Popayan Postcard

An old guy, with no teeth, told me to follow his dribble. He knew of a bus that was headed to Popayan, one with no suspension and as slow as a snake that has just eaten an ox.

It was the best on offer and he dribbled on my seat, wiped it dry with his dusty shirt and held out his hand as I passed over my fare.

Along the way the scenery was scrubland, valleys filling the void, as we climbed around mountains searching for what may lay around the next blind corner. This was the land of death and destruction, cartoon buses consumed by fire, etched on the billboard of the dusty vacant lot that was disguised as a bus depot, which is where I had arrived earlier that morning.

White Popayan Buildings

One lane traffic with mad macho males and the mountain wind that could whip you over the edge, I told myself I was in that long, slow heavy bus for good reason; it would take longer to descend down that cliff, giving me a few extra precious milliseconds of life.

Looking out the bus window you could see this was a cocaine grower’s paradise – impossible to patrol this wild land of valleys, ridges, jungle, bush and bus wrecks.

The bus eventually descended under the driver's control, raising the temperature and humidity. Nonetheless it had taken most of the day and was descending into darkness by the time I reached Popayan and walked the short distance in the pleasant night air towards a hostel.


White Popayan Buildings

The town was quintessential white cast buildings, plazas and colonial churches; an obligatory stop-over in days past on the route between Cartegena and Quito. I was following the same route on the same prehistoric modes of transport.

Some of the other tourists from the hostel were going jungle, searching for some archaeological ruins. I told them why not just try the bus station but they were determined to find the real thing. They needed some old guy, with no teeth, to lead them I thought. Feeling their unbridled optimism I spent the day with a yoghurt ice-block or three; no teeth required.