Yesterday we explored Popayán, The White City. Popayán is known as the second-prettiest city in Colombia. (I’m not sure how prettiness is measured, but the guidebook can’t be wrong.) The city is fairly small, with older white buildings lining brick and cobblestone streets.

Most of the architecture in Popayan is white, hence its nickname: La Ciudad Blanca

Most of the architecture in Popayan is white, hence its nickname: La Ciudad Blanca

I meant to go out at sunrise to take pictures of the churches in the morning light against the dawn sky. Sadly, when I woke up at six, the hostel doors were locked and I couldn’t go out. Luckily the weather wasn’t cooperating anyway, and Ellen and I had shared a bottle of aguardiente and chatted with the other hostel guests in our dorm until late into the night, so I wasn’t too disappointed to go back to bed. We were woken up a few hours later by the sounds of singing. The hostel shares a wall with the cathedral in the main square, and the music carries – not a bad way to wake up!

One of the many white churches in town

One of the many white churches in town

At a reasonable hour of the late morning, Ellen and I finally emerged from the hostel, camera in hand, to explore the city. Once again, luck was against us – almost every store and coffee shop was closed because it was Sunday. We wandered across a bridge into a market, which was as different from Santa Rosa’s market as we could imagine. Where Santa Rosa’s market was clean and organized, this one was filthy. Half-chewed cow skulls littered the aisles, fought over by mangy-looking street dogs. Vegetable garbage like pea pods and mouldy fruit were tossed into the dirt on the street, where they were crushed into the puddles by passing cars. Meat stalls had cuts of raw meat unrefrigerated, with flies and wasps buzzing around. I wasn’t the least bit tempted to try any local specialties.

Not cool, Popayan! Dead cow parts and garbage being gnawed on by dogs in the street

Not cool, Popayan! Dead cow parts and garbage being gnawed on by dogs in the street

The vegetable and fruit stands sold a nice variety of fruit, but Ellen and I found we had lost our appetites, and we started to leave the market without buying anything. A little old lady grabbed my wrist as I walked past and asked if I’d buy some herbs, which led me to remember that the supermarket near the hostel doesn’t sell cilantro. That was our only purchase in the market, though, and we hastened a retreat to the cleaner streets nearer the hostel. Luckily, on our way out of that part of town, we spotted a store selling plain brown ponchos with hoods, so I finally got my warm sweater that I’ve been looking for.

One of the nicer fruit stands - the vendor said I could take a picture, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy anything.

One of the nicer fruit stands – the vendor said I could take a picture, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy anything.

Back in the nice part of town, once again nothing was open. After exploring all other options, we entered a coffee shop that someone told us was part of a large chain. It had Starbucks-like drinks and prices, and its ambiance was like a Canadian coffee shop. We looked at each other and left again – it wasn’t what we were looking for. Instead, we crossed the street to the plaza, where we watched the birds, ate an ice cream, and spotted a stray llama grazing in the bushes.

Llama in the park! Later the owner put a saddle on it and gave rides to children.

Llama in the park! Later the owner put a saddle on it and gave rides to children.

In the afternoon, we decided to go back out on the town a second time in pursuit of opportunities for photography. The sky was dark with grey clouds, and I thought it would make good contrast against the white buildings. We headed in the direction of a small hill with a statue overlooking the town. As we started ascending the hill, a couple of fat drops of rain started to fall. There was a mass exodus of sightseers from the top of the mountain as the raindrops increased in frequency.

Run! Run away from the storm!

Run! Run away from the storm!

By the time we were at the top of the hill, we were in a torrential downpour and were the only ones in the area. I took my couple of pictures, trying to keep the camera dry. We were laughing in the rain and slipping in the mud on the way back down to take shelter in a stand of bamboo, where we bumped into a couple of vendors waiting out the storm. We were so sodden, though, that after a few minutes we abandoned our damp bamboo haven and walked through the downpour in the direction of the hostel, attracting stares from the locals huddled under the eaves of houses along the streets.

We got pretty wet, but it was fun!

We got pretty wet, but it was fun!

On a positive note, the roads and plazas were completely empty as we walked home, providing opportunities for all sorts of photos of white buildings and dark sky reflected in the wet stone streets.

We have the plaza to ourselves, with a nice view of the cathedral

We have the plaza to ourselves, with a nice view of the cathedral

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