Colombia 2014 Post 7 Feb 16-20, 2014
San Agustin, Terradentro, Popayan
(Bob) The last day in San Agustin was a lazy day. In the afternoon we walked down the hill and into town to wander around. We discovered the main market on the edge of town. This is always one of my favorite places with the profusion of fruit and vegetable vendors. It’s a great market with lots of vendors, a well layed out covered facility with separate meat and fish areas. And the prices are amazingly low: delicious mangos for 15 cents, sweet carrots for a nickel. Horse drawn carts were lined up outside waiting for their owners to finish at the market and head back home. At the church next to the market, there was a highly amplified music group playing flutes and drum. There were hundreds of spectators standing around in the shade of the surrounding buildings. But it was so loud we had to exit.
I bought a traditional hand made hat to add to my collection. The typical farmer and rancher attire is an old shirt and slacks, rubber boots, a serape folded and thrown over the shoulder when not needed, or over the shirt when it’s cold or rainy. And on the head is a broad brimmed hat made of split cane. I got a dress version of the hat. It was made locally and took 30 days to make. I’ll wear it proudly.
Dinner was at a recommended restaurant that on Sundays serves a special pork meal. The pork was tender and succulent, the best we’ve had. Then it was back to our guesthouse to prepare for an early start the next day.
Travel time is hard to estimate;150 km sounds like a short distance. But it takes about five hours to wind through the mountains on one and two lane roads that are under construction in many places. In five years it will be a relative breeze to travel these routes. The new concrete roads complete with new bridges and drainage ditches will last a long time. But it’s a bit painful to bounce along these routes right now. Everyone takes it in stride.
Terradentro is really remote. It’s tucked into a high Andes valley. We stayed in a nice guesthouse in the little town of San Andres. There’s not much there, not even a secondary school. The church, which used to be famous because of its thatched roof, was damaged during an earthquake and hasn’t been rebuilt. The proprietess of the guesthouse is like a little pixie. She was so jovial and helpful – and spoke very slowly and clearly so her Spanish was easy to understand. She’s only as tall as I am if I’m sitting and she’s standing.
The archeological sites in Tierradentro are tombs placed on leveled off ridge tops. To see all five sites is a 10 mile hike up and down steep slopes. We split it into two days, which added an extra two miles to each day. The first day at El Duende and Segovia, we encountered tomb chambers painted in black and red designs with guardian faces in several places. The second day was a real stretch for two old fogeys, one with artificial knees. It took us almost three hours to go over one ridge and up a second on a steep switchback trail to get to the upper tombs. Then we had to get back down. We were definitely feeling the altitude, which is about 9,000 feet (2750 meters). The tombs on top weren’t really worth seeing since they lacked decoration and were essentially holes in the ground. But the views from the top of the ridge were fantastic. The Andes are really broad with many ridges and valleys. (Deni) And the only thing that really kept us going was knowing that when we got back down to the valley floor, we could stop at a little restaurant for some wonderful juice. I’ve become a mora juice addict. The mora berry is sort of like a raspberry, only smaller. They throw a bunch of berries in a blender with ice-cold water and, voila, you’ve got something totally wonderful – especially if you didn’t take adequate water with you for your hike to the top of the freakin’ Andes, and you feel like you’re going to pass out at any moment. Coop had tree tomato juice. Nothing like tomato juice – a sort of sweet, pulpy thing. These fabulous nectars cost only the equivalant of $1 each – and each of us got two huge glasses full for that dollar.
(Still Deni) Let me tell you another reason bus trips often take longer than you’d think. Unless there is a direct bus, as there was, thank goodness, from San Andres back to Popayan, you have to keep changing buses. So, we left San Agustin in a collectivo – basically a jeep pick-up with a double cab and benches in the bed of the truck with a canvas sort of sides and top. Usually, because we’re old, we get to sit in the cab, which is cool. And so it was in San Agustin. We went to Pitalito, where we got in another collectivo – this time a van, so that was okay. In Garzon, we changed to another jeep pick-up, but we still got to sit in the cab, so all was well. Finally, we came to the wee town of La Plata. We had to wait for about a half-an-hour, then we piled in. But this time, the travel gods did not smile on us. We got put in the back on the hard benches. We shared the space with four other adults, one teen, two little girls, and a poodle. It took 1 1/2 hours to get from there to San Andres. It was miserably hot and very dusty. Not a great ride for sure. But, once we got there, our wonderful guesthouse hostess made the whole thing worthwhile.
(Bob) The ride back to Popayan today started at 6am. But it was a direct bus. It just had to go on the winding roads over the Andes to get here. In many places the narrow track (under construction) hangs on the side of a cliff. The pass was 11,000 or 12,000 feet (3500 meters). There are little hamlets and individual fincas tucked in the valleys and on the sides of the ridges. Until we got to the very highest ridges there was agriculture. On the peaks of the Andes are virgin rain forest. It’s full of tree ferns and tall trees. The forests, even in the agricultural areas, are full of birds and wonderful butterflies. We’ve never seen so many butterflies of all different colors. Just over the high ridge of the Andes going west is a broad mountain valley that is all farmed, potatoes and pasture mainly. Then going west the high ridges are all steep cow pasture.
We’re glad to be back in Popayan after spending a week in remote areas of the Andes. Our activities will be a little less strenuous the rest of the trip. It’s off to a hot spring tomorrow to soak tired muscles.
Bob and Deni