During our stay in Salento, we met an American from Bend, Oregon, who had been running “Brunch”, a small restaurant with home base food like waffles, burgers and burritos. He just happened to tap into the fact that Colombia has a serious peanut butter deficit. Peanut butter can only be found very occasionally, and when it is, it’s usually something like Jiffy, or Peter Pan or some other hydrogenated oil filled representation. Well, the owner of Brunch roasts Colombian peanuts and makes and sells muy excellente peanut butter…travelers to Salento should stop into Brunch and buy at least a few containers of Brunch’s peanut butter.
Anyhow, I digress. Mike, from Brunch suggested that we stop in the city of Buga on our way to Cali to eat his friend’s pizza and sample some the hostel’s microbrews, Holy Water Ale.
On the Way to Buga, we surprised the kids and stopped at the Parque Natural Del Cafe, where we rode rollercoasters, drove bumpercars, and ate popcorn and ice cream. Marco continued to talk about it days later, ranking his 5 favorite rides in order.
We made it to Hostel Buga, where the pizza was excellent, and the beer may have been better.
Our room for the night was situated between the restaurant and the kitchen. On weekends, people wait until at least 9 to go out for dinner. We found ourselves, coming and going to and from the communal shower, half naked, zig zagging between the kitchen staff. The heat was so intense we had no choice but to sleep with the windows wide open despite the mosquitos, all ready for the buffet of 4 bodies too hot to use any covers.
The following morning, we visited the church in the town square. While inside the church, Marco pointed to Jesus on the cross and said “who’s that guy?”. I told him it was Jesus on the cross, to which Marco replied “that doesn’t even look like him!”. Darin suggested that maybe as a result of his previous concussions, he gained some insight that we never have.
Big cities are a bit complicated. With any city, we can’t stay in our van, and can’t leave it parked on the street. We have to secure overnight parqueadores with appropriate height clearance, which are hard to come by because everyone drives smaller vehicles. We also usually spend a lot of time trying to find lodging, in the form of hostels, which are acceptable and affordable to stay in as a family.
Because of our city challenges, we considered bypassing Cali but decided we should check it out. After the usual routine, we found a stylish french hostel, Hostal Todasky, where we made a snack and walked to the local green space. Here, the kids spent their time in a large tree, testing how high up they could climb and jump without succumbing to multiple fractures.
Hostal Todasky was in the neighborhood of San Antonio, not far from the Centro. It was the type of neighborhood I would choose to live in if I were a big city dweller. It was quiet but not drab or boring, the cafes and restaurants seemed small but quality driven. The streets were short and looked after by the mountain at its’ feet.
Cali is known for its’ salsa and even during the day, the city breathes a rhythm that can be felt all around. Salsa dancers go out at 11 or midnight without children and they wear clothes that aren’t found in a bag that’s travelled 7 weeks in a Eurovan. Salsa being out, we walked down to a beyond budget Italian Trattoria, where we succulently wined and dined ourselves while Marco slept on Darin and Simon slept in his chair. It was delightful.
The following morning, we hiked up to Los Tres Cruces, the three large crosses on the mountain, which overlooks the city. It was a hot and sticky climb, half of which was over large boulders. We had a blast.
Pance is a small town, in what’s analogous to “cottage country”. Cali residents drive to Pance on weekends and flock to the river to frolic and cool off.
We’d seen on another blog (To The Next Journey, TTNJ) that if we drove to the very end of the road through Pance, we’d find Reserva Castellana. When we got toward the end of the twisted and rutted road, we could see the closed gate for the finca in question. The kids and I, outside the van watched Darin attempt to drive it up the “driveway” 4-5 times, while slipping, skidding, and tearing up the yard.
After about 40 minutes and with 4 people pushing, we finally made it up to our camp spot. The outdated, amazingly located finca was taken care of by one man, who loves it to pieces but can’t keep up with the work. Our 2 nights and three days at Reserva Castellana were spent without seeing anyone other than the man who ran the place and his esposa. We shared a meal and wine with them one night, and in return they loaded us up with limes, lemons, and bananas freshly picked on the property.
We swam in the river, read, did laundry, and cooked chicken cacciatori and chorizo over an open fire. The kids spent their time in the swing set and “ butt sliding” down the diverted river flowing over the slanted hill. It was beautiful, secluded, and relaxing at its’ core. The local dogs, once again, with the help of a few leftovers, guarded our camp day and night.
We left early in the morning, with the collective mission of safely making it across the border into Ecuador. Over the past 7 weeks, as we’ve made our way through Colombia, we’ve repeatedly been warned against driving in the department of Narino (between Cali and the border) anytime after dark. We’ve learned that despite the seemingly short kilometers on the map, Colombian roads make for unpredictable travel times.
After driving 300km, 9 hours later, at sunset, we pulled into a national park parking lot overlooking El Volcan Galinas. The security guard (and his dog) made us feel very welcome as we made our camp and cooked rice, beans, and veggie burritos. We fell asleep reading the never-ending story, all while appreciating the cool breeze that we’d missed in and around Cali.
We woke up at dawn, to the chirping of birds that sounded like they were intentionally trying to crack us up. We enjoyed our first cup of Don Elias’ coffee. We’ve wondering why we didn’t buy much more of it. For the sake of saving time, we stopped in Pasto for breakfast. Simon went to the restroom and came out saying “that’s a very cool bathroom! It has toilet paper, it’s clean, and it has an air freshener!”. He’s becoming so easy to please, just a little toilet paper will do it.
We drove to the border, and stopped in the seedy border town of Ipiallis, where we bought some last minute Colombian goods and got the kids a few empanadas con pollo.
Unlike the very pissed off and unprepared french travelers next to us, “Ils sont tous des connards!”, after some time, red tape and several stamps, we crossed into Ecuador. As we crossed over, we were stopped by the Ecuador border patrol army, who wanted to know what was on top of the van. Knowing that produce is a no-no, I conveniently mentioned the surf board and the camping gear but forgot to mention the giant bag of bananas and citrus fruit that our Castellana amiga had given us.
Within a few kilometers, we were engulfed by the dramatic Andes.