Once we arrived in our hotel, Hospederia Los Cristales, we got a (cold) shower and got ready for dinner. When we were about to leave, the owner arrived so we asked him for tips for a good restaurant. But he also warned us about something we were completely unaware of.
Apparently the ELN had announced a “paro armado“, which meant it was not recommended to travel as they were trying to paralyze the country to show their strenght. To make matters worse, they are apparently quite strong exactly in the area where we are, the Cauca, and that day they had burnt a truck in the road we were planning to cycle tomorrow.
The hotel owner said we should wait until Monday. We checked online and some sources were saying everything was over by Saturday morning, while others said they had announced an extension until Monday. To be on the safe side, we decided to stay 2 more days in Santander, even though it didn’t have much to offer. At least it was an introduction to a more rural Colombia and the food.
Susanne was still not 100% happy, even waiting until Monday, so we decided to skip the bit to Popayán (exactly where the truck had been burnt) and pick up a bus. I went to the bus station but most were minibuses with no luggage room for bikes (distance is just 90km, less than 2 hours). One guy tried to charge me 450k COP (about 100 EUR) to carry just the 4 of us in his bus. So the bus was not an option. I decided to look for a laundry place to wash our clothes and then I saw several guys with pickups waiting for business, so I asked them. We needed a double cabin to accomodate all of us, so they put me in contact with another guy on the phone, Jose Leandro, that could do it for 200k COP (45 EUR), so we had a deal. He didn’t want to drive until Monday anyway, so that was fine.
We took the weekend to buy some runners for Simon, visit the local market, and buy all kinds of exotic fruits we had to google how to eat.
On Sunday I asked the guy for confirmation, but after being quite active in the morning, he stopped answering my messages. Maybe he had found a better customer? We asked in the hotel for taxi contacts but they said Monday was still not safe and we should stay until Tuesday. I checked online and the ELN themselves had said the protest had already finished on Saturday and the extension till Monday was already a lie. So obviously in the hotel they were trying to keep us there as long as they could, which was disappointing.
I finally managed to call Leandro in the evening and he told me a dog made him fall from his motorbike and he was in hospital. But a contact of his, Orlando, another taxi driver, would take me. So I called Orlando and he quickly accepted.
Orlando picked us up on Monday at 7am as planned, but his radio said the road was blocked by two vans being crossed on the road. We would have to wait until it got cleared. We went to the bakery, had a proper breakfast, and went to the outside of Santander where many other buses, taxis and private cars were waiting for news.
And then it happened. It was the closest thing to a Le Mans start I have ever seen. Someone got news via whatsapp that the road was open, and everyone run to their cars and raced up the road to avoid traffic. We quickly followed and soon we were in Popayán. We saw a lot of military on the road, specially around Mondomo, and also plenty of Venezuelan migrants walking along the road on their way to Ecuador.
In Popayán we went directly to the bus station. I wanted to see the city, promised to be the best colonial city in Colombia after Cartagena. But we had wasted some days in Santander. And we knew well before that we did not want to ride the part between Popayán and Pasto. It has huge climbs, the road is very busy with no hardshoulder, and it used to be considered a guerrilla area in former times, which after our recent experience we did not want to test.
Luckily, a bus was about to leave and would carry our bikes for free. We had to pay 40k COP each though. And they didn’t tell me they were using a mini-bus, a VW Crafter, so I had to dismantle a lot of things on the bikes (both wheels, turn handlebars, …) and play Tetris in order for everything to fit in!
The ride was long, about 6 hours, with just a break in some restaurant in the middle of nowhere. But we had a good place at the front, all of us together, and the kids loved the music and slept a bit, so it was not too bad. The landscape was amazing but also very tough, and with all the traffic and the bad road, we were happy we chose to go by bus.
Pasto is a big city surrounded by mountains, and we arrived nearly at dark. Luckily we had booked our hotel nearby the bus terminal so we didn’t have to go far. The Hotel HG was nice and quite an improvement comparing to Santander, with hot water for a start and windows to the street. As usual we got our room in the highest floor, no lift.
After a quick dinner in a place near the hotel we went quickly to sleep.