On the road to Colombia. The border crossing was very easy! When I worked out that the enormous queues had nothing to do with tourist, but were hundreds of people from Venezuela, I calmed down! At first the signs, or rather the non signs at the Ecuadorean side, made me need to ask at least three times, where I needed to go. The Colombian side was very straight forward. When I stood in the wrong queue, the police man directed me to the two person queue instead! The old man and I started talking, just to pass the time. He shook my hand when it was my turn!
The young man stamping my passport was extremely friendly. Welcoming me to his country. Even obliged by putting the stamp at the back of my passport, where I have lots of empty pages! Across he border, there were only taxies, no collectivos to be seen. I took a taxi to the Santuarion de las Lajas. A church which is famous since 1768. As lots of miracles have happened here! Never one to let a miracle slip by, I burned my nine candles. My driver was delightful. Juan, was sixty and flirted like mad! Which is so funny as he has four grandchildren and has been married for forty two years, he told me! It is a magical place. Stunningly beautiful architecture.
Juan dropped me of at the terminal, where I caught a collectivo ( mini bus) to Pasto. Pasto is famous for it’s beautiful lake. The 64 kilometre drive took nearly four hours. Due to extensive road works. They are building a double highway, with huge bridges over the valleys. Lots of waiting time, which served the people selling food and drinks really well. Their business thrived. Finally we arrived in Pasto and my driver pointed to an hotel across the road. It was a ” safe” hotel he told me! This left me wondering if they have non safe hotels too? The hotel was reasonably priced and close to the bus station. This is all that is important when only staying one or two nights!
I woke up freezing, under my very thin blanket, and watched the down pour! What to do? Stay in bed all day? Go to the lake? By ten o’clock the rain eased up, and I walked the five blocks to the collectivos stand. Half an hour later I was in the Venezia of Colombia.
Due to the heavy duty rain, all the roads were flooded. It was amazing. A pretty place. I had hoped to walk to the lake, but this is impossible. One needs to take a boat. Since I am on my own, the price per boat was too high for my liking, and after hanging around for about two hours to see if I could share with other tourists I gave up. It is busy on the weekend, but that was too late for me. I had a delicious lunch of fresh trout in a garlic sauce with salad, chips and plantain ( fried green bananas).
When I came back I walked to the bus station to find out about the bus to San Agustin. Ah, there was one at 6.15am. Do I need to book? Ah, NO, señora, this is NOT necessary! Okay!
Had an early night with an extra blanket. Rocked up at 5.45 am to buy my ticket, and guess what? Yeah, you are right! It was FULL! Okay, lesson one, buy the ticket the day before anyway, what ever they tell you! I took money out of the ATM from the Bogota bank, which charged me A$5,50 for taking out A$86,00 !! So this morning I thought I try another ATM!! I tried the bank of Colombia, again it would not let me take out more money than A$86.00 ! This bank charged me A$7.50!! Doubly great! So they won’t let you take out large amounts, but they charge you BIG money for small amounts! I won’t tell you what language I used! But is was NOT good at six o’ clock in the morning. After a delicious coffee and two corn breads, I felt better! I should start a book, the Zen of travelling!
What a horrific journey we had today! Pasto to Pitalito. Eight hours of solid horror. The mini bus was driven by an absolute mad man! The road is through high mountains, unsealed, sharp Devil’s elbows, rock slides, mudslides, crosses at every corner. Every barrier in every sharp corner is damaged or broken. Advice of twenty kilometres per hour was totally ignored. Going eighty through the sharp corners, cutting them severely wherever possible. All the while driving with one hand, texting on his phone, talking on his phone, coming close to disaster too many times for me to recount. I did my deep breathing, told the driver several times to slow down, these requests were ignored. I was sure I would end my life on this road today. Saw two major accidents, which at least got the driver of the phone for a little while! Four ambulances with blaring sirens and flashing lights passed us. Eight hours of pure hell! ( in Spanish this road is called the trampoline to Death!)
In Pitalito I had to change over to a ute with cover, which was the local bus. Finally at six o’ clock I was in San Agustin. It took awhile before I could climb out of the back of the ute. This lovely young woman helped me. She was the owner of Diamanta Real, a hostel, across the road. I had planned to go up the mountain, but the thought of another ride on any kind of vehicle made me stop. Paula, the young woman, had lovely clean accommodation. An hour later and I was fast asleep. I slept solidly for over twelve hours. Strangely enough I had no nightmares what so ever after this horrifying ordeal.
As soon as I arrived at the hostel, Paula explained where all the archeological sites were, and I booked and paid for a tour. I was picked up at nine in the morning, to go and see the special sites. Our group was seven people, all Colombian, and the driver. No English was spoken. This is actually very good for me. It forces me to understand the fast speech of the locals. I do miss a lot, though. San Agustin is famous for its burial grounds with the unusual sculptures. These burial grounds are between five to two thousand years before Christ. The significance of the sculptures is debated, but they seem to be guides, protectors or guards.
The first stop was a museum. Again everything in Spanish only. Beautiful mural explains the history of the place. The graves were discovered and opened up in 1972. They were already looted. The thought is that the graves have been looted since the mid seventeen hundreds. Some of the gold is in the museum of Bogota. Still the site is very impressive. Several big burial sites and lots of different sculptures. We visited a museum, two sacred sites and a wonderful waterfall. It was a great day. A slow driver made it ever so enjoyable!
The ticket I bought was valid for one more site. The next day it rained cats and dogs. What to do? Stay in bed or face the elements? I faced the elements. Took a motor taxi, promised to pay extra if he went slow! Another beautiful site. Met a lovely young man on the way down.
He kindly offered me his arm, as the path was incredibly slippery and I had fallen already twice. Osman, the kind young man, gave me a lift back into town. By now he rain had stopped, so I decided to walk to the museum about two kilometres up the mountain. A lovely private museum, where they served great coffee! Colombian coffee is one of the many nice things! It is absolutely delicious!
Here I met a young couple from French Switzerland. Alas, they did not speak English! Chatting away in Spanish, I did manage to ask what was wrong with the local ATM machine. They had e same problem and gave me he name of a different bank, which is in Bogota! Okay! Will see if I can solve this eighty dollars a shot problem.
There was an older man sitting there, who spoke wonderful English. His name was Juan, and he spend the last thirty years in the US as a truck driver. We ended up chatting and Juan was kind enough to drop me back into town! I like this place, with its friendly people! Only one more place to visit. I organised my bus trip to Tierradentro, for Wednesday
The next morning I took a motor taxi most of the way to the sculptures which still had most of their colours! When I arrived, there was a film group making a documentary. I waited until they had finished filming before I climbed up to see the sculptures. Very impressive they were too. Walking back I asked the police man if he was going back to town, and yes! I got another lift!! Life is good!. In the back of the police ute with the film crew, we talked, laughed and time flew by.
I like Colombia, interesting places, friendly people and great food! Moving on tomorrow!