AirBnB enthusiasts often speak about how the site helps you have a closer experience of a country by meeting your hosts and getting to know local customs. Whilst this can happen, I think it is sometimes exaggerated.
In the case of my Ibague stop this was certainly true though as, within a few minutes of my arriving, my host had introduced me to herself, her dog and her wooden leg (in that order).
The combination of a Latin American sense of personal space and a lack of any sense in her right leg meant that I inadvertently kept standing on my host’s shoe. I must have appeared to be a stereotypical Englishman abroad, repeatedly apologising to her for no good reason.
Despite this eccentric introduction, the two of us got on well. She used my visit to practice her English, which was nigh on perfect anyway, and I practiced my Spanish on her. As well as running a BnB my host also has a sideline in Chrismas present packages, as shown above, that she was collating in preparation for the festive season.
Ibague was originally constructed at the top of the hill, with mountains largely cloaking it in the places close behind the main square. This means that the “centre” of town, with the main square and shopping areas sits atop the rest of the city, which then sprawls down the valley below
My host took a pretty defensive view of being out and about in the city. Her advice was to take taxis between most places and not to stray from a very few safe places in the centre and at shopping malls. I took heed of this, if I didn’t always follow it to the letter.
One such instance was my trip to Combeima Canyon, to the north of Ibague. My host-approved taxi picked me up in the morning, with the instructions to take me up the valley as far as Las Juntas.
We drove out of the city, past the main square at the top of town and out to the valley behind it. The canyon has a river running through it and we followed its progress, steadily climbing upwards along its path.
We went past some small villages strung out along the roadside and then along a few stretches with restaurants for daytrippers and tourists. We went through Villarestrepo which is another village with a square, a couple of restaurants and a pony parking post.
Finally, we arrived at Las Juntas, which has some cafes and restaurants as well as a museum of the canyon (closed). My driver looked at me and said “Do you want to go further?”
“Mmmmm. OK” I said, thinking that he wasn’t going to drive himself into the middle of wild bandit country for no good reason, so I ought to be pretty safe.
I’m really glad that I did. As we passed through Las Juntas, although the road became less paved and more vertiginous, we also left the river and climbed up towards the heights of the canyon, until we stopped at possibly the most hair raising looking cable car I have ever seen.
Hair raising, not because of its height, although that is impressive, but for it’s apparently DIY construction techniques. It’s supporting prop appears to be an adapted telegraph pole!
At the other end of the cable car is the Finca de Rivera which is supposed to be a very good restaurant, hotel and trekking centre. There was no way that I was going to go down and find out for myself though.
We drove back down towards Las Juntas, bobbling along the track and stopping to admire the views along the way. At one point there was a bend in the road and a hill with a set of stairs,which lead to its summit. From there you can see a both up and down the valley. Some horse riders galloped past as I was walking back down the steps.
I said goodbye to my driver and walked from Las Juntas down to Villarestrepo for lunch. It was a beautiful day and because it wasn’t the weekend I pretty much had the road to myself. Once I finished lunch I caught the local bus back to Ibague – all of the buses on that road go back to the city centre – and prepared myself for a telling off from my host for going beyond her set safe limit.