patricia, showed up to pick all eight of us up at 9am Saturday morning. It cost us $300,000 (about $35 USD each) for her to drive us there and back. As an added "bonus,"Patricia brought along her five year old daughter, Isabella. I believe the trip was so inexpensive up front because there was an "Isa-Tax" involved. This little girl was adorable, shy, and cute...for the first five minutes. Then began the hitting, punching, screaming, biting, and even taking off her belt and whipping people part. All were subjected to this hostility fairly evenly, except for Josh, whom she took a fancy to right from the start and would not let anyone else sit next to her but him. She called Marco "ugly" (feo) and Josh "fat" (gordo...although it should be pointed out that "gordo" or "Gordito/a" is a form of flattery...yes it means "little fatty" but it is supposedly endearing). She also made up a song about Matt that went something like: "Mateo manderino! Mateo manderino!" Thank goodness there is someone here who has redder hair than I; songs comparing me to an orange, I can do without!

(I am happy to report that I was able to temporarily calm this devil-child by entrancing her, only briefly, by teaching her the only Spanish song I know, "Mi Cuerpo" as taught to me by music teacher extraordinaire, Miss Sarah Norvold. Thanks, dear!)

We passed the time, in between evading Isa's assaults, by looking for certain pre-determined sights along the way, including fire, a black and white dog, an iguana, roadkill, a tricycle, a mechanic actually working, and a roadside donkey, and acquiring "points." It helped to pass the time. It was amazing the number of fires and non-black and white dogs there were. (Fires mostly because we were in the sugar cane region of Colombia and they burn the cane before harvesting it.) Surprisingly enough, donkeys along highways are not a common sight.

After three loooooong hours we finally de-vanned in front of our hotel, a nice open-air Spanish-style villa. After checking in, the first order of business was to find food. While looking for a restaurant, we noticed right away that the streets are very narrow and the buildings come right up to the sidewalks. They are also all white, save for a few rogue pink or tan ones...rebels. Apparently the white is reminiscent of the colonial days and is encouraged in much of the city. The whole town had a very European-village feel to it with most streets looking like wide white alleyways.

We found a nice little cafe and had a cheap lunch of soup, jugo de piña (pineapple juice), and rice and chicken...all for about $1.50 USD each. Crazy. Some of the girls went back to the hotel to nap and then rest of us went exploring. The amount of churches in Popayán was impressive. It seemed every block had one and prestigious old cathedrals were also very abundant. All you needed to do was look at the skyline for the next steeple and head in that direction. Unfortunately, most of them were not open the first time we walked by. Eventually, we made our way to the top of a hill that has been made a park and lookout point. There were a lot of Colombian tourists and locals relaxing and hanging out all over the park so, as they say, when in Rome... The view was amazing and the air was so much cleaner than Cali we sat in the grass and played cards for a couple hours before heading back to the hotel to rouse the girls.

On the way back it appeared the streets were busier than before and we soon discovered that Saturday evening mass is quite popular in Popayán. Some of the services had already begun but when we found one that hadn't, we snuck inside briefly to admire the art and architecture inside. It is incredible to gaze up and admire that people actually built these massive spaces before the advent of modern machinery. It's incredible!

A teacher back at school had recommended favorite restaurant so, after picking up the girls, we headed to the Italian district of town...yes, there is a "little Italy" of sorts in Popayán. I don't know why but a small section is festooned with Italian flags and home to dozens of pizzerias. The restaurant we ended up at serves a mean six course meal...although spread out over three and a half hours, ensuring you get your fill of wine. ;) The meal was delicious and ended up costing more than the van-fare to get there but definitely worth it!

After dinner we found a little salsatecha, had a few drinks, danced a few dances, and then realized we were all old-balls and needed our beds. We agreed to pass the blame on to Isa for exhausting us too early.

The next morning we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast of eggs, mango juice, arepas (cornbread disks), and cafe con leche, and headed out for some more church-seeking and general walking in circles for a few more hours. At one point we ended up at a park in the city center where I indulged in some of the grossest ice cream I've ever have. They pretty much put the leftover scrapings of a bunch of tubs of ice cream together into one tub and created a sort of ice cream goulash. This is not an exaggeration. Sadly, I was hungry and ate the entire thing...

Later, we checked out of the hotel, met Patricia (and Isabella...), and headed home. We attempted to play our "Eye Spy" game again, but ended up falling asleep instead. Ten bucks says we passed a donkey on the roadside...


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