Popayan to Pasto- Carnival de Blancos Y Negros

January 6, 2016

January 6, started with an early morning sprint with our packs to the Popoyan bus station to catch our 7 am bus to Pasto. It had rained and I was slipping on the stones and annoyed at Eliot’s insistence that we walk rather than taxi.   My head was still in north america, I expected a modern coach with air con and a bathroom that would leave on schedule. I was wrong. The Taxbelalcazar bus was one of those airport car rental shuttles.

the bus

just kidding , here was the bus

Bus to Pasto

No air con. no bathroom, but great salsa music and wifi. As we pulled out of the station I read a Facebook post by my high school friend Andrew about his first class flight to Hong Kong with its crab amuse bouche, selection of first run movies and lie flat bed with 500 thread count cotton sheets. I had to laugh at the contrast. Like me, Andrew was going on an adventure for his 50th birthday year and like me he was doing it in his own way. Both of us were awkward teenagers that did not quite fit in (neither of us liked hockey or girls). Yet we managed to grow into relatively well adjusted (or perhaps less awkward) adults who are still true to ourselves.

Pasto is about 250 km from Popayan and the drive takes about 6 hours and costs 40,000 Colombian pesos (about $17.00 cdn. see map We started in the rain and a traffic jam on the south road caused by an overturned fruit truck. We were on the Panamerica – not the Transamerica – but the highway that runs from the Carribean all the way down to Patagonia. The Popayan to Pasto stretch started with steep mountain passes that switchbacked down into  green valleys and back up the other side. We stopped at a road stop for lunch and I had the caldo de pollo (chicken soup ) it had potatoes, chicken liver and a chicken foot- So I had my  taxbelalcazar  amuse bouche which I promptly fed to the cat at my feet.

Colombian Amuse Bouche

After passing through the steep mountains we hit a long plateau.It got drier and I saw cactus. The driver slowed down suddenly because there were people in the middle of the road. I had heard about bandits and was thinking this is it, I am going to be robbed on the first day of independent travel. I reached for my passport with the intention of putting it in my underwear. The bus drive feigned a stop, then veered into the left lane an kept going. I was relieved, Eliot told me that they were not bandits just people asking for money, something to do with the wise men. We then climbed up to this very steep escarpment and continued along this crazy road.


short video of the ride



_DSF5761 _DSF5768

The variation in the countryside over such a short distance was impressive and despite having no movies, I found that  I was not bored. I was not too comfortable, it was hot, and then rain came in through the sunroof and I had to make a lumbar support out of my spare shirt. Aside from a poodle that was chewing on my pack strap, there were no animals on the bus, we were not robbed, and we arrived on time. Not bad for our first bus trip of many that will take us to Peru.

We arrived in Pasto around 1.30. The town is quite large and is sandwiched between mountains to the east and west. The Carnaval de blancos y negros was in full swing. January 6 was the blanco day and the town was full of revellers spraying each other with this white foam called carioca and throwing chalk powder. The cab driver was not one of the happy ones, his cab was covered in garbage bags and hermetically sealed. He made us get out at the edge of the parade pointed in a general direction and said- your hotel is over there.  So we started walking, two gringos with heavy packs. The Colombians attacked from all sides and we got covered in chalk and sprayed as we struggled to find a way across the parade route. It was all in good fun everyone was friendly about it but there was no way we would not get hit

first hit

trying to find our hotel in the middle of the carnival

We walked into the Hotel Frances La Maison covered in chalk and foam. The hotel is a small modern boutique hotel. The receptionist did not bat an eye at the foam & chalk covered backpackers. He showed us to our room which was very well set up. We kept our chalked clothing and Eliot wrapped himself in a sarong and put on sun glasses.  As we left the hotel to explore the receptionist handed us each a pair of black goggles. The parade floats where these elaborate colourful caricatures of Colombians or Pastoinians


taking apart the parade floats parade float

The carnival was nearing the climax at the end of the parade and people were going crazy with the chalk and the foam. There were narrow gauntlets set up where you would get it from both sides. Eliot tried to  avoid one by going under a fence, he was followed and covered.

Eliot being mob chalked

Eliot being mob chalked in his sarong

Lorne after being gauntlet chalked


It was this playful pandemonium and everyone was in the act, kids, parents, teenagers police. I noticed that the food vendors, and parade people were spared the spray and chalk. Eliot and I were not so lucky. However, it was all in the spirit of fun.

here is a short clip to give you an idea film of parade. Here is a better carnival video.


After the parade ended the crowd went crazier and emptied their chalk and foam on each other Eliot and I included.


Here is what we looked like in the aftermath

Eliot after the chalk attack


That night we went out with an American couple from San Francisco that we met in the lobby.  Angela is an  Anthropologist and David is a computer programmer and they were seasoned travellers. However, even they needed advice for getting around the foaming which had evolved at night to random guerrilla like attacks from youth standing on the back of pick up trucks patrolling the streets like the taliban.


_DSF5778 _DSF5780 Pasto foam taliban


They were trying to find a restaurant that was; 1) open 2) had some local charm 3) they could get to without getting covered in chalk and foam.  Once again the receptionist Jonathan came to our rescue. He called a cab and it took us to La Merced. The place was packed with chalk covered revellers and we thought we may try to find something quieter.  The security guard said there was a place 2 blocks up the street, So we ventured out, got foamed and of course could not find the restaurant- Ask Someone Who knows. A little girl asked  us where we were from and if her parents could take her picture with us. They do not get many foreign tourists and I guess we were a hit.We asked them where to eat and they recommended La Merced “es spectacular”.   I was thinking that in Colombia local charm does not mean the little Italian place on the corner with the checked table cloth. Restaurants are more utilitarian and local charm means the little store where the old lady grinds her own corn for the arepas cholas  (sweet corn cakes) and makes her own cheese. So far the fancier places we have been too have been more westernized. La Meced was like that, very modern but decent food and even more importantly great conversation. David and Angela have travelled extensively and we shared advice talked about politics, books you name it. That is one of the other great things about travel you can meet such interesting people.

Coming up in next post the Guinea pig festival…

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  1. Comment by joanne

    joanne Reply January 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I love you. I love your blog. Happy happy travels. Welcome to the 50 club.
    Gros bisous

  2. Comment by Claudia

    Claudia Reply January 7, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Me encanta verlos felices ,por favor disfruten mucho toda esta maravillosa aventura ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  3. Comment by Lorne

    Lorne Reply January 7, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I officially join the club in March but who’s counting. Crazy to think that we are half a century old still remember me out in your apartment in NDG.

  4. Comment by ben

    ben Reply January 7, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Thank ou for sharing your trip and joy of life and travels 🙂 This is great !!!

  5. Comment by ben

    ben Reply January 7, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Thank u for sharing your trip and joy of life and travels 🙂 This is great !!!

  6. Comment by Diane Pinsky

    Diane Pinsky Reply January 7, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Lorne- I’m so glad you posted this link on fb. Loved reading your blog and excited to read the earlier entries. I can’t believe the foaming tradition and those incredible floats! Happy 2016! Diane

  7. Comment by PaulJ

    PaulJ Reply January 7, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Cool account, keep blogging!

  8. Comment by Lori

    Lori Reply January 7, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Love! It all sounds like so much fun, and I’m so grateful to be able to enjoy your travels from the comfort of our apartment, where all is calm. XO

  9. Comment by Frank

    Frank Reply January 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    My 50th birthday celebration in Italy was cut short by the arrival of a baby daughter. Good reason to come home I guess but since my 50th travel adventure was cut short I will live vicariously through you 🙂
    Oh and today I turned 51!

  10. Comment by Paulo

    Paulo Reply January 8, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    What an uplifting blog. A whole lotta fun to read and your cartoony selves on the top left are priceless. Looking at the pictures, though, I wonder if it really is Lorne…he’s actually standing still! Not possible :p

    Thanks for sharing your adventures!


  11. Comment by Ilana

    Ilana Reply January 9, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Looks like an awesome time. Keep writing, be safe and have fun!

  12. Comment by Eric.

    Eric. Reply January 27, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Lorne & Eliot – finally I have had a chance to review your blog. How exciting! I will live vicariously through you guys for the time being.

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