First stop in Colombia: Checking out Popayan and the weirdest desert I´ve ever seen (Tatacoa)

cactusMy first stop in Colombia was the so-called "White City" of Popayan in the south of the country for a bit of R&R before heading out towards the geographic anomaly known as the Tatacoa Desert. Due to a nearby mountain range casting a rain shadow over the area it stays dry year-round, but there is enough rain to cause some pretty crazy erosion patterns that were pretty eerie to hike around. If I had to imagine what Mars looked like, Tatacoa would basically be it. I pitched my tent near an observatory in the area for a few nights, put there because the desert made for some pretty good astronomical observations apparently. Unfortunately the local astronomer wasn´t there at the time, so it was closed. It was more or less deserted (no pun intended) the whole time I was there except for an army patrol...

...that happened to be in the area at the time and a few Colombian tourists that would come for half and hour to take pictures and then leave. Apparently there was some guerrilla activity in a nearby mountain range, so a patrol was sent to look after the area. Initially the soldiers were pretty standoffish despite me trying to make conversation, but eventually it just became awkward to ignore the random tourist camping right next to them. I think their commander was trying to put on a show of discipline, but after I talked to him for a while they all seemed to relax. They ended up being a lot of fun to talk to, and even cooked me a meal.

Church in Popayan.
Another church in Popayan.
I arrived after sundown in the town nearest the desert and hiked out to the observatory. The only mototaxi driver wanted 10 dollars to go 5 km, so I just walked it.  Walking in the desert at night, though, is pretty freaky. It always feels like someone is following you.
The following pictures are all from hiking around the desert.
Bird watching. Keep quiet. Don´t litter.
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The Colombian army chilling out near where I put up my tent.
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Church in Popayan.
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