We drive south from Manizales, stopping for a couple of days in Calí, and then continuing south to the university town of Popayán. It’s a small city with a population of approximately 250,000. While Calí is at 1,000 meters, Popayán is at 1,760 meters (5700′), making it a much more comfortable city, both in climate and size. Popayán was occupied by the Spanish in 1537, and was a frontier town during the Spanish gold rush in the mid-to-late 1700’s. The town retains the spanish colonial architecture, and is often called ‘the white city’ because of the many whitewashed walls.
We arrived in Popayán in early afternoon, and it almost immediately started to rain, and then it rains harder. People are trapped under overhangs and in doorways, cafés become refuges, and foot traffic in town halts except for an unfortunate few who desperately need to be somewhere, and who run from shelter to shelter in a false hope that they can stay somewhat dry.
Afterwards several us go for a walk around town. We order coffees at a Juan Valdez coffee shop on the main plaza. Juan Valdez shops are an attempt by the Colombia coffee growers to promote ‘premium’ colombian coffee à la Starbucks. We’ve been told that the Juan Valdez shops are horrendously expensive, but my vanilla iced cappuccino costs $3… not an outrageous price for a country that seems at least as pricey as the United States. And it’s delicious.
While the others drink their coffee I wander around the square, fascinated by the dozens of epiphytic bromeliads that have fallen from the trees in the rain storm. Then range in size from a few centimeters across to a few meters. I look up and find that the trees are heavy with these non-parasitic parasites. These plants are considered beautiful exotics back in the states, and they’re laying everywhere. Each looks like a carefully-composed bouquet that has been tossed to the ground, and I start taking photos.
A small stream (the Río Molino) runs along between downtown Popayán and the El Callejón neighborhood to the north. There are two bridges across this stream. The tiny Puente de la Custodia was built to 1713 to allow priests to visit the sick in the poorer northern neighborhood. Around 1870 the larger Puente del Humilladero was built, an impressive long, 11-arch bridge that became a major entrance to the city.
Below the Puente del Humilladero a woman is singing, and couples dance on the wet stones of the plaza beneath an arch. Dan, Sorin, and I spend some time looking down from the bridge, watching the gentle sway of hips as couples of all ages salsa below.
I take a few more photos walking back to the hostel as night falls. Popayán is an entirely charming city, and I wish I could have stayed there longer.