The Santa Marta airport was surprisingly beautiful, set against a small patch of beach about 20 minutes past Rodedero. I was hoping to take a taxi so I could linger a little longer in Taganga but when I heard the price I quickly finished packing and headed down to catch the bus. The flight stopped in Bogota where they kicked me out of the secure area even though I had a connecting flight. Understandable as they only have 10 very small gates. We were off on schedule and I enjoyed my second nap of the day.
I spied out the window as we were landing to see scattered houses all with giant swimming pools.They say that there's a lot of money from the cocaine trade. I guess so. I only have my small bag with me so I headed straight out of the airport to find a collectivo (shared taxi) into town. I was squished in between 2 large men in the backseat and I held on for dear life as the driver navigated the windy mountainous twists and turns. The mountain scenery here is beautiful and the small city of Pasto is evident from its huge churches and cathedral rising up out of the town.
We were all dropped off in the center of town at Plaza de Nariño. Luckily my hostel was only a few blocks away. The hostel looks so ordinary on the outside, but inside are 3 stories of relatively nice rooms circling an open air courtyard. Even better, hot showers! I haven't seen one of them in over 2 months. I took a short walk around town to find food and orient myself. This place reminds me of Arequipa, Peru for some reason. There were a few casinos on the main square. Instead of offering free alcoholic drinks they offer free tang-like drinks and ham sandwiches, ugh. After losing $3 I decided to call it quits and hit the hay.
The next morning was church morning. I found a small restaurant willing to sell me roast chicken at 8m (I love Colombia) and headed out to see some of these famous Pasto churches. For the most part the city looks quite modern but when you come across one of the mammoth cathedrals you instantly realize how old the town is. I decided to stop in for a minute to a nearby Internet cafe where I received an excellent surprise: a school wants me to come in for an interview. Yay! What a great start to the day!
In the afternoon I headed to Laguna de la Cocha, a lake about 30 minutes from Pasto. The LP lists the wrong address for the collectivos but luckily a traveler turned me on the where I had to go. I had to wait half and hour for the car to fill but that's why I always carry my book with me. The small town by the lake is a strange Colombian-Swiss hybrid and all the men run around touting for boat trips to the nearby island sanctuary. A boat was leaving just as I arrived but they told me I had to wait for the next one. Hey, how about you just charter a boat just for you, silly tourist. I told them that I wanted to join a group and was willing to wait. I headed to a nearby restaurant, ordered a beer and started practicing Chinese characters.
Some locals chatted me up and after an hour I decided to play my hand at negotiations. I offered half of the price of a boat as it was just me and the guys seemed to agree and told me to wait, and wait and wait and wait. All of a sudden, a family showed up and climbed in a boat. There was still room so I asked the boatman if I could join. He handed me a life-vest and pointed me to sit in front. As I was sitting down the guys on the dock whispered to him and all of a sudden the boat could only accommodate 4 so I needed to get out. Bullshit. I just kept asking why and telling him that I didn't understand and after a few minutes of this abuse he pushed off from the dock and we were off.
The boat ride to the island was only about 15 minutes along the waterway between tall reeds. We got off the boat and visited a small chapel before heading on the path across the cloud forest island to see the view from the other side. It was a beautifully lush and energizing 30 minute walk and then the boatman carried us back to town. There was only one collectivo left but I took a chance that he'd wait and went in to have some lake trout that one of the locals had been telling me about. What a great meal and the senora whipped it up in about 10 minutes. Not sure if that is good or bad as food in Colombia usually takes the better part of an hour to prepare. Anyways, when I walked out the collectivo was still there and he was itching to get back to Pasto so returned with just me in the car.
I talked to a few travelers and headed off to bed as I was getting up early the next morning to head south for 2 hours to Ipiales, see the Lajas Santuary and then head 8 hours north to Popayan. The mountain scenery from Popayan to Ipiales was everything the guide book described and more. And because it was so early the bus arrived in Ipiales in record time. I walked though town to the collectivo stand an within 5 minutes we were on our way to the sanctuary. When we arrived I walked along the obvious path lined with stalls selling various crap. The path wound left and right and I was ready to give up until I turned one last corner and there it was. Definitely a heart-stopper. Who would think to build such a glorious thing. The waterfall and scenery around the sanctuary have me at a loss for words. Just beautiful.
8 hours to Popayan. Can't wait.