Panamericana Road block (… with a view)

I didn’t quite manage to leave Cali as early as planned and scored myself an unexpected adventure doing so. As i had located one of the many buses to Popayan (COP27,000, Velotax is the best service) and already found an english speaking travelpartner, we were asked to relocate into an ordinary car. Why i asked? Roadblock on the Panamericana … need to go now.

As I been told by the american longterm Colombian expat i shared the journey with, there are often roadblocks organised by protesters. These are indigenous people that are demanding the Colombian honours agreements struck a long time ago (still unclear as to the nature of the promises, but mining/energy policy & environmental concerns feature heavily). Sounds like a familiar pattern (just ask some Nigerian villagers what they make of the oil business). They use the important trade route Panamericana as leverage.

‘On the road there are explosions, shots, tear gas and several injuries.’

(Caracol.com.co, 2 Nov)

In such scenarios the police closes the check/toll points either side of the conflict area for most traffic. Motorbikes could get through and, as our bus company understood, also passenger cars (hence the relocation from the bus earlier). As it turns out, only motorbikes. So we were stuck.

So close to the checkpoint …

A bit annoying in particular since i tried all yesterday to get a motorbike rental for a week. First journey would have been to Popayan … unfortunate. Also unfortunate since we missed to slip through only by minutes. Well, happens.

“Vehiculo Extra Largo” … no shit!

Once stuck under blazing sunshine we waited. Our driver constantly on the phone to other drivers. We hoped for a short closure especially once riot police went in. But nothing happened. After 90minutes, Cathrin and Daniel stopped before making their way through the checkpoint (who saw nothing but police on the way who said locals had set a lorry on fire). Today the late, not the early, bird got the fish i guess. We waited another 90min before trying an alternative route.

Dried / fried bananas. Less than 1$ a pack. My american fellow traveller recommended. 

The time went by pretty quickly though. I read (‘born to run’) in shade of one of the stuck lorries in front of us and talked to the american woman (whose name i let slip). She works for CIAT (center for tropical agriculture) and has lived in Colombia for 4y on and off. The rest of the time i watched a little micro-business cosmos around the traffic jam developing. Ice cream, cold soft drinks and beer, dried fruit (platanas as they call bananas in spanish) and even a mobile juice mixer.

Our second route would try to get to Popayan via Santander de Quilichao. Again with no success. Now (and not sure why only now) the driver suggested a route through the mountains for an evening extra COP10,000 via Suarez & Morales. We all agreed.

What a ride it was. The car was hopelessly overloaded and/or suspension needs replacement. At each speed bump (and believe me when i say they love them here) some part of the undercarriage left another bit of metal on the road. By now my concerns of the roadblock had been replaced by a breakdown!

However, the scenery of the Cauca valley was stunning as we moved past lush green valleys, rivers, reservoirs, nice and not so pretty villages and many army posts and armed forces on watch. Made up for a lot! I arrived 4h late at 6pm … so almost nothing had happened considering we are Colombia.

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To my surprise, my fellow travellers were sleeping when i arrived. Well, i prepared my hiking gear for the next day and sorted food & drink. After a quick dinner together and a lengthy entertainment from a massive thunderstorm over the city, I slept. My bus to Purace national park will leave 4.30am.

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