Moving on and saying goodbye to Colombia
01.10.2007 - 12.10.2007
My arrival to Colombia had not been well planned, but rather a spur of the moment decision based on a layover in Bogotá, and an earthquake in Peru. Upon entry the immigration officials gave me 60 days to visit their beautiful country, and it would turn out not to be enough. As we arrived to the southern stretch of the country the pressure to keep a more pressing schedule started to set in.
The city of Popayan was our first destination in the south, having skipped the famous party city of Cali. Popayan is an attractive city, but the downtown is similar to just about every Colombian town. The whole town is whitewashed, and has a definite sterile appearance. There isn’t a ton to do, but it serves as a good launching point to the famous destinations of Tierradentro and San Agustin. For many years the territory of San Agustin has been occupied by paramilitary groups, and has suffered as a result. The government has invested a surprising small sum into the development of the territory, and the highway is the worst part.
The trek to San Agustin from Popayan is about 70 miles but takes all of 6 and a half hours. The road is completely unpaved and in desperate condition. I was lucky enough to get the last seat on the bus of the last departure of the day. The trunk of the minibus, now full of potatoes and food goods, didn`t offer space for my backpack. This meant that it would have to ride in my lap. Not so uncommon as the passengers to either side of me also had their children in their laps. If you can help it is best not to sit in the back of the bus on a ride like this, because it is basically like sitting in the back of a rollercoaster. Every bump and dip is exaggerated about 3 fold. Needless to say I was happy to arrive and leave that whole experience behind me.
Fortunately, waiting in San Agustin was the most comfortable hostel I have ever visited. The owner is Swiss (Rene)and his wife (Paloma) Colombian/Italian. The whole place is based around ecotourism and situated on an organic farm. The rooms were both palapa style huts and bamboo cabins. Paloma makes a mean curry, a very welcome flavor after months of unseasoned meat and potatoes. The scenery in San Agustin is amazing and the views are spectacular from every angle. The hostel is called El Maco, if your ever in San Agustin.
A visit to the archaeological park shows an exhibit of one of the lost cultures of Colombia. The are large stone sculptures which are tombs of a former Indian tribe about 3000 years ago. Little is now about, what became of them, or the significance of their sculptures. Information has been extrapolated through anthologist studies of other tribes in the area. All guess work as far as I’m concerned. None the less, a fascinating tour and worthwhile afternoon.
The following day we headed out on a horseback tour of the valley. I had never been horseback riding before, and 4 hours was probably a bit much. The trip took us into the spectacular canyon of Chaquira, and through farmer’s trails to see other tomb sites. It was an excellent combination of natural beauty, archaeological mystery, and extreme fun. The horses were well trained, and knew exactly where to go, when to gallop, and when to trot. My horse had a bit of a complex (probably for being the smallest) and always wanted to be at the front of the pack. Honestly there a few things more fun than riding a horse in full gallop when he takes a sharp turn. With 7 horses behind you, you know your toast if you don’t hang on. After a few days of recuperation, I was ready to get moving again. Knowing we had a rough ride back made it easier to stay and relax a few more days at El Maco, but eventually we had to bid a sad farewell.
In the Chaquira canyon there are stone carvings that are perfectly illuminated at sunrise on one side, and sunset everyday
Before crossing the border to Ecuador, a quick trip to Las Lajas is well worth the time. This is a small cathedral built into the walls of a canyon. The altar is actually constructed from the stone face of the canyon wall. There is waterfall shooting out from the left side, and a base that rises easily 50 feet bridging the river and providing the foundation. The church is known for having delivered in more request for miracles than any other church in Colombia. Along the walk down the walls are lined with plaques and thanks for miracles received. There must be at least two thousand of them. Not sure I buy into all of that, but it is definitely and impressive site, and a beautiful last glimpse at the spectacular Colombian vistas.
All in all it was a spectacular two months in Colombia, and we crossed the border with just a few days to spare. As always I`m about 10 days behind in publishing this blog, if you want to see where I am today check out the map below. In two days I`ll be off to the Galapagos Islands which will slow probably keep me from updating for the next two weeks.