Arriving at Popayán bus station in the early morning, I soon find out that I have been misinformed about the bus times, and I take a taxi to a crossroads higher up in town, on the road towards Rio La Plata. My plan is to climb the Puracé volcano, and come back the same day; this should be possible, but an early start is vital. I turn out to be very lucky: there are two passengers going to the village of Puracé, and together, we fill a car that leaves right away. The road is good until we turn left and cross a river: from here, it is a track and the going gets slow. All the while, I keep an eye on the weather, and while it was good in Popayán, we drive straight into the clouds. When I am dropped off at the crossroads above Puracé village, I am doubtful about my expedition of the day. The driver of the car tells me about a deadly accident a couple of years before when a visitor got lost on the slopes of the volcano. Again, I am in luck: a motorbike stops by and gives me a lift to the visitor centre of the Puracé volcano. The friendly guy there strongly advises not to climb: the weather is really bad on the volcano, and I would not see anything anyway. Fortunately, there is an attractive alternative: walk the track towards Rio La Plata with plenty of things to see on the way, and catch a bus back to Popayán from anywhere. The guy confirms that the last bus back would pass by around 4pm, giving me plenty of time to walk the twenty or so kilometres to the thermal pools of San Juan.
So, I walk down the track under a drizzle, take in the landscapes, and put on some warm clothes: at 3300m altitude, a T-shirt is not enough. The track has lots of pools, and I have no illusion of walking in the sun later that day. I pass the point where condors can sometimes be seen: they were introduced here a couple of years before, but most have flown out. There are several waterfalls on the way: with all the water coming out of the sky, they look impressive. The weather changes constantly: I close and open my rain jacket constantly. When I reach the turnoff for the Andulbio lake, I walk down the trail, soon to find out that the lake is not close, and the trail is flooded. Actually, in parts I have to make my way through a marshy landscape, my shoes disappearing into the wet earth, and before I know it, my feet and lower legs are completely soaked. Cursing does not help, and at one moment, I surrender and don't do much effort to avoid the water anymore. The páramo landscape here is beautiful: lobelia and other plants sticking out of a grassy plain, and I think somehow the low clouds in the sky are a fitting roof for it.
When I am back at the main track, I realize just how wet I am, and I start feeling the cold creep up from below. It gets worse: the rain now turns serious, and soaks my pants. How stupid not to take my protective rain pants. I walk on, stopping frequently to take photos, to enjoy the landscape, to see the major Cascasa Bedon waterfall, to hear the river down in the valley bed rush down through the páramo landscape. When I reach the hut between the 37 and 38 K marker, there are three guys, who tell me that the last bus to Popayán should pass around 4pm, and that there is yet another waterfall four kilometres down the road. First, I walk a trail through the wilderness with lush vegetation and bamboo arches over it, to the Termales de San Juan, thermal pools. This is a little world in its own right: hot springs bubbling up from the slopes of the active Puracé volcano, in white, blue, green, with bright green mosses, dark trunks. There is a trail running around the area, and it makes for a great visit: the hot water running down though the green landscape, the mosses on the edges, the steam rising from the water. Too bad it is not allowed to soak into them! On my way back to the road, I hear a heavier vehicle heading west. When I reach the track, it turns out to be a bus, and I ask the driver if there is still another bus coming after it, but without a hesitation, he tells me he is the last bus heading to Popayán. It is only 3pm, but there are so few vehicles on this road (I saw only four during more than 4 hours of hiking), that I don't want to risk it. I decide to skip the Cascada San Nicolás, and take the bus down.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Puracé landscape (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Puracé landscape.
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