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San Agustin

May 21, 2012

The drive from Popayan to San Agustin is only 130km but still took us all day. Although workmen are currently paving the road only the first 20km and last 30km are actually finished. The current works delay travel but worse still are the number of dumper trucks flying up and down the narrow road which really slows you down. Couple this with the middle section through the Purace National Park which is muddy, slippery and potholed and the journey is very slow (and cloudy and rainy when we drove through).

This area used to be dangerous and was a hotspot for FARC activity but things seem to have settled right down and it felt very safe. The clue to the previous troubles here is that all the police stations are barricaded off with sand bagged pillboxes and other protective measures.

San Agustin is famous for a large number of stone carved statues left behind by two primitive cultures that lived in the area around 5 thousand years ago. These statues are set among spectacular scenery.

When we finally reached San Agustin we had the choice of a few places to stay. I think we chose a really good one in the hotel Anacoana. This was a small and really pretty hotel a couple of km’s up the road from the town of San Agustin (which is nothing to shout about). They allowed us to park on the driveway next to the main hotel building.

When we arrived some guests were just returning from a horse ride so we grabbed the guide and booked him for a horse trek to four archaeological sites the next day.

In the morning he arrived with some good looking horses and we set out along dirt roads to the first of our sites. My horse was a big stallion and had a real issue with following other horses. If either the guide or Sarah tried to get in front he would speed up and even block their horse to make sure he was still in the lead. However he was well schooled as was Sarah’s horse.

The first place that we went was a double site called La Pelota and El Purutal which are only about 250m apart. We had to leave the horses and hike up a steep hill to the sites. One of them was particularly interesting with the original colours still on the statues.

After returning to our horses our guide noticed that Sarah’s horse was slightly limping. On inspecting its shoes he found that one had lost a nail. He went to his pack, grabbed a hammer and new nail and promptly fixed the shoe before we set off again.

On the way to the next site we stopped off at a small farm and tried some Jugos – I had Tomate de Arbol and Sarah had Lulo. Not sure what they were but Lulo is indigenous to Colombia and tasted a bit like Kiwi Fruit. Tomate de Arbol tasted a bit like Papaya but different.

After that we rode to La Chaquira where you have to walk down a steep staircase to the edge of the gorge of the Rio Magdalena. Among amazing views is a large boulder with a carved face in it.


The last stop was El Tablon which was the least interesting of the sites with a few statues in a field.

After this we headed back to the hotel but when we were on the last leg of the trip up the dirt road to the hotel Sarah decided to have a gallop – well my horse wasn’t to be left out so we ended up racing back. Now I came in first but Sarah says she let me win because she didn’t want me to fall off – mmmmm !

On our second day in San Agustin we first went to the Parque Arqueologico which has the highest density of statues. There is a nice walk between the sites where the statues have been left in situ. At one point there is a small river which was diverted and then carvings made around the pools and small falls that were created.

At the entrance to the park is a walk through a wooded area where a number of statues have been moved from their original places to make a 1km long trail.

After the Parque we drove down into the valley and up the other side to a site near Isnos called Los Alto de Los Idolos. This has a number of tombs on a plateau on top of a hill and the biggest statue in the area at 7m. We decided to spend the night parked outside here and then continue on our way the next day.

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