San Agustin, a UNESCO archeological park and the Tatacoa Desert

This is the last post about our journey through Colombia.  In 5 weeks we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface of this amazing country! 

The previous post can be found here:  Salento. Tall wax palms, waterfalls; a hiker’s dream. Then onto the white city of Popayan!

San Augustin

Although we were at the Popayan bus terminal shortly after 7.30, the next bus we could find left at 9:15 so we went in search of breakfast. Our choice turned out to be poor as I ended up with a stale cheese churro and a bland cheese muffin. The coffee was okay and Anita’s pastry wasn’t bad.

Our “bus” turned out to be a van in which we squished 10 people. It took about 5 hours to go about 130 km with one stop for a tire repair. For the most part the road is pretty bad and apparently it’s worse during the rainy season when it can take more like 8 or 9 hours! What astounded me is that we met several big trucks! 18 wheelers went both ways. A couple of times one was ahead of us and when the road got wide enough they would allow us to pass. Several times we had to pull to the side to let one pass. I admired the driver for picking the spot as sometimes the “shoulder” was just a muddy ditch that was begging for someone to get stuck in.

Most of the passengers got off in a small town where they would continue to Pitalito. We arrived in San Agustin, where it was hotter than I expected, and walked to the Hostal Bambu.

Since we were starving we found a restaurant that served a “meal of the day” for 10,000 pesos. You choose your soup, protein and side and get juice with it. Perfect.

While exploring the town we met up with Marco who was going to do a walking tour and asked if we’d join him. He gave us lots of history and interesting tidbits about the area, showing us sights like the market and an interesting bar called Casa Tarzan. There’s no such thing as a walk in Colombia that doesn’t involve climbing a big hill so we did that too. That one just about killed me. I was bone weary. The tour ended at a cafe where we enjoyed chocolate with cheese and an assortment of local snacks.

They’re pretty sure there are archaeological stones under this church, used as building materials before they realised they’re important

Modern sculpture of Christ (Christ with the broken tooth)

Tarzan bar. Very odd place. There’s a fireman’s pole to get down from the second floor

the oldest street in San Agustin. Our hostel is on the top of the hill.

View of the city from the hill at sunset

Breakfast on Monday was at the Fonte since it was good the night before. A yogurt, granola and fruit parfait, with a ham and cheese sandwich, eggs and coffee for 8,000 pesos. Perfect!

We walked the 3 km up hill to the archeological site and spent the next few hours exploring that. A lot of the odd statues and rocks were lost from centuries of looting and some were used as building material. They suspect there’s even some that were used in the building of the town church. Of course there are a couple of major hills on the site too. Thankfully the way back is down hill.

Today we picked up a snack and pop and enjoyed some down time in our room.

After more wandering about town, checking out the market, finding out bus times we again settled on Fonte for dinner. It was good and cheap and had wifi. Our hostel wifi barely worked.

Ceremonial Fountain of the Lavapatas, it is a work of Hydraulic engineering where a series of figures, channels and carved sinks were captured on a bed of rock, it has a drainage system for where the water circulates in a uniform and artificial way, this place was possibly used to perform ceremonies of life ,

That’sonehuge That’s one huge poinsettia

Mangosteen!!!  We can’t get these at home so we bought another bag of them and ate them for dinner.  YUM!!

Into the Tatatcoa Desert!

The plan in the morning was to have coffee and then head to the main street to find a bus for 8:30 am. At 7 there still wasn’t any coffee so we just left. By 7:30 am we were in a collectivo headed for Pitalito. I had time to run and get us each a coffee at least.

At the bus station in Pitatlito a man hollered “NEIVA?” I said “si” and he took Anita’s bag. We followed, then realized we hadn’t paid the guy from San Agustin. While doing that we tried to remember what bus Anita’s bag ended up on. No worries. The hollering guy guided us over. We paid him and boarded that bus.

By the time we reached Neiva it was after 1 pm. Tired, hot and seriously having to pee meant the nice men asking us where we wanted to go got the answer “Bano, por favor!”. Haha

We purchased tickets for Villavieja and paid the extra 2,000 pesos to get dropped off at our hostel. For less than a dollar we did NOT want to walk 20 minutes with our bag in 40 degrees.

It was after 3 pm and all we’d had to eat was some nuts we bought from a vendor who jumped on the bus at one point. We were starving so just ordered a burger and fries at the Sueno Real Hotel. Don’t know what was up with the kitchen but they ended up going to town to get it for us.

I checked the email to find out Interjet had changed our flight from 3:15 pm on the 14th to 8.05 am. CRAP. That would NOT work as our flight from Neiva wasn’t to arrive in Bogota till 11 am!!  After emailing and sending a PM I figured, whatever, and we went for a swim. That was wonderful! We arranged a tour of the desert with an English speaking guide for the next day. Nobody here speaks English so google translate is our friend. 😀

Interjet messaged me back that they needed to call. Our hosts were kind enough to let us use their number. I spent a good hour on the phone but finally changed the flight to the next day. That meant having to spend a night in Bogota and get home a day later but couldn’t be helped. So much for planning. I had planned to fly into Bogota on the morning of the 14th, allowing plenty of time for delays and such, and so no more transit was needed. 

Oh well.  The best laid plans…… all part of travel.

We’d asked our host about a tour of the desert and she connected us with Joe who picked us up in his tuk tuk the following afternoon. Joe took us to all the highlights. At the first stop we climbed down the into the “Cusco” or red desert and walked around learning about plants, animals and the geology of the dry, tropical forest ecosystem. The temperature reached 40 degrees with no breeze. That is HOT! It just about did Anita in so she opted out of the second walk. We met her later after she’d rehydrated and walked along the edge of the desert. The views were spectacular from there!

The Cathedral

Fruit and flower on the same plant
Woodpeckers   are  pretty   tough!

Back in the tuk tuk we stopped at a view point to see the Los Hoyos or gray desert and a bit later, we got out to walk through it. The landscape is surreal and looks like something from Star Trek. We finished up the walk with a swim in the piscinas. They’re man made from natural spring water and are supposed to have healing powers. Well. I’m not sure it healed anything but sure made us feel refreshed!

We carried on to see the sunset over the desert and then Joe dropped us off at an observatory. There we could look through telescopes at a couple of constellations. After we laid on our backs, watching the starts while our host used a powerful light to point out stars and explain various aspects of astronomy.

By the time Joe dropped us off at our hotel, we didn’t feel like going out to eat so just finished up some snacks and went to bed.

Our last day we spent relaxing, reading and swimming. We figured we deserved a day off 😀

Back to Bogota

We’d hired a driver to pick us up from the hotel and drive us to the airport. He spoke very little English but we attempted conversation. Maybe if we had another month here we’d get proficient at Spanish?

We spent the afternoon spending a ridiculous amount on taxis in Bogota and shopping for Mochila handbags made by the Wayuu tribes. We’d seen them in many places and wanted to get some but they’re quite heavy and just another thing to carry. We may have spent too much on taxis but we got some beautiful bags for decent prices.

Our flight from Bogota actually left at least 10 minutes early. How weird is that? We got to Mexico city so early they weren’t ready for us so we ended up sitting in the plane waiting for a bus to take us to the gate for almost an hour. Oh well.

It was a great trip and a wonderful adventure. Someday I’d like to go back to Colombia as I really don’t think we’ve seen enough of it. It’s a big, beautiful country!!

Mochila bags made by the Wayuu people

This is how our itinerary ended up 😀


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