Our road trip in Colombia is coming to an end! The white city of Popayán, Silvia's market, the magnificent Las Lajas Sanctuary, and, most importantly, incredible encounters, relaxation, and warm hospitality with Anouar at Camping La Bonanza!
Thursday, September 28th, 2023
The road from the Tatacoa Desert to Popayán is quite long. After spending a night in a beautiful hacienda in the mountains, we're following a rugged trail that takes us to an altitude of nearly 4,000 meters. It's hard to believe that this dusty trail is the main road leading to Popayán, but it is! Popayán, the capital of the Cauca Department, is the largest city in southern Colombia. Similar to Cartagena in the north, it's renowned for its architecture. However, in Popayán, everything is pure white.
Nevertheless, our visit to Popayán is driven by a mission of the utmost importance. Do you recall our rear shock absorber that was leaking? No? It's understandable; it dates back to Panama City. The delivery of our new shock absorber from the US to Colombia was a nail-biting experience. It went through various stages: from Miami to the warehouse of our former shipper, Overland Embassy, in Miami. Then from Miami to the offices of Overland Embassy in Panama City. Afterward, it was carried across Panama to Colombia in the van of fellow travelers, Marie-Éléonore and Bryan. Finally, they shipped it from Cartagena to Popayán. The entire process took two months, including three weeks of shipping between Panama and Colombia. So, you can imagine our immense relief when we head to the UPS office to retrieve our new set of rear shock absorbers, sent under warranty by the manufacturer, Falcon Shocks 🤘
With our packages received, we then make our way to La Bonanza campsite, north of Popayán. Two years ago, when our travel project was taking shape, we already knew that we would visit La Bonanza. There are certain must-visit places for vehicle-based travelers, and La Bonanza is one of them! Upon our arrival, we're greeted by the radiant smile of Anouar, the owner of the site. His wife, Kika, is in Morocco, so we won't have the chance to meet her. On-site, we meet Fabienne and Simon, the Swiss travelers we first encountered in Belize, then crossed paths with again in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Little do we know that we'll end up spending more time in La Bonanza than originally planned, although it was somewhat by choice... well, almost 😅
Friday, September 29th
This morning, we have an appointment with Ben and Jojo. They are Anouar's neighbors (just across the hill!), and they run... a garage! What, "again"? Yes, Jeepy is having some health issues at the moment, and we're dealing with a series of problems. Ben is a former traveler, so we're glad to have his expert opinion, especially after the issues we faced with the garage in Bogota. This morning, we're rotating the tires, installing the new rear shock absorbers, checking the brakes, and performing an oil change. Unfortunately, Ben doesn't have an oil filter, so he has to go get one in Cali, further to the north, this weekend. So, here's a good reason to stay a few more days at La Bonanza 😊
Our garage neighbor is Ludo, Marie, and their 4-year-old daughter, Nepita, who travel in a large expedition truck. They've been on the road in South America for a year now. They give us a tour of their truck. It's so spacious and comfortable. Wow, what a luxury! It almost makes us want to... but we love our compact and versatile Jeep too much to part with it 😁
Saturday, September 30th to Tuesday, October 3rd
Life is beautiful and sweet at La Bonanza! There's a camping atmosphere that Rémi and I adore. For him, it reminds him of his childhood at the campsite. For me, it brings back memories of holiday camping! It's impossible to take a step without running into someone and chatting for long minutes. The place is beautiful, and it's so pleasant. It's the kind of place where you could stay for days, then weeks, without even realizing it. Our days are filled with breakfast in the sun with Anouar's homemade bread, work in the comfy armchairs on the terrace, warm showers in a clean and comfortable bathroom (it's cool at La Bonanza!), meetings, conversations, Anouar's smile, the comings and goings of passing travelers, and the lively chatter of Nepita, who's quite the talker. In short, pure happiness! 😊
Anouar is an exceptional host. His radiant and welcoming smile accompanies all our days. He's always attentive, offering us excellent Moroccan tea every morning and inviting us into his beautiful home (which once belonged to the Cali Cartel!) when it's too chilly to work on the terrace. We work inside while Nepita serves us tea (pretend tea) 😉
One time, we're invited to dine with Ludo and Marie. Their truck is so spacious that all five of us fit comfortably! Another day, it's Ben and Jojo who invite us to share a meal with them while Jeepy is at the garage. Then, Anouar treats us to his excellent Moroccan couscous. Anouar's couscous is undoubtedly the best couscous we've ever had. The perfect dish to celebrate Rémi's birthday (September 26) and our fourth wedding anniversary (September 28) 😊 The couscous is so hearty that we leave with an extra portion for our evening meal 😋
On Tuesday, all of us head to the Silvia market! All of us? Ludo, Marie, and Nepita, a German couple who arrived at La Bonanza the previous day, along with Rémi and me. The seven of us, with Rémi in the truck bed, cram into Anouar's pick-up, and we set off for the Silvia market. Indeed, every Tuesday, the Guambiano community, an indigenous Colombian people, descends from the mountain villages to reach the town to shop and sell fruits, vegetables, tools, bread, meat, and traditional crafts.
The Guambianos make up a community of around 20,000 individuals. In town, they are easily recognizable by their traditional attire: both men and women wear long black or blue skirts, with women wearing shawls and men wearing scarves or flat hats.
The Guambianos descend from their village on chivas, which are typical Colombian buses. Purchases are tied to the roof, and everyone crowds aboard in a cheerful disorder!
Wednesday, October 4th
Six days after our arrival at La Bonanza, it's time to leave our little piece of paradise. We depart well-rested and with many beautiful memories as we hit the road again. Thank you, Anouar, for your incredible hospitality! Our stay at La Bonanza will remain one of our sweetest memories of Colombia! ❤️
From Popayán, we continue on the Pan-American Highway heading south, and it has never been more beautiful! It winds along the mountains for kilometers, offering the stunning mountainous landscapes that Colombia is known for. In the valleys, it's sweltering, and then it's chilly in the mountains, so we're not sure how to dress! The road is perfect, well-paved, and sometimes two lanes wide!
At 4 p.m., Jeepy starts to show signs of weakness. We are on the highway, and it begins to decelerate. So, we pull over to the side of the road. Another case of bad gasoline! Colombia really seems to be a place with low-quality gasoline. Fortunately, we add some fuel additive to the tank, and it gets us going again! We stop for the night at a small family campsite in Pasto.
Thursday, October 5th
Today is our last day in Colombia! We arrive early at Las Lajas. From there, we take the cable car, which slowly carries us to the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Las Lajas church. This sanctuary is a place of worship and pilgrimage. It was built on the side of a cliff in a canyon, at the very spot where a mute little girl is said to have miraculously regained her voice.
Next, it's off to the border! As with every border crossing, we're both nervous and excited. We're also a little sad to leave Colombia. But as we approach the international bridge, police officers block our path. The border is closed due to protests. It should reopen in 3 to 4 hours. Tough luck! It's 1 PM, and we don't want to cross the border in the late afternoon. So, we turn around. Like everywhere else, the border area is a place of tension. No way we're sleeping just anywhere. We return to the cable car parking lot, where we're allowed to stay the night for free. Our last night in Colombia isn't glamorous, but we're safe. Tomorrow, we'll be in Ecuador! 😁