Even given the fact that Colombia is a country with such distinct regional characters, Pasto has always been a little different to everyone else. And, as it was founded in 1537, before being moved a bit down the road to its present spot two years later, it’s been this way pretty much for as long as Colombia has. The main jumping-off point for nearby Ecuador, Pasto has historically had as much to do with that region as it has with Colombia itself. Beautifully nestled in its cradle of mountains – including a volcano that likes to have a bit of a cough now and then – Pastusos don’t really care too much what others think: they’re more than happy just doing their own thing.
This is a city never afraid to swim against the tide. On a number of occasions, this has almost led to Pasto going its own way completely. When the rest of the continent was getting all gung-ho about independence and such, Pasto remained one of the few staunchly Royalist cities; and it wasn’t easy to coax this disgruntled regional capital back into the Colombian fold. On a number of occasions, it also toyed with the idea of joining neigbouring Ecuador. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, when the country was getting excited about weakening the hold of the Church on society, Pasto was again a source of bitter division, as this traditionally Catholic stronghold rose up against the suppression of local monasteries. It’s best remembered that Pasto’s way is its own.
In these less bitter times, this individuality is expressed more in the local dialect (there’s even a Spanish-Pastuso dictionary), food and culture. Local food has many points of difference to other Colombian fare: the most obvious being roasted guinea pig (surprisingly delicious, we assure you) – although the local añejo empanadas; traditional ice cream; and hervidos (wickedly warming fruit cocktails) are also crying out to be sampled. The most extravagant outburst of culture in the city happens at the start of every year, with the riotous Carnival of the Blacks and Whites, a heady week of paint, powder and foam street battles; artistic expression; and, yes, a right proper party, Pasto style.
The landscape that has fostered Pasto’s individuality is awe-inspiring. Day trips to the massive lagoon, La Cocha; the majestic volcano Azufral with its black and green lagoons; or the spectacular, unmissable Las Lajas church built inside a canyon at Ipiales provide plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.’ As all of this comes about at high altitude, do remember to pack a jumper – it can get a little chilly.
Pastusos, traditionally proud of what sets them apart, are equally keen to share it with interested outsiders. Join them to celebrate their idiosyncratic, beautiful city, and you’ll find it hard not to feel a bit special yourself.