A Travellerspoint blog

Searching for the Lost City

Taganga & Cudad Perdida


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Another ridiculously frustrating transport here from Cartagena…..really starting to annoy me now! First a guy tried to charge us double because the bus was direct and then when we got off he finally dropped the price to what normal price should have been. Then it turned out the bus didn’t even go where we wanted to go and stopped half way…..then to top it off the guy ripped our ticket up when we questioned it – incredible! By this stage we were ropable and the other bus driver probably felt a bit hard done by as we were very terse at this point but to give him some credit he delivered to where we wanted to go for a fair price.

The little fishing town of Taganga is not quite the little fishing town anymore and arriving on the weekend we got to see it at its busiest overrun with tourist both foreign and local alike. The central focus is ofcourse the beach and whilst the beach here isn’t too bad, its not spectacular though probably the best I’ve seen in South America. Here once again being so close to the ocean the fish and shrimp ceviche is fantastic though for some reason (anyone that can please explain this weigh in) there is a war for the best beef steak being fought out between two restaurants in the area! I will endeavour to eat at both of them to try and add my two cents worth.

After a couple of days lazying about on the beach I decided to take off to the jungle trek out to the lost city, my main reason for coming up to this part of the country. The night before about midnight it absolutely bucketed down, not exactly a promising sign for the trek ahead!

The first day was an interesting start to the trek with the road from the bitumen to the trailhead in terrible condition and required the 4WD, luck and vroom vroom sounds from the driver to get us through it! Once we arrived at the trailhead we were home free however just in time to wait two hours for the rest of our group to come so we could eat lunch and take off – you have to appreciate South American time. After the lunch we started the hike and trail wasted no time in giving you a taste for the challenge ahead as you take on a stiff half an hour hill climb before being nicely rewarded with a lovely little swimming hole to cool off. The remainder of the day was relatively easy and saw us arrive after only a couple of hours of trekking at our base for the night. This was one of these tiny little houses with a hose for a shower, a stove for a cooktop and hammocks for beds with plenty of roommates in the form of the feisty jungle mosquito’s that had yet to reveal their true colours as merciless insects with no respect for clothes or most forms of DEET. I managed to survive tonight by loading up on DEET, wearing long clothes and huddling in my mosquito net. With little to do after darkness set in we retired to our hammocks to rest up for a slightly earlier day tomorrow.

The second day we took off full of energy and in anticipation of adventure with our first river crossing (1 of 9 in total). We started off with high hope of keeping things dry and took our shoes off for the river crossing, this one was a little over knee deep but we quickly abandoned the idea of keeping our shoes dry, which was inevitable because my waterproof shoes with holes had abandoned the idea as well! This posed the annoying problem of having to wring out my socks at every opportunity which was still less annoying than the constantly having to wring out my shirt! Seriously it was only about 35 degrees but it was humid and my shirt would be one colour in the morning and three shades darker half an hour later. I was trying to aim for 6 litres of water a day to make up for what you lose but it was just impossible. The river crossings did however give us a nice opportunity to cool down and the countryside was beautiful to walk through. The rolling valleys surrounded by mountains covered in nothing but trees created a very tranquil setting. The odd tiny isolated house that relies not on power but simply on candles for lights and stoves for cooking would give the impression of a place that technology forgot but for the strong presence of the military in the area.

The second day ended quickly as we arrived at our second camp just on lunch time….about 2 minutes before the rain started. Exceptional timing on our behalf we thought and then the guide let us know that in the mountains it would rain pretty much everyday but only for an hour or so. The hike was also rather bland with the rolling valleys giving way to the jungle and plenty more humidity but another nice swimming hole to cool off in. The rain continued on for the next six hours – not exactly inspiring for the mud path we would walk up to our third camp……sadly enough the same place that was all but destroyed by a landslide two weeks ago. With the rain falling we were left with little to do but play cards all night before retiring once again to our hammocks in preparation for a more difficult day tomorrow – we were all hoping that the rain would subside soon.

The next day for our longest day so far we would have to get up at 7am and there were many groans when that was announced but the groans gave way to hostility when the guides & cooks decided to wake the entire camp at 4am such was the noise the generated! The trek was also slightly more challenging with a couple of long uphlls and a long downhill, made very difficult by the slipperiness of the track that saw most people succumb atleast once. In fact we had a rule that once you fell you retreated to the back of the line so you atleast could console yourself with seeing the next fall no matter who it was! The path also had the challenge of crossing the river four times, the first being the most interesting trek wise as we individually hopped into a man cage and were pulled across the river the old fashioned way. The rest of the river crossings however we were on our own but for a simple guide rope that we had to try and hold onto despite holding our bags over our heads and attempt to thwart the wishes of the furious river current, with the water level up over waist high this was no easy feet! We finished the day off with a walk upriver anyways arriving however once again with amazing timing as the heavens once again opened. We found out here that they were considering closing the track to tourists if it kept raining due to the high river levels!

The campsite here is still in the process of being reconstructed after four of the five buildings were destroyed in the mudslide and people were more than a little nervous as the rain kept coming. Here we had the option between sleeping in extremely cramped bunk beds or utilising a three man tent. A quick look at the ridiculous argument that was developing told me that the tent was less painful option! Here the entertainment was more cards but our common enemies in mosquitoes were even more viscous and my luck did survive and they got me real got on this night and I still have the souvenirs to prove it. We finally retired with sleep hard to come by but with the rain eventually giving up allowing us to prepare for tomorrow what would be the toughest day of the trek.

We started with a nice early river crossing before ascending the 1200 steps to our destination “The lost City”. As we ascended up the stairs we arrived at the first of the ruins, some of the 600 or so that make up this so called Lost City. Continuing up the stairs we arrived at the plaza principal and the spectacular view over the nearby mountains and valleys. The plaza principal also gives a full view of the remaining plazas and terraces up and down the mountain.

It was here that the guide told us the remarkable story of how the place was discovered 35 years ago by a father and son in the area. As they travelled to nearby towns to sell the riches from the city it began to be noticed and after a short time eight friends of the son turned up to further try and pilfer the place however the father and son held firm. After many weeks of standoff the son was finally persuaded to kill the father and a war broke out between the bandits, resulting in only three of the bandits ultimately surviving. Finally one of the bandits named Frankie Ray went to the government and said that he was prepared to restore the ruins and help them to promote tourism here, for a very reasonable fee ofcourse. The first tourists started arriving here in 1982 and the local people have been taking their cut ever since but for three weeks when the city was closed due to a neighbouring village dispute over money.
The amazing thing about these people is that once somebody died in the house they would bury them inside the house with some treasures and then they would build a new house. Sadly very little else is know about these people of in fact this setting but it does offer an incredible location and as you wander amongst the jungle.

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Amusingly and somewhat sadly given where we were the biggest excitement of the day came when soldiers ran from all angles to one spot. We weren’t sure what was going on and thought perhaps there was some activity but it turned out however that the blonde german girl in our group had stripped down to her underwear for a photo with the military and soldiers were running from everywhere to get into the photo. After she put her clothes back on the excitement stopped and the guys retired to their individual spots - I guess here this probably is the equivalent of the old bunny drop from the Vietnam war! Next we visited the local Sharman’s houses, one for the boys and one for the girls. Amazingly these two tiny houses house up to 28 people. After this we raced back to the camp however the half hour wait for the german girl cost us the chance to stay dry and we arrived in the rain.

Since the rain was coming down thick and fast and we still had a three hour walk back to our campsite from the previous night we wrapped our stuff up in plastic bags and set off. With the path nice and slippery a few of us decided to try and go straight though and we arrived quicker than expected soaked but happy to be there. We did however end up on our butts on more than a few occasions such was the quality of the track. This time we were the only ones here and had only to share the campsite with a couple of dogs, a lot of very noisy frogs and a jungle full of very bright fireflies. We are all anxious to start early tomorrow morning so that we can get home and have a shower and do some laundry.
The next day didn’t start so great with three of us (including myself) feeling a little but on the crook side, so the first two hours of constant uphill wasn’t exactly what we needed. Still we all survived and managed to get back into town soaked as always but in time for lunch and without anybody really falling over today. Once we finished lunch we had the real adventure of the day trying to back to Taganga with the 4WD slipping and sliding all over the road, that was worse than when we came in and we even got held up for half an hour after we got bogged and we all had to get out and push. Not exactly what we needed after five days of hiking through the jungle!

With a couple of days left here in Colombia I spent a bit of time in Taganga before heading back to Cartagena, coincidently where most of the people from the trek were also headed. We all caught up there for a few drinks to celebrate the end of our trip as we were all to exhausted after the trek to do so. On Friday its time to leave South America and fly off to Panama to see the world famous canal and the famous islands.

Posted by rhinoc 11:28 Comments (0)

The colonial old city of Cartagena

Cartagena


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Next it was off to the coast to check out Cartagena, the most visited city in Colombia and supposedly a gorgeous colonial city again leaving involved its usual amount of drama. Once again the spectacular bus system didn’t disappoint arriving late once again due to a couple of late buses, a road closure requiring a U-turn, taking us almost 20 hours to complete the supposed 10 hour trip!

The first impression of Cartagena was not a great one as the city around the walled old city is quite seedy and sleazy. Still despite the late arrival we ventured out and had some cheap street food before taking in some of the night time site of the city including the church before having a beer in the main plaza. After this we retired back to the hostel to find they are in the seediest parts of town.

The next day we found a much nicer hostel in a slightly better area – given there isn’t really a great area outside the walled old city. The city was also much nicer by daylight with the seedy element removed and we took the opportunity to walk around the wall of the old city taking in the lovely architecture as well as the plentiful courtyards and Spanish balconies that I am a big fan of! Its quite nice to also be able to wander around the old city and pick up fresh fruit (and more so fruit that I actually like) and finally no more bloody plantanes!

The days here are beautiful and warm though to some people its maybe a little bit hot but rainstorm is always just around the corner to cool everything off. So after lunch we predictable ran back ot the hostel as the rain started to come and come it did, the constant rain and a few bottles of cheap rum saw the afternoon disappear swiftly. After dinner we decided to further check out the plaza nightlife, this time taking the opportunity to sit just off the plaza and utilize the street vendors who were more polite, faster and cheaper than the tourist bar right next door and also sold Cubans!

The next day being my final day here I decided to walk around the remarkable well preserved and giant fortress made to protect the city as well as walking the length of the wall and end enjoying the metal art in the many courtyards in the city. With the proximity to the ocean I also took the opportunity to take in some fresh quality ceviche which was fantastic. That night we headed out to the restaurant on the wall for a beer to enjoy the spectacular view as the sunset over the bay with the city in the background. This reminded me a lot of watching the sunset over the beach in Perth as well as the laid back feel of the place. Afterwards we found some girls headed out for dinner and took in a carriage ride around the old city with a nice bottle of wine ending the night with one final drink on the wall discussing in depth the financial pros and cons of starting a business to fire canons off the wall – much to the girls distain!

One of the annoying things is the constant hassle for drugs and girls that you get as soon as you venture outside the main plazas but we did also have a couple of amusing situations of being offered girls and after replying that we already had girls they wanted to then buy the girls and also being asked what we were looking for constantly until we replied with “ we are looking for our friends”, at this point they asked if could be of help and seemed confused when we then asked “well do you know where they are?”

Despite this the city is almost a paradox between an sleezy and unattractive outer city and a walled city of beautiful architecture and charm that in the end is hard not to fall for. Whilst it took me quite awhile to find it, I can now see why people visit this city so frequently and why for so many people it is their favourite city in Columbia.

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Posted by rhinoc 11:24 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The city that Pablo built

Medellin


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Arriving in Medellin on Saturday we decided to head out and see some of the famed nightlife and we certainly weren’t disappointed as the nightlife here is both varied and extremely popular. I took in a fair amount of the nightlife owing to the time I spent there and is certainly interesting but almost impossible to do without girls. Any club that you want to visit even as early as 10pm requires you to not only pay a cover charge but also have some girls with you completely ignoring the realization that single guys are the ones that actually spend the money in these places. The other frustrating thing is that there is no way around this and no amount of money your willing to pay will get you inside. Still I did manage to get into a few places and the night clubs are certainly worth going to here with the highlight being the after party of the Medellin fashion show!

The next day we headed out to the popular lunchtime area around Park Lleras and had a good lunch made affordable by the discounts on offer but the best thing was the entertainment. We had the opportunity to watch a reggaeton music clip getting filmed which is certainly not something you see every day! The video was basically a lot of lip synching by one guy pretending to look tough as leaves were dropped over and around him. It was amusing though and also to see the entourage that he brought with him along with the trademark ridiculous amount of jewellery!

Next was the main item on my Medellin itinerary the so called Pablo Escobar tour of his “town”. With a man this influential, once being considered the most famous criminal in the world there is bound to be conflicting opinions, however I wasn’t quite expecting conflicting tours! With the tour being popular we were unable to go as one group and thus had to split up with some of us doing the more expensive tour through Tiger Paw hostel and the rest doing it through Casa Kiwi. The two tours are apparently completely different if the discussion afterwards is to be believed as those of us on the Tiger Paw tour got the “Disney” version of events, with some of the bad things thrown in but also focusing on the good things he had done for Medellin. We also had one of his mules as a driver for the day and got to meet his brother. The other tour focused a lot more on the negative side of both the man and the city that he created and unfortunately did not get to meet his brother which was probably the highlight of the tour. Which version of events you want to believe is up to the individual to decide but there is no doubt that the man polarized people and that his legacy both good and bad still lies within the suburbs of Medellin. Regardless of the tour there are definitely some amusing stories from Escobars reign which are definitely worth hearing.

The tour itself took us firstly to the inner city 5 floor mansion that he built for himself that whilst not the most attractive is certainly impressive given that it still remains intact and dwarfs the buildings around it. After this it was time to visit the cemetery and see his final resting place and to get a few stories from our driver on some of the other graves around him. After this we went off to see the rooftop where he was eventually executed/committed suicide depending on which story you want to believe. Then we headed off to one of his safe houses in the neighbourhood to meet his brother who is amazingly enough an electrical engineer and a world class cyclist who gave up this to help his brother out in the family business. The house is slowly being turned into a museum and includes some of the secret rooms that they used to hide the money as well as the first car they used and Pablo's custom made bulletproof car. Amazingly when he made it onto Forbes richest people list with a net wealth of somewhere near $25 billion they estimated that he had lost about $3 billion to lost money and regularly wrote off 10% of their yearly income to money eaten by rodents! His brother also claims that at times they were spending $1000 a week just on rubber bands to bundle the money and that Pablo once burnt $2 million just to keep himself warm when he was on the run. The flip side to the drug smuggling was that he apparently guaranteed all money that was invested with him and used some of his funds to build a housing project for homeless people.

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With the celebration for the bicentenary over the attention moved to the next big festival on the Colombian calendar, the feria de las flores (festival of the flowers) held in Medellin. With this coming up I decided to stay the extra week and enjoy the festival. During the week I sampled a lot more of the Medellin nightlife that seems to go on all night and every night especially over the festival week. It is hard to write a blog without mentioning the girls of Medellin so I will do so here and say they are some of the most attractive girls in the world. The other thing that you cannot help but notice is the amazing amount of plastic surgery undertaken by some of the girls here with fake breasts and fake butts being ever present in the city. It is really quite incredible and a girl without surgery is almost a novelty here and some of the girls take it to quite the extreme! The reason I put this here is that the opening of the festival is marked by a giant parade of people riding horses through the centre. This goes on for about 6 hours but becomes a bit boring after about half an hour! The amusing thing however was going with a bunch of girls and having them continually commenting on the bouncing – definitely the best entertainment on offer! After this it was off to sample some of the other festival activities including the free concert which whilst more lively than that in Cali was still not as good as I would have expected. The festivals here have turned out to not be quite as good as I would have hoped but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

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Posted by rhinoc 10:23 Comments (0)

Happy Birthday Colombia

Cali


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With the Colombian bicentennial fast approaching I arrived in Cali, a city supposed proud of its reputation as the party centre of Colombia. First night after arriving I decided to check out some of the nightlife here and was left with unamazed, perhaps there is more local places that are better or perhaps only for the weekend but where we ended up going felt like a US college town with bars all along the street, the live music however was pretty good. Amazingly with a holiday the next day there were not many locals out and about and those that were, were simply drinking and chatting...not what I imagined from the so called "Salsa capital of South America".

The next day it was off to the main park to watch the festivities which started (and bizarrely ended) with a large concert featuring some of the best bands in Colombia. This was definitely worth the effort to get down here and the park was absolutely crowded with locals and tourists alike. Again strangely there was not much in the way of dancing, other than the bizarre display on stage! The party was quite subdued with everybody merely content to watch the concert and eat and drink a bit in the park with the concert (and evening) finishing about 7pm.

After a couple of days of rest (rather than party) in Cali I decided to head off to my next destination, Salento a nice little town in the coffee region of Colombia, supposedly a favourite for locals also. It’s quite amazing to be in Columbia where it seems the majority of tourists here on weekends are actually Colombians themselves who are taking the opportunity to see their country which is nice, as well as unusual for South America.

Since we had a large contingent leaving from our hostel we decided that it would be easier if we hired some private transport to go directly there instead of taking the longer route via Armenia on the buses. How wrong we were! What should have been a simple 2.5 hour trip tuned into a 5 hour exercise as the driver came ill prepared, forcing him to return to the bus station as well as stop multiple times along the way, including apparently to buy a CD! Finally we arrived at the bus station….in Armenia no less! From here we jumped back on the bus system and arrived in Salento to find we were too late and our reservations had been given away – not a great start!

Still we found a hostel and all was well and we got up the next morning to take a hike around the gorgeous green Cacora valley, fertile for coffee but also famous for giant palm trees. The weather took pity on us and produced a gorgeous day with just a hint of precipitation every now and again to cool the air. This left us to wander along (and several times across) the river and enjoy the plethora of green on display. The scenery is simply gorgeous and once we got up into the hill looking over the rolling green valleys below it looked perfect for a golf course……. I wonder if anyone else has thought of that. After climbing to the highest point on offer we descended back through the valleys to take in the land of the giant palm trees with some supposedly over 50m tall, really quite amazing. A short walk and a fun little jeep ride that involved us standing on the step at the back and holding on saw us arrive back in Salento just in time for lunch.

After lunch we took in one of the fantastic coffees on offer in Jesus café, as you would expect in the coffee zone the coffee was fantastic. The best thing about this cafe however is the care with which the owner prepares the coffee. This culminates into him creating a unique chocolate art on top of the foam, a simple and really nice touch to coffee at any time.
The next day it was off to visit a coffee finca, which is basically a coffee plantation to have a tour of the coffee making process and hopefully take in some more good coffee.

The next day it was off to visit a coffee finca, which is basically a coffee plantation to have a tour of the coffee making process and hopefully take in some more good coffee. The walk out to the coffee finca itself was well worth it with more beautiful hills and rolling valleys on display as we wound our way through the farms to a small little village about an hour away.

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The coffee finca was absolutely gorgeous with its setting amongst the lush green valley’s overlooking river being almost perfect. Set amongst the 40 hectares they had about five hundred thousand coffee plants and walking through the area was quite relaxing. The tour discussed the coffee making process but not in the most amount of detail but still it was nice and with a fresh cup of coffee at the end thoroughly worth it. The amazing thing was that the guy mentioned he had very little coffee for sale, which we thought must have been a joke or a mis-communication but as it turned out he only had four bags for sale, about 1.5 kilos….at a coffee farm! Still we were able to work it out and each left with a fresh bag of coffee each. Later than day it was time to head up to Medellin and check out the stomping ground of the world’s most famous criminal of the 20th century, Pablo Escobar.

Posted by rhinoc 17:47 Comments (0)

Mysterious Civilisations

San Augustin


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Well plans change just as easily as they are made and the next day saw me abandon my plans to head towards Popayan in favour of a slightly more complicated route straight to San Augustin. The slightly more adventurous route saw me head towards the jungle and through the mountains twisting my way with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other towards the small little town of Mocoa. Comfortingly or perhaps equally as likely disturbingly the army presence was quite heavy in this area and we had our luggage searched and documents checked whilst also playing taxi on occasions! The scenery was quite spectacular with both the valleys below and mountains above covered with every type of tree and shade of green possible. The road was not quite so spectacular and the bus did its best to cope with the combination of bitumen, gravel, rivers and other traffic that necessitated reversing into passing positions, we did however make the journey pretty much on time.

Arriving in Mocoa at 6pm I had decided to stay the night but just as soon as I got off the bus another one was leaving to Pitalito, the next connection in my line towards San Augustin. Figuring the opportunity was too good to pass I jumped on and another couple of winding hours saw me arrive at my destination. With the time now at almost 9:30 I was off to find a hotel for the night (you know where this is going) two minutes later I was on another bus towards San Augustin arriving there later than I wanted but relieved to have made it here especially in one day. I settled into a comfortable hostel to catch some sleep and get ready to see the statues in the park that I had heard so much about.

I walked form my hotel down to the park which was a little over 20 minutes away taking in the lush green valleys of this very fertile region of Colombia. The park is a really interesting place to wander around and I managed to find a guide that was able to actually explain a fair but about the culture & symbolism of the statue builders if not actually about the Augustin civilization in its self.

The Augustin civilization itself existed somewhere around the 3000 BC up until eventually being conquered by the Incans sometime around the 15th century AD. At the point of being conquered the people buried the statues to stop them from being desecrated or destroyed and it is only through local people and grave robbers that they were initially located, all up they have only excavated approximately 10% of the site. Sadly for visitors but in the best interests of the area they are no longer continuing to excavate until UNESCO can secure the money to excavate and protect the statues to prevent them eroding in the weather. When they do uncover the area they expect to find pyramids and evidence of an advanced civilization such as writing and art forms.

The statues on display are quite remarkable in their detail and design borrowing influences supposedly from various different cultures, suggesting that cultural exchange was important to them. The statues have the serpent influence from the Aztec tribes, the eagle/serpent/jaguar influence from the other latin American tribes, evidence of monkeys originating from asia as well as evidence of Egyptian and Indian culture. The statues also have representation of the duality of moon/sun, good/evil ect, as well as the anthropomorphic figures of both human and animal components with the jaguar, the frog, the caiman, the monkey and the serpent being the most significant. The statues also show evidence of people using hallucinogenics to influence their state of mind and feel more connected to the animals they worshipped.

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The main influence however would be fertility with most statues of the girls showing either a pregnant belly or an offering of their first born to the gods. The park is also littered with statues of penises, strangely both circumcised and uncircumcised. The statues also contain other indications of fertility such as masks of the uterus and fallopian tubes as well as nine lines to represent the nine months of the birth cycle and a couple even depicting caesarian sections. One statue even shows an intricate representation of the valves and chambers of the heart. The statues also show the importance of the agriculture in their society with many statues devoted to corn and the germination time & season for the corn crop. The civilization also believed the king should being buried with three virgin girls and the queen being buried with three cremated virgin boys to accompany them in their afterlife.

There is apparently evidence in the Bogota museum that shows that the civilization was advanced in the ideas of both brain surgery, heart surgery as well as other medical techniques. Evidence also suggests that they had a detailed knowledge of the reproductive methods of the animals and may have been advanced enough to have used caesarian section for birth as well.

The whole setting of the park is also incredible with the green fertile valleys leading into the almost jungle like setting of the park itself. After a visit to the park I took the opportunity to walk around the village and visit some of the more remote sites where statues were found. It’s a very nice walk although a fraction humid and the biggest danger is your walk being cut short by constant conversations with the locals here who are interested in every aspect of your visit and country.

Today saw me head off to visit some more ruins and some of the spectacular scenery around the area. The first two stops of the tour were to take in a couple of the bigger waterfalls in the area, one around the 450m mark and the other around the 300m mark which were quite impressive.

After that we went off to visit another park of statues, supposedly the second most important site in the area. The site is quite interesting having various statues and burial chambers but is however lacking slightly in the detail that the main park contains. The statues here are also a lot more spread out and again the area is quite scenic. After this we took in another couple of smaller sites that allow you to further see the way they both worshiped the afterlife and how they buried the dead, it however does not answer any of the questions they left. The final visit took in the narrowest point of the river Magdelena, the biggest river in Colombia that shrinks down to a width of a little over 2m near San Augustin. At this point and especially with the rain the river was flowing furiously and it would be a great place to go rafting especially after the narrow point where the river opens out.

The next day I took the long 12 hour trip to Popayan (thanks to the easy road being taken), a nice colonial town that is almost completely whitewashed. The city is pretty enough full of churches and a nice main plaza and the overwhelming presence of white building after white building in the centre. The city has also been completely reconstructed after a devastating earthquake that almost ruined the city. With the Colombia's bicentenary approaching I decided to head to Cali, the second biggest city for what should be a big party.

Posted by rhinoc 18:04 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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