We crossed the border without problems. It was drizzling and cool. We had lunch in Ipiales and took advantage to visit, along with other pilgrims, the Sanctuary of Las Lajas, a church that surprisingly appears in the middle of rocks on a dizzying bridge in the canyon of the Guáitara river. “The interior is all made up with the rock itself, cut into slabs. In one of them is an oil image of the Virgin, the water runs down; rocky, bear walls; with the forest all around and all its shape it is presented with wild majesty ” describes Manosalva Perez, president of Colombia in the early twentieth century. Perfect description. The church is neo-Gothic style which is not the style that I like most (following the pattern of my grandmother) but the place is unique to be in silence and admire.
We went on in the thick and green path to Pasto. In every curve there were soldiers that appeared to accompany us in various stages of the journey. As we passed they made the OK sign with the thumb. It means that the way is clear. This area, inland and hidden, is taken by the FARC and drug traffickers, partners today. We were told that the guerrillas ideals are reduced today to power and money. Hard 90 decade is left behind but the fight still goes on. Uribe’s military approach evolved to more diplomat Santos, many believe that the search for dialogue and peace is not working and that the guerrillas gain ground again. How sad to see such a rich country, open, smiling and hospitable people suffering from this disease that it is so difficult to eradicate.
Along the shaded and lush road with the mountains covered with patches of varying shades of green (the typical patchwork quilts), we passed villages full of happy people, children, fruit carts and movement. No trace of the shadow of fear. We arrived at night and stayed in the house of Mariano, from the Lazos de Amor movement that once again opened their doors. We had a wonderful meal with Gaby and Johnathan who told us about this cold, quiet town full of churches, called the “theological city.” The next day, Johnathan generously invited us to try a real local breakfast of chicken soup, a plate of beans, egg, fried banana, juice and fruit. We tried the cheese fritters and quimbolin, wet pudding made with corn flour, butter, egg, cheese, raisins and wrapped in achira leaves. Delicious!
In the last stretch of road, something went wrong with the trunk, Johnathan brought a friend who solved the problem quickly. With that sorted out and a big hug we left Popayan, the white city. We had been warned not do the road at night. (We learnt days after that the guerrillas cut it in retaliation for the death of several guerrilleros).
We arrived at dusk at the home of Javier parents, a virtual friend from Bogotá who introduced us to his loving family. We visited the city full of white houses with tiled roofs. We ate delicious Pipián tiny fried empanadas and discovered the lulo juice, a delight that comes with us throughout the trip. From Popayan, we continued to marvel at Cali route with beautiful mountains, jungle forests and flowers. Colombian tolls began to multiply and make a small hole in our pocket. One after another, they appeared without mercy. It is a great mystery the multiplication of these checkpoints on routes that were often being built or lasted only a few kilometers.
We arrived at Cali under a stormy sky. Greeted Pilar, brisk, with a contagious smile and great generosity. She escorted us to the house of his sister (who at that time was working) together with her niece Valentina, 16 years old, who in two minutes had earned the trust of the children. We ate delicious fried pies with rice when Liliana arrived, a wonderful hostess, as nice as Pilar and we had an interesting and gay talk. Valentina gave us a salsa class and, exhausted, we went to sleep. The next day, we visited the zoo in tropical Cali, near a river that reminded me of our Córdoba. The kids were fascinated. Then we strolled through the historic center and the charming colonial district of San Antonio, with low houses and cobbled streets.
That night, after a family meal made of sandwiches with white sauce and black cake with ice cream, cooked by Pilar, she made us the great gift of staying with the kids while Catire and I left for the Tintindeo dancing floor. We arrived early and saw some couples dancing … really bad. mmmm Perhaps this is a place for tourists who come looking for local flavor ?? (Like us …) but half an hour later the place was full of swaying hips, steps that bewildering tangle with harmony, twists and turns that leave you mesmerized. How well they dance, women and men … The couples go to the dancing floor and when the music ends they sit and rest while chatting and taking a drink. There were few regular partners, a lot of changing partners this without having any connotation. We hesitated a little bit, but there we were! The music was great. I immediately felt at that Patrick Swayze movie of my adolescence. Far from the level of Colombian born dancing couples I must say we did a good job.
With the flavor of the salsa and the special ambiance given by its people, we left Cali and we entered into the coffee region. The landscapes are amazing. Coffee plants, palm trees, flowering vines and the famous Willis, the colored jeeps typical of this area. The land bursts and scatters life. We arrived at the Finca Miravelez where we had been invited to camp. We arrived at night but the perfumed road between boulevards of pineapple trees was a hint of what we were going to discover the next day. We camped at the foot of a typical house in the area. Wooden galleries with balconies, large windows and painted in white and dark red.
We woke at dawn to prepare the birthday of Carmine. It is a family tradition to make a surprise special breakfast for each birthday. The children had prepared drawings, we had gifts, balloons and a pudding with candies and Rocklets. We awake her with lit candles and her happy smile remained in her face for a long time.
After the celebration we visited the farm, met the pineapple plant that we had never seen and went to greet the owners who were staying in another , modern house with great views. We talked with Jimena and Hernan while the children swam in the pool delighted to appease the heat of the morning.
With a lot of fresh pineapples we headed to the Park Cafe, a theme park full of roller coasters to celebrate the birthday number 3 of the youngest of the family. Pure adrenaline. The location is impressive, with panoramic views of Quindio. The children went to all the games several times. We also went to some of them leaving the lungs but not the stomach, thankfully. Carmin entrenched in the carousel and Mia snorted indignantly when she was not allowed to climb to some frightening roller coaster.
Completely exhausted we arrived at Manizales by the narrow and picturesque roads of the coffee route. Tali and Marco were waiting for us. They are Silvia’s friends, a Colombian who lives in Vancouver and took to heart to show us her country . Tali and Marco home is built into the mountain, full of palm trees with views of snowy peaks. A dream. They decided to change the busy life of Bogota by this paradise where they can return home for lunch, take their daughters to school and bike on weekends along these amazing ways. We arrived straight to Marco’s birthday and were included in the family celebration like we were old friends. Rice with seafood, chocolate cake and we shared a lot of talk. The kids make instant friendship with Susy and Mary as if they had known all along.
We approached the crossing to Panama, big moment of the trip. We thought that there was a ferry that would cross Francisca and us, but a few weeks before we learned that it will not work until November. Without this alternative we would have to send the kombi by ship and we would have to go by plane. We review all possibilities and this was the safest but full of bureaucracy and extra-expensive…. it’s amazing that the passage between these two countries is so difficult. We decided to go straight to Bogota and skip Medellin that we will visit in another trip. We needed to arrive early to Cartagena. The road to the capital was long, not in kilometers, but in curves. Francisca is already accustomed to zigzagging up and down, leaving at every turn a landscape of postcard. Already dark and at the Bopgotá rush hour we arrived at our destination: the home of the Mazzini Perrota made us feel once again as a family.