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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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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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Where We’ve Been: March 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina & Chile

We started the month of March 2017 in the small village of Iruya in the very northern tip of Argentina. From there we crossed into Chile where we ended the month in San Pedro de Atacama. In between, our road trip traveled 1,420 miles (2,285 km) 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.

Jama Pass - Argentina Chile border

Where we’ve been in March 2017 in Argentina & Chile

From Iruya, Argentina we drove south through the Humahuaca Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to Purmamarca which is a town known for its Mountain of Seven Colors (which, honestly, was not as spectacular as southern Peru’s Mountain of Seven Colors).

Purmamarca was our last stop in Argentina, for now. From there we headed west, crossing the border into Chile over the Jama Pass (pictured above). At 14,173 feet (4,320 meters), we thought the Jama Pass would be the high-point on the drive into San Pedro de Atacama, but we were wrong. Very wrong. After the Jama Pass the highway continued to climb, reaching 15,916 feet (4,851 meters) before finally dropping into San Pedro de Atacama via a spectacularly steep and straight road with many runaway truck ramps.

After a week in San Pedro de Atacama, a small town at the foot of the Andes which is the base camp for adventures in the Atacama desert, we headed to the coastal city of Antofagasta to have some work done on our truck at the Salfa Chevrolet dealership there. While in Antofagasta we made a side trip to the Paranal Observatory which offers free weekend tours of its amazing sky watching installation. We also made a stop at the Mano del Desierto sculpture (pictured below).

Mano del desierto - Atacama Desert, Chile

After our truck had been properly pampered, we returned to San Pedro de Atacama to celebrate the 10th road-a-versary of our Trans-Americas Journey in style at explora Atacama. At the end of the month we left San Pedro de Atacama and headed further north up the Pan-American Highway on the Pacific coast to the city of Iquique.

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 Argentina and Chile in March of 2017 via our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

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Where We’ve Been: February 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina

We started February in the northern Argentinean city of Salta and ended the month in the tiny village of Iruya, tucked deep in the Quebrada Humahuaca valley near the Bolivian border. In between we drove 1,822 miles, including a 554 mile loop through a remote section of Argentina’s Puna de Atacama region which was one of the greatest driving routes of our South American road trip so far. Let’s recap, including drive-lapse video at the end of the post which will let you see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck as we traveled (minus the bumps and dust).

Lugana Grande El Penon Argentina Puna

Where we’ve been in February 2017 in Argentina

From Salta, Argentina we returned to Cafayate and the Calchaquí Valley, including a return to the spectacular Quebrada de las Flechas near Cafayate to fly the drone. Then we continued south down Argentina’s famed Ruta 40 to Tafi del Valle, stopping at the pre-Colombian archaeological site of Quilmes along the way. Our February 2017 road trip driving route map is below.

Then we began what turned out to be the most beautiful and remote driving adventure we’ve had since we drove the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) in Alaska from Fairbanks up to the Arctic during the first few months of our Journey nearly 10 years ago.

Salar Vicuna Argentine Puna de Atacama

The loop we did through Argentina’s high-altitude Puna de Atacama was breathtaking both in terms of the scenery and in terms of actual breathing–the air is thin at a consistent altitude between 12,000 and 15,600 feet. We saw very, very few humans in this remote and largely uninhabited region, but there were thousands of vicuña (one is pictured above), thousands of flamingos, and many, many volcanoes to keep us company.

drive Salar del diablo Tolar Grande Argenina

Such beauty came at a price, however, namely hundreds of miles on rough 4×4 tracks that were, at times, a brutal combination of washboarding, ruts, and rocks. Our truck took a beating, including a large and unfixable flat courtesy of a rock we drove over while crossing one of the area’s vast salars (salt flats).

Puna de Atacama Drive

You can follow our Puna road trip driving route on the map at the top of this post–begin at the green star and head up to the red square, passing through El Peñón, Laguna Grande, the Piedra Pomez pumice fields, Antafagasto, Antafalla, Cono Arita (pictured below), and Tolar Grande before ending in San Antonio de Cobres.

Cono Arita Salar de Arizaro Tolar Grande ArgentinaAfter wrapping up our Puna adventure we returned to Salta and then headed to the very northern tip of Argentina to visit the Quebrada de Huamahuaca canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we ended the month in the tiny village of Iruya.

See what we saw out there on the road in Argentina in February 2017 vai our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

 

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Travel Guide to the Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

During our time in Colombia we made a point of traveling to as many of the colonial towns on the country’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio as we could. In the end, we explored 13 of the 17 towns currently on the list. Here’s why you should too.

The Pueblos Patrimonio of Colombia

The Colombian government operates a program called Pueblos Patrimonio which recognizes towns in the country which retain a remarkable amount of Colonial architecture, living history, and thriving traditions. Here’s a travel snapshot of the 13 Pueblos Patrimonio in Colombia that we visited.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Layva Colombia Pueblo Patrimonio

Close to Bogotá, this extremely popular pueblo deserves more than just a day trip.

 

Santa Cruz de Mompox

Iglesia de la Concepcion - Mompox, Colombia

Time stands still, history is alive and an important part of the essence of Colombia is at hand in Mompox (sometimes called Mompos). This riverside stunner is getting easier and easier to reach, so no more excuses.

 

Barrichara

Barichara Colombia

Our choice for most beautiful Colonial town in Colombia. Hands down.

 

Honda

street Honda, Colombia

Honda did not make a good first impression, but we warmed up (a lot) to a great boutique hotel and meaty alfresco dining in this steamy town.

 

Aguadas

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

We spent  just a few hours in Aguadas, but that was enough to get an impressive look at the town’s hat-making heritage and get some video of the artists at work (below).

 

Santa fe de Antioquia

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

A creative vibe and a legit place in Colombian history make Santa fe de Antioquia a top day trip choice from Medellin.

 

Salamina

Salamina Colombia

The weirdest breakfast and tallest palms in Colombia can be enjoyed in and around Salamina.

 

Jardin

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Outdoor adventure and one of the most charming plazas in Colombia await in Jardin.

 

Guadalajara de Buga

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Buga, as it’s usually called, is home of a miracle which pilgrims still come to celebrate. It’s also home to Colombia’s only Bed & Beer hostel with it’s own microbrewery.

 

San Juan Girón

Colonial Giron Colombia

Called the “white city” because of the amount of whitewashed Colonial buildings, Girón offers good food and a charming little hotel as well.

 

Jerico

Jerico, Colombia

Colombia’s first saint and its beloved traditional man bag are both from Jerico. And that’s not all.

 

Guaduas

Guadas, Colom,bia Peublo Patrimonial

We did not spend the night in Guaduas, but we did tour through long enough to appreciate the town’s picturesque church and time-worn cobblestone square.

 

Monguí

Mongui Colombia Pueblo Patrimonial

Altitude, Andes, and a whole lot of soccer balls–all in little Monguí.

 

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