The Sleepy City and the Mysterious Boulders

Our Amazing San Agustín Jeep Family @ Estrecho del Magdalena, San Agustín

Gobernación del Cauca @ Parque Caldas, Popayan

Two buses and seven or so hours later we arrived in Popayan. Popayan is also known as “The White City” due to a majority of the buildings being exactly that, white. It is also well known for its colonial architecture and having being home to 17 of Colombia’s presidents as well as some of Colombia’s most successful poets, painters and composers.  An earthquake in 1983 destroyed most of the town, which can still be seen in the city centre amongst some ruins/empty lots although most of the city has been restored.  UNESCO named Popayan as the first city of Gastronomy in 2005 due to its variety of culinary styles and strong hold on Colombian culture, mainly coming from food preparation techniques that have been passed down through generations.

We took off from the bus station on foot, eager to stretch our legs. We managed to push past the relentless waves of taxi drivers, past the traffic of horse/mule and carts and headed towards the Centro histórico where we would find our accommodation for the night. We were sceptical of this booking that we had made through booking.com as it was one of the cheapest rooms we had come across, yet was extremely central as well.

We arrived at Casa La Familiar Touristica, I had to ring the doorbell as it was so far up on the door frame Alice couldn’t reach. To be fair, even I nearly had to jump for it.We were greeted by a tottery old woman who didn’t have much to say. We were shown to our room passed a dog that must have been at least 100kg and as grumpy as you would expect a fat corgy to be. Eventually Alice made friends with the obese dog, but I couldn’t get near the fat shit even if I had a bowl of chomp.

Fatty One @ Casa La Familiar Touristica, Popayan

Fatty Two @ Casa La Familiar Touristica, Popayan

We headed out to find some food, only to discover that The White City could actually be known as The Sleeping City, as we searched high and low for any restaurant, comida or stall to sell us some food. Eventually we went back home, heated up some leftovers that were meant for dinner, hoping that Popayan would Pop Open that night.

We decided to have a nap, luckily our room had 3 choices in beds, two singles and a double, so it was a lush afternoon spent watching our box TV.

When we came out to try our luck at exploring the city again we were confronted with another, very obese, dog. At this point we weighed up trying to talk to the little old lady about her over feeding her dogs and their conditons… But our Spanish really didn’t reach that far, and we felt pretty sorry for her. The bigger dog literally looked like he ad swallowed a wide screen TV.

Pigeons @ Popayan

Remita de Jesús de Nazareno @ Popayan

The next morning, bored of Popayan we jumped on a mini bus to San Agustin. We were packed into a tiny bus with every woman and her chickens. Five hours the journey would take, or so we were told. About five hours in, with no end in sight, and no air-conditioning for that matter, we were exhausted, hot and feeling pretty average. The road was unpaved and unmaintained, leaving our little rickity bus bouncing all over the road. Luckily at this point a lady came aboard, sat in front of us and put down a cardboard box. Within a couple seconds a puppy poked it’s head through a hole in the box and we were done. Somehow the puppy “escaped” from its box and ended up on Alice’s lap where it remained for the rest of the journey. Not sure if the owner was too happy, but Alice sure was! Another bumpy three hours passed before we finally arrived in San Agustin.

White Streets in the White City @ Popayan

At no point would that drive have ever take five hours, and we had to return the same way in a few days. Choosing not to think too hard about the return drive ahead of us, we headed to our hostel where we had booked a triple room. This was the most economic price, and according to booking.com, a triple room is essential three beds but is private. These guys had another idea. Apparently a triple room is a dorm and they reserve the right to fill every bed. We reluctantly accepted as they wouldn’t listen to reason and we just couldn’t be bothered to get into it.

We headed out to grab some food and see what this tiny pueblo had to offer. San Agustin town itself is frequented by tourists who come to see the pre-Columbian remains spread over numerous sites. Within these sights, visitors encounter huge, meticulously carved, volcanic stones and tombs, left by ancient civilisations. That’s about all they know. After being served our three course Menu Del Dia on one plate, which meant our gravy, meat, yoghurt and fruit all swirled together in a taste not meant for human consumption, we had started to wonder if San Agustin was worth the whiplash.

We called into an info centre to get an idea of how to tackle the areas many archeological sites. The young guy was extremely helpful, to the extent of kindly offering accomodation for us both, and a dinner date. After we politely declined his invitations, we faked our names and passport numbers and headed down the street.

By the time we returned to the hostel, named “Music y Arte” for, what I assume, was based on the drawings on the walls and the annoying asshole playing the panflute… Let’s get this straight, if you don’t know how to play the Pan flute, a hostel is not the time or place to practice. For the love of God, I will hurt you and your awful noises coming from that piece of shit.

When we walked in, the guys working there had a family waiting for a room. They quickly ran over and asked if we would mind moving to a double for the same price. After having a minor brain explosion for the previous conversation around a triple being a private, we moved our bags and didn’t bother explaining the situation any further to them. They were happy, the family were happy and we were happy.

Penguin? @ San Agustín

The next morning we woke up, packed a day bag and headed to the nearby archaeological park. We were told this was a casual 20-30 minute walk, it turns out that Colombians couldn’t measure time with a watch. A bit of rain and an hour or so uphill, we arrived at the World’s largest Necropolis.

Parque Arqueológico San Agustín is home to the largest collection of religious and megalithic sculptures in Latin America. This was a funny place, the statues, although extremely impressive, are thought to be from around 50-400AD and no body actually knows who created them. The statues take all sorts of forms, from men and women to crocodiles, Jaguars, snakes, frogs and dieties. The tombs are intricately excavated and the statues measuring up to two metres tall.

That evening, back at the hostel, we booked a Jeep tour with the lady who seemed to run the hostel for the next day, who confirmed with us and told us to be ready for pick up at 8am. The Jeep tour was the most efficient way to see the most impressive sites that San Agustin had to offer.

The next morning we did exactly as instructed and when no one showed up, we knocked on the ladies door. Turned out we had woken her and her husband up and she hadn’t booked us in at all. After a few quick phone calls on her behalf, we were eventually picked up and driven around the corner to swap into another Jeep. Basically it doesn’t matter which company you go with, they all seem to work together and change people and cars. Within a couple minutes, three women jumped in the car, shortly after we were joined by two guys. Everyone in the car, except us of course, were Colombians. The three women lived together in Bogata at some point, they were not related but aged from early twenties to late fifties. One of the guys was living in Chile, but both men were from Baranquilla in the north of colombia and had known each other for years. It was a great bunch and we spent the whole day laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Our first stop was at Salto de Mortiño. Two waterfalls cascading heavily into a pit below. This was followed by another waterfall named Salto de Bordones, the highest uninterrupted waterfall in Colombia, falling a total of 400meters. We were able to view this monster from a glass platform as the water cascaded into the lush Huila Mountains.

Jess on the Edge @ Salto de Mortiño, San Agustín

On the way to our next spot we stopped in at a little Panela mill where we learnt about the process of producing Panela. Panela is unrefined cane sugar that is made from evaporating the juice from sugar cane and allowing it to solidify. It is all over Colombia and quite popular throughout all of Latin America.

We then arrived at an ancient ceremonial centre, Alto de Las Piedras. Here we walked around for around an hour checking out the huge volcanic rock statues taking female and animal forms, tombs and some small temples, that apparently date back to the classic period.

After lunch we jumped back in the Jeep and took off to our next destination, Ovando Archaeological Park. The excavated tombs here make it easy to see the pre Colombian ceremonial culture, and although we could see the markings of animal and human figures, no guide was included and there is very little information available, so the significance was lost on us. The park itself was a steep walk uphill for a hundred metres or so to a lush green field. We were told that some of the tombs and statues had actually been moved from other locations, so the layout held no importance.

Panela Guns @ San Agustín

Our final stop was to Estrecho del Magdalena, Colombia’s largest river. The strong rapids rushed by us as we stood on rock formations that had been created from the force of the river flow. Looking up from the river, we were surrounded by thick green rainforest and could spot a Virgin Mary statue on the opposing cliff.

We headed back to town, exchanged details with our new friends, who we still hear from most weeks (4 months later), bid our farewells and headed back to our hostel. That night we packed up ready for our early bus back to Popayan, which neither of us were very thrilled about.

Our Awesome Colombians @ Salto de Mortiño, San Agustín

We headed down to our bus early the next morning. We had gone to book our seats early the previous day to ensure we could choose the two front seats, behind the driver, for optimum comfort and least amount of travel sickness from the bumpy bumpy road. When we arrived, a local woman with two young children were sitting in our seats. We decided to suck it up and leave her there, but within a couple seconds of being in the bus, with a baby (about 2 years old) in her arms, was applying lipstick to her and taking heaps of horrendous selfies. She then put lipstick on her oldest girl, who must’ve been around five! The whole journey continued like this, occasionally the young woman would roughly reorganise the blankets and child, pushing her head this way and that. The little girl was allowed to buy a lollipop with which she fell asleep with it in her mouth at one point, then in her hair the next.

A Dramamine each helped with this trip, and even though it still took six/seven hours, “it’s quicker on the way back, only four hours” we finally arrived back in Popayan. While at the bus station, we tried to book a bus for the next morning to Ipiales but we werent able to book ahead. We were told to show up at 6.50am for the 7am bus, as there were plenty and they left every half an hour to an hour.

We headed back to Casa Familiar Touristica with the same obese dogs and grumpy old lady to greet us. That afternoon we took our time around the white city to explore the architecture and wander around the central park. While walking around, two young Colombian men walked past me grabbing themselves and saying “hey baby, how you doing”. Completely inappropriate I told them to cut it out. Alice, who was a few metres or so behind me, heard them walk off and call me cold and fridged. There is a bit of a culture of men saying really inappropriate things to women in the streets in a lot of Latin America, from all ages and as two women we cop it all the time but mostly choose not to say anything back for safety sake which SUCKS and goes against everything we believe in but in these situations it feels like the less risky option.

Monkey? @ San Agustín

Big Grins @ San Agustín

After a wrong turn on the way to the bus station the next morning and a short detour, we still managed to arrive super early to make sure we wouldn’t miss out on seats. This was only to find out that all the buses had sold out and gone. Yep, even the ones meant to be leaving every half hour. Alice had a bit of a go at the guy that wouldn’t sell us tickets the day before as it was 6am and apparently no buses. We then ran around the bus station trying to find any bus to Ipiales. Luckily we came across a full tourist bus that had seats left, so we grabbed our tickets and waited out the hour and a half in a cafe nearby. Maybe they just didn’t want to sell the seats to tourists? That’s a bit shit but fine if they had just said that.

As we jumped on the other bus it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the following nine hours were much more comfortable than they would have been on a microbus.

We had decided to take this journey during the day as the Pan Americana highway still poses alot of dangers during the night with highway robberies. This again turned out to be for the best as the views from Popayan to Ipiales were not to be missed. The scenery was out of this world stunning! Colombia was giving us a farewell in the form of some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever seen.

Statue In Front of a Tomb @ San Agustín

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