The Colombian landscape continued to amaze us and the final 50km stretch was on a dirt track that made the truck bounce everywhere. Passing through a tunnel that appeared from nowhere, in the middle of the forest, it was time for lunch. It was a nice stop with views from the bridge over the river and over the hills.
The road got bumpier and passed a small village where we grabbed some snacks and a coffee, of course. Later the land flattened, or at least the road was above the canyons to provide us with even more beautiful views of rock formations and desert like landscapes. There was plenty of wildlife around so I was happy, snapping away out of the window, getting some fresh air whilst trying to keep the camera still enough to focus.
The plan for tonight was to visit the observatory and stargaze into the cloudless skies. First we needed to setup camp and I was cooking curry for the last time. We took the decision to drive half an hour down the road to a natural pool whilst we still had daylight, but once we arrived it seemed like a decent place to stay, so we set up out tents and went to visit the natural pool before preparing dinner. We expected a pool formed from a local river or similar but in fact, they had built a pool into the canyon and we think natural water filled it. Anyway, we didn’t swim.
Curry went down well, obviously, and twenty of us hopped on to a cattle truck and hung on for dear life whilst we took the 30 minute bumpy drive back to the observatory. We met our guide who showed us the way to the open roof where there was some artificial grass for us to lie on to star gaze. At the observatory we saw Jupiter which was a white circle with two lines through, these are Jupiter’s gas rings. The telescope was moved to point to Saturn which looked like a cartoon version, it was so clear and white with its ring perfectly formed around it, a bit like the glow in the dark stickers that we used to put on the ceiling when we were children. Mars was up next another white circle that looked to have some colour to it and then some cloud clusters that looked like mini milky ways.
Javier spoke about the zodiac constellations, we saw Leo, Cancer, Scorpio and Virgo next one in a few hours would have been Sagittarius as they all move on the same circled line, as he pointed out with his super strong laser light. He pointed out sirius, the brightest star which constantly changes colour, and we saw the heart of the Scorpio, a red, sparkling coloured star. He explained further about the solar system, galaxy constellations and milky ways whilst we lay there, this gave some a chance to nod off as we heard Tim breathing deeply, he may have even snored!
San Agustin and it’s ruins.
Our route the next day, took us back along the bouncy mud track until we met the main road. Our last night camping in our beloved tent, Peru. It had been a long drive day so we relaxed for the evening.
Standard, we were up for 6 the next morning as we had to clean our tents. Breakfast was served first and it didn’t take us too long to scrub our tent to satisfaction. This morning we were going to visit the Parque de Arqueologico, where there were many ruins, or statues, scattered across the countryside. So off we went, on a little 2km hike up hill. Thankfully, a bus drove up to us with Jesus hanging out, telling us to get on, and we realised how grateful we were when it seemed to take 10 minutes even on by bus.
Our guide set off with us in line, like the pied piper leading rats to water, and soon later we arrived at the first spot. Site A, Mesita, where we got our first glimpse of the carved stones that had been found here many years ago. The park itself corresponds to a small area of greatest concentration of archaeological tombs, it is one of the most important archaeological sites of Colombia and was declared in 1995 by UNESCO as World Heritage. The statues were built next to each tomb and represented the individual in sometimes strange ways.
Up a flight of stairs where hundreds of caterpillars were huddling together in ceremony, attempting to get to the other side of the step, our next spot awaited us on top of the hill. Along the path our guide pulled out his panpipes and started playing classic South American tracks, again whilst we followed behind, we laughed! Site B, same name as site A, had a beautiful view of the valleys and was home to more statues, this time they looked a little greater, with grouped statues representing entire families being laid to rest at one time or another.
The next path lead us to a water feature that had various animals shaped into the rock, we spotted snakes, monkeys and many heads carved. The water began to flow through, underneath the bridge that we were standing on, made from bamboo. Further round, we reached the main section where we finally bumped into more tourists, in fact a small group from a local school. More sculptures, with funny faces.
It was time for the guide to break out more tunes and this time he had his flute to assist. We actually recognised the first he played, something by J-Lo, we whistled along whilst walking to the forest of Bosque de las estaluas. In this forest you can find pieces, statues, that had been discovered from far away, they had been moved here to be preserved and displayed where all other pieces that we had seen so far where found where they were presented.
The bus dropped us back at the campsite and we were pleased that the sun had dried our tent, it could be packed away for the last time. Filled up with chicken salad, we began the drive to our next destination.
On the way to Popayan, it was decided that we would have a truck party on the way. The majority of it was pretty funny, the two Ozzie girls being effected the most, Kellie managed to eskie surf when the brakes were slammed on and as Scott wasn’t stopping for pee stops, two of the “ladies” ended up peeing in a bucket at the back of the truck. Anyway, we were pleased to get off when we pulled up outside our hostel and were given a nice room for the next couple of days. Andrea dragged us to a Mexican restaurant where we had some tacos and a burrito, which doesn’t quite taste like home, but it reminded us how much Mexican we ate on our first visit to Ecuador, where we would be returning in exactly four days time. And of course Andrea didn’t have to do too much dragging as we both love Mexican.
Eventually, a free day! A lie in! Nothing on the agenda at all. Today was pretty much an admin day, slowly we woke up and got dressed and made our way to the local panadaria for breakfast. Then, we walked the streets of Popayan where all the buildings have been painted white, apparently after a recent earthquake had left many buildings damaged. Chloe was pleased when we’d got some important documents printed and purchased some gardening gloves… I know! Apparently we need them for the Galapagos and I’ve left Chloe to do all of the organising for that whilst I organise our few days in New York.
The place is fairly small and it was easy to get to the main viewpoints on the map. The first was to Simon Bolivar plaza, obviously. Which didn’t have much on the majority of plazas we’d seen in the rest of South America, although it did seem the cleanest, mainly due to the white decor of every building but the streets were well rid of any litter too. After that was a short walk up a few steps to a church on top of a hill, but as a ceremony was near to starting, we quickly disappeared.
On top of a nearby hill, you could see a large statue of a horse, this was our next stop. The road was winding to the top but on top there were plenty of people of all ages, we remembered it was the weekend. Passed the statue was a magnificent view of the small town and luckily for us, a capoeira group at assembled to give us a demonstration after they’d spent a while warming up, but as it started to drizzle, we left. On the way down we took a brief diversion through the artisan markets that were clearly half as full as they would usually have been.
As we walked back in the opposite direction, we came across a bridge that looked to have rows of stairs around it, as if something would be performed on top of the bridge. Walking through, we spotted a police officer, dressed more like a mountain range officer, riding a horse. Of course I asked if I could take a picture, which he didn’t mind at all, but then dismounted and asked if we would like to hop on for a photo… er, yeah, please!
Kellie and Emma were sat on the wall a little further around, I think we were the first they had talked to this morning, they hadn’t remembered what had happened on the truck in their drunken state, so we had to be the bearers of bad news, although it was pretty funny, you never like hearing stories of the previous night when you don’t remember, I know that too well! We dropped our bags at the hostel and went wandering for the large supermarket for food for the next few days.
Another national park.
Guess what… an early start, this time we were leaving at 6am for a trip to Purace national park. The whole group had decided against the hike up the volcano, we weren’t equipped with warm enough clothing and it didn’t look too clear so it sounded more like a struggle than fun, we were hoping that there was a nice walk to do as an alternative. Instead, we continued on a bus around the long, windy road until our guide stopped the bus for our first view point. There was a wooden ladder propped against the mountain side, once we climbed up, we were stood in puddles of mud. The path continued for a while and eventually we decided that the path was no longer walkable, as the guide was behind us, we hadn’t known that we were only supposed to walk a little way and turn around to see the lagoon behind us. Anyway, we did manage to see it and the climb down was harder to achieve without slipping, a stop probably not worth the amount of mud clinging to our shoes.
The next stop was nice, a large waterfall was only a 10m walk. After that we stopped at a clear pool where we threw a coin in and made a wish, I can’t tell you what my wish was, obviously. Our final stop was at San Juan and the thermal pools, the reason why some of us had come along today. We were welcomed by the local guys who informed us about the local tribes that had taken over the reserve from the government in an attempt to maintain the area and research the local climates that apparently has an effect on the rest of the world. After that we took a 600m hike to the thermal pools, firstly, this was the only hike of the day, not what we were expecting and secondly, funnily, you couldn’t swim in these pools, they stunk! The sulphur gave off a terrible smell of eggs and the water was very cloudy with hot springs bubbling in places.
We had to be quick to return because we wanted to witness the locals feeding condors. We was sat on a rock situated on top of a hill overlooking the valley, it was a beautiful place and when we got there, vultures had already began to eat at the meat left for them. This is normal though, the condors come soon after, he said. We got some great photos of the beautiful Carracarra bird and we sat waiting, and waiting, and waiting, we’d been here before, when we’d waited for two hours before the condors eventually showed themselves in Colca Canyon, but we weren’t so determined this time, and an hour later we got back on the bus and slept until we arrived back at the hostel and walked the markets looking for wellies before chilling out, cooking dinner and having an early night as we were leaving at 5.45am the next morning.
With Stu being a little hung over I have kindly finished his last paragraph of this blog, Ipiales. We were told this drive day was to be a massive one as in 14 hours, which I was not looking forward to at all. The plan was to get to Ipiales around 7pm then in the morning go to the famous cathedral before heading to the border crossing and ultimately, Otavalo. So we were all pretty surprised when at lunch Leslie jumped into the back and said we were about an hour away, we had made great time and that we would be seeing the cathedral today. Winding through the valley we caught glimpses of the Santuario de las Lajas cathedral deep in the valley side. Santuario de las Lajas is a basilica church which is built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River. It definitely had a gothic feel to it and was actually pretty cool to see, our last church in Columbia.
Last stop, the border.