Market Day – Silvia, Colombia

Tuesday is market day in the small town of Silvia which is about two hours from Popayán in southern Colombia. If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, look elsewhere. If you’re interested in seeing why markets remain a vital way of life for so many people in Colombia, check it out.

Sylvia Colombia market day

Women heading to the Tuesday market in Silvia, Colombia. You can see the two distinct types of hats that Guambiano women wear.

Exploring the traditional market in Silvia, Colombia

Every week, sleepy Silvia fills up with Guambiano indigenous people who come to “town” from their nearby villages to sell what they’ve grown or made and buy what they need in the very traditional market. Some tour companies bring travelers to Silvia to see the weekly market, but we only saw one or two other travelers during our exploration of the market.

Colorful Potatoes Sylvia Colombia market

Potatoes and tubers for sale included those hot pink stunners which are naturally that color.

What we did see was plenty of fruit and vegetables (including long, thin, impossibly hot pink tubers), meat, cheap clothes, hardware, medicinal plants, and all kinds of other everyday needs.

fortune parakeets Sylvia Colombia market

For a few pesos these birds will pick your fortune out of a drawer.

Perhaps not an every day need, but interesting nonetheless, were the parakeets that, for a fee, will choose a fortune for you. Also intriguing: the proliferation of glow-in-the-dark shoelaces on offer. We were looking for something much more mundane: a sheath for our machete. However, they are all too short, perhaps sized for the local population.

Guambiano indigenous Sylvia Colombia market

Traditional skirts are still commonly worn by Guambiano men in Colombia.

As usual, the shoppers were the most interesting part of the market in Silvia. Around the world it’s increasingly unusual to see men in traditional dress. Many have moved to jeans and t-shirts even in places where women and girls still wear traditional clothing. But in Silvia we saw many Guambiano men in traditional bright blue, heavy, sarong-like wrap-around skirts.

Woman Sylvia Colombia market

Traditional dress for Guambiano women in Colombia is pretty uniform: dark skirt, woven bag, hat, blue shawl. Many women personalize their look with glow-in-the-dark shoelaces.

Guambiano women wear flowing black skirts with thin bands of color. Many men and women also wore tiny, rigid, wool bowlers perched on their heads. Some women opted for pancake flat, woven reed hats that looked like flattened tortilla warmers. Most women also wore work boots, often with glow-in-the-dark shoelaces.

Sylvia Colombia market day

Socializing in the central square is a big part of market day in Silvia, Colombia.

Older Guambiano women, whose hands were perpetually busy spinning wool, also had unusual short haircuts that gave them poufy bobs. Many women also seemed to be in a contest to see who could wear the most white beaded necklaces.

Men Colombia market day

Many Guambiano men in Silvia, Colombia still wear traditional clothing including blue skirts, bowler hats, and scarves.

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Meet the Border Dicks!

We’ve crossed 58 borders so far on our Trans-Americas Journey road trip through the Americas. And while 90% of the border officials we’ve come across have been pros, the other 10% have been, as we say in the travel business, border dicks. They come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few of our favorites.

Meet the border dicks!

The Career Dick – Possibly the most common border dick of all, the Career Dick is usually old and fat (the truth hurts). He or she probably sleeps in his or her uniform and boasts about their authority to all who will listen, but lost any interest in actually doing the job many, many years ago.

Problems at Argentina border crossing

The Flaccid Dick – On the border between Bolivia and Argentina we encountered a Flaccid Dick, that is: a border official who talks a big game but, when push comes to shove, doesn’t have what it takes to follow through. Our Flaccid Dick insisted that we had to remove the entire contents of our truck and put said contents through an airport-style X-ray machine. We did that for about an hour until the Flaccid Dick was over ruled by another border official and the very real limits of his power were made clear. That’s when the Flaccid Dick usually turns into the even more offensive and potentially dangerous Frustrated Dick.

Peru border crossing wait

The Out-To-Lunch Dick – Not all border dicks are male (though the majority of border officials we’ve encountered are). The first time we entered Peru we were stuck at the border for more than an hour waiting for the woman in charge to return from her hours-long lunch break.

The Pompous Dick – The border official at a crossing from Honduras into El Salvador really was just doing his job and we really did inadvertently violate Central American border rules resulting in not being allowed to enter El Salvador. But did he have to be so obnoxious about it? Turns out, yes. That’s what made him a Pompous Dick.

USA border crossings

The Picky Dick – You will not believe the hoops we had to jump through (cash, forms, reservations, letters of recommendation, inoculations) to get past Picky Dick border officials in Bolivia because of our US passports…

The Know-Nothing Dick – It is alarmingly common that customs officials do not speak to immigration officials (and vice versa). That lack of communication, and a world-class Know-Nothing Dick customs agent, created infuriating chaos during a crossing into Ecuador from Colombia. After purchasing visas at the Ecuadorean consulate in a nearby Colombian border town, we headed for the border. The problem: the consulate agent, perhaps distracted by the strong earthquake which occurred in the midst of our transaction, failed to write the number of days on both visas after they were stamped into our passports. One visa clearly noted 90 days while the other had no days noted. Despite the fact that the visa we purchased is, by law, a 90 day visa, the customs official at the border would not let our truck into Ecuador with us, claiming he did not know how many days to give the truck because our visas were unclear. After hours of explaining Ecuadorean immigration and visa law to the Know-Nothing Dick we finally begged the extremely reluctant head of immigration at the border to intervene. In what may be a world first, representatives of these two agencies spoke (so awkward) and we were finally let into Ecuador with a glare for good measure.

South American border crossings

The Chicken Little Dick – Borders are tense places under the best of circumstances. Add in a Chicken-Little-Dick border official, like the customs woman we dealt with while exiting Peru and entering Chile where delays caused by TWO tire blowouts on the road to the border had resulted in overstaying our visa and truck importation permit by 14 hours. But surely there’s a way to overcome such an unavoidable and inadvertent breaking of the rules, no? Well, yes. But the Chicken-Little-Dick border agent had to make it as nerve-wracking as possible with her end of the world attitude, pointing out that under Peruvian law any importation permit overstay gives officials the right to confiscate our vehicle. Blood pressure rising, we spent two days rectifying the problem with Peruvian officials, employing a time-tested recipe of begging, Spanish language documentation, and the help of local businessmen. Unbeknownst to us, the Chicken-Little-Dick border official was reprimanded for her handling of our situation, so when we returned to the border with our papers in order she had transformed into a particularly sour Mopey Dick.

The Half-Hearted Dick – During a crossing from Peru to Chile, a Chilean customs official made a lot of noise about needing to see EVERYTHING in our truck. Lucky for us he was a Half-Hearted Dick and almost immediately lost the will to follow through on his threats and we passed without unpacking.

Have you come across other types of border dicks in your travels? Tell us about them in the comments section, below.

Central American border crossings


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Where We’ve Been: April 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Chile & Peru

We started the month of April 2017 in the coastal city of Iquique in Northern Chile. From there we headed north through the Andes and the Atacama desert before crossing into Peru where we ended the month in Ica. In total, our road trip traveled 2,203 miles (3,545 km) in April and you can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck via the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Sabancaya Volcano erupting Arequipa Colca Canyon Peru

Where we’ve been in April 2017 in Chile & Peru

From the coastal city of Iquique, Chile we headed inland into the Atacama desert and the Andes mountains where we visited some historic saltpeter mining towns, lakes with flamingos, salars (salt flats), hot springs, canyons, and geoglyphs including the Gigante de Atacama (Atacama Giant). It represents a deity that was important for the local inhabitants between 1000 and 1400 AD and, according to Wikipedia, it is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world with a height of 390 feet (119 meters).  Check it out at 8:35 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

Mars Valley Putre Chile

We continued to Putre, a tiny town high in the Andes in the northeast corner of Chile near the Peru and Bolivian borders. From there we explored Lauca National Park and drove to nearly 16,000 feet (4,876 meters) on the flanks of a volcano.Check out the unique scenery of  “Mars Valley” in Lauca National Park (pictured above) at 12:15 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

Next up was Arica, a city on the Pacific in Chile near the Peruvian border. From there we crossed back into Peru and headed to the country’s second largest city, Arequipa. From Arequipa we visited the spectacular Colca Canyon, along the way reaching the highest point we’ve hit so far on a paved highway: 16,109 feet (4,910 meters). We also got an eye-full of the erupting Sabancaya Volcano. Check out its ash plume at 22:08 in our drive-lapse video at the bottom of this post.

After returning to Arequipa we continued north to Ica, the heart of Peru’s wine and pisco region where we ended the month.

Our complete road trip driving route map for March 2017 is below.

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Chile and Peru in April of 2017 via our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera.


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One Night Stands – Popayán, Colombia

We had more one night stands in Popayán than in any other city or town in Colombia. That’s because when you’re traveling to or from the Ecuador border (which we did five times), Popayán is perfectly positioned as a break journey for the night. People rave about the city’s Colonial architecture and the cuisine, so here’s what you need to know about the travel basics in Popayán.

Iglesia San Francisco church - Popoyan, Colombia

Popayán’s San Francisco church.

What to do in Popayán

Some guidebooks gush about the Colonial architecture in Popayán which is primarily white washed, giving the town the horribly overused nickname “The White City.” Some even compare the architecture in Popayán, which dates back to 1537, to that in Cartagena, which is patently ridiculous. We could rattle off a half-dozen Colombian towns that offer more impressive Colonial architecture, but you be the judge.

The white city - Popoyan Colombia street scene

They don’t call Popayán “The White City” for nothing.

There are a number of museums in town, including the Museo Nacional Guillermo Valencia (free, closed Mondays) which is an 18th century building full of memorabilia about this Popayán-born poet. Visit the Casa Museo Guillermo León Valencia (free, closed Mondays) to learn about the life of the poet’s father who was President of Colombia.

The Casa Museo Negret museum of modern art was being refurbished when we were last in Popayán, but it looked promising. And there’s also a religious art museum and a number of churches in town.

Popoyan historic bridges Puente de la Custodia or Puente chiquita 1731

Puente de la Custodia, just one of the charming little bridges in Popayán.

If bridges are your thing you’ll love Popayán which has a few architecturally unique and historically important examples. Visiting them creates a pleasant walking tour.

The nearby Puracé Volcano is the only active volcano in Colombia that you can summit. Doable as a long day trip from Popayán, the volcano is 35 miles (55km) from Popayán and the hike up takes a few hours.

If you like festivals, plan to visit Popayán during Easter when the town puts on a massive Semana Santa celebration. There are annual food festivals as well during which you can sample the local delicacies which always eluded us.

Iglesia Santo Domingo church Popoyan Colombia

Iglesia Santo Domingo in Popayán, Colombia.

Eating in Popayán

In 2005 Popayán was named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO but we usually struggled to find much to eat, especially when we arrived late in the evening as we were hoofing it to or from the border. On our first late-night arrival in Popayán almost everything was closed except carts on the square selling anemic and suspiciously tepid “burgers.”

street food truck Popoyan Colombia

Yes, that food truck says “Pignick.”

Sadly, we came across the “Pignick” cart selling lechona after we’d already eaten at El Churrasco which is located a few blocks off the square. Popayán is not cheap by Colombian standards, but at least the portions of meat and salad at El Churrasco (around COP 16,000 or about US$6) were big and tasty. Tip: order the junior half portion if you’re not starving.

On a subsequent visit we ate at Restaurante Italiano y Pizzeria which has better-than-average pizzas (29,000 COP or about US$10) and a set lunch menu for 7,500 COP (about US$2.60). We really wanted to try the traditional pipian empanadas (stuffed with a peanut-based filling) which are famous at a place called La Fresa, but it was never open when we were in town.

Popoyan street scene colonial architecture white city

Some of the Colonial architecture in Popayán, Colombia dates back to 1537.

Sleeping in Popayan

We always stayed at Hotel Colonial (70,000 COP, or about US$24, for a private double room with bathroom, WiFi, breakfast and parking in a nearby secure lot). As we’ve already noted, Popayán is pricey and this hotel is the best value we found with a safe and roomy parking area. There are some recommended hostels in town, but they don’t have parking.

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