Hot weather! As we headed further northeast in Colombia, we began to experience hot weather. We had been in cooler climates for so long, the heat felt great.
First we had to drive through some crazy traffic. Our new navigating system, "mapsme", although able to show our " ioverland" sites, was not working for us in cities. After several wrong turns, and a few more city trials, we have returned to "forever maps", using mapsme as a reference.
I always thought that I was a better driver than Mike. That may still be the case in countries with traffic rules and drivers that obey them. Here in South America, Mike has been negotiating rough terrain, narrow roads, crazy truck drivers and chaotic traffic at ease. For him, it is like playing a computer game with objects coming at you from all sides, obstacles in your path, and needing to make fast moves and quick decisions. No wonder he does so well!
In the lower lying areas we began to see more farmland and even rice growing. After a 15-minute conversation with some police officers that had pulled us over, we took their recommendation and headed into an area near the town of Rivera. We were able to fill up our water tanks with potable water for free at a gas station in the town.
Our first stop was at a river camp where Keira took a swim and I waded in the river. It was refreshing but we wanted to check out some thermal springs further up the mountain, so we moved on. We found a place that offered camping and had a natural pool.
The location was superb. There was a magnificent view, open spaces, and an abundance of animals. They had geese, ducks, green parrots, macaws, chickens, peacocks, dogs, and cats. Keira instantly wanted to stay.
Unfortunately, the natural pool that we thought was hot was in fact cold and quite frigid, in the late afternoon. I took the plunge and actually found it refreshing. Shots of the local anise alcohol from some local Colombians, helped abate the cold.
That night the wind picked up and it was quite a battle to prepare dinner. We opted for movies in the tent.
I have been walking and running in the mornings resuming a family tradition that my father, brother and I use to partake in on our family vacations. We would all go for early morning runs, so we could explore the area. For me, it provides some consistent exercise, keeps my back problems in check and does allow me to scope out the area. I also enjoy seeing the daily morning rituals of the various cultures.
That morning after packing up camp, the temperature was already rising, so we decided to explore a waterfall on the property. We were not disappointed. We waded in the waters and played in the waterfall for an hour or so. We had the place to ourselves. It was magical.
Desierto Tatacoa was our next destination. And it was HOT!
We found the only swimming pool in the area, and spent the day relaxing in the cool waters. The night bought with it extreme winds, which once again provided cooking challenges. The sunset was beautiful and the temperature did decrease slightly. We went to bed hoping the wind would stop so we could get some sleep. During the night we could see in the distance a big storm threatening to engulf us. This did not happen and we got our wish, the wind dropped.
AHHHH! The wind ceased and with the stillness came the extreme heat.
Luckily we had a battery powered fan that provided some relief. We had to filter water half way through the night as we drank to replace our fluids. What a night!
The owner of the campsite and pools, Hugo, was a real character. The whole time we were there he wore nothing but green shorts. He came to talk, watch us cook and proceeded to drink most of Mike’s rum supply that he had just bought in Hugo’s store.
So with the Rivera and desert explored, it was the famous coffee region of Salento next on our list.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: battery powered fan
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- swimming in the waterfall; Keira-playing in the waterfall and scrubbing Mum and Dads feet with rocks; Riss-swimming in the waterfall
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- one lane roads and big trucks; Keira- getting bitten by a parrot that fell from a tree, I was trying to help him, but he got scared; Riss- dealing with the wind
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- bag of 10 mangoes for $1, Keira- cold drinks; Riss- fresh cold mangoes
BEST CAMPING SPOT: desert, but the winds were crazy
We were nearing the time that we would need to say our farewells to our friends Els and Gerret. They would be returning to Ecuador and we would continue our travels in Colombia.
We decided to head to the city of Popayan to spend a few days together. This would be a good point for them to continue south and we wanted to explore the city.
We found a great camping spot called EcoParque just north of the city. The owners were super nice, even providing us with a welcome drink upon our arrival. We settled here for a few days, enjoying each other’s company, relaxing in the pleasant gardens and taking turns playing monsters and princesses with Keira. Mike had hurt his back whilst repairing our car tire some days before, so it was a good place for him to recover.
We had the pleasure of meeting a Brazilian couple also travelling overland, Zanda and Daniela. We shared meals, and stories together. It is always interesting to hear other peoples stories, what they use to do, what their travel plans are and what they plan to do in the future. Most have quit their jobs to go travelling for an extended period of time, making sacrifices for the preceding years to save enough money to fund their trip.
Zanda and Daniela had worked really hard to put away enough money for 8 years of travelling and living expenses. Unfortunately the world economy and the deflation of the Brazilian dollar has significantly impacted their budget, and is forcing them to return to work earlier than they had hoped.
It is always hard parting ways after you have travelled with someone for an extended time. You come to rely on each other, sharing the responsibilities of navigation, decisions and daily chores. Els and Gerret had become our family. The only conciliation in saying goodbye was that we are sure our paths will meet again some time in the future.
Popayan is a large city, but the downtown historic area is very beautiful and has charm and a very relaxed atmosphere. Mike, Keira and I enjoyed wandering its streets, looking at the architecture, absorbing the atmosphere whilst sitting in the plaza, and enjoying coffee and cake at one of the charming cafes.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a “Jumbo” supermarket. We had first been introduced to this chain of supermarkets in Argentina. They are a bit pricier but have a large variety of goods, including many international products. We restocked our supplies, which generally means our canned and dried goods and treats. At these times, we put our extra stocks in the top box on the roof.
Our next destination was Tierradentro, another archeological site, to the east of Popayan. We had heard mixed reports about the road from “it is paved all the way” to “it is muddy and parts are impassable”. We figured there was only one way to find out.
The road itself was not that bad, relatively speaking. It was in fact paved a lot of the way, but the sections that were not were very rough and narrow. There are a lot of landslides in the area, which take out the roads. A lot of construction is taking place to reinforce the mountainsides and to forge new roads.
The scenery was once again incredible. However as we passed through the towns, we got mixed feelings from the people in this area. Some seemed pleased to see us, however others seemed indifferent and some not pleased at all. This was once an area controlled by FARC rebels, which may explain the mixed response.
Once in the small town of San Andres, we set up camp in a private “camping lot” run by a local family. It was basically a vacant lot that had some very run down toilets on site. However the people of the town were very friendly, welcoming and intrigued by our presence. Two local girls came by to play with Keira.
Tierradentro itself was amazing. It was unlike any other archeological site we had visited. Little is known about the people who built these sites, however they believe it was the same people that had been present in San Agustin, as similar statues had been found in the area. These burial sites are underground chambers. They cremated their dead and the remains were placed in large urns that were then placed inside the chambers.
The stairways down to them are very steep and even with the artificial lighting the chambers are quite dark. At first Keira was afraid to go down, but once she conquered this fear, she loved the experience.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: Els- she was able to tape Mikes back to aid in its recovery
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- seeing Tierradentro; Keira- playing with the big dog at EcoParque/Tierradentro; Riss- seeing Tierradentro
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-saying goodbye to Els and Gerret/dealing with the pain in my back; Keira- being scared at the burial sites/saying goodbye to Els and Gerret
Riss- saying goodbye to Els and Gerret
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- supermarket foods, Keira-some type of candy; Riss- foods at Jumbo
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Ecoparque outside of Popayan
In the southern part of Colombia there is a huge military and police presence with many checkpoints. Often the police or military would be standing by the road patrolling and giving the thumbs up to all the drivers passing by. More often than not we would be pulled over. Our checks were partly official but stemmed more from the officers’ curiosity and interest in our story. We would be parked by the side of the road for 10 plus minutes chatting, answering questions and receiving recommendations for foods we should try or places we should see. At one checkpoint they even wrote a list of these things for us.
The officers are always intrigued to talk with Keira and are so pleased that she can speak some Spanish words. We have always been greeted with a smile and a friendly manner. We have had some fun interactions.
The scenery as we headed into San Agustin was lush and green. We choose a hostel with a nice view and a grassy area to set up camp. A rest day was needed before we had enough energy to explore our surroundings.
San Agustin is known for its archeological sites. The sites are burial mounds that are dotted at various locations around San Agustin. There is not much known about the people of that time. The burial sites were structures made from large rocks. The sarcophagi were covered with a carved rock lid. There were also carved statues at the entrances. The carvings were of animals with human features or vise versa, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic.
The statues were spectacular and some were 3 meters tall.
We were very impressed with the museum and the quality of the exhibits and grounds.
The second largest waterfall in South America is also in this area, called La Chorrera. It is 400 meters tall.
We visited the main weekly market in San Agustin to restock our supplies of fruits, meats and vegetables. It was a very colorful market, with a wide selection of foods. It is amazing how much cheaper food is in Colombia. We found this amazing exotic fruit called Pitaya or dragon fruit. It is like a passion fruit inside and is very sweet.
The next portion of our trip was to take us northeast to Popayan. We heard the city is interesting, and it was also a good place for us to part company with Els and Gerret, as they needed to head back south to Ecuador.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: tire repair kit
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- the statues at San Agustin; Keira- I liked the bird statue, and seeing a beautiful butterfly that may be a new species; Riss- seeing the statues at San Agustin
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-trying to reaccess our emails after Microsoft shut them down; Keira- having my knee cleaned up after I scraped it when I fell; Riss- stomach cramps on a rough and winding road
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-fresh red meat from the market, Keira- bubble gum- Els taught me to blow bubbles ; Riss- peanut brittle balls at the market
BEST CAMPING SPOT: in San Agustin
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.