San Agustin: Six thousand years of history meet downhill biking

The trip over from Popayan to San Agustin started with advertising, just like in cinema. A guy was standing next to the sliding door and argued the case for buying one of his magic cleaning creams, as demonstrated by removing some brown liquid from a white handkerchief. He did actually sell one or two before getting off at the first police check point with bag search for two of the male passengers. Pretty standard.

I tried to read meanwhile though it was difficult, to say the least, by the time we crossed Purace park on pretty poor roads and with limited light while in the dense forest. We were late as usual and as if this wasn’t enough we also had to replace a busted tyre.

After hopping on to a jeep (while the bus continued to Pitalito), I made to San Agustin by 3.30pm. Literally minutes before arriving i booked myself into hostal ‘musica y arte’ on booking.com … you gotta love this modern technology. the receptiuon in the hostel was warm and as the fella couldn’t locate the key for the shared room he gave me an upgrade to a single. the rooms were nothing special, but clean and the hostel had some good views over San Agustin from its two balconies. anyway, relaxed athosphere.

before heading out I had a quick chat with a german girl from munich. she finished her logistics studies and is now on her last half year of freedom. impressive travel CV she had to show with literally all of asia covered. she gave me a few insights into the north of the country, which especially around cartagena is very touristic. might have to revisit my 4day stay to learn kite surfing and find another spot. lets see.

after short city tour and improvised dinner at the hostel I was about to pass out. however, the host insisted we all head for the music and art festival to enjoy some traditional music and dance. i have to say here that the people in this region look very indigenous and akin to the people you imagin when you think of peru or ecudador (which arent far away) and the music too (pan flute etc). despite being tired i had a great time and got to sample the national drink too – aguardiente (literally firewater). its an anis based liqueur with c30% vol. the locals of the village put on some great performances in beautifully designed outfits. wonderful to maintain such traditions with good involvement of the young (different to many european countries).

next day started early for i had some 50km biking ahead of me to see the two main archeological sites and one of the waterfalls in the area. I got my bike from a barista cafe called bicicafe for COP35,000/day. You’ll really need to do the biking for the fun of it, as it wont be cheaper than taking a jeep (COP30,000 for a daytour).

Off I went to Parque Arqueologico about 3km (uphill) from the village. ther you can take a 1.5-2h round tour of the excavations and see the uncovered statues of the burtial site before closing the tour at the museum for a few more insights. (COP 25,000 for the pass that also gets you into Alto de los Idoles, COP10,000 for students). that was the easy bit and certainly interesting to see leftoverts from ancient civilations in the region.

Next up was a 20km+ journey to Alto de los Idoles. Once you pass the village the opposite end you are going some 5km steep downhill into the magdalena river valley. stunning views, really amazing. unfortunately, from there its 13km more or less uphill (or a bit more if you take a wrong turn as i did for an extra 5km or thereabout). the sun was pounding by now and as of the time of writing i still nurse the resulting sunburn on my back. imagine dark red ;o). half way, you get to a waterfall. i enjoyed a break with fresh, cold water and a beer. another hour or so later and i reached the second archeological site after a brief stop to talk with alex (poor fella twisted his ankle at school). less statues & no museum, but overall prettier i think with a fountain and a hill with some great views.

back home was gruelling. at first its really pleasant as you descent 13km back into the valley past coffee and sugar cane plantations and again stunning views. the steep climb back to san agustin was tough in the afternoon heat, but what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. i got back right on time at 4pm.

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now i needed to get out of here and towards neiva if i wanted to make the tatacoa dessert before heading to medellin. our hostel host kept saying that the route to neiva was blocked too by indigenous folks and his checks with friends (a protest whatsapp group) confirmed as much. the bus company claimed the opposite and i went with their view. at least i’d get closer to neiva. in the end all was fine and i got to neiva by mid-night. feels a bit like a dodgy place, but that didnt matter to me once i settled into my hostel for the night. long day, tired as hell … but the sunburn made for uneasy sleeping still …

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