The 8 hour drive between Pasto and Popayan traverses the vertebrae of la Cordillera Occidental de los Andes. As we pull out of the picturesque almost-border-town of Pasto, the bus company’s representative boards and fires something in rapid Spanish. I miss the details. The passengers of our crammed bus cheer in agreement. I assume he wishes us a safe and pleasant journey.
On a flat and papered map of Colombia, an inch separates Pasto from Popayan. One or two hours tops. Crumble the paper so the material folds, bunches and protrudes in an array of steep and stark shapes. Only then you will have a better idea of the challenges in crisscrossing this undulating land. Colombia resembles a cubist painting: layers overlaps and shapes bend and blend into one another. Daunting.
On the road, the road vacillates and oscillates. It bends at sharp angles missing on-coming transport trucks by a hair. It wraps itself around the mountains as a boa constrictor might its prey, slowly tightening its grasp, suffocating. No clear vector exists; a compass reading would yield not-applicable. The line bears north, then east, then south, then north again. In my mind, I imagine us in constant circles, a maze that forever loops, a spiraling staircase leading nowhere. The scenery is sublime, however. It devastates in its beauty – the lush greenery, the deep ravines, numerous little crevices to hide in. And as I try to control my motion sickness, I wonder who might be hiding in those little caves.
This mountainous route has an infamous reputation when it comes to guerrilla activity. FARC guerrillas and common thieves operate along these narrow, secluded and hidden roads, setting up road-blocks, burning buses or simply robbing the passengers. I look around at my fellow passengers, all Colombians. They do not appear distressed. After all, Easter approaches and all must glow with excitement. Or maybe after half-century of continuous internal strife, they simply have grown immune to the daily torment. After all, tens of thousands of Colombians have died in the first decade of the twentieth century alone; Colombia has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world. The homicide rate soars. Do they sympathize with the guerrillas? Do they support the counter-insurgency groups ve remain? Do they approach of the government? When heard from a distance, can they distinguish government fire from the guerrillas’?
FARC was born in the aftermath of the La Violencia – a brutal civil war (1948-1958) between Liberals and Conservatives that claimed the lives of some 300 000 people. Following the conflict, the two parties signed a power-sharing agreement: the two parties would alternate the presidency every four years. Although FARC played a large role in La Violencia, they were excluded from the power-sharing accord. Hence, they took up arms against the government.
Although they have become less ideological over the years, FARC politics still veers left on the spectrum: they oppose the privatization of natural violence, U.S. interference in Colombia and claim to represent the rural poor against the country’s affluent. It was Uribe, elected in 2002, that began to have success fighting the guerrillas – although many human rights organizations claimed that he, his military and the rightist paramilitary organizations he encouraged committed atrocities that equaled, if not surpassed, those committed by FARC. In recent years, the violence has subsided and peace talks continue between the Santos government and FARC leaders.
We finally reach Popayan at night’s fall, a tiresome but uneventful journey. La Ciudad Blanca is a wonderfully preserved colonial town – although much was restored after the 1983 earthquake. The town follows the same architectural standards of many Colombian colonial towns inherited from the Spanish: a grid plan centered on the Plaza Mayor or main square. The town has a strong Catholic tradition with many churches and religious events.
It is Easter and it is Santa Semana. But today the streets are quiet. Big, grey clouds hang over the town; rail falls haphazardly. The town is a treat to walk through – it seems immune or sheltered from the violence that has gripped the neighboring hills. The city’s orderliness is a nice contrast to the snaky roads just toiled. White emblazons the streets; every bricked house shares the same height with the next; a small, black-railing balcony extends from each. Lanterns guard each door. The white, straight roads have a hallucinatory effect and it is easy to get lost. Popayan has some fine old churches; la Iglesia la Ermita dates from 1546. Other attractive buildings include el Teatro Municpal and el Palacio Nacional. I climb a nearby hill and watch the grey and heavier clouds move in from the mountains encircling the tidy little town.
I finish dinner and begin to walk the streets again at night. The lanterns glow. They illuminate the whitewashed buildings and provide a charming, almost romantic, scene. I hear voices in the distance. I turn a corner and see hundreds of people lining Popayan’s principal calle. I've stumbled upon one the Semana’s key processions. The watchers hold candles; the flames twinkle and dance in the mild spring breeze. A child loses hold of his red balloon and it sails into the night. The processions are famous for their Pasos: huge wooden platforms, or floats, depicting different scenes from the gospel. The scenes usually focus on Jesus’s death and resurrection. Men in traditional garb, known as cargueros, carry the platforms a few meters before carefully placing them on the ground allowing the spectators to have a better look. They are wonderfully intricate and detailed. I turn and walk back into the quiet streets.
I find it odd to revere the brutal execution of a man especially when many of your fellow citizens have been brutalized and killed. I don’t understand worshipping such violence. But I do respect how these people continue on in the face of seemingly never-ending violence. I do respect how they still value what is important to them. Fading into the silence of Popayan’s streets, I realize most of all I respect the desire for a more peaceful and more equitable Colombia.
The bridge was constructed in the time of the Spanish conquest, the importance at the time was very significant because its name came from the fact that there is a smaller bridge where slaves and natives passed and the main bridge where the royalty went over. The bridge is a cultural meeting point where you have bands, dances, plays, poetry, with other activities that play a part to the cultural contribution.
The volcano Purace, like many places in Colombia, is a show that is seen and what is experienced, it is cold, because it's in the middle of the wilderness and I the crater wind is strong, but t is very nice, there are birth water everywhere and much friary, but I cannot explain it sufficiently in words.
This is the memorial of the Last Supper and exhibit of the Blessed Holy Thursday, a very lovely and ornate monument that is worth remembering. These pictures were taken before and after the celebtacion that was with apostles and also the washing of the feet of the Apostles.