After Tatacoa Desert out next stop was Popayan where we planned to spend around five days exploring this small colonial town. We had previously researched and wrote Popayan as a good stop before continuing to head down to the Ecuadorian boarder.
The journey began easily enough:
- Tatacoa Desert –> Villavieja
- Villavieja –> Neiva
- Neiva –> Popayan
The final leg of this journey was where it stopped going so.. good, I guess. We got on the bus tired; tired and hungry after having no time for breakfast and waking up at five. After thirty minutes of driving the bus broke down.
However, this wasn’t communicated and we were just told to get off the bus. As I did I bumped into a girl I had previously met in Tatacoa Desert; as I was halfway through my polite ‘Hello, how are you?’ she literally, yelled over the top of me ‘ECUADOR HAVE CLOSED THEIR BOARDERS.’ And that is literally where everything changed for us.
We had no idea what was going on so we walked to a restaurant nearby, had some lunch and found a shop where I could recharge my phone and we could use the internet to try and figure out what was going on. This was on Monday 16th March. We knew about the corona virus as South America had stopped receiving flights from Europe the Thursday before; however, we were not prepared for this. We were not prepared for it to keep spreading and spreading the way it had; and maybe naively thought that it wouldn’t effect us.
I should highlight we were heading south in Colombia to eventually arrive at Ecuador. So our plans were immediately halted at this news.
A mere eight hours later, we had found a hostel called Casa Familiar Turistica Hostal which was a incredibly cheap hostel and run by a very nice women and her niece. After settling in we continued our research. We came to the conclusion we were going to stay in Colombia. It was incredibly calm; grocery stores were not selling out of anything, everyone was seemingly calm and it felt safe. So why leave? However, we did still try and self isolate to the best of our abilities, only heading out for food and supplies when we needed. This meant that we saw absolutely nothing in Popayan; but here are some photos nonetheless.
We did find the most amazing vegetarian restaurant called Restaurante Vegetariano Maná which was the greatest thing to happen to us in this town. For COL$6,000 you could pick seven items off the whiteboard menu; including soup, drink, salad, rice, dessert. Honestly, it was incredible.
After our third day here we felt things change, not so much in Popayan but the news and the actions of other backpackers. We saw Governments telling people to come back to their respective homes, we saw a lot of backpackers leaving, not only Colombia but also, friends in Canada, Australia, were all going back to their respective homes.
I felt very confused, because as we sat in this small Colombian town, there felt no need to leave. Like I said above, everything was so calm. And then what would be the point to go back to Europe? I would be in more danger and if I could self isolate in Colombia what is the harm? Could I afford to go home? I should also add that even back then, it seemed like this was going to pass in a couple of weeks; surely I could wait that out in Colombia.
To conclude, after hours of back and forth and crying and uncertainty and phone calls to family members; we decided to go home. Home being Canada. It wasn’t an easy decision and didn’t feel like it was 100% the right one. However, I didn’t want to ever be a burden on the Colombian health system and I didn’t want to put other people at risk; knowing I could isolate myself better at home. I also know I had a privilege as I got to choose and I think that means I should go home. But everyone’s situation is incredibly unique and if some backpackers decided to stay in Colombia, I believe they have the right to that decision.
Our journey to getting flights was another process that deserves its own blog post. You will find it here, this time next week. Thank you for reading this post! Let me know below if your backpacking plans had to change entirely and how you had to adjust. I want to add I am incredibly happy to be home and safe and healthy and I know I am lucky and that I am surrounded by family and people I love. I am happy to be here, but I was sad to let go of a dream I had been pursuing for years. Feel free to check out my previous blog posts on my visit to Tatacoa Desert and Salento.