We were on our way to Cali. Lilia was great in pointing out all the major points of interest along the way – names of the rivers, the departments we were passing through and the types of crops growing along the route. The bus to Cali was very comfortable and took an hour less than the expected eight hours so that was a bonus.
As we neared Cali the outside temperatures were increasing at a rapid rate, which had me a little scared as everyone had told me how hot Cali was but I wasn’t expecting 37 degrees! It wasn’t then so surprising when the heavens opened and expelled a big storm, hail and all. It was rather amusing (to Lilia and me at least) to watch all the motorbike riders seeking shelter under bridges or any other solid structure they could find. It was also a great opportunity to learn that hail is ‘graniso’ in Spanish!
We were greeted at the transport terminal by Lilia’s other daughters, Omaira and Liliana. Thankfully the temperature had gone down to a reasonable level by Cali. Omaira had offered to put us up for the nights before our departure to Popayan and San Agustin. Omaira’s apartment was lovely and I once again met up with her lovely daughter Valentina and met Vally’s sister, Camilla and father Luis, who now had another family of three girls – strong female genes in these parts!
I decided to take up Vally’s suggestion and so took a visit to San Antonio the next afternoon. I wondered the boho area and stumbled upon an interesting artisanals market and then headed to a big shopping centre for some Panama supplies.
Unfortunately when I had said to Lilia I’d see her later her idea of ‘later’ was very different to mine. I arrived home four hours later to a very concerned Lilia. Seems she had been very worried about me being out by myself so late (?) in Cali. I guess visiting a salsa club solo is out of the question!
Lilia had lived a long time in Cali but doesn’t like the city having indicated to me on numerous occasions that there’s a lot of crime (bag snatching and assaults) but it felt safe in the areas I had been visiting (and Vally had recommended!). It’s definitely got its hotspots as you would expect in a city housing two and a half million people (with another three and half in metro Cali).
The next day we ventured off to Popayan for the night. It was a pretty town but not by a long stretch the best example of a Colombian ‘white colonial city’ as touted in the guidebook but a nice spot to stretch out legs before the next leg of our trip. Our lunch was served by a guy whose mum is Colombian and whose dad is Italian. His mum loves to travel so he’s spent time living all around the world and so was keen to chat in English. He and Lilia shared some background on their lives in Medellin – I got the impression they had some distant joint relative, which seems to always happen with this family!
I wasn’t quite prepared for the bus to San Agustin. Over two hours of the journey was on a dirt road with so many potholes we travelled at a crawl. Needless to say our bags were covered in dust when we finally reached San Agustin. Lilia must have been wondering why, at almost 80, she had signed up for this trip!
Our accommodation was lovely with its little cabin for our bedroom, fireplace in the lounge area and lovely gardens with chill- out areas throughout the property.
We did our food shop at the towns supermarket and booked our activities. I was hoping they wouldn’t be too strenuous for Lilia.
The next day we headed out on our ‘jeep’ tour. We were in an old two-door long-wheeled base land cruiser, which made it quite a challenge for the six passengers to disembark at each stop but we managed. I had been given the privilege of the front seat to stretch my legs and get gassed by the car’s fumes!
The first stop was the Rio Magdalena. This river runs from the north to the south of Colombia and reportedly reaches up to 3km at its widest point. We were at El Estrecho (the narrows), which was only about two metres wide. I heard different reports on its depth at the narrows but I was inclined to believe the version indicating it was thought to be about 11m. Many a people have lost their lives (about 15 according to the latest sign) trying to jump over the narrows, losing their footing on the slippery rocks and subsequently drowning in the fast flowing river. It always astounds me that people will take such risks when a sign has already given you an indication of your odds on success.
We then visited a museum with some underground caves/tombs that had been found in an area a good distance from the main parks along with some accompanying pottery and gold (although most gold had been looted from the San Agustin sites back in the 30s).
It was then onto Alto de Los Idolos. This park had many graves, with the largest stone statue of San Agustin (7m tall but only 4m visible) …. dwarfed Lilia! The statues had all been moved since they were originally found. Some having been found adorning people’s homes or used in house foundations without the people realising their archaeological importance.
San Agustin was the most important archaeological site in Colombia and one of the most important sites on the continent. The visit was reminding me a lot of Easter Island and the moais bringing nice memories of grandad. These statues and tombs were from tribes of people who’d lived between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago (well before the Incas or people of Easter Is – think of the times of the Egyptian pyramids). Unfortunately they don’t seem to have had a written language and had disappeared before the arrival of the Spanish so little is known about them outside of their age based on carbon dating – supported by lots of speculation about their way of life and the role of these statues.
We enjoyed a nice lunch, although I wasn’t able to duck and weave out of Lilia’s lecture about my occasional holiday smoking habits! My excuse of “tres mas semanas” was being met with “no, nada!” Funny.
We visited another burial site, Alto de las Piedras, before finishing with a visit to two lovely waterfalls – Salto de Bordones and Salto de Mortiño.
It had been a big day with a few uphill walks so we were both pretty tired. The next day I used the morning to explore the areas of El Tablón, La Chiquira, El Pelota and El Purutal on horseback with a guide. Thankfully there was a Spanish speaking German woman, who’d been doing a teaching internship in Bogotá, doing the ride with me so I got the necessary info from the guide. Although the conflicting info I was hearing among the guides made me wary of relying on anything said.
I made my way back to our accommodation to enjoy the delicious frijoles Lilia had made for our lunch and then we headed to the main archeological park where we wandered through the museum and three of the burial sites and the Fuente de Lavapatas, an area of rocks in a stream that had been carved out to form statues, ducts and terraced pools. It was decaying rapidly so it is getting difficult to make out some of the statues. It’s believed this area was used for spiritual purposes with the people having some aquatic deities.
Understandably, Lilia was a little tired by the time we’d finished this area so I ordered her a cup of tea in the cafe and promised I’d be back after a 15 minute visit to the adjoining forest. It was here that more statues were spread throughout San Agustin.
More than five hundred statues have been uncovered in San Agustin but it is believed there are many layers more below the earth with roads and other structures used for housing and rituals. I was really glad I’d made the effort to get here and it seemed Lilia had enjoyed it too.
That evening we shared our wonder at what we’d seen and laughed about the mosquitos that had managed to make their way into our respective drinks … “calcium” we both laughed.
We packed up the next morning for our trip home. I had to laugh when I saw that Lilia had grabbed a bunch of the marijuana that had been growing outside our cabin. I knew enough Spanish now to know she was offering up the old ‘for medicinal purposes’ excuse! Lilia was very into healthy eating and natural remedies so I was intrigued how this one would be used. Maybe it would help with the two wasp stings I’d acquired in San Agustin!
Camilla kindly picked us up at some random stop Lilia had chosen and we headed back to Omaira’s. The next day Lilia and I were treated to a lovely lunch at Liliana and Engenio’s place. Liliana had gone to a great deal of trouble to serve a vego meal (a big deal for this devoted carnivorous couple). We enjoyed a few beers and some great salsa music.
We headed home while a huge storm rolled into Cali stopping by a lookout in El Penon just in time! I was then treated to a huge feed of waffles at Crepesywaffles with Vally, her stepsister Adriana and her dad Luis. Another lovely day before my adventure to Panama!