Micah: Unmitigated


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Posts Tagged ‘San Agustin’


Monday, June 14th, 2010

I don’t know how I would have survived this past week without my titanium rain jacket, made by Colombia Sportswear, product # 205 SM7478. It is the wet season, so please don’t feel sorry for me, no matter what I say in the next few paragraphs.

It began in San Agustin, a little sprinkle the first night while I curled up in my hammock. Then steadily increasing throughout the morning, before the downpour during my walk to the market. Turning Monday into a good day for a blog post. It continued throughout my stay, but the show must go on.

I saw most of the main sites, including the signature Archeological Park, despite my moto-taxi breaking halfway there. A well preserved area, with many rock carvings guarding tombs and a nice round path they’ve lined with 35 interesting figures. I also attempted a hike to sites normally seen on horseback, resulting in a wet muddy affair. Not really worth the effort, but I do love getting dirty.

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín

Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín

The highlight of my stay in San Agustin was hanging out at the hostel. No ping pong was played, but I met some more cool people. Two more British girls as roommates, a guy from NoCal, a girl from Germany, and a talkative Aussie gal. With the kitchen connected to my room, I got to witness money saving ways to feed yourself, with the cheapest being, hangout and eat their leftovers. Although, I still think the best value was the $1 – $1.50 full meals I was getting from the market every morning. If only every town had a daily mercado where I could sit at a counter with the locals.

I completed my circular tour of central scenic places, with a 5 hour bumpy bus ride back to Popayan. Three nights were spent there, a slight altering of my original plans. The Aussie guy I met in the desert, showed me pictures of a hike he did around these parts. I had thought the trip was too difficult and expense, thus passed on it my first go around, but he painted a different picture. Stunning scenery, a way around the park entrance fee, and my male ego, all sealed the deal.

Friday: I set my alarm for 3:45 am to catch the bus out of town, got on the right bus, was dropped off at the turnoff around 6 am, and began to put one foot in front of the other. Destination: The rim of Volcan de Purace (a volcano that last erupted in 1949). With the early start, I was able to cruise past the dreary eyed visitors center without paying the $10 fee.

The trail traveresed along cow pastures, muddy forest, gravel road, rocks, and then volcanic ash. Wind and mist were a constant throughout the 4 hr ascent, with boulders providing the only shelter.

rest stop

rest stop

I thought about turning back many times. The altitude (summit = 15,600 ft) was dizzying, shoes were wet before I started, and I was tired from little food/sleep. Keeping me going, a group of 5 Colombians that caught up and eventually passed me, plus my trusty rain coat. With hood up and head down, I tried to not let my mind think that each false summit was real and plugged away, never actually seeing my finish line until the end. The conditions up at the rim were nasty, forcing rapid fire photography followed by hands inside coat. With the Colombians motioning me into their group photo, I reveled in the feeling of pushing myself beyond pain and raised a thumb.

at the top

at the top



I always love the descent, the speed and the recap of what I have accomplished. At this point, I made my second great decision in the past 24 hrs (first was the night before, finding fresh street potato chips to go with my 2 street hamburgers). I was confident enough in the reply I got from a climber and my directional instincts, to take an alternate way down. Following the gravel road we briefly used in the middle, for as long as it was white. I have a theory that all roads connect to another road at some point in time, and needed to test it. The result: a smooth mud-less path, a stroll past the restricted sulfer mine, no sneaking past the visitor center, and a direct line to the main hwy. I was lucky to have a bus roll by within 30 minutes of my arrival, and sat on the hump near the driver, enjoying a victory lollypop. I really do love it when a plan comes together.

At this point, I could tell you about the entertaining weekend I had in Popayan, about the drunk local who tried his best to have a conversation with me, and about my first visit to a salsa club, but all that will have to wait. I need food and this post is getting long, check back in a day or 2. Ahora estoy en Pasto, Colombia y usted no está

Under the Milky Way

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The past week has gone by fairly quickly. A couple hours off the well worn path down to Ecuador, I met some very cool travelers and have been reenergized by conversation, cerveza, and fresh air. Here is a recap:

Arriving in Tierradentro after a 5 hour bumpy bus ride, the 3 other gringos and I were shown reasonably priced accommodations and formed a group. Consisting of a guy from North Carolina (traveling south for the past year, with some work mixed in, I envied his beard, long hair, and Spanish), his female Canadian travel companion (they met in Central America and reunited in Colombia, she also has done volunteer work and speaks Spanish), and a young man from London (teaches English in Ecuador and has had a sitdown with the Dalai Lama). As you can see, a group I was able to learn a lot from.

The only tourists for miles, we were fortunate to have a friendly shop owner across the street, little rain, and cheap meals. The area is known for the elaborate tombs lining the tops of the hills. A full day was spent doing the loop hike up and around the ridgeline, taking in some stunning vistas and climbing down into holes in the ground. Most of the 100+ sites have been raided, but there are a few in excellent shape and illuminated by lights.

tombs along the ridge

tombs along the ridge

art in tomb

accidental flash photo

That night, another 4 random tourists rolled into town, we played a card game very similiar to my family reunion ¨Heck¨, which the Canadian called “Dutch Blitz”, and socialized. Two of the randoms were females from England who just happened to be heading back to the city of Neiva, in my direction, a day after me. One of them just finished a year of teaching there and had an apartment which I could crash at. I decided this was too good an opportunity, so I stuck around another day and acted as an uninformed tour guide while doing the loop again. The other 2 in the group: a cool German guy and a French girl, who spoke some English and picked random berries and fruits for us to try along the way.

The next day, the 2 British girls and I made our way to Neiva where I got to sample some local food and a local bar. I was grateful for the free accommodations, tea, Lucky Charms cereal, and new Facebook friends.

Friday morning, I headed out to “Desierto de la Tatacoa”, about an hour north of town. Fully prepared to hike the last 8 km in midday heat to the observatory, a moto-taxi driver was desperate and went down to ($5) from his initial ($10) bid. Only really worth it for the laughs that he got from his fellow drivers for going that low. At the observatory, my accommodations were in a hammock strung up between the pillars on the front porch.  No privacy, constant tour groups rolling through, and they locked me out at 10 pm; the only good parts about the place were the price and the view.

The first night, an Aussie tourist came out from town just for the astronomy presentation done on the roof. I joined him in paying a few bucks to see a guy point at things in the sky with a green lazer and to look through the telescope, mostly for the socializing. He was from Melbourne, we have played the same golf course there (Yarra Bend), and shared a love for the ¨Great Ocean Road¨ coastline. The best part about the show was the photo of Saturn the astronomer was able to capture with my camera through the scope.

Saturn, it´s a planet out there is space.

Saturn, it's a planet out there is space.

The next day, I hiked around the desert in the stunning “Cuzco Labrinths” as my body weakend from the draining heat and lack of sleep.
a good place to frolic

a good place to frolic

I gained more confidence around livestock but am now afraid of birds dive bombing me. Then, splurged on some goats milk dessert and a dip in a nearby pool before taking in the night sky show. I really enjoyed flexing some photographic muscle, aided by my tripod and a lengthened shutter.
¨That big dipper looking thing is Alan, the Cowboy.¨

¨That big dipper looking thing is Alan... the Cowboy.¨

Milky Way, I think

Milky Way, I think

Sunday, I successfully hitched a ride back to civilization, after walking 2 of the 8k.  Boarded a couple of bus/truck type vehicles and am now in San Agustin, home to some statues and scenery. Another couple of chilly nights in a hammock await, but this time my room is shared with a ping-pong table. I heard stories of competetive games the night before my arrival, but will have to size up the next crop of tourists and hope for some pongers.
The past week was a good mix of socializing and solo travel. Although I greatly enjoyed all of the people I met and their fluency in the local tounge, I felt a renewed eagerness to get back on my own. On the ride out to the desert, I loved being the bearded white guy on the back of a truck, surrounded by bags of Sulfato de Amonio, getting curious looks from locals. I missed stumbling over words and pointing at things. The plan now: satisfy my need for social interaction after a few days of lonesome wandering. Plus, I am considering taking some Spanish classes while in Ecuador and will look for volunteer work there as well, aided by a timely comment on my last post by H4.  Le lleva aquí a pesar de su destino
E = 42


Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Mockus para Presidente! Pledging to change politics-as-usual, bring transperancy to the office, and continue to stand firmly on his pro-environment platform. It is Election Day down here in Colombia, and they have their own multi-ethnic, internet savvy candidate who is firing up the younger generation via Facebook. Representing the Green Party, Antanas Mockus seems set to unseat the current administration and their chosen successor, Juan Manuel Santos.

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Many Colombian’s believe they are ready for a government which does more than just quell gorilla attacks. Though, I personally would like to thank their current leader for making this beautiful country very safe for travel. For me at the moment though, it all adds up to being stuck in Popayan with sites already seen. Thus, I would like to share the following message with you, my constituents.

Next time you get the urge to travel, make Colombia one of your candidates. I am not yet giving it my full endorsement, but do believe it is worth a look. For example, it’s well preserved colonial neighborhoods that are fun to stroll around in. Like Cali’s San Antonio district and Popayan’s Centro, which are filled with white walls and red roofs. Something about these areas just feels safe and peaceful. You can wander aimlessly, looking at churches and museums.

Streets of Popayan

Streets of Popayan

Every city also seems to have a hill, topped with a shrine or monument, allowing panaramic views. In Cali it is called “Cerro De Las Tres Cruces”, a steep, 1+ hour climb to three large white crosses, communication towers, and some weightlifting equipment. An interesting site to see, with a number of exercise buffs who seem to make the trek on a regular basis. Decent views at the top, better on the alternate way down.

Last night, it was “El Morro de Tulcan” in Popayan, a grassy knoll providing great views of the old town and sunset.

Top ó Hill

Top ó Hill

That pretty much sums up my last 2 cities, walking around the old towns and checking out every accessible vista. In Cali, I stayed in a dorm at the biggest hostel in town and got to witness the true Lonely Planet backpacker crowd. My Aussie roomates had an interesting sleep schedule, grabbing supper at 11 pm and heading out to the clubs at 1 am, a routine I was not able to follow. The next night, the election weekend “no party” period began, and I watched the Celtics/Magic game with some guys from a New Mexico.

Today in Popayan: I got to sleep in, my laundry is drying, plus I enjoyed some of the finest empanadas so far, which came with a spicy avocado sauce.

Mañana: The plan is to catch a bus to Tierradentro, a collection of ruins and tombs surrounded by stunning scenery. Five hours off the main hwy down to Ecuador, the area contains a few sites to see, like San Agustin and some small desert place. Thus, I may be out there for a while and am unsure if it’s wired. Feliz Día de la Recordación

E = 35