Today will be our longest drive, which we are shortening by cutting through Popayan on our way to Cali. I know. It seems longer, but it’s actually about 100 km shorter. The catch…the road is not really a road, well at least that’s what we have heard.
Much to our surprise, the beginning of the road is newly paved and quite nice. That ends about 20 km in. The rest of our trip is on a narrow, rocky road weaving in and out of the jungle where the guerilla allegedly live. The entire time I envisioned them just jumping out of the trees with guns, holding us hostage for whatever random reason.
We agreed to switch every two hours to break up the monotony of the drive, which went really well. Rewarded at the end of the dirt road, we found an amazing shabby stand with the softest doggies in the world and Colombia’s version of fried dough! I couldn’t believe it. All of my discomfort from the road was wiped away with that one sweet treat. Ok maybe 3.
Pulling in the Cauca department, the atmosphere immediately changed with new types of farms, mountains and weather. Only stopping in Popayan to admire the architecture and to grab a coffee and some Popayan treats we continued on to Cali to drop off our Jetta.
Cali is warm. And big. It’s the third largest city, right behind Medellin. My bug bites have completely taken over my legs, leaving them swollen and dotted, but I’m determined to get prepared for my introduction to DaVinci’s parents: manicure and gift shopping. I’m in serious pain, but hoping time will heal all.
The city feels like a warmer version of Bogota. Plenty of places open to go for dinner or drinks, lots of young people and very trendy. I enjoy the live music and margarita’s, while trying to ignore the pain that is my leg throbbing and swollen.
First thing in the morning, we head to the bus station to find the best option for traveling back to Popayan. The 3 hour, 15 passenger van ride to DaVinci’s hometown goes quickly with brief napping. I convince DaVinci we can’t, or rather I can’t, go to his home empty handed. Not only because I will be a guest in their house, but also because it’s the holidays! I drag him to the only mall in town after not finding anything worthy at Exito. I efficiently get a scarf for his sister. A candle for his mother (and another for his sister to replace the one I broke at her apartment) and dress socks for his father. DaVinci is grumpy and I don’t blame him, but I just felt so rude going with nothing!
We arrive to big smiles and lunch waiting. The first thing my latino lover’s mother said to me was that she was so happily surprised that I was not a Mona (blonde hair and blue eyes). I feel as though I had passed a test 🙂
DaVinci’s family was not scary at all. They were so sweet, kind and welcoming to me and just so unbelievably joyous to have their son home. The rest of the day we met up with friends,ate Popayan specialty foods and watched their notorious sunset. In the morning I was beyond pleasantly surprised to find homemade arepas for breakfast! Everything was just so tranquilo in the house and in town.
Unfortunately, my ankle had gotten so swollen and sore from the apparent allergic reaction to the vicious bug bites I got in San Agustin, that I could barely walk, deeming us house bound for New Year’s Eve. This night is honestly one of my least favorite holidays. Completely overrated. Ungodly expectations. And someone or something always roadblocking it from being a good night. This time: my bug bites. I swear, DaVinci and I are forever old people. His parents and sister went to an aunts house after midnight to party the night away, while DaVinci and I retired to bed. I was super sad, but relieved to be able to lay down again.
I enter 2015 with a bang: laying face down on the bed, prepared for DaVinci’s sister to give me an allergy shot in my ass. How did I get here and why is this happening to me? I pray the allergy shot will kick in and we head to an uncle’s house for an annual bbq.
Meeting more family members is equally overwhelming and heartwarming. Everyone is so nice and welcoming and willing to share, even though we can barely communicate! The asado (bbq) is really delicious and I can’t get enough of the corn on the cob. Oh yeah, remember how I am being vegetarian? Well I figured it would be smart for me to put that on hold for diplomatic reasons with DaVinci’s family.
A couple hours later, I escape the risk of having to sing karaoke when DaVinci’s friend picks us up to roam around town. I have officially begun panicking about my leg, because I am quite positive that the chances for amputation keep increasing. A phone call is made to a brother who is a doctor and also married to doctor who speaks English. I am promptly prescribed antibiotics and warned to not drink alcohol. We go and sit in a mini version of old Popayan and I guzzle water and emotionally eat sweet treats while the boys have beers.
The next day DaVinci and I have plans to visit the natural springs just outside the city with another couple. The whole morning is very Colombian with delayed departures and mis-communicated pick up locations. Once we finally arrive, I quickly realize the difference in expectations and whisper to DaVinci that I’m not sure how long I will last here.
It is swarming with children and the adults that come with them. Each pool is skin to skin. The pools are a murky brown green color and there is literally no dry area to keep our things. However, I am a good sport and try out each of the pools until we find one that is warm enough to feel like we aren’t just sitting in dirty puddle warmed by the sun. The smell of sulfur is distracting from the skin on skin contact with unwanted guests. I notice people with mud masks going into a shed that seems to be a makeshift sauna. Again full on body contact in that box. But I welcome the mud mask and we ask someone where we can buy them and duh, it’s free-from the ground. I change my mind about the masks.
My bathing suit will forever smell like sulfur.
That night we take a nap then head to dinner with the same couple. I am exhausted and super cranky for some reason. DaVinci is always so accommodating and eager to please, which I am thankful for. But sometimes a girl has just got to be cranky and quiet. Traveling doesn’t allow you those moments as gracefully. We spend the rest of the night trying to relax and of course fall asleep at our normal viejito time of before midnight.
It’s Saturday and it is the day we head back to Cali and get on a plane back to Medellin. We sleep in until 10! I mean my goodness, why are we so tired?! Maybe we have lyme disease.
Picked up for brunch, we go to a woman’s house who is super well known for her weekend kitchen, offering Popayan tamales, empanadas, meatballs, and cow lung. I happily try everything and am stuffed, but I can never turn down ice cream! So off we go to a Popayan ice cream shop made from fresh fruit and only water. Then we go to a juice shop to try Champus, an odd drink made of corn, pineapple and lulo.
We return to Davinci’s parents house in food comas with the need to pack up. I cheerfully play Modern Family in the background while I pack away all the clothes that DaVinci didn’t get to meet because I continued to wear the same outfit day after day. I end up resting a lot while we wait for his parents to be ready to get on the road with us. In true Colombian fashion, instead of leaving after lunch, we leave around early bird special dinnertime. We snag a private taxi to take us directly to DaVinci’s sister’s house. Everyone realizes our flight is tonight at 10 pm and not the next day, so we say our goodbyes and I stumble over the words while trying to tell DaVinci’s mother to come visit us in Medellin soon.
As we walk out to our cab, DaVinci’s back stabbing with pain, me hobbling on my bad ankle, I think about how bittersweet this all has been. I’m really missing Medellin, but I know that when I return it won’t be the same. My friends are gone. My job is gone. I now live with my Colombian boyfriend after only knowing him for about 3 months. I’m not sure I would recognize myself a year ago, sure as hell not two years ago. But to be completely honest, I am glad. I don’t want to be where I was then. Yes, my life is a mess right now, but it is a beautiful mess. I am loved. I am healthy. I am learning a foreign language. I am in love.
I just went on a two week road trip through Colombia, the world’s murder capital ten years ago. I will be fine. I need to have faith in this, during all of the moments of panic. I have faith.