Sunday, September 19, 2010

Popayán and Silvia, Colombia

From completely crazy to completely calm, from bars to brassieres, from Cali to Popayan. Another beautiful bus ride through the Colombian country side, filled with awe inspiring mountains and scenes of humanity all around. Popayan is known as “the white city” in Colombia, with Spanish-colonial architecture and mostly white buildings, trimmed with some color and filled with beauty. I stayed at the Hosteltrail Guesthouse ($8/dorm, very nice, very noisy – bring earplugs) and immediately started wandering around this charming and quaint city, which is small in comparison to anywhere I’d been in Colombia thus far. The main square in town, Parque Caldas, is lovely and very European feeling, with cafes and restaurants all around. In fact, Popayan is celebrated for its cuisine, and in 2005 it was named by UNESCO as the first city of gastronomy (relationship of food and culture).

There are chic looking restaurants all around, and at first I was almost hesitant to go into any of them for fear of seeing a huge price tag – but I went to my first meal, lunch at El Morro, and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t quite sure what I was ordering, but with the help of my electronic dictionary I realized after the fact that it was a massive bowl of mango and banana covered in a fresh raspberry puree, an oatmeal raisin torte (clearly fresh and homemade), a salad, Sicilian style eggplant (amazing!) and very fresh squeezed lemonade, all for $2.50. After, a nice cup of black coffee and a good book and I realized I could get very used to life in Popayan!

There is something about the citizens there which seems refined and educated, something classy and timeless about the whole place. I basically spent my days exploring the city, eating, reading and drinking coffee. In a way it felt a bit lazy, but also incredibly good to relax and enjoy life doing things I love so much. Made it a point to eat champus every day at a tiny little place with a miniature door that looked perfectly out onto a side street, creating some sort of enchanting, far away feeling.

In Popayan I didn’t make one friend. I didn’t even catch the name of one person at the hostel I was staying at, although plenty of people were there. Instead I enjoyed the solitude and splendor of the city in my own time, until I couldn’t quite take the charming and romantic feel of it any more.

About an hour outside the city is a town called Silvia, where on Tuesdays the indigenous people from nearby reserves gather for a huge outdoor market. The people are the Guambiano’s, and they are very detectable due to the fact that they wear either black or grey skirt or pants and bright blue ponchos (everything is lined in hot pink). Top that off with ankle high boots and bowler hats, and you’ve got a group of people quite unlike any other. Not only have they survived colonialism, so have their language and customs (and clearly their clothing). For myself, indigenous groups such as this stir something inside of me so alive. The fact that the world is becoming more and more uniform, and specifically more and more “Westernized”, is such a travesty. Beautiful cultures, languages, currencies and customs are disappearing all over the globe as “globalization” becomes the reality. That native peoples still exist is a testament to the human spirit and the irreplaceable qualities that diverse groups have to offer!


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