Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Heading to market.
One of my worst nightmares while traveling is losing all our photos. Since we haven’t bought any souvenirs, the photos are our souvenirs. To lose them would be traumatic. So when Catia asked us in San Gil, if we could help her out I agreed. She had had her camera (and wallet) stolen on a bus and lost all her photos. The ones she really wanted back were those of indigenous market in Silvia just outside of Popayan. I promised that if we were in Popayan on a Tuesday we’d head to Silvia and take some pictures for her. Well here it was Tuesday and we were in Popayan so it was off to the market to fulfill a promise and accumulate some travel karma.
But we weren’t going alone. As we were drinking coffee and eating breakfast, Londoners Nick and Heather arrived from Bogota. When Nick heard where we were heading, he asked if he could join us. Of course – the more the merrier. Heather decided that she’d rather be in bed. And frankly after a night bus, I’d probably say the same thing. As the three of us set out, Kim let us know about a tour of the indigenous area that a guy named Fredy Vargas offered. It sounded like a good deal.
“So where do we find the tour office,” Nick asked.
“Oh you don’t. Fredy Vargas finds you,” Kim replied. Curious and curiouser. It sounded like a Colombian version of Fight Club. We’d soon find out if Fredy Vargas would find us.
At the bus station, we began the search for a bus. The first company going to Silvia didn’t have one going for another hour so we kept walking. A man from another company told us to hurry as his was leaving right now. When we got to the platform, the bus had actually already left. But the man directed us out to the street in front of the bus station and we could the bus as it circled around. Good thing we caught it too, because the journey was longer than expected and we got to Silvia with just a couple of hours before the official closing.
Silvia itself was small but heaving with people dressed in the traditional costumes of the Guanbano Indians. Both the men and women wore skirts and cute hats that reminded me of those we’d seen when we visited Puno, Peru, 5 years ago. Just beyond the main square was the main market (photo above) and apparent meeting place for all the Guanbanos from the outlying areas who travelled by funky buses called chivas. Instead of mass-produced tourist tat, you could buy 15 different types of potatoes, next to a new radiator and fan belts for your car, before stopping for a colour tv and some of those cute little hats. Nick was intrigued by all the varieties of potatoes and picked some up. Since none of us needed car parts, we headed back to the square where Nick and I were attempting to sneak some photos. Unfortunately the Guanbano are much like the Mayans, they don’t believe in photos which made it very difficult to fulfill my promise to Catia. We were interrupted by a man flashing a fistful of tour leaflets. It was Fredy Vargas and he had indeed found us – not that difficult since we appeared to be the only Gringos in town. He offered us a tour of the local Guanbano community for a good price. And we accepted provided he give us 30 minutes to wander a round Silvia. That was no problem but eyeing our cameras, Fredy reminded us that the Guanbano do not like their photos taken. So we split up and then regrouped at noon. We were now joined by an older Aussie couple originally from Spain but no Fredy. He preferred to make a dramatic entrance by running from the crowd and onto the jeep. We followed him into the back of the old jeep and took off.
Fredy was taking us into the Guanbano territory. Much like Canadian aboriginal reserves it was a self-governing autonomous region. As we crossed over into the territory, Fredy proudly remarked that not only did they have self-government, they were completely self-sufficient. There was a small hydroelectric dam that powered the community, a trout farm, hospital, schools, livestock grazing in the hills between the acres of farmland. Fredy was himself half Guanbano and happily offered these tours to educate tourists about his people. As we continued along the road, Fredy stopped at a small store where we could pick up some cookies to hand out to the kids. Nick and I both felt icky about this but Adrian went ahead and picked up a pack – he’s a sucker for kids. The kids knew the drill and as the jeep drove down the road they swarmed the jeep. Fredy told us to wait. The jeep pulled over and the kids lined up from youngest to oldest, girls in one line and boys in the other. They then sang the Guanbano anthem. Only then did Fredy let us hand out the cookies. It was very orderly (sort of there's always one ham in the crowd) and not as bad as I thought it would be.
We got back in the jeep and drove to spot overlooking the cemetery. It was full of people but there was no funeral. Fredy explained that this was the cemetery for important community leaders and locals gathered there to honour those leaders, sometimes there were even big festivals. It was a party in the park of a different kind. Just behind us was the cemetery for the everyday folk which was much less happening. Inside the jeep the mood was a bit more like the first cemetery. Did I mention that Fredy had given us a bottle of the local liquor to enjoy on the tour? We took turns sipping it from tiny cups on the ride, everyone except our driver. The liquor was supposed to have an anise and pineapple flavour but all I could taste was alcohol. But Nick assured me that it couldn’t be that strong. After all he hadn’t eaten or slept in the last twelve hours and he was still standing. To help him stay standing, Adrian gave him some left over cookies.
Our next stop was at the banks of the river. The locals believe it to have healing properties not just because of the high concentration of minerals but also because of its location at the foot of mythological pyramid shaped mountains. Fredy told us we could bathe in the water, but since the water temperature was just above freezing we settled for a sprinkle on the face. Then to warm us back up we stopped off at a home where we were given a cup of hot sugar cane juice and a bun. Inside the steaming cup was a chunk of cheese. We fished it out and stuck it on the bun and washed down the tasty melted cheese sandwich with the drink that tasted like really sweet tea rather than straight sugar. We also polished off the liquor and good timing too because it was time to head back to town.
We dropped the Spanish Aussies back at their hotel, thanking them for the translation services they often provided during Fredy’s Spanish tour. Then the three of us were on our own with Fredy was he took us to a local restaurant for a ginormous meal of soup, trout, plantains, rice and salad. Adrian and I couldn’t finish ours but Nick who had missed dinner, breakfast and lunch easily gobbled his down. Fredy walked us to the bus and as it drove back to Popyan, the food coma helped us nod off.
Although there wasn’t much to do in Popayan itself, Adrian and I decided to stay another day. The hostel was comfy and the great wifi meant we easily plan our next destinations and catch up on things like this blog. Plus I had to upload my photos and let Catia know I’d done my best to help her out.