Colombia 2014 Post 6

Colombia 2014 Post 6 Feb 13 – 15, 2014

San Augustin, southern Colombia

(Deni) We were in Popayan for a full day and will return there later in our trip. We’ll do an entire post about Popayan and the area then. Today’s post is about our bus trip to San Agustin and our time here.

The bus ride here was quite an experience. It was through the mountains on terrible roads. The driver went as fast as he could and didn’t seem concerned about slowing down on blind curves, of which there were many. We had two near-misses with huge trucks that came speeding at us and just narrowly missed crashing into us. Oh well, we made it OK, and no one else in the bus seemed at all concerned.

San Agustin is definitely a touristy town. There are lots of tour options available – jeeps, horses, rafting, etc. We booked a jeep tour the first day that took us up and down impossible roads to many fascinating archeologoical sites. We also visted two viewpoints to see gorgeous waterfalls.

Yesterday we took a horseback tour to more sites and the archeological park. We’ve ridden horses, camels, and even elephants in our various travels, and this was the best experience ever. Our guide, Pacho Munoz, gave us fascinating and helpful information, and his horses were so well-trained and easy to ride.

Today our goals are to get this blog posted, try to confirm a reservation for the next part of our adventure, figure out how to get where we’re going next (it’s complicated – sort of off the beaten track), and find a good restaurant in town.

We’re staying at a nice hostel just out of town. As with most neat things here, it’s on the top of a hill, so taxi cabs can’t get here. It’s a hike up and down, but well worth it.

I said I wasn’t going to talk about Popayan yet, but I do have to mention two funny conversations we had there. A man stopped us and asked where were from. Somehow the conversation (in Spanish) got around to where we’ve traveled before. He was very happy to learn we had been in Africa because his son collects examples of currancy from around the world and he’s having trouble getting anything from Africa. The upshot of the conversation was that we are going to send his son some of the coins and paper money we’ve had left over from our various trips.

The second conversation was with a Scot who teaches at the university in Popayan. In addition to his teaching, he has a small cafe. He told us a very funny story about having a Scottish ceili New Years eve at the cafe attended by lots of backpackers from the hostels. He had won a huge barrel of rum in a raffle the day of the party, so the affair continued all night. They ran out of ice early in the morning so he set out on his bike to find ice – and he did, then the party continued. It must have been an event to remember – if anyone could!

(Bob) The archeological remains in this area are from the early period (6th to 2nd centuries BC) and classical period (1st to 6th centuries AD) of Colombian culture. What remains are tombs and guardian stone statues. The sites are all on the tops of the hills in the surrounding area. This was a widespread culture that encompassed most of the mountainous areas of Colombia. The coastal areas were hot, steamy, and full of disease, so they were sparsely populated. We’re at about 6,000 feet (1800 meters) elevation where the climate is quite agreeable, upper 70s (25 C) during the day and cool at night. We’re at the headwaters of the Magdalena River, which flows north between the central and eastern Andean ranges, emptying out in the Caribbean Sea 1000 miles (1500 km) away. The river has carved spectacular deep V-shaped valleys with waterfalls and cascades.

The Inca had no presence here. They were futher south centered in Cusco, Peru, though they reached into present day Equador and Chile. But the Inca were much later – 1200 to 1500 AD. The fact that the Inca were not here really shows in the farm fields. The fincas (small farms) in this mountainous area grow coffee, banana (plaintain), sugar cane, and the local fruits. It’s all grown on the steep sides of the mountain ranges. We’re talking really steep. No machinery can be used. Some fields are so steep I have no idea how the farmers can stand on them. There is no terracing like the Inca did. There is some erosion. And there is a big problem of land slides when the soil gets saturated with rain water. The soil is very deep and fertile – from ancient seabed. The high plains and the few flat valley areas are all pasture land for grazing mainly cows, but also horses. It’s just the opposite of what we’re used to in the US with our richly cultivated flat valleys. The main central valley surrounding Cali is larger than the Willamette Valley, flat as a pancake, and totally covered with sugar cane. It’s a huge industry. Colombia is a big exporter. But needless to say the Colombians eat a lot of sugar. It’s mainly brown raw sugar. We see them pressing the juice and boiling it in some of the rural fincas. Many of the fruit juice drinks are highly sugared, coffee and tea is sugared, and we see people eating straight raw sugar in cubes or from a half gourd bowl. There are a lot of overweight people in this country, maily the middle aged town and city folk. The rural folks get a lot of exercise going up and down the trails and roads. But that’s changing. There are motorbikes everywhere, particularly out here in the countryside. We see high school kids, women, older people, all riding motorbikes solo or in pairs. But of course, out here away from the cities, almost no one wears a helmet, and they’re probably texting on their phone as they drive. This country is wired.

More next time after we tour Terradentro.

Bob and Deni

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