Monday, 27 October 2014

0126 Girardot to Popayan

24th Oct

Once we woke up and had breakfast, we got our coffee cups filled at the little restaurant there before refuelling, and then setting off down the road.  It soon started raining quite heavily.  Girardot is in a valley and as we headed towards Ibague and then Armenia, we started climbing,  And we climbed and we climbed and we climbed.  The road was unbelievably twisty, and traffic, especially the big trucks, was so heavy.  I have never seen so many trucks on a road – I guess because in many countries our rail system carries a lot of the goods.  But if you over took one, there were 5 more ahead.  And with the truck traffic being equally heavy coming towards us, on the twisty roads getting past trucks was a permanent nightmare – But you have to try or you will be on the mountain all night. 

There was also a lot of roadwork because they are building a new highway through the mountains, and with a series of tunnels and enormous bridges across deep and wide gorges, it really is one of the great engineering feats in the world. Remember that most of the road is over 3000 metres, and some is over 3300 metres – The weather is bad, there is usually a lot of rain, and the ground is soft and muddy.  They have set up enormous concrete and maintenance depots in several places on the road, and how they are getting some of the equipment and materials up the mountain without disrupting the existing heavy traffic more than they do, is amazing.   In addition, the added distraction of the stunning views over the mountains made everything even more difficult and amazing.

We also saw some amazing (and very dangerous) things on the road.  At one stop for roadworks, a head suddenly pooped up on the top of the load of the truck in front !!  He was a stowaway catching a ride, and hiding up on top of the load !!   Then, on the many very sharp and very steep hairpin bends, local people, mostly young, stand on the corner and signal when there is nothing coming the other way so the semi trailer drivers can take a wide line round the corners.  But the deal is that you drop them a few coins for the service !  In some instances this has then morphed into straight begging for money, with people all over the road holding out bins or even just their hats in the hope you will give them a few coins.  This was mostly up at the very top of the mountain where people are obviously very poor – Some of the shanty’s beside the road had just plastic walls and a make shift tin roof, and with the temperatures up there being pretty low, and the cloud cover often covering the mountain, it can’t be much of an existence up there, and all this traffic coming over the mountain creates an opportunity for them to beg, I guess. 

Then, as we started down the other side of the mountain, in thick mist, two young lads who had been “working” a hairpin bend, suddenly ran in front of us, across the road, and leapt up onto the back of the truck in front of us as it went round a corner. The only just made, and as we followed the truck down the mountain, they sat on the back, laughing and joking.  Suddenly, after about 20 minutes riding down this twisty mountain, they leapt off, while the truck was still moving, and dodged us and other passing traffic as the ran off into the distance!  Janet and I were still stunned when we noticed that on another truck that was now in front of us, a stowaway was sitting between the cab and the trailer, which surely is even more dangerous as he could have been squashed if the truck made a sharp turn.  But he didn’t have a care in the world, and was even on his mobile phone at one stage, and as we finally overtook the truck when we reached the bottom, he was still sitting there !!

Amazingly, even up at the top of the mountain, they had workers with whipper snippers cutting the grass along the verges.  Very impressed.  Overall the quality of the roads in Columbia is easily the best we have seen since we left the US – There are still bad sections, but they are working everywhere to improve the road system.

Once down in the warmth and humidity of near sea level again, the next several hours were spent passing through almost endless sugar cane fields.  And to transport the cut cane they use enormous high sided trailers, and tow 5 of them on the road at a time, taking the cane to the mills for processing.  These are so big they have special people on the roads waiting for the cane “trains” to come, and they then stop the regular traffic while the trains negotiate the road. 

Saw a lighthouse being built at one place – Miles from the sea !  Interesting location !   Also passing an increasing number of Columbian Army posts as we head further south, and at each post there are always soldiers out on the verges waving at passing cars and giving them the thumbs up – Evidently some kind of political deal trying to raise support for the army ?  But at least they are friendly, so we always wave.   A pick-up with two soldiers in the back, including their rifles, passed us and Janet tried to take photos of them – She “asked” permission in sign language and they said yes and started to pick up their rifles – At which we cowered in the car, which made them laugh.  Photo didn’t turn out too well, but was fun trying.

As dusk drew in, it was raining again, and just before Popayan, our destination for the night, we came across only our second accident for the day, involving a motorcycle.  Given the way they drive here, we are so surprised we haven’t seen more accidents – Thank goodness.  Fortunately the motorcyclist in this instance didn’t seem to be injured – He was standing there on his mobile phone and talking to the policeman when we went past !!

Our destination tonight was a hotel in the little town of Popayan.  Garmin took us right to the front door, and after getting a room, we had to park in a secure area a block away – These places are NOT big, so getting Troopie in took a while !  Then it was back to a delightful hotel with a big internal courtyard for a well deserved room with a shower after having 2 days on the road !  Unfortunately it seems Janet’s pocket was picked while carrying the bags from the car to the hotel, and they took her wallet.  Fortunately it only had her driving licence and one credit card in it, and no money, but it did mean that we then had to spend a coupe of hours on the phone to our bank in Australia, cancelling Janet’s lost card while not cancelling mine (or we would have no money !).  The fact that Skype kept dropping out didn’t help, but we seem to have got it sorted out now so that it is just a nuisance and not a major issue of money being taken from our account. 

So it was a while before we got to bed, but it was nice to have the shower and a comfy bed !

Pics are here :-

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