Popayan is the capital city of the Cauca department of Colombia. It is a real colonial city, founded in 1537 by the Spanish conquistadors. Not to be confused with colourful tourist traps as Salento or Guatape. What is a colonial city? According to Britannica ‘Colonial cities arose in societies that fell under the domination of Europe and North America in the early expansion of the capitalist world system.’ Popayan was a transfer point of gold coming from South of the continent towards Cartagena then on the way to Spain. In other words the indigenous were lightened of their fortune, used as cheap labor and in exchange taught catholicism. It’s also a transfer point for overlanders who would continue North to Cali from here vs East to San Agostin or Tierradentro. Compared to other locations in Colombia Popayan is still not a heavily visited city by foreign tourists. The fact that it was also heavily under FARC influence not too too long ago was not helping extraordinarily tourism. With the radical changes in this issue in the past few years this might change and tourism could pick up fairly fast in the area. The whitewash colonial architecture of the downtown was nicely rebuilt after several earthquakes, the last one in 1983, which shook the area pretty good.
This was my second visit of the historical downtown and this time I was even more shocked by how busy it is. For a city of quarter million people it seems very busy. It’s like the flow of traffic and people would never stop. Stealing the expression of John Oliver I blurted out ‘where the fuck is everybody going?’. It’s midday on a Thursday and it feels like it’s Christmas shopping. A continuous flow of people, scooters and vehicles. You can weight the importance of a city in colonial times by the number of churches on a square kilometer. Popayan is doing good, there’s a bunch of them here, just like in Quito. Somewhat I’m past the moment where my heart starts pumping blood faster when I see one of them and I snap photos like there’s no tomorrow. ‘OK here we go, church No.5997 on this trip.Snap!’ But the narrow streets flanked by the whitewash buildings are pretty photogenic and seems like the clouds around here are always awesome. My original plan was to shoot some nice hdr’s, but you know how would end up when there are constantly moving people and cars in the photo. You don’t? Well, try it then. I tried long lens, wide angle, waited a bunch; but having a frame without people and cars was like an almost impossible task. Now all those cars are sending off quite a bit of smog on a hot day on the narrow streets and in half an hour my lungs were burning. It was similar feel like in Guanajuato City, Mexico. It’s awesome but I’m choking. Managed to wonder around almost three hours, shared some deep fried empanada with Blaze and my camera. Blaze was happy, the camera needs a good clean. UNESCO declared Popayan as city of gastronomy. As a quick evaluation there’s endless shops selling deep fried empanadas and pandebono. It’s really hard to walk by these shops with Blaze. His nose is quite good despite that he has turned ten. Now there is a gourmet congress every September in town and there might be a reason for that. The second most popular thing after pandebono is selling cellphone minutes. Seems like just about all street vendors, hole in the wall stores, supermarkets are selling it.