Ahhh Popayan. It's finally getting warmer now that I'm traveling further north. The hostel here is really just a woman's house with a few beds for rent. But it's probably the best place in Popayan to stay to exchange information on conditions traveling to nearby San Augustin and Tierradentro. It felt like a college dorm atmosphere with everyone hanging out in other people's rooms and drinking copious amounts of rum. 10 hours of bus riding had me beat so I pushed the last person off my bed and went to sleep.
I was feeling great the next morning and headed out to track down the nearby Internet cafe. What should have taken me 10 minutes took me almost 2 hours. They call Popayan the 'White City' for good reason and its a bit disorienting. Add to that the typical Colombian use of numbered streets (carreras north to south and calles east to west) and I kept getting hopelessly lost for most of the day. I grabbed some lunch and found my way to the bus station in the afternoon to buy a ticket for San Augustin for the next day. The agent refused to sell me a ticket. It seems he was too busy eating his chicken lunch and just couldn't be bothered with me. 'Come back tomorrow at 5:30am'. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I'd heard from other tourists that the bus always sells out but what could I do?
Back at the hostel I met a Swiss girl who also wanted to go to San Augustin the next day. We synchronized our alarm clocks and hit the hay. We left the hostel at 5am, stepping over a group of coked up touristas still gabbing away. We found a cab and made it to the station right on time. We bought our tickets and were happy to know we had seats as five people had to stand for the 5 hour bumpy journey. We had some time to kill so we went to a little restaurant to buy breakfast. I ordered a yogurt but it was a horrible gelatinous goo. I put it aside and just wrote it off but Dorotea grabbed it and started arguing with the waitress how we weren't going to pay for it. This quickly escalated from the waitress to the private security guard to a police officer. By this point she quickly rushed to her purse and paid (I'd paid for the cab so she was paying for breakfast). Don't choose battles you can't win.
The bus journey was horribly uncomfortable but it was over soon enough. San Augustin is a tiny little town and we were instantly accosted by people wanting to help us find a room or sell us a horse tour. I had a map to a recommended hostel so I escaped as quickly as possible away form the center. The hostel was run my a really cool Colombian guy named, Lizendo and was situated up the hill from town so the view was lovely. Lizendo made us some tea and gave us a wonderful overview of the statues and sites we'd be visiting that afternoon in the archaeological park. We cleaned up a bit and then walked into town to find the bus to the park. We first walked though the small museum and then along a beautiful path lined with the carved stone statues. Finally we walked to 4 nearby sites to check out even more statues. the scenery was lovely and the walk was just what I needed after spending the entire morning on a bus.
We walked back into town and found some delicious food at the restaurant Lizendo had recommended. We hit a nearby bakery for a sugar fix and then headed up the hill to the casa. I closed my eyes for a minute and the next thing I knew it was 6am. I packed up my bag and headed down to meet Lizendo for my horse ride to a few of the more famous nearby archaeological sites. Lizendo was great. He grew up in the mountains around San Augustin he knows a lot about the culture and history and many of the stories passed down by word-of-mouth. At La Pelota, he showed me 2 trees, side-by-side, one leaked a yellow dye and the other leaked a red dye. Amazing. He's very spiritual and pointed out many beautiful things in the scenery I would have completely missed had I walked the sites by myself.
We galloped back to the casa. It's really the first time that I've felt really comfortable on a horse. I grabbed my bag and headed out the door. I would have stayed one more day to go on a jeep tour of some nearby waterfalls but there just aren't enough tourists around to fill a car so no tours are going. I walked down the hill and quickly bought a chicken dinner to-go before jumping in the back of a pickup truck taxi going to Pitalito. From there I lucked into a shared taxi to La Plata. On the way, we passed through 5 or 6 tiny towns all of which had giant cathedrals, each one bigger and more beautiful than the next. The driver gave me great advice on where to stay in the tiny town and helped me find out when the earliest bus to Tierradentro was leaving the next morning.
The bus was right on time and lucky for me, it went directly to Tierradentro. Most buses only pass by the crossway about 20 minutes down the road. The driver dropped me off right in front of the museum where I dropped off my big bag and headed off. It was 20 minutes up hill to the most famous burial site called Segovia. All the tombs were locked and I was terribly disappointed until the guardian came over and opened them up for my one by one. There are so few tourists around that he doesn't bother leaving them open.The tombs are quite dark and are carved out of white stone, some with preserved colorful paintings. The spiral stone steps down to each tomb were a bit tough to navigate but I managed. The guardian for the next site, El Duende, walked with me up the hill and opened the tombs for me. Segovia is definitely the most beautiful and best preserved. From there it was another 5 minutes uphill to the main dirt road and then a 20 minute walk to El Tablon to see a few more statues and then on to the small town of San Andreas de Pisambala where they have a beautiful white church with a thatched roof.
On my way back to the museums I ran in to 2 Americans I'd met in both Pasto and Popayan. I had lunch with them, quickly checked out the museums and headed out on the 20 minute walk to the crossing to catch the 1pm bus to Popayan. This bus trip was by far, one of my worst. I was just feeling so ill. I was puking, couldn't sleep and needed a bathroom for almost the entire 3 and a half hour ride. I just wanted to die. As we got close to Popayan, half the bus got off to transfer to a bus to Cali. That's what I wanted to do but I needed to get to a bathroom before I internally exploded. Don't worry, I made it. I need a vacation from this vacation.