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Old 12-11-2011, 02:32 PM   #16
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A Gringo in Colombia

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Originally Posted by Ed_in_miami View Post
Oh man... looking forward for your San Agustin pics.
I was there as a kid and dying to go back to visit.

Great report!

Suscribed!
San Agustin turned out to be the highlight of my trip around Colombia
Lots of pics and videos to come soon
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Old 12-12-2011, 11:52 AM   #17
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San Agustin turned out to be the highlight of my trip around Colombia
Lots of pics and videos to come soon
Not a lot of people go that way. They usually go north towards the coast or just bypass it on the way to the border. Looking forward to it.!
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Old 12-12-2011, 12:45 PM   #18
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kudos

I am really enjoying your trip report and dry style. I guess you have to be reletively unflappable to travel around Columbia, but maybe not so much anymore. Kudos to you for taking this on and with such a beast of a bike too. I've never seen an Aprilla like the one you are riding. I understand you are already home but I am looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.
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Old 01-22-2012, 03:45 PM   #19
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A Gringo in Colombia

San Agustin Colombia



I was awaken early in the morning by the sound of a harsh rain pelting against the exterior window of my bedroom. I had made arrangements this morning to go on a horseback ride to the Pre-Columbian ruins up in the nearby mountains around San Agustin. I had Carlos my guide that I would meet him at the Hostal for 8:00 this morning for the start of the ride.

I got up and headed downstairs hoping that they would be serving breakfast at this early early of the morning. I found a couple of other guest already seated at the dinning room table. I learned that they were a young couple from Panama who were backpacking on their way down to Argentina. They were artists and were on a working vacation of sorts. They are a commission do paint a mural for a restaurant down in Quito Ecuador and also had a similar job to create some out door mural for a school down in Argentina. They had stopped off in San Agustin for a visit on their way down to Quito. They had planned on leaving this morning on the bus to Pitalito and from their catch another bus to Mocoa and then onto Pasto and Ipaeles where they would cross over the border into Ecuador. After a couple more days of travel on a slow moving bus through the mountains they would be in Quito. I was interested in their travel plans as I would be following a similar route down to as far as Pasto. My interest in riding down to Pasto was to ride the section of road between Mocoa and Pasto. They refer to the road down here as “Carretera de la muerte". It has an infamous reputation as being one of the most dangerous mountain roads in Colombia. Any time I come across a road labeled as the most dangerous I am sucker for wanting to ride it. I have ridden across a number of other roads in my travels labeled as the Death Road. Ones that come to mind is the section of the Panamerican highway out of San Jose Costa Rica, the road between Mocoa and Pasto and of course the most infamous and best known,the Yungas road in Bolivia between Las Paz and Coroico. In Bolivia they have morbidly turned the road's deadly reputation into a tourist attraction for extreme mountain cyclist and motorcyclists. As we were talking Carlos enter the Hostal. I could see out the side window that there were a couple of horses saddled up in the alleyway. I told Carlos I was ready to go, I just stopped to collect my backpack that contained my cameras and rain gear.

I followed Carlos outside and he led me to where the horses were. Again I reminded Carlos that this would be my first time riding a horse. The horse that was to be my mount for the ride up to the ruins was a small chestnut colored horse. I would later learn that this breed of horse down here are called PaseoFino. Horses are not native to South America. They were first introduced by the Spanish over 500 years ago. The Colombian breed has a natural fine gait and are said to make a good trail horse. My horse looked to be on the smaller size. Carlos helped me into the saddle, it took a few minutes before I felt comfortable. Then he gave me a five minute lesson in how to ride the beast. Throttle and accelerator - Squeeze the horse with your thighs and/or use your feet to nudge the horse into action, Steering - Right Pull on the reins right - Left - Pull on the reins to go left. Braking - Pull up on the reins. I commented to Carlos that I thought the horse was pretty small and if the horse would struggle carrying my 210 lb body up and down these mountain trails. With that the horse raised his tail and let loose with a series of cannonading farts that resonated between the buildings. You would have thought that I was on board a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

After my quick lesson on How to Ride a Horse, we were off. For the first first minutes I felt comfortable perched up on the saddle until we turned on to the main highway leading out of town. As the horse trotted down the roadway, I was feeling the impact with every footfall "My boys" were feeling the abuse. I am not sure if it was because of the type of saddle I was sitting on or what. We soon turned off the paved highway and continued along a trail. Cowboys must have an iron crotch to be able to sit on a horse all day. From the turn off Carlos aid that was 3 kilometers or so to the archaeological site of "El Tablon". At this early in the morning we seemed to be the only riders out on the trail. The first section of the route was along a narrow muddy trail. On all side of his we were surrounded by sugar cane and tall fique plants. Soon the trail began to get more difficult as the horses had to descend up and down the narrow mountain pathway. Along the more difficult parts of the trail, Carlos tethered my horse to his, so I was now no longer riding my horse but now sitting on top of a pack horse being led by my Colombian guide.

Video of ride along trail to El Tablon




The path in parts were extremely muddy and there were a number of shallow streams that we had to cross. At one especially deep muddy bog, Carlos instead led the horse up the side of a steep embankment and along a narrow ledge. My horse had already stumbled a number times along the trail and so I did not have a whole lot of confidence in how sure footed my 4 legged beast would be in making its way across the top of this narrow ridge. One misstep and its me and 800 lbs of horse falling into the quagmire below. Carlos assured me that the horse had been up and down this trail a thousand times.

Finally we arrive in front of an old farm house, hanging upon the gated entrance to the courtyard was a sign say "Museo Etnografico".



This was the site for El Tablon. We enter the courtyard, for the next 10 minutes Carlos spent educating me on the various coca plants to be found in Colombia.



There were a number of different species or plant growing in the garden area. Each plant was 8 - 9 feet tall, he said there were a many different varieties of coca plants. The species of plants that he was showing me are mainly used for making coca tea or used in medicinal treatment of altitude sickness. For many of the indigenous peoples in the central Andes, coca leaved are chewed. They roll the leaves up into a ball and hold the masticated plant fibers between their teeth and gum. To this they usually add a mix of some alkaline component like baking soda or lime ashes which aids in releasing the pharmacologically active ingredients in the coca leave, its not the same reaction to a purified cocaine, instead the user a feeling of stimulation. The coca plant has been part of the culture of the indigenous communities of the Andean people for many thousands of years. The people down here were getting high on the coca leaf long before Christopher Columbus even discovered the Americas. Carlos said that many people down here keep a few plants in their garden for personal use, so long as you are not into setting up a commercial operation, the police or army don't care.

After Carlos's lecture on the medicinal uses of the coca leave, he led me to a clearing on top of a small hill, the site of El Tablon. Under a covered thatched roof were 5 upright stone carvings or stelae.

Stone Carving at El Tablon


Stone Carving at El Tablon


Stone Carving at El Tablon



The Pre-Columbian artifacts were created by a fairly advance civilization that inhabited these regions between the 6th century B.C and 12 century A.D.My guide explained that some of the statues represented the moon goddess, who was the deity responsible for ensuring that they would have bountiful harvests.Carlos seemed quit knowledgeable about the archaeological significance of the statues. Although much of the history and knowledge about the Pre-Columbia people and the makers of the statues has been lost to history and so what ever Carlos was telling me was probably just speculations by current archeologists.

Before we got back on our horses and headed for our next site, we ordered up a few espressos from the little on-site cafe. Although Colombia prides it self on growing some of the best coffees in the world, I do not think I have had a good coffee since I have been down here. It must export all the best quality coffees and keep the poor grades of coffee for local consumption. From El Tablon we journey on on the horse trail to La Chaquira. It was only about a kilometer from El Tablon to La Chaquira. I t was an easier ride with fewer hills to climb but he trail was muddier than on the earlier sections. Again we arrived and dismounted in front if a little farm house.

Again Carlos showing more local plants with hallucinogenic properties



There was a sign directing tourist to the archaeological site.




For the next 15 minutes I followed Carlos down a series of steep steps that descended into a valley below us.



At the bottom of the gorge was a river that Carlos said were the head waters of the Rio Magdalena. From where I was standing the river funneled through a narrow gorge of dark volcanic rocks. At this point the river did not seem to be more that 20 or 30 feet across, hard to believe that this is the source of the mighty Rio Magdalena.

Rio Magdalena River at bottom of valley


On way to La Chiquira


On way to La Chiquira


After a few more descends we went off the main pathway and climb over a series of rocks and boulders to reach the site. The La Chaquira site has a number of naturalistic animal and human figures sculpted onto the surfaces of the surrounding volcanic outcrops.

One of the stone sculptures at La Chiquira


One of the stone sculptures at La Chiquira


The most important of these figures is that of a big head bug eyed dud with his arms and legs spayed out to the sides, I cynically thought to myself that it looked little someone with their hands being held up after being robbed. Perhaps it commemorates when the first Spanish conquistadors came into these parts 5 or 6 hundreds years ago and robbed the indigenous Indians of their gold. Before climbing up back up the hill to where we had left our horse, we spent some time just sitting on the hillside taking in the natural panorama of the mountain landscape with the cascading waterfalls directly in front of us and the waters surging through the valley below, it all made for a very serene experience.

Waterfall across the valley from us


Some of the scenery


The ride back to San Agustin seemed to take less time than the ride down, perhaps it was because we were riding most of the way downhill than climbing up the mountain side. We passed three or four other groups of riders making their own way to view the archaeological sites.

The weather had begun to clear up and by the time we finally reached the Hostal the sun was out and the last remaining clouds hanging over the mountains had almost completely dissipated.

We arrived back at the Hotel shortly before noon. I had nothing in particular planned for the afternoon, so with that in mind, I grabbed my camera and headed into town.

Some scenes around San Agustin - Around main plaza


Some scenes around San Agustin - Another statue of Simon Bolivar


Around San Agustin


Around San Agustin


Some kids on their way to school


I found a restaurant along the main street near the center of town. I presumed that it was the main street as there was a military's check point setup directly in front the restaurant. Although it just after noon, there were only a few patrons in he restaurant. I took a table nearby where they had a large LCD television setup on the wall opposite me. Right across from from me were a group of soldiers seated in a corner table. As I sat down they all gave me a quick cursory look and continued with their lunch. Across from me was a television set, there appeared to be a news program on, from what I could understand from what the news reader was saying and from the graphic videos they were showing, it looked like a family of 8 had been murdered by the FARC guerrilla group. It appears that a group of local criminals had gone into the kidnapping and extortion business, telling everybody that they were part of the FARC organization. The real FARC eventually got wind of what these guys were done and sent out a commando squad to close down there operation permanently. This all occurred not to far from where I was in San Agustin. The next story on the news caught my attention, a local bus traveling between Pasto and the town of Mocoa was stop and the passengers robbed. My travel plans was to ride the same road between Macoa and Pasto. Over at the other table where the group of Colombia soldiers were seated, one of the soldiers looked over at me and said in English. "Things now very bad down here, where you going Americano". After correctly him on my nationality, I told him I was on a motorcycle trip and was planning on riding the mountain road between Mocoa and Pasto. To that that he said, "Mocoa very bad place, many bad people down there". His fellow soldiers nodded in agreement and each gave me a derisive look, all to imply that I must be crazy to want to consider traveling through this part of Colombia. So I thought to myself that maybe I should reconsider my next travel destination. According to what I had read on a number of adventure rider forums, there was a mountain between San Agustin and Popayan. Depending on the weather conditions, other riders reported that it could an easy 120 kilometers of easy riding if the road conditions were good, but that same road could quickly turn into the "Road from Hell" during the rainy season. Knowing that they have had a lot rain over the last few weeks, I was not sure if the route to Popayan would be a safer alternative or not. I was not planning on leaving for another day or more so I would have time to make a decision where I would go next.

For the rest of the of the afternoon I wonder around town taking photos and enjoying what turned out to be a particularly sunny afternoon. As this is a tourist town next to one of the most important archaeological sites in the country, there are numerous handicraft shops around town, most clustered along a three block area near the center of town. They sell a lot of replica Pre-Columbia artifacts, jewelry and other locally made goods. The town of San Agustin although an interesting place to visit for its Pre-Columbian history and mountain scenery, outside of that there not a whole lot to do. So when I came across a pool bar, I had to check it out. Pool seems to be a popular pastime down here, I must of counted 3 or 4 other similar places on my walk around town earlier today. The place I was in was located on a busy street corner. The pool hall was wide open to the street as there were no walls enclosing it on either side, so passer-byes could look directly into the place and see what was going on. I grappled one of the tables in the corner of the room. At this early in the evening there were half a dozen locals playing amongst themselves. After a few practice sessions one of the Colombians challenged me to a game. None of the men in the bar spoke any English, so I was forced to practice my Spanish. I lost the first game but after that I began to find my game. Two hours I had played against and beaten everyone in the bar, as the night progress and as my competition became more inebriated the better I seemed to play. By nights end, I had to hang up my cue stick and return to my Hotel as most of the local still in the bat were to drunk drunk to play.

Video of walk around town of San Agustin



Tomorrow I would be paying Indiana Jones and checking out some of other the Pre-Columbian ruins I the area.
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Old 01-22-2012, 06:02 PM   #20
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You convince me to go to San Augustin by that last bit, thanks for sharing the great pics and story. If you did it again would you take the horse tour bit or just do the ridng in the the area? What did Carlos charge and did he speak enough English to get the finer points across? I just got back down to Cali last night and staying at Mike's place just itching to get going again.

Viva Colombia, I love this place
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Old 01-23-2012, 07:05 AM   #21
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You convince me to go to San Augustin by that last bit, thanks for sharing the great pics and story. If you did it again would you take the horse tour bit or just do the riding in the the area? What did Carlos charge and did he speak enough English to get the finer points across? I just got back down to Cali last night and staying at Mike's place just itching to get going again.

Viva Colombia, I love this place
The horse ride was well worth the experience. If you have a serious off road capable bike, you would have no problems getting up to the ruins, although with a big heavy dual sport like the Aprillia, it would have been a real challenge. All depends on the trail conditions at the time.

Carlos charged me $40 US for the half day trip, although I latter learned that going fare was around $20 a piece in a group, but since I was alone I was paying full fare. My guide Carlos spoke good English and he was very knowledgeable on the archaeologically of the area. He has been doing it for 20 years or more. Just about everybody who visits San Agustin
does the horse back thing.

Colombian is definitely an interesting place to visit.

Best of luck on the rest of your trip.

Brian
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Old 01-23-2012, 10:11 AM   #22
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The horse ride was well worth the experience. If you have a serious off road capable bike, you would have no problems getting up to the ruins, although with a big heavy dual sport like the Aprillia, it would have been a real challenge. All depends on the trail conditions at the time.

Carlos charged me $40 US for the half day trip, although I latter learned that going fare was around $20 a piece in a group, but since I was alone I was paying full fare. My guide Carlos spoke good English and he was very knowledgeable on the archaeologically of the area. He has been doing it for 20 years or more. Just about everybody who visits San Agustin
does the horse back thing.

Colombian is definitely an interesting place to visit.

Best of luck on the rest of your trip.

Brian
Thanks Brian, it's sure nice not going totally blind into a place and have a little bargaining power and not paying too much. I will try and look Carlos up if I can. Hope that ADV road is better off this time around, I think that will be right up my alley

John in Cali still
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Old 01-23-2012, 10:31 AM   #23
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Eeek! I know what that is, certainly hope they don't use it down there.

Even grows "somewhere in Canada"....I won't tell where.

Thanks for the great report!....been a long time since I went to Colombia and then only to Baranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena but I still remember well the effects of "Aguardiente de Cristal".

Just to humor this older guy....any pics of the real thing? i.e...not the mannequins.
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Old 01-23-2012, 06:55 PM   #24
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A Gringo in Colombia

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Eeek! I know what that is, certainly hope they don't use it down there.

Even grows "somewhere in Canada"....I won't tell where.

Thanks for the great report!....been a long time since I went to Colombia and then only to Baranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena but I still remember well the effects of "Aguardiente de Cristal".

Just to humor this older guy....any pics of the real thing? i.e...not the mannequins.

I think the plant is a variety of morning glory, I do not remember what the Spanish name was for it. Apparently Pre-Columbia Indian shamans would use an extract from the seeds of the plant, blow it up their noses and go into a ritualistic trance to communicate with their deities.

I am still try to forget my experience with Aguardiente.

Sorry no pics of Colombian woman ( or none that I plan to share on-line.) Lots of really good looking woman in Colombia.
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Old 02-25-2012, 04:18 PM   #25
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The Gringo Diaries - Motorcycling around Colombia SA

The Pre-Columbian Ruins of San Agustin



I find myself in San Agustin Colombia for another day. Today I plan on heading over to the main archaeological park just outside the town. In the park is to be found many of the most important Pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues the country. From my hotel the entrance to the archaeological park was only a few kilometers always, a short ride by motorcycle. I had breakfast again at the Hostal, This morning I seemed to be the only guest in the hotel as most of the other guests had already checked out over the weekend. Many the tourists who come in San Agustin are local Colombians who come down here for a few days over a weekend and then leave, so between Monday and Thursday San Agustin remains pretty quiet.

After breakfast I went outside to check on the motorcycle. It was parked just outside the main door sheltered under a portico. I had come out just at the right time, as there was a stray dog standing beside the bike, he was in the act of lifting his hind leg and was about to take a pee on the rear wheel of the bike. After noticing that someone was watching him, he paused glanced up at me and quickly buggered off. Once of the changes that I have observed in Colombian since I last lived her 25 years ago, is that there now seems to be many more stray dogs wondering around the back streets. No matter if its a little village or large urban city, there are always some stray mongrel mutt or pack of dogs wondering about.

The archaeological park is located only two or three kilometers west of San Agustin, only a short ride from my hotel. In the park is to be found many of the most important Pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues the country. The archaeological park is situated about 2 kilometers west of the town of San Agustin. This renown World Heritage UNESCO site covers an area of over 2000 sq kilometers. Within the park are numerous burial pots, stone carvings depicting various deities and mythical creatures. Evidence uncovered by archaeologists has shown that that this region around San Agustin has been occupied from as early 3300 BC. Except for some early artifacts uncovered from this time, little is know about these early people, where they came from and what happened to their civilization. The first early groups to inhabit San Agustin were a simple primitive stone age society making their existence as nomadic hunters. Between the 7th century BC and 2nd century BC a new group appeared in the region, they were a farm agrarian based society who cultivated maize on the surrounding mountain slopes and river bottoms. The height of early Pre-Columbian culture was established around the 1st century AD to about 800 AD. Most of the best examples of Pre-Columbian stone carvings and early Pre-Columbian art comes from this period. Within the park there are to be found hundreds of elaborate stone statues and burial mounds with many of the most interesting setup on display.

When I rode into the main parking lot, a security guard motioned me over to a designated area reserved for motorcycles. I found a ticket booth near the entrance and paid the entrance fee. When I came back out and walked by where I had parked the motorcycle, there was a group of 5 or 6 people standing around the motorcycle each taking turns having their photo taken posing beside the bike.

To get into the archaeological park I had to pass through a gauntlet of tour guides offering up their services. There were only a few tourists around this morning so the tour guides were aggressively trying to convince me to hire them for a private tour of the park. For the next hour I followed the path through a dense wooded area, every 100 feet or so you would come across a free standing monument usually depicting some fierce looking god or mystical animal. The path eventually led me to a wide open area called Mesita A where there was a large collection of statues and burial chambers on display.

Scenes from San Agustin Archaeological Park


Rock carving of Snake


Some of the Statues in main viewing area in Mesita A


Pre-Colombian grave-site as seen in the archeological park near San Agustin Colombia


Some cool statues


A closer view of statues


More statues


Whats its all about ?


Burial Site




There were three or four of these Mesita sites scattered through the main park. To reach the main sites required following a steep climb up a series of steps ascending up the side of the mountain. It was an exerting 20 minute climb up the several hundred steps that leads to the top of the mountain.

Climbing stairs on way to seeing archeological ruins around San Agustin Colombia


The three Amigos. Some young Colombian kids posing for a photo


Video of walk around archaeological site



During the entire time I was followed by a group of young Colombians who wanted to practice their English by speaking to me. My new posse followed me around for the next hour. They had seen me ride into the parking lot on the Aprilia motorcycle and thought that the idea of touring around Colombia on a motorcycle was pretty cool and they all said that one day they would do the same thing.

Scenes from inside the Park


Statuary from site on top of mountain



Later in the afternoon a sudden rain storm passed over the area sending many of the park visitors scrambling for cover. Myself along with a dozen others found shelter under a gazebo and waited out the passing storm. While I was there, I got into a conversation with an older gentlemen and his wife. They were both originally from Colombian and are now living in the US. When I told him I was from Canada, he mentioned that he had a brother who lived up in Canada. After a few more inquires, it turned out that his brother lived in the same town in Quebec where I grew up and coincidentally his brother lived only a block away from my parents house. It's a small world out there.

More scenes from inside the Park


More scenes from inside the Park


More scenes from inside the Park


I had a bit of an incident when I returned back to the parking lot where the Aprilia was parked. As I came out into the main parking area I found two guys near the motorcycle, one of them was actually seated on the bike as his friend was taking his photo, he looked up and saw me walking towards him, he had that look of someone who had just been caught in the act of doing something that they shouldn’t. He quickly climbed off the bike and in the process almost allowed the bike to fall off its side stand. I was pretty pissed off with finding this guy seated on the bike like that. There are many parts of the US and Canada where its a shooting offense for getting caught sitting on another man’s bike without their permission. After curing the fellow out I pretty much told him that if he were to do that in Estados Unidos that he would get his ass shot.
I like Colombians, but too many of them down here have no understanding of the concept of private property.

After visiting the park I return back to my hotel. Not long after returning to my room, there was a knocking at my door. When I went to see who was there, it turned out to be someone I had met on my arrival to San Agustin. He was one of the the many local tour guides. He was asking me if I was interested in buying some authentic Pre-Columbian artifacts. As San Agustin is a major archaeological site, there is a thriving underground industry in selling both authentic and fake archaeological artifacts to tourists. Many of the locals in San Agustin are involved in antiquities recovery. The region is a treasure trove of undiscovered burial sites. My tour guide Carlos who escorted me on my horseback ride yesterday, confirmed that many people down here were involved in the antiquities trade. When I asked him if that was illegal, he shrugged his shoulders saying so long as they told the government people the location of newly discovered sites and left the larger artifacts in place, then everyone got to profit from the find. I invited my Colombian friend (Tomb Raider #1) to enter the room. He cautiously closed the door, taking a final look down the hallway to see if anyone had observed him entering my room. Soon after entering the room he took out a cloth bag and carefully placed on a table. From the bag he proceeded to pull out a number of objects which had been carefully wrapped in newspaper. After a few minutes spent unwrapping his stash of Pre-Columbian booty, Tomb Raider# 1 laid out his collection of Pre-Columbian items on the table. Laid out in front of me where a couple of ritual burial masks, a few clay figurines and a number of small pots.

I examined the artifacts, everything look authentic, but I have no way of discerning whether the items were real or manufactured last week in the back of a local craft shop. I remember some one once telling me that one way of telling if a clay pot was old, was to wet the surface with water, if the item was really old then it will give up a dank earthy smell, also old pottery will readily absorb the water from its damp surface.. I tried these simple tests and they seemed to confirm that the objects were real enough. As we were talking there was another knocking at the door, someone outside in a low whisper called out to Tomb Raider # 1. I opened the door, it seemed that Tomb Raider #1 had invited a friend to join him in his nefarious activities. Tomb Raider #2 also had a satchel of Pre-Columbian goods that he wanted to show off to me. He had a number of bronze colored jewellery items which he said was gold. When I asked them where the pottery and figurines came from, they were a little evasive, only admitting that they were dug up from some ancient burial site. I told them that Colombian like many countries have signed on to the UNESCO convention prohibiting export of cultural antiquities. Now I was just talking bullshit to them, I had no idea what the laws were about selling and exporting cultural artifacts, but they all immediately looked guilty about what they were doing. Again with a straight face I told him if I got caught leaving the country with the items I would get thrown into jail or worse. Tomb Raider #1 looked at me then over to his friend and realized I was only pulling his chain. He told me they had very good jails in Colombia and so not to worry. We concluded our business and they left not having sold me anything. The fact is if they had been selling good replicas of Pre-Columbian art I would have been interested in some of the items. I was not interested in buying looted antiquities (aside from the fact that most of the stuff was probably fake). Later that evening I found an Internet cafe and did some further research on the legality of buying Pre-Columbian art. It does appear that Colombia did sign on to the UN convention on the protection of antiquities and they have have their own laws governing cultural patrimony. Not only is it illegal to take looted antiquities out of the country, it is illegal to bring them into the US or Canada. Regardless of how many laws a country institutes to protect their national treasures, there will always be sellers and buyers for this kind of stuff, the trade in black market antiquities has been going on since the days of the pharaohs.

As events unfolded, I wound up spending one more day in San Agustin and decided not to take the road south to Mocoa and Pasto. Instead I decided to tackle the mountainous and challenging road between San Agustin to Popayan.
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Old 03-09-2012, 03:08 PM   #26
ta-rider
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Hi Man,

Nice Pics. I have just arrived in Columbia on my Honda CGL 125 from Chile as well:

http://www.adventure-travel-experience.de/index.php?report=en_suedamerika

Greetings, Tobi
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Old 03-10-2012, 12:47 PM   #27
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Have a safe journey through Colombia

Its a beautiful country to visit
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- Sir Richard Francis Burton


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Old 03-10-2012, 09:26 PM   #28
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Ok, come on, where is the rest of it??????

Great ride report, looking forward to the rest of it.

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Old 04-20-2012, 08:00 PM   #29
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The Gringo Diaries - Motorcycling in Colombia

Start of road between San Agustin and Popayan


I was up early this morning. This is now my third day in San Agustin and after two days of playing tourist I was now anxious to get back out on the road. After a hurried breakfast and settling my bill, I quickly got my gear packed up on the Aprillia. The Hotel manager came outside, he was keen on taking some pictures of me sitting on the bike. He told me that he wanted to post them on his Hotel website. So there I am sitting on the bike all set to ride off. I hit the start button, the engine cranks over and nothing, Nada. I try a few more times and still the engine refuses to kick over. With each failed attempt the battery was being further depleted of its power. Up until now I had not experienced any problems with the bike. it was a rental bike so I was not that very familiar with it. Compared to my own BMW 1150 GS I was finding the Aprilia to be very cold blooded on start ups. The bike had to be warmed before riding off otherwise the engine would die. In The last few days I had been noticing that it was taking a few extra cranks on the starter to get the engine to turn over. I got off the bike. If I was fated to have mechanical problems on this trip better that they happened here in town and not on some 12000 ft mountain pass in the middle of nowhere. This is not how I wanted to start my day. I pushed the bike out from it was parked into the middle of the street. Fortunately for me the road in front of the Hostel Dios de Lunos had just been newly paved and as it was a side street there was no traffic on it. I checked the bike for any obvious loose connections, I had fuel in the tank and a good spark. So from the way that the battery drew down after only a few false starts I was thinking that it's a problem with the battery.

The hotel keep tells me that he has a friend who is a motorcycle mechanic, perhaps he can look at the bike. Maybe so, but I am pretty sure that he has never seen an Aprillia Caponord before. I tell him that I wanted to try a few more things. I wanted to see if I bump start this beast. I wasn't very confident of being able to bump start a large high compression V-Twin. I have tried to bump start my own BMW GS on a number of occasions and with little success, so I was not hopeful of this working with the Aprillia. While I was explaining to the Hotel Keep what I wanted to try, he called out to two young Colombians on a passing motorcycle. They stopped and came over to where the bike was parked. Before you knew it had my newly enlisted recruits pushing the Aprilia down the street. On the first attempt, we got the bike going as fast as three persons could push it, with the bike in second gear I let the clutch out with the hopeful expectation that the engine would start up, but no, instead the rear wheel locked up as soon as I had engaged the gear. We tried again a few more time, this time I let clutch out while the bike was engaged in a higher gear but still could not get the bike's engine to fire up. After the third or fourth failed attempts my group of young Colombians were quickly losing their enthusiasm for this task., so I thanked them for their efforts and watched as they rode away. I was about to ask the Hotel Keep if he could call his mechanic friend, but decided to try one last attempt at starting. I got on the bike put in neutral and hit the starter, instantly the Aprilia roared back to life. With the motorcycle now running, the last thing I wanted to do was to switch off the motor. I did not really know if the Aprilia would continue to idle in neutral with the side stand down, so I continued to sit astride the bike and asked the Hotel keep to bring over my jacket and helmet. I checked the fuel gauge on the bike,it was showing only that I had only a quarter of tank of fuel not nearly enough to get me all the way to Popayan.

Hotel Keep told me that there was a gas station on the exit out of town near the turn for Popayan. He was insistent that he would direct me to the gas station. He hurriedly went out back of the Hostal and a moment later appeared aboard his little Honda Super Cub. I follow down a number of back streets and alleyways and 10 minutes later he delivers to the station. I was hesitant about shutting down the engine after such a short ride, if I was correct in thinking that my problems were due to a drained battery, 5 to 10 minutes of riding would not be nearly enough time for the alternator to charge up the battery. I kept the engine running while I fueled up. I thanked the Hotel Keep for his help and for the next 30 minutes I followed the road out of town and after 15 minutes of riding I turned around returned to the gas station where I had previously stopped. I felt more confident in now attempting to turn off the engine and seeing if the bike would restart. Better to find out while I was in town and close to help them out on some lonely stretch of roadway. I turned the engine off, waited a few minutes and then hit the starter. Without any hesitation the V-twin fired up. The motorcycle gods must be looking down on me favorably this day.

Just a few miles down the road from where I was, I found the turnoff for Popayan. According to the signpost, the city of Popayan was only 126 kilometers away, a distance of only 75 miles. According to my Lonely Planet Guide book, the trip from San Agustin by bus takes over 8 hours or more depending on the road conditions. I remember Mike from Motolombia telling me that by motorcycle it takes 5 to 6 hours. The first section of the road from San Agustin to the village of Isnos was along a Tarmac surface road. There was a lot construction going on and many stretches of the roadway was torn up with a few tricky sections where they had just laid down a bed of deep gravel.

Road construction



The weather this morning was looking overcast and ominous. And as I rode into the village of San Vicente it started to rain. The quality of the roadway leading out of San Vicente quickly degenerated into a pot hole infested road and with the steady rainfall, the hard packed dirt surface was turning mud. It was going to be a long hard ride to Popayan.

Church in San Vicente Colombia on way to Popayan Colombia


Mission Building in village of San Vicente


Road leading out of San Vicente


For the next hour I followed the road up into the higher mountain elevations, the only traffic I encountered were a few buses making their way between San Agustin and Popayan and the even slower moving trucks lumbering along the ill kept road. Even at a slow pace of 25 to 30 kilometers an hour I was still the fastest vehicle out here.

Buses along the Route to Popayan


About 40 kilometers along the route I came across my first military checkpoint. The checkpoint was nothing more than a crude wooden shelter with a plastic tarp pulled over the top for protection from the element. As I approached the checkpoint one of the three soldiers manning the post stepped out and motioned for me to stop. He asked me here I going, I told him Popayan. From inside two other soldiers who were huddled inside, called for me to come and join them for a coffee.

Stop near first military checkpoint


Another bus on road to Popayan


I was not really interested in stopping right now, but I did not think it wise to be discourteous to a group of soldiers armed with automatic weapons so I took up their invitation and entered their outpost. All of the soldiers were young conscripts, they looked to be no more than 19 to 20 years old. All Colombians once they reach the age of 18 are obligated by law to serve in the armed forces. If you can show that you have a high school diploma, then you only need to spend 12 months in military service if not then you are forced to spend upwards of two years wearing military garb. If your family is rich, well connected or willing to pay a bribe to the right official, then you can usually find a way out from serving in the army, which I was told happens a lot. That is why the majority of the young recruits serving in the Colombian army are from the poorer,underprivileged sectors of Colombian society. I remember when I was living down in Colombia it was a common practice for the military to send out what can only be described as Press Gangs who would go into the poorer city neighborhoods and pull youths right off the street and conscript them into the military.

I joined the young soldiers inside their outpost and over the next 15 to 20 chatted with them as best I could in my fractured Spanish and their very limited English. After answering their many questions about where I was from, where I was going, how fast was my motorcycle etc.. I questioned them about the road between here and Popayan, if the route was secure for traveling, if there were any concerns about FARC activity in the vicinity They were quick to reply that there was no guerrillas in the area. They told me that one of the buses running between Popayan and San Agustin had been robbed a few weeks ago but I should not expect any problems with FARC. That was good to know. Answer continued talking, the guard who was standing outside suddenly called out to his friend I side. "El jefe esta aqui". .." The boss is here". With that both the young soldiers jumped to attention. It was time for me to go. I went outside just as a pickup truck with military insignia on it pulled up alongside the checkpoint. One of the soldiers was making a pretense of inspecting my bike. I got on my bike and started it up. (No. Starting problems !!) in the background I could hear the young soldiers being berated by their senior officer, I am not sure what he was pissed about but he was giving all the young recruits an ear full. I hope it wasn't because he saw them fraternizing with the gringo. I continued along my way, the road slowly climbing up to higher elevations. After about 30 minutes of dodging ever increasingly sized potholes and worsening weather, I came up on what appeared to be a collection of ramshackle buildings. I pulled off the road near a building that had an old rusty sign on it for some soft drink company. I dismounted from the bike, there was still a light misty rain falling around me. On either side of the road were a couple of decrepit looking buildings elevated 5 or 6 feet up on the side of a muddy hillside. The road surface I was standing on was covered in a pool of mud about half a foot deep. Every surface around here seemed to be covered in a grimy layer of mud. There was a car parked across the road from me, it was hard to know what color it actually was, as it was buried in multiple layers of mud. The location where I had stopped had to be above 10,000 ft elevation. The place was eerily quiet, I was being watched by a number of preying eyes from behind closed doors.

I climbed up the steep muddy embankment and made my way to what looked to be a restaurant in this hole-in-the-wall outpost. Through an open door I could see a couple of tables and someone in the back of a counter preparing food. There were a few others in the room having lunch. The room was dark, dank and depressing, there was a single light bulb hanging from a ceiling fixture, the dim light did little to illuminate the dark surroundings of the room. I had just stopped for a quick coffee ]A young girl came out from behind a counter to take my order. I told her I wanted a coffee. "No tenemos". "We do not have". I will have a cola, No tenemos. Bottled water ?? Again "No tenemos". What do you have to drink. She brought me a bottle of some soft drink that was filled with a liquid that had the color and appearance of swamp water. I tried a bottle, my first impression was right, what ever was in the bottle was pretty foul tasting and unfit for human consumption. The other two people in the room where huddle over their meal. Both of them casting glances my way, I knew that I was part of their whispered conversations, as several times I overheard the words extranjero (foreigner) and motocicleta (motorcycle). I was starting to feel out of my comfort zone here ... time to leave.

I continued along my ride, I had now reached the halfway point on the road to Popayan, I had crossed over a few mountain passes and aside from from a few stretches of slippery clay covered roads the ride had not been that difficult. All of that would change as I was making my way down a mountain pass that led to a small village. At the bottom of the descent I could see that the color of the road surface was a different color from the road above it. As I neared the bottom of the hill, I stopped and pulled off to the side of the road. What I saw before me would induce fear into even the most hardened motorcyclist. Before me extending for several hundred yards was a sea of mud. I watched a large truck making its way across this quagmire, its wheels displacing mud as it pushed ahead. I could see now that the mud was at least a foot and half deep which by itself would have not been so bad, but what made the situation even worse and made me fearful was the deeply rutted road hidden underneath this ocean of muck. The ruts caused by the heavy truck traffic looked to be at least a foot deep. Getting a wheel caught up in one of these ruts could lead to ... you can conjure up your own images of bike and rider covered in mud after getting a front wheel trapped in a deep hole. Looking up the side of the road adjacent to the mountain side, it was evident that there had been a landslide here and the road crews just bulldozed over and flattened the loose earth into the road bed. The last few days of rain had turned the road into this mess before me. I started my run down the hillside into the town, there was a couple of truck following tailgating behind me. With the bike in first gear I moved ahead, right away, my front wheel dropped into a rut, I accelerated a little and the bike lurched out of one rut and into another, I was now riding with my feet spread out on either side of the bike like outriggers, my feet touched down a number of time as the bike lurched from one rut to another but I managed to keep the bike upright and going forward. After the longest minute I got the bike safely to the other side of the mud bog. The only road in this place was crowded with trucks and a couple of buses making their way between San Agustin and Popayan.

Another military checkpoint


I stopped in front of a restaurant (a wooden shack with a corrugated roof and a Cola sign, there were a couple of buses parked out front. I walked into the building and found an unoccupied table. The place was as bright and cheery as the previous place I had stopped at. I sat down at my table waited to be served. While sitting I now realized how cold it was in here. According to the last reading on my GPS, the elevation here was over 10,000 ft. The room was full of people, many from the bus stopped out front, as well as half dozen soldiers. I had spotted a couple of army trucks situated on either side of the entrance into this mountain hamlet. After a few minutes an elderly lady came over to take my order. The only thing on the menus was the special of the day. She spoke so quickly that I was not able to understand exactly what she had said. Whatever the special of the day was, it was being brewed up in a large black cauldron simmering over an open fire pit. After a few minutes my server returned with the "especial del dia". Lunch was a watery soup with a few pieces of yucca and carrots floating around a large beef bone, for flavor there was an iridescent film of grease floating on the surface. I imagined that this would have been the kind of meal served to prisoners in a Siberian Gulag. Done with my prison fare, I paid my bill and headed out the door hoping that maybe the weather had improved in the last half hour. The weather had changed all right, from a light drizzle to a heavy rain. When riding out in these mountain areas it's a necessitate to have good rain gear. It was nearing 12 noon and I still was only at the halfway point to Popayan so I did not want to spend any more time here waiting for the weather to clear.
The road onwards from here was the most challenging I had encountered so far. Over the next few miles the road continued to climb to higher elevations. Along the way I found myself stuck behind a trio of slow moving trucks, the trucks were almost as wide as the road so trying to get by these vehicles was proving difficult. Finally around one downhill descent I was able to pass two of of the trucks. It was at the bottom of this last descent that the road began to deteriorate. Up till now the road surface although muddy was at least hard packed, the road surface had now turned to a soft clay, and with the hard rains and heavy truck traffic the road was now rutted and tore up. The tire treads on the Aprilia were quickly becoming clogged with mud leaving me now with little or no traction. I was now slip sliding my way up and down these steep mountain roads trapped between two large trucks who were having as much difficulty as myself in getting up and down these roads. The next 15 minutes of riding turned into a white knuckle butt clenching experience, in many places rivulets of water and mud was streaming down the mountainside across the road washing it out in many places. I was more than relieved when the road surface improved and I was finally able to get past the last truck. The weather was even beginning to clear up and the further west I rode the better the road got.

Weather is finally improving


Once the weather cleared, scenery is spectacular. Trip would have been a lot better on a good day.


Some more scenes from route to Popayan


I was now more than 3/4 of the way to Popayan, in the last 20 minutes I had not come across a single vehicle. With so little traffic on the road I was not really paying any attention to what was behind me, so I was a bit startled when out of nowhere a SUV without any warning accelerated quickly past me almost colliding into one bike, I maneuvered the motorcycle to the far outside of the road to allow him to pass, the driver drove by me but instead of continuing to accelerate past me, he slowed down once he had gotten by me, I thought this behavior to be unusual, I then looked in my mirrors and saw another vehicle quickly coming on my rear, I slowed down and waved the driver to pass me but instead he seemed to deliberately slowed down instead of trying to go by me. My mindset immediately went into survival mode, I dropped a gear and tried to accelerate past the SUV in front of me, I could see that he was watching me in his rear view mirrors and as I tried to pull past him, the SUV pulled sharply in front of me to block my way, F@*king son of a bitch” Up ahead the road widen just before a long ascent up the mountain, there was a lot of large potholes in the road, the SUV was bouncing all over the place, he hit one especially deep hole which sent the SUV lurching to the right, doing my best impression of Jonah Street, I gunned the engine, jumped up on the pegs and quickly flew past him on the outside, as I went by I caught a glance of the driver in the SUV and for a split second we both made eye contact, the guy in the SUV looked like someone out of Hollywood central casting chosen to play the part of a Colombian hit-man, he had a deep scar across his cheek, slicked back hair and a maniacal expression on his face, within a few seconds I was flying up the mountain at 100 km an hour, for the next 5 minutes I rode like a maniac, the road was pretty tore up but the Aprilia’s suspension was able to handle the abuse I was putting it through. I was hoping that I would come across another of the many military checkpoints that I had already come across, but there was nothing ahead but empty road. I now started to check my mirrors to see if the SUV and the other vehicle were pursuing me. I could see nothing behind me. I continued riding at a fast but less frantic pace for the next 15 minutes. It may have been nothing more than paranoia on my part and just a case of another reckless Colombian driver but my credo is when riding in foreign lands, “When in doubt ride like hell”.

The road from here onwards started to descend to lower elevations, the rains that had been pursuing me all day had now stopped falling and in the distance I could see patches of blue sky over the horizon. Around one corner I came up on a spectacular waterfall cascading down the side of the mountain side right next to the road. I pulled over to view this work of nature.As I stood there admiring the falls, all the remembrances of today’s hardships and ordeals were washed away and replaced by the memory of this one moment.

View of waterfall


Video of ride between San Agustin and Popayan


On road just outside of Popayan - Stop for late lunch


Not too further along the road joined up with Hwy 24 and I found myself riding on smooth tarmac into the town of Popayan. It was now late in the afternoon, I had stopped at a roadside restaurant before coming into Popayan. I had been to Popayan many years ago but there was little of the town that seemed familiar to me. The last time that I was there was back in the early 1980’s. I was passing through town with a couple friends, we were all working down in Colombia at the time and had decided to spend a few months riding around South America in a jeep. We were there in Popayan for only a few days. On the first day of our visit, some thieves broke into our jeep and made off with all our luggage, the following day, Popayan was struck by a strong earthquake that destroyed 10 % of all the buildings in the city, over a 100 people were killed and many more than that injured. The Hotel I was staying at only suffered minor damage but many of the buildings nearby were completely leveled. Between the crumpled buildings, the debris filled streets, the fire and smoke, the city looked like a war zone. I had no set plans on where I would be staying in Popayan. I had the names of a few Hotels and B&B’s sourced from our Lonely Planet guide but no idea where in Popayan these places were located. I stopped at a gas station ]for a fill up and asked the attendant where all the good hotels were located, all he would say is that all the best hotels were in El Centro of Popayan. The roads around Popayan are pretty chaotic, I got on what looked to be a main thoroughfare going through the city, hoping that there would be a sign showing the way to the city center, every route I took seemed to lead me to some crowded barrio with no hotels in site. After wondering around fruitlessly for half an hour I pulled over on a side street to check my GPS and get my bearings.. As I was sitting there on my bike a young Colombian came up to me and in perfect English asked if I was looking for a Hotel. I told him I was. I could see a sign for a Hotel just down the street, I asked him if that place was any good. He said “ No my friend you do not want to go there, they only rent rooms there by the hour, all the good tourist hotels are located in the old part of the city, I will show you the way, just follow my car”. I was soon following his car through a warren of back alleys and side streets and soon we pulled up in front of a more respectable establishment. There were 3 or 4 other Hotels along the same street along with a number of trendier looking restaurants and stores. My new Colombian acquaintance helped me bring my gear into the hotel and waited around while I got I signed in, he refused to accept any gratuity that I offered him for his help, he said that he was glad to be able to offer his assistance to a foreign traveler to his county. Another example of how warm and welcoming Colombians are to foreign tourists. With the help of some of the hotel staff I wrestled the Aprilia up the narrow hotel entrance way and into the main lobby. Tomorrow I had planned on spending a day sightseeing around Popayan and giving my backside and the motorcycle a rest.

End of today’s travels
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"Of the gladdest moments in human life is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the Slavery of Home, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood. Afresh dawns the morn of life"
- Sir Richard Francis Burton


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LookingForAdventure screwed with this post 04-30-2012 at 07:22 PM
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Old 04-20-2012, 10:07 PM   #30
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You are a real adventurer, I am enjoying your trip, thanks for posting
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