Hot N Cold

Hello there,

after a few days afk (geek power ;)), I’m back online to report about my last week in Colombia.
My three last stops are all very different and are a good evidence of the diversity the country has to offer.

The music I chose for this post is a music I heard recently in a taxi and is the music of a very old Nescafe advertising in France 🙂
Rodolfo y Su Tipica – La Colegiala

The next stop after Popayan is San Agustin. San Agustin is a small village in South Colombia known for its surrounding archaeological sites and its stone sculptures. Those sculptures are about 5000 years old (pre-colombian area), and were made by 2 civilizations living near the Magdalena rivers far earlier than the arrival of the Europeans. Unfortunately, very little is known about those 2 civilizations, as they left nothing written.
On my arrival in San Agustin, I walk a bit to my hostel La Casa de Francois to check in and then I spend the afternoon in the archaeological park located near the city center.
The park is not big and contains a lot of impressive stone sculptures. Most of them represents small humans or animals. There are also a lot of burial sites to see.

When the park closes at 04pm, I walk back home and spend the chilly evening and the even more chilly night at the hostel.
On the second day, I find out that the remote part of the park called Alto De los idoles is closed (weekly day off on Tuesday) and so I decide to walk a bit to 4 smaller sites located North of the city: El Tablon, La Chaquira, which offers a nice view on the river Magdalena; La Pelota, which has statues that kept their original colors and finally El Purutal. The roads are very muddy, as it rained the days before and because they are mainly used by horses, but offer some very scenic landscape.

I finish the visit of the 4th site around noon, and as I fell now warm and not tired at all, I choose to walk a bit more to a place located 9kms further called The Estrecho del rio Magdalena. The Estrecho is the place where the Magdalena river is at its narrowest. The way to get there is not as easy as in the morning because it gets to the top of a hill (+300m with some parts at 15% slope) then down to the Estrecho.

The Estrecho viewpoint is quite nice but I don’t stay very long as I get attacked by mosquitoes. As I check the time, I find out that I still have time till sunset and so I decide to push a bit further to the village of Obando, located on the next hill 2 km away. There I spend some time at the local museum, where other statues and burial sites were made available to the public.

I finish this nice afternoon by a 2,5 hours walk home where I am surprised by the sunset. The difficulty is that I have no torch but only my smartphone to light the way and some dogs are quite threatening when I pass their home. At one point, 2 big dogs led by a small one try to attack me. One succeeds to do a nice hole in the back on my tshirt before his owner calls him back. Quite a scary situation. I arrive home quite exhausted, I walked a total of 34kms, which is the most I’ve done in one day since the beginning of my trip.
After a last cold night in San Agustin, I take an early bus which takes me in 4 hours to the city of Neiva, and I switch there to a local bus driving me to the Tatacoa desert.

Despite its name, the Tatacoa desert is technically not a desert but a dry tropical forest. Arriving from San Agustin, it is quite a change, especially the temperature, which increases from around 8-9°C to more than 35°C.
After a quick check in at a local hostel, I start my exploration of the desert by the Cuzco area also called the Red desert. The top viewpoint of the area is quite impressive. The landscape is a kind of mix between Grand Canyon and Death Valley. I then start the trail going down into the heart of the desert. However it will be a short version as I find out that a big part of it is restricted for the filming of a movie.

I stay in the desert till sunset to enjoy the tranquility of the location. The orange light on the peaks is amazing and I capture this moment with my camera.

Once the sun is completely down, I then head to the astronomic observatory where a nice presentation of the local sky is held everyday by the local astronomy club. The session is very interesting, the different constellations visible from Colombia are presented and the guide explains a lot about the structure of our galaxy and the astronomic life in the universe. At the end of the session, we have access to 2 big amateur telescope where we enjoy a view on the moon and the Saturn rings.
On the next day, I wake up at 5 to start exploring by bike the next part of the desert, called the White desert. The area is a bit bigger than the Red desert and I limit my visit to the 2 areas Ventana and Los Hojos. The viewpoints are really impressive. The canyons are quite high. I start walking on the marked trail to enjoy the atmosphere between the walls. One funny spot is the pool in the middle of the desert alimented by natural water extracted from the ground. At one point, I arrive at a rock where the path is going abruptly down. As I am not sure if I m still on the right path and I don’t want to repeat the same mistake as in Arche national park in USA, I choose not to go down and go back to the trail head.

After a few minutes biking, I am back at the hostel, where I collect my stuff and take a bus back to Neiva. From there I jump in a bigger bus to Bogota.
After a short 6 hours drive (I slept almost all the way), I arrive at the bus terminal. From there, a taxi drives me to my friend Ingrid’s place.
I don’t know if you remember my first post about Colombia, but actually, in Bogota, I am visiting my friends Ingrid, Eliana and Simon who I met during a diving cruise in Thailand.
The first evening is quite light, we just go for dinner with Ingrid.
On the next day, my morning and a big part of my afternoon are used to visit the famous Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira in the North of Bogota.
This underground church (200m below) has quite an interesting story. In the 1932 the salt miners carved a first sanctuary on the mine walls to ask the saints for their benediction and protection. The first version of the church was only built a few years later and the Salt Cathedral was officially open in 1954 with a big cross and 3 naves. The actual version of the Cathedral was inaugurated in 1995 and is the result of an architecture contest. Although it has a religious meaning for the local population, the Cathedral has no bishop and is not recognized officially by the catholic church.

After this interesting visit, I come back to Bogota to spend the evening with my friends. Mell, one of Ingrid’s friend is also joining us. I also have the chance to meet my friend Carlos from Guayaquil, Ecuador. I met him at a poker table when I was working in Lausanne and by chance he was on business trip in Bogota. We spend a very nice time catching up with each other and speaking about my travel adventures and my future plans.

On the next day, we explore an artistic district of Bogota called La Candelaria with Eliana and Simon. The district is very famous for its street art. After some time walking around, we make a first stop for me to try a local beverage called Chicha. It is a kind of fermented beverage made of corn. The taste is a bit strange at first, but at the end it’s quite tasty 🙂 After a short stop at the bolivar plaza and a short look at the president’s residence, we make another stop for late lunch.

Back at home, Ingrid finishes her work day by taking Mell and me for another late lunch, followed by stop at a nice spot called the Calera Mirador. People of Bogota meet there to enjoy a nice view on the city while drinking some canelazos (a kind of hot wine with cinnamon and sometimes made stronger by a shot of Aguardiente).
I then finish the evening with Eli and Simon drinking beers in a bar, where they explain me the different types of latino music showed on the big screen.

After a final night in Bogota, I catch a plane around noon to Quito, Ecuador.
The 3 weeks I spent in Colombia were amazing. I am happy to have been so positively surprised by this country and I hope more people will dare come and visit it to see by themselves that the reputation of unsafe country is very unfair.

Next step is Ecuador, with its volcanoes and its beautiful Galapagos islands.
Next report  coming soon!

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