A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

Colombia: Archaeological Adventure

Route: Popayan - San Andres de Pisimbala – San Agustin - Popayan

semi-overcast 25 °C

JANUARY 2019

On day three of our stay in Popayan the adventure really started. Early morning our driver and guide, Tony, picked us up from the apartment to start the journey to our next destination, the tiny village of San Andres de Pisimbala. From the relative urban environment of Popayan, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the much more remote central Andean mountains.

Andean mountain Flora

Andean mountain Flora

Paved roads gave away to dirt and mud tracks as we negotiated our way over one mountain pass after another. Having a 4x4 and an experienced driver seemed a vital ingredient for this type of travel. This was born out by the number of other motorist we passed, struggling with the road conditions.

Mud road from Popayan to Terriadentro

Mud road from Popayan to Terriadentro

Motorcycle wet weather gear Colombia style

Motorcycle wet weather gear Colombia style

Slippery conditions on the road to Tierriadentro

Slippery conditions on the road to Tierriadentro

The journey took us through ever changing scenery as we gained and lost altitude. It seemed the view round every corner exceeded the one before, until we reached the small town of Inza where we took a short break. From there it wasn’t far to our final destination of San Andres de Pisimbala, and the end of our 6hour journey.

Santa on the road in Inza

Santa on the road in Inza

The village of San Andres de Pisimbala is within a region governed by the indigenous Nasa community (also known as Paez); see “Personal Observations & Interesting Facts” below. The village sits at about 1500m above sea level and is surrounded by mountainous slopes that peak at around 2000m. Most of the land is cultivated, even though at times the gradient makes it look almost impossible. Crops are varied, but the most popular are coffee and plantain. The scenery was beautiful, but that wasn’t the reason for our visit, we were here to visit the underground tombs of Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro.

San Andres de Pisimbala

San Andres de Pisimbala

Signs in 3 languages at San Andres de Pisimbala

Signs in 3 languages at San Andres de Pisimbala

Our accommodation in San Andres, Hostel la Portada, was basic, comfortable, very clean and almost completely made of local bamboo. It also had its own restaurant across the street, also made from local bamboo, serving wholesome food and run by the loveliest lady you ever wish to meet.

Restaurant La Portada at San Andres de Pisimbala and our transport 4x4

Restaurant La Portada at San Andres de Pisimbala and our transport 4x4

Hospedaje La Portada

Hospedaje La Portada

Our accommodation La Portada Hospedaje in San Andres de Pisimbala

Our accommodation La Portada Hospedaje in San Andres de Pisimbala

Humming bird feeding

Humming bird feeding

Humming bird at rest

Humming bird at rest

We had two nights in San Andres and planned to do our exploration of the archaeological sites in two stages. Stage one; on the afternoon of our arrival, we would cover the three more accessible sites, and the following day the two more remote. All of the sites are in the Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro, which also has UNESCO World Heritage status. The management of the sites is a joint function between the park authorities and Nasa council (being that they are on indigenous community land).
The first three sites were on the eastern mountain slopes and connected by a steep, but well maintained, path. But before we started our visit we called into the museum to top up our understanding of what we were about to see.
The area had been inhabited by hunter-gatherers that then turned to subsistence farming, for thousands of years. But from the period of 600 to 900AD those people started to build elaborate tombs for their chieftains. These tombs, known as Hypogea, are cut into the mountainside and can be up to 7m deep and 12m wide. It is believed that these people abandoned the area in the 13th century (around the time when the Nasa people started to arrive), and it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the tombs were discovered.
So as the rain started to fall we began our trudge up the mountainside to the first set of tombs, known as “Alto de Segovia”. Here around 25 tombs are accessible to the public, and closely monitored by a national park guard. The guard will open the access hatch for each tomb and you are able to descend some steep steps down into the chamber. Once you are in, LED lights are switched on to illuminate the chamber (or with your own torch if lighting hasn’t been fitted). It is then that you are witness to an amazing sight, even after 1500 years you can still see the human like carvings on the pillars and fine painting that decorates the walls. Once you climb back out of the tomb, the lights are switched off and the hatch locked to safeguard the site. After descending and ascending seven tombs we decide we should save our energy to get to the next site and the tombs there.

Segovia sites, over 25 underground tombs which are protected from the elements

Segovia sites, over 25 underground tombs which are protected from the elements

Illuminated tomb

Illuminated tomb

Looking back up the stairs from the bottom of the tomb

Looking back up the stairs from the bottom of the tomb

One of the most well preserved underground tomb at Segovia site

One of the most well preserved underground tomb at Segovia site

Descending into the tomb at Segovia (more like climbing down and up)

Descending into the tomb at Segovia (more like climbing down and up)

Access to an underground tomb on Segovia Site

Access to an underground tomb on Segovia Site

Segovia site, underground tomb, you can see the face on the pillars.

Segovia site, underground tomb, you can see the face on the pillars.

Bamboo bridge access to the archaeological site

Bamboo bridge access to the archaeological site

View over the Andes

View over the Andes

From the museum we had climbed about 150 vertical meters to Segovia, we now had another 100 vertical meters to reach the second site of “Alto del Duende”. Alto del Duende is a smaller site with fewer accessible tombs, but no less impressive. With all this mountain hiking and previous tomb exploration, we only had energy to see one tomb at this site, so we asked the guard which one he would recommend, and we settled for that.

Looking back over the Segovia Archaeological site

Looking back over the Segovia Archaeological site

Farmer's house on our way to the second archaeological site

Farmer's house on our way to the second archaeological site

Underground tomb unlit (had to have flashlight) at El Duende, the second site

Underground tomb unlit (had to have flashlight) at El Duende, the second site

Mountain side agriculture

Mountain side agriculture

Bamboo is a vital resource in the rural community

Bamboo is a vital resource in the rural community

It was then upwards once again, until we reached the Santa Rosa road, where we turned downhill back towards San Andres de Pisimbala, and our last site for the day, El Tablon. By now time was getting on, so when we reached the site it was closed. However, this didn’t mater as the site contained above ground statues, which we could see from the fenced boundary.
[Photo’s – Statues & surrounding at El Tablon]
Finally it was on down the road to our accommodation and a very welcomed shower and rest. However, not before we had looked in on the local church. Rebuilt after a recent fire, it stood pristine with its white adobe walls and thatched roof.

Church at San Andres de Pisimbala

Church at San Andres de Pisimbala

The following day was stage two, just two sites, but a much more challenging adventure altogether. To achieve our goal today we had six hours of strenuous hiking ahead of us. The hike started after breakfast and next to the restaurant. We first descended down to a river and crossed a bamboo bridge.

Bridge at the start of our second day hike

Bridge at the start of our second day hike

It was then up hill to our first site of the day. “Alto de San Andres” which sits half way up the first mountainside to the west of the village, and we reached there in about 30 minutes from starting out. Here we needed our own torches to explore the tombs and see the chambers, but the rewards were equal to those of yesterday.

Underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Details of a pillar in an underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Details of a pillar in an underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Wild Bamboo plantation

Wild Bamboo plantation

Lost Valley found on our way to El Aguacate

Lost Valley found on our way to El Aguacate

From “Alto de San Andres” the adventure really began. We first climbed to the ridge of the first mountain range then descended into the valley below. The scenery was amazing, and the hills were covered in a variety of cultivated crops, coffee and plantain being the most popular. We noticed that most coffee plantations had plantain trees dispersed amongst them, this we later found out provided shelter from the sun for the coffee plant and a protection from some coffee pests.

Andean scenery

Andean scenery

Farming on the mountain side, coffee and Banana

Farming on the mountain side, coffee and Banana

Local transport from one valley to another

Local transport from one valley to another

This was very remote countryside, there were no roads in or out, the only means of transport was either on foot or horseback, and the valley seemed to be surrounded by mountains on all sides. We almost felt that no foreigner had been here before us, which of course wasn’t true but it added to the excitement. We now had an even bigger mountain slope to climb, to get out of the valley and to the last archaeological site. The task looked daunting and we spent a few moments assessing how tired we were and whether we could make it to the ridge. But even accepting how aching our limbs were, we had come this far so we weren’t about to turn back. In the end it was all worth it, as we reached the second ridge and looked back with elation at we had achieved. It was then a relatively easy walk along the ridge to our last site, El Aguacate, perched 2000m above the surrounding countryside. I can’t deny we were pretty exhausted by this time, but found the energy to explore a couple more tombs, before starting the painful (our legs and knees were shot be this time) decent down to the road back to San Andres de Pisimbala.

Tombs of El Aguacate

Tombs of El Aguacate


El Aguacate tomb

El Aguacate tomb

Multiple underground tomb at El Aguacate

Multiple underground tomb at El Aguacate

Still going down from El Aguacate

Still going down from El Aguacate

Starting our descent from El Aguacate

Starting our descent from El Aguacate

At the mountain bottom we needed a rest, so we called in to a local bar for a beer or two, before walking back up the road to our accommodation.

Fortunately the following day was mostly a car ride, so the legs would have a bit of time to recover. Tony met us at 09:20 and we started the road trip to our next location of San Agustin. The drive took most of the day as we circumnavigated mountain roads, passing by spectacular scenery, before arriving at our final destination around 16:00. But the day wasn’t all about a car ride; Tony kept us entertained with stories about life in Colombia and selected three interesting little towns to visit on route. We stopped for a short break at the central plazas of La Plata, Pital and Timana.
Each of the towns had their own character and charm, and it really gave us an insight to rural Colombia.
In La Plata we mingled with the locals and drank at a mobile coffee kiosk. It was so nice to have a really good Colombian coffee and not to have to choose between about 100 options as you do in Starbuck and similar establishments. Anne had a hot coca drink, the same leaves that are used to make cocaine, but in this instance just a refreshing and stimulating hot drink.

Mobile Coffee shop

Mobile Coffee shop

Coca Tea

Coca Tea

Sugar cane juice machine

Sugar cane juice machine

Busy High Street in Andean town

Busy High Street in Andean town

Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

Road scenery

Road scenery

Pital was pretty but quiet compared to La Plata, but it did provide us with the opportunity to have a good look at a “Chiva”, a common form of local transport (see “Personal Observations & Interesting Facts” below).
Then we arrived at Timana, a town with a good story to tell. It is said that when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they demanded a gift from each of Timana’s residents. However, one household refused to provide one, so the Spanish executed the son of the family. Enraged by this the mother kidnapped the Spanish leader and cut off his head. Today in Timana’s central plaza there is a statue to commemorate this heroic act.

la Gatana who avenged her son death by decapitating the Spanish leader

la Gatana who avenged her son death by decapitating the Spanish leader

As we arrived into San Agustin, it was like entering a theme park. However, this was not the usual look of the town, but its attempt to break a world record. For the Christmas period, the town wanted to create the world’s biggest nativity display. To achieve this, their display was one that you walked through, as opposed to just looked upon. Houses had been painted and decorated with biblical scenes, the police station had Roman Centurions mounted all around it and the public places had life size figures of Mary, Joeseph, the Wise Men and all the other nativity crew. It was a bold attempt, but by the time we arrived in town it all looked a bit tired. We probably would have been more impressed to see it lit up at night.

Police station nativity decoration

Police station nativity decoration

Nativity scene in San Agustin

Nativity scene in San Agustin

Our accommodation in San Agustin was just outside of town and close to the archaeological park we had come to visit. It was very comfortable and in a beautiful setting. Therefore, as Anne had been suffering from a bad cough and loss of voice for a couple of days (caught from Malc, who had suffered with it in the week before), we decided to take it easy and have restful first day, leaving the exploring for day two. However, we did briefly venture into town for some medication for Anne. In fact the pharmacy was very professional, administered an injection to relax the nerves aggravating the cough and proscribed some cough mixture and lozenges to sooth the cough going forward. All of this for only £10.00.

Hotel Huaka - Yo our accommodation in San Agustin

Hotel Huaka - Yo our accommodation in San Agustin

With Anne feeling better, our second day in San Agustin was dedicated to exploring the “Parque Arqueologico Nacional San Agustin e Isnos”.
Like Tierradentro, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contains the largest group of monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. The structures stand in a wild and spectacular landscape, protected by the Colombian park authorities, but displayed in a fashion that all can enjoy their magnificence. The site is covered in hundreds of tombs, some up to 30m in diameter, and once contained the remains of the societies elite. Each tomb is guarded by rock statues, skilfully carved in the shape of gods or mythical animals, some weighing several tonnes and standing up to 4m high. These works of art display the creativity and imagination of a northern Andean culture that flourished from the 1st to the 9th century. Although this creative period started in the first century AD, the chiefdom society had been in the region from around 1000BC. It is believed that this society remained in the area until around 1350AD, and then left for reasons unknown. What can be seen today is the result of archaeological work carried out in the 19th and 20th century, all that is missing is gold burial finery that has either been looted or moved to various Colombian museums.
Although the area around San Agustin contains lots of archaeological sites the one we chose to visit had the biggest collection and the best-preserved structures. Unlike Tierradentro, the access to the various tombs was relatively flat and good under foot, so we were able to explore the entire site in an enjoyable 4-hour visit. What we saw was quite mind-blowing, for which the photos will do greater justice than any explanation of mine. People make comparisons of the San Agustin statues to those on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and you can see why. But for us, they are very different, but equally as impressive.

Zoomorphic statue of a Jaguar (not a Vampire)

Zoomorphic statue of a Jaguar (not a Vampire)

Open tomb

Open tomb

Eagle with Snake statue

Eagle with Snake statue

Ornemental Statues

Ornemental Statues

Tomb entrance

Tomb entrance

Stone coffin in San Agustin Archaeological Park

Stone coffin in San Agustin Archaeological Park

Statues

Statues

San Agustin Archaeological Park

San Agustin Archaeological Park

Caiman Statue which covering a tomb, but there is no Caiman in the Andes. How did they know about it?

Caiman Statue which covering a tomb, but there is no Caiman in the Andes. How did they know about it?

The following day we left San Agustin and made our way back to Popayan. The original plan had been to visit some outlying archaeological sites on our way back, but as Anne’s health had got worse and consequently neither of us was sleeping well, we decided not to stop. The four-hour drive back was another spectacular one, as we crossed mountain ranges, drove through a national park and negotiated a variety of road conditions from flat concrete to muddy, slippery and potholed tracks. And as with each of the drives on this trip, the scenery was amazing.
It had been an amazing few days, and one we shall never forget.

Main road from San Agustin to Popayan a bit narrow sometimes

Main road from San Agustin to Popayan a bit narrow sometimes

Main road between San Agustin and Popayan

Main road between San Agustin and Popayan

Magdalena River

Magdalena River

Andean scenery

Andean scenery

Back in Popayan, Tony located a doctor for us, so Anne could get that cough sorted out. It turned out to be a throat infection and a variety of medication was prescribed to get her fit again.

We had one more day in Popayan before moving on. The original plan was to visit a local market up in the hills, but as Anne now had a second appointment with the doctor and had been ordered to rest, we decided to relax instead.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Nasa Indigenous Community
Long before the Spanish arrived in the Cauca region in 1537, the Nasa people (also known as Paez) had lived in the area in harmony with their environment. But since then, and up until more recent times, they have suffered at the hands of their intruders. The Spanish killed many through forced labour and other forms of brutality, and in more recent times they have been caught up in the conflict between government military and paramilitary groups such as FARC. Add to this, their land is ideal for growing Coca and Poppy, which meant a further intrusion from drug groups for the production of cocaine and heroin respectively. All of this has meant that the Cauca department and much of the Nasa lands have been one of the most violent regions of Colombia.
Fortunately things have slowly begun to improve. Firstly in 1970 when the Regional Indigenous Council was formed (CRIC) and secondly in 1980 when a local priest initiated the Nasa Project. Today, the 186,000 people who identify themselves as Nasa have a much-improved life. They have recovered 140,000 hectares of ancestral land, which they now cultivated as they see fit. They produce corn, beans, potato, blackberry, coffee, plantain, cassava, etc. on the steep alpine slopes that make up most of their land. They have overcome the environmental, social and economic damaged caused by the chemical spraying of their land by the government (to destroy coca and poppy plantation believed to be in the area, without consideration for the affect it would have on other crops and the environment). The provision of education has improved significantly, they work closely with national park authorities as a number of parks encompass their land, and they have welcomed tourism as another income generator. They also manage their own affairs within their land, including law and order, where only serious crimes (Rape, Murder, etc.) are handed over to the national police. It is also interesting to note that 70% of all of Colombia’s fresh water has its source in the Andean mountains around Nasa land. Four main rivers start their life here; the Magdalena (Colombia’s longest) flows north to the Caribbean Sea, as does the Cauca, whilst the Caquetá and Putumayo flow south into the Amazon Basin.

Chiva and other forms of rural transport
Probably the most noticeable form of rural transport, especially in the mountainous regions, is the Chiva. The Chiva (Spanish for goat), or sometimes known as the Escalera (Spanish for ladder or stairs), is a bus. The buses are varied and characterised by being painted colourfully (usually with the yellow, blue, and red colours, matching the flags of Colombia), and adorned with motifs. Most have a ladder to the rack on the roof, which is used for carrying people, livestock and merchandise. They are built upon a bus chassis with a modified body made out either metal or wood. Seats are bench-like, made out of wood, and there are no doors or windows. The owner (often a village co-operative) or driver usually gives the vehicle a unique nickname.

Chiva front end

Chiva front end

Chiva back end

Chiva back end

Chiva

Chiva

In addition to the Chiva, motorcycles are the other main form of transport (replacing the horse in many regions). Whole families and a huge variety of goods can be seen being transported by motorcycle.

Room for one more?

Room for one more?

Less common, but equally versatile is the Jeep. Rugged enough to cope with Colombia’s rural roads, and adaptable enough to meet the varied needs of a family. Once again, usually painted in bright colours and adorned with motifs.

Jeep

Jeep

Jeep front end

Jeep front end

Popayan Airport
The town of Popayan has a small but fairly modern airport, and only about a 10-minute drive from the old town. However, what makes it unusual is what goes on around its terminal car park. Car parking is shared with cows grazing, some common land agreement no doubt, that keeps the grass cut and fertilized.

Popayan Airport

Popayan Airport

Posted by MAd4travel 14:29 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia: Bogota & Popayan

Route: Bogota – Popayan

semi-overcast 25 °C

JANUARY 2019

Following a two night stop over in Santiago de Chile, after an amazing week on Rapa Nui, we continued our South American adventure and headed north to Colombia. Our flight to Bogota required a transit stop in Lima, Peru, and took most of the day. Our arrival in Bogota airport was quite strange as we, the passengers on our flight, seemed to be the only people in arrivals. Although unusual, it was very welcomed as we raced through immigration, baggage claim and customs, and was at our accommodation an hour earlier than expected. However, it was New Year’s eve, and I expect everyone was where they needed to be for their celebrations.
We had rented an apartment in the centre of Bogota, close to all the attractions, and began our exploration of the city the following day. That day was New Years Day, a public holiday, so the streets were quiet of traffic but full of families enjoying their day off. We strolled around in the warm sunshine, visiting first Plaza de Bolivar where people were feeding thousands of pigeons and street traders were selling balloons to children and photographs with Llamas to adults.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar on the 1st of January

Plaza Bolivar on the 1st of January

The Plaza is surrounded on all sides by impressive buildings, including the Cathedral Primada with the city’s mountains looming up in the background.

Cathedral on Plaza Bolivar

Cathedral on Plaza Bolivar

Next stop was Casa de Narino, the parliamentary building. Here security was very tight, you even had to have your bags checked by police to walk past it. Casa de Narino is another impressive building, with rich colonial architecture, lush gardens and a presidential guard at every entrance. Although we were allowed to photograph the guards, we weren’t allowed to photograph the building itself.

Presidential Guard

Presidential Guard

Near Plaza Bolivar

Near Plaza Bolivar

Our self guided city tour then took us around some of the adjoining back streets, with something of interest around every corner.

January 1st walking around in Bogota

January 1st walking around in Bogota

Bogota Street

Bogota Street

Old Town street

Old Town street

A church in Old Bogota

A church in Old Bogota

Street decorations

Street decorations

Our second day in Bogota was another lovely warm and sunny one. This time it was business as usual, and the street were much more busy. So we decided to get a view of the city from a higher elevation and this required a trip to the top of Cerro de Monserrate. Cerro de Monserrate is a 3,152meter peak that towers over the city on its northern flank.
Access to the peak is via one of three routes. Firstly, a steep hike up from the city, this we didn’t fancy due to the heat, altitude and a moderate degree of laziness. Secondly, via a cable car which has a station just out of the city at the foot of the mountain. However, this was closed, due to a recent accident (break failure on Xmas day caused a gondola to crash into a pillar and another gondola, injuring a number of occupants, mostly tourists). So ours was the third option, the funicular railway that started close to the cable car station.
First opened in 1929, the funicular follows a very steep track up the side of the mountain, disappearing into a tunnel just before arriving at the upper station. As the name suggests it was great fun (FUNicular?), with spectacular views of the city through the glassed roof 2003 model, and much better than walking.

on our way up to Cerro de Monserrate in the Funicular

on our way up to Cerro de Monserrate in the Funicular

On our way down via the Funicular

On our way down via the Funicular

From the upper station there was still a bit of a walk to the top, along a path lined with Xmas decorations (which are lit up at night). At the top there is a church, restaurants, gift stalls and a spectacular view over the city and its surrounding neighbourhoods. We spent about an hour up there, taking in views and watching gas cylinders being delivered by donkeys.

Cerro  de Monserrate

Cerro de Monserrate

View of Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

View of Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

Donkeys and mules caravan carrying gas for the restaurants at the top of Cerro de Monserrate

Donkeys and mules caravan carrying gas for the restaurants at the top of Cerro de Monserrate

View of the mountains behind Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

View of the mountains behind Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

Our last activity for the day was to visit the oldest church in Bogota, the 16th century Iglesia de San Francisco. We were told that the pews were pretty amazing, in fact the pews were unusual but the rest of the interior was the amazing bit. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures. Also, all around the church interior were Xmas lights that were flashing on and off the whole time we were there.

San Francisco Church

San Francisco Church

As with many cities these days, graffiti artists have been encouraged to brighten up Bogota with their creations. We are told that there are over 100 wall paintings by both local and international graffiti artist in Bogota, and today we set out to see some of them. Known as Bogota’s murals, they are spread out all over the city, but the biggest concentration is in the La Candelaria district. Luckily for us La Candelaria is where were staying, so we were able to start our self guided tour right outside our door. Wondering around the narrow back streets of the northern sector we found loads, which wetted our appetite to look for more in the coming days.

Bees

Bees

Face on a wall

Face on a wall

Cats

Cats

Double dog

Double dog

The Kiss

The Kiss

Dragon on a wall

Dragon on a wall

Panoramix made it all the way to Columbia- As a French and fan of Asterix et Obelix (i even have a tattoo) I had to indulge myself

Panoramix made it all the way to Columbia- As a French and fan of Asterix et Obelix (i even have a tattoo) I had to indulge myself

With today’s theme being paintings, we thought a good way to finish it would be a visit to the Museo Botero. Fernando Botero is a Colombian painter and sculptor, and born in Medellin in 1932. If you are not sure of his work, the photos below will remind you of his style. As Botero is one of our favourite artist, the museum was a must visit for us. Although the museum is only small, it was very well laid out, with lots of Botero’s work plus a few other exhibits from famous artists. It was an enjoyable way to finish a fascinating day.

Botero Museum

Botero Museum

Botero selfie (painting one of his subject)

Botero selfie (painting one of his subject)

Botero master piece

Botero master piece

The following day we did an exercise that we do in most cities, that is to go walk about and see what we discover. We have a destination in mind, but the route we take will change depending on what we find.
Today we hadn’t gone far, when we realised we were in the emerald-trading plaza. In Colombia, and specifically Bogota, emerald stones are traded in the street, and generally in this specific plaza. We stood around for a while, watching sellers and buyers negotiate over the price of a selection of stones enveloped in a folded piece of white paper. We then got talking to a few of the traders and they showed us what they were selling, they often had many envelopes, all containing emeralds of different sizes. Prices varied a lot, depending on the size and number in each envelope, all well out of our price range.

This plaza is where the Emerald trader come to sale their goods, today is New Years Day so no trading

This plaza is where the Emerald trader come to sale their goods, today is New Years Day so no trading

Emerald Traders

Emerald Traders

Emeralds for sale (and not the biggest one)

Emeralds for sale (and not the biggest one)

From emerald plaza we continued on our way, stopping on route to talk to some lottery ticket sellers. They were supporters of English soccer, both of them, and Arsenal FC in particular. Again, when I say we chatted, Anne did the talking for us with me understanding most of what was said, but only acknowledging with a nod and a few standard phrases.

Lottery tickets for sale

Lottery tickets for sale

Onwards we went, watching Bogota daily life going on all around us, until we needed to leave the main street and head south again for our final destination. Now, our goggle map had shown us a number of different routes, but we thought it only made sense to take the most direct. To begin with the street had lots of things going on to interest us, guys waving chequed flags to encourage passing motorist to park at their lot, for example. But as we got closer to our final destination, the area became a lot seedier. Now bars and brothels had replaced shops and cafes, we had found ourselves in Bogota’s red light district. Trading was very open, we had ladies of the day, scantily dressed and sitting outside their place of work. Trade seemed to be pretty good, but we didn’t hang around to look too closely.

Road to cemetery

Road to cemetery

To our relief, we soon arrived at our final destination, Cementerio Centro. Once passed security and inside we felt safe. Main cemeteries of major cities are interesting places, and we seem to have visited quite a few. They give you an insight to the city’s history, show you the people that have been important to the city, indicate the division of wealth and many of the tombs are amazing structures. They are also very peaceful places, often due to the amount of greenery that is present, plus the lack of load noise. We weren’t allowed to take photos, so you will have to use your imagination. Upon leaving the cemetery we decided to avoid the red light district on the way back, otherwise re-tracing our footsteps. That is until a local indicated that it wasn’t safe to venture anywhere in that area, not with words, but with a knife across the throat mime. So we stuck to the main streets all the way back to our apartment. Not a normal touristy day, but a very interesting one all the same.

Business district

Business district

For our last day in Bogota we visited its main indoor attraction, Museo de Ore (Gold Museum). A fascinating museum that covers the history of metal, focusing mainly on gold, and the story of gold in South America. The top three floors are packed with displays of gold in every form you could imagine, but mainly ceremonial pieces from cultures long since gone. As you progress around the displays you get a history lesson from a gold prospective. Some exhibits were over 3000 years old and it never cessed to amaze us how skilled the craftsman were to make such intricate pieces.

Gold Funeral Mask, Gold Museum

Gold Funeral Mask, Gold Museum

Regalia of the elite

Regalia of the elite

Gold Jaguar, one of many many gold artifacts

Gold Jaguar, one of many many gold artifacts

Just a few gold artefacts thrown together at the Gold Museum of Bogota

Just a few gold artefacts thrown together at the Gold Museum of Bogota

Three hours after entering the museum, we emerged much better informed about South America’s indigenous people, their culture and their amazing skills in working gold. Also pretty hungry, so we made for a recommended restaurant close the apartment, “Sant Just”. A very enjoyable late lunch followed, as we sampled their Colombian/French cuisine.

Tasty lunch

Tasty lunch

From Bogota we flew southwest to the small town of Popayan. Our apartment was in the centre of the old town, so well located to explore on foot. Still in the Andean foothills, the weather was quite pleasant, although we did catch a bit of unseasonal rain. On the day we arrived it was the Sunday before epiphany, so celebrations were already in full swing. The streets were full of people, music was playing and if you didn’t watch out you were liable to get sprayed with water or covered in some sort of white powder (we never did find out what that was all about). The partying went on into the night, with dance music blearing out from the other side of town and more traditional music being played in the plaza close to us. We checked out the plaza, and were impressed with the quality of music being played, a quartet with both Spanish and Classical guitars performing traditional songs on a small stage facing the plaza gardens. The gardens themselves were also a sight to behold, illuminated with hundreds of coloured lights, all adding to the spectacle.

Concert in the Plaza

Concert in the Plaza

Epiphany Celebration

Epiphany Celebration

The reason for coming to Popayan was two fold, firstly because it is the best location to launch a visit to the archaeological sites in the region and secondly to see the town itself.
To begin with we spent a couple of days chilling out and exploring the old town of Popayan. The old town is known as the “White City”, due to the colour of most of the colonial building. It is also known for having more than its fair share of churches, due to its religious importance, and for its politics, having provided more Colombian presidents than anywhere else.

White town of Popayan, very quiet as it is another bank holiday. Columbia has 18 bank holiday

White town of Popayan, very quiet as it is another bank holiday. Columbia has 18 bank holiday

Popayan

Popayan

On our third day in Popayan the adventure really started, as we relocated to a much more remote part of Colombia, to visit some of the countries archaeological treasures.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Colombia
The country of Colombia is located in northwest South America. It has an area of 1,141,748 Km2 and a population of 50 million, 8 million of which live in the capital Bogota. Bogota sets high up in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andean Mountains, and at 2640m above sea level is the third highest capital in South America (only La Paz and Quito are higher).
Before being occupied by the Spanish in 1499, the area we now know as Colombia was home to three main indigenous communities, the Muisca, the Quimbaya and the Tairona. As with most South American countries, the indigenous inhabitant suffered greatly at the hands of their European invaders, to the extent that very few true indigenous people survive today.
The Spanish remained in control until 1819 when Colombia gained its independence. However, the borders at that time were not the same as today, most notably in respect of the Panama Department. The Panama Department became the country of Panama in 1903, an agreement brokered by the USA, due to their interest in the Panama Canal.
Since independence, Colombia has had a somewhat violet history. Firstly due to warring political parties and then from the 1960’s, a long running government guerrilla war. However, things have got much better recently, with a peace agreement signed by the government and main guerrilla group (FARC) in November 2016.
The country is now looking forward to a peaceful and prosperous future, and is developing quickly towards that goal. Already the World Bank ranks Colombia’s GDP(PPP) as 32nd (40th GDP Nominal) in the world and 3rd largest in Latin America.

Flag of Colombia

Flag of Colombia

GDP Nominal v GDP (PPP)
A nominal measure of GDP does not account for changes in the relative purchasing power of a good across time; it ignores inflation and deflation. Purchasing power parity (PPP) compares how many goods and services an exchange-rate-adjusted unit of money can purchase in different countries.

Bedding
It seems that somewhere down the line, the suppliers of bed linen weren’t talking to the suppliers of beds. Because at most places we stayed, lower middle range establishments, the bedding was a bit too small for the bed.

Car Alarms
I don’t think we have been anywhere that there has as many car alarms going off as in Colombia. They must have been either poorly fitted or supplied by Trotters Independent Traders (TIT will only make sense to lovers of the UK comedy “Only Fools and Horses”). Either way, they seemed to go off regularly and not due to attempted theft.

Chess
The game of Chess seems to be a common pass-time. Most towns and cities we visited would have competitions going on in the street. Usually a table and two chairs would be placed at the side of the street, where the players would sit a play. Sometimes there would be multiple games going on at the same time, all lined up in neat row, with an audience looking on.

Posted by MAd4travel 11:50 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Rapa Nui (Easter Island or Isla de Pasqua)

Route: Santiago de Chile – Rapa Nui – Santiago de Chile

semi-overcast 25 °C

DECEMBER 2018

Map of Rapa Nui

Map of Rapa Nui

Our journey started with a flight from Montevideo to Santiago de Chile. The arrival at Santiago airport came as a bit of a shock, usually it is fairly quiet, but not today, it was heaving. When we thought about it, we shouldn’t have been surprised, this was the end of the last working day before Xmas.
Two nights in Santiago got us prepared for our next destination, the island of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island). Our stay in Santiago was just at the airport hotel, catching up with the usual admin duties and never getting tired of the view of snow capped Andean mountains out of our window.

Rapa Nui is about 3500km and five hours flying time from the Chilean mainland. It is one of the most remote places on earth, and sits in the Pacific Ocean half way between Chile and Tahiti. As the plane touched down you new you were somewhere special. As we disembarked from the aircraft, a warm breeze and the sound of the wind in the palm trees met us. Our host was waiting for us with a broad smile, a necklace of flowers and to transport us to our accommodation, via a short city tour. We had rented a cabin for 6 nights from a local Rapa Nui family, who we very quickly realised were some of the nicest and friendliest people you could ever meet.

Our first afternoon was spent doing a bit of shopping and getting our bearings. It had been a long day so we didn’t fancy cooking that night, so we eat out in a small seafront restaurant, gazing out into the Pacific Ocean watching the waves carry surfers towards the beach.

Hanga Roa Surf Beach

Hanga Roa Surf Beach

Hanga Roa

Hanga Roa

Hanga Roa

Hanga Roa

Our prime reason for visiting Rapa Nui was to see and learn about their fascinating culture and history, and that all started on the second day, Christmas Eve. We spent the morning organising our stay, car hire and private guided tour, and chatting to our host (I say we, but it was mainly Anne as the conversation was in Spanish). In the afternoon we headed out to explore. Our destination was Anakena on the north east of the island. This gave us our first sight of the islands rolling landscape, plus seven well-preserved Moai’s (see Personal Observations and Interesting Fact (POIF) below for explanation) and a beautiful beach. The beach at Anakena was idyllic, soft white powder sand washed by the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, just too inviting not to go for a swim. But what was unusual for the afternoon was the number of other tourist we met, initially for photograph assistance, but then turned into lengthy conversations. There was Emma from Canada, Andy from USA and Rachel from China, an enjoyable and unexpected bonus for the day.

7 Moais at Anakena

7 Moais at Anakena

Anakena

Anakena

Anakena Beach

Anakena Beach

Island Road and scenery

Island Road and scenery

That evening was pretty special as well, as we were invited to join our host family for their traditional Christmas Eve evening meal. It was a real privilege and honour to be their guests and to meet all the family; they even had a gift for us under the Christmas tree.

Day two was Christmas Day, and although some places were closed, we were still able to get out and explore. In fact this was our first of two days with our local guide John, and as it was a half-day we kept it local.
Our first location was the ceremonial site of Orongo, where we learnt the history of the birdman competition. Participants would live and train in a village on top of a cliff, readying themselves for a race to collect an egg of a Sooty Tern. The race required the competitor to climb down a cliff-face, swim to an islet, climb up another cliff-face, collect the egg and repeat the route back to the start. It was winner takes all, with a prize of island king for a year and a virgin maiden.
Close to Orongo was the beautiful volcanic crater of Rano Kau, the source of materials and water for Orongo.

Birdman Island where the Sooty Tern eggs were taken

Birdman Island where the Sooty Tern eggs were taken

Orongo ceremonial village where the Birdman competitors lived and trained

Orongo ceremonial village where the Birdman competitors lived and trained

Birdman Petroglyph at Orongo

Birdman Petroglyph at Orongo

Orongo crater

Orongo crater

From Orongo we visited Vinapu a site of some amazing stonework and fallen Moai’s. At that point heavy rain stopped play and we headed back to the cabin.

Coastal view from Vinapu with a Pukao in the foreground

Coastal view from Vinapu with a Pukao in the foreground

Wall build like the Inca at Vinapu

Wall build like the Inca at Vinapu

Fallen Moai at Vinapu

Fallen Moai at Vinapu

That evening the rain cleared enough for us to explore by ourselves, and make a visit to Puna Pau (the Topknot quarry – see POIF below) and Ahu Akivi (sea facing Moai’s – see POIF below).

Seven Journey men looking out to sea at Ahu Akivi

Seven Journey men looking out to sea at Ahu Akivi

Pukao left over at Puna Pau

Pukao left over at Puna Pau

Puna Pau, the Pukao quarry

Puna Pau, the Pukao quarry

The following day was a full day guided tour with John, exploring the many archaeological sites along the south coast of the island. It was during this day that we really got to understand the history of the Rapa Nui people and see the legacy they left behind (the key things we learnt are recorded in POIF below).
The weather on Rapa Nui is constantly changing with a keen wind blowing it across the island. A mix of sun, cloud and rain is the norm for most days. But this particular day we were very lucky, not one shower during the whole time we were out, making the experience even more rewarding.
The tour started at Hanga Te’e , a reconstruction of a traditional village. This and the accompanying explanation set us up for a day of discovery.

Chicken coop at Hanga Te'e

Chicken coop at Hanga Te'e

Traditional village reconstruction at Hanga Te'e

Traditional village reconstruction at Hanga Te'e

Next stop was Akahanga to see the archaeological ruins of a real village, plus a cave that was used as a shelter and some toppled Moai’s. With the vision of the reconstructed village this site came alive.

Fallen Moai at Akahanga

Fallen Moai at Akahanga

Akahanga coastal view

Akahanga coastal view

Cave at Akahanga

Cave at Akahanga

We then moved onto the crown jewels of archaeological sites, the main quarry at Rano Raraku. It was here that the Moai’s were carved, directly from the rock face.
Rano Raraku is an extinct volcano with a beautiful crater lake and partly completed Moai’s littering the landscape. The site had an unbelievable feel about it, every way you turned there seemed to be a Moai looking back at you, and you could easily imagine hundred of craftsmen at work creating these incredible structures.

Rano Raraku volcano and site of quarry

Rano Raraku volcano and site of quarry

Rano Raraku factory site for Moai. It took a year to carve one with 10 or more people working on it

Rano Raraku factory site for Moai. It took a year to carve one with 10 or more people working on it

Crater at Rano Raraku

Crater at Rano Raraku

Unfinished Moais (buried) at Rano Raraku near the crater

Unfinished Moais (buried) at Rano Raraku near the crater

An unfinished Moai being carved horizontally and would probably never have been finished as it would have been too heavy to moved

An unfinished Moai being carved horizontally and would probably never have been finished as it would have been too heavy to moved

Rano Raraku quarry

Rano Raraku quarry

View from Rano Raraku over to Tongariki 15 Moais

View from Rano Raraku over to Tongariki 15 Moais

From Rano Raraku the views didn’t get any less impressive as we arrived at Tongariki. Here fifteen massive Moai’s gaze down upon us as we explore what remains of the village that once lay in front of them. With the turquoise sea in the background, it is no wonder that this is one of the most photographed places on the island.

Tongariki Iconic 15 Moais

Tongariki Iconic 15 Moais

Tongariki

Tongariki

Tongariki

Tongariki

Our next stop was a change of scenery as we arrived at Papa Vaka. Papa Vaka is a collection of stones carved with petroglyphs and used as a type of school blackboard in the education of life skills, fishing, canoeing, etc.

Petroglyph at Papa Vaka, you can see a boat and fishhooks if you look closely

Petroglyph at Papa Vaka, you can see a boat and fishhooks if you look closely

Our last stop was Te Pito Kura, the site of the largest Moai erected on the island, although it was toppled during the war (the only larger ones are in the quarry in a state of construction). The site is also home to a magic stone, said to have healing powers and directional qualities. However, there has been no proof of it healing any one and because of its high iron content there will be a reaction if a compass is placed upon it.

The magic stone aka Te Pito Kura

The magic stone aka Te Pito Kura

And that ended a very enjoyable and informative day, partly thanks to our expert guide, John (see POIF below for contact details).

After our busy day out on tour, we almost enjoyed being forced, by heavy rain, to take it easy at the Cabin the next day. It was a day of writing postcards, working on photos and a bit of relaxation. However, by late afternoon the rain had stopped and the sun was out, so we decided to do the same. We jumped in the car and headed of to explore some of the sites along the west coast. Of the three sites on our list, one, Ahu Tepeu was closed for restoration work, but we did get to see the other two.
First stop was Hanga Kio’e, a single standing Moai atop of some pretty impressive cliffs. Followed by Tahai, the only standing Moai with eyes and we waited to watch the sunset there.

Sunset with Moai and Tourist at Tahai

Sunset with Moai and Tourist at Tahai

Sunset at Tahai (on a rainy day)

Sunset at Tahai (on a rainy day)

Originally all Moai’s had eyes made from crushed coral. The eyes were inserted into the Moai eye socket once erected, so it could look over the village and keep it safe. But when the Moai’s were toppled during the war the eyes either fell out, our were gouged out by the enemy.

Moai with the coral eyes

Moai with the coral eyes

For the next day it was a very early start, as we wanted to see the sunrise over Tongariki on the far side of the island. A drive in the dark across the island, being careful to avoid the horse and cattle on the road, got us to Tongariki at 07:00, in good time to witness an amazing sunrise.

Sunrise at Tongariki

Sunrise at Tongariki

For the rest of the morning we toured around our favourite sites to see them in a different light.

Rano Raraku in the morning

Rano Raraku in the morning

Rano Raraku in morning sunlight before opening time

Rano Raraku in morning sunlight before opening time

Anakena with Moai and Beach in the background

Anakena with Moai and Beach in the background

Anakena revisited

Anakena revisited

Anakena Moai revisited

Anakena Moai revisited

Ovahe Beach, not for swimming

Ovahe Beach, not for swimming

It was then time to head back to the cabin for a rest, but not before we visited the harbour at Hanga Roa to watch the cargo transfer process (see Modern Day Rapa Nui in POIF below).
By late afternoon we were rested and ready to explore more of Hanga Roa, ending the day with a nice meal in a restaurant looking out into the Pacific and finally watching the sun go down, before going back to the cabin.

Catholic Church in Hanga Roa

Catholic Church in Hanga Roa

Last night in Rapa Nui with local punch

Last night in Rapa Nui with local punch

Cemetery at Hanga Roa

Cemetery at Hanga Roa

Sunset in Hanga Roa

Sunset in Hanga Roa

And that was our amazing visit to Rapa Nui, one we shall never forget and place we would like to come back to.
So it was a flight back to Santiago de Chile, a two night stop over, and then off for new adventures in Colombia.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Rapa Nui
The Europeans called it Easter Island, the Chileans Isla de Pascua but it is now known by its native name of Rapa Nui. Although the island belongs to Chile it is in fact Polynesian, forming the most southeastern point of the Polynesian triangle. It has a population of around 8000, all of which live in the only town of Hanga Roa. It is a small island, only 164 square kilometres, 45% of which is a National Park. In 1995 the island was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, to help protect its unique culture and monuments, most notably its Moai’s (see below).

Flag of Rapa Nui

Flag of Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui from above

Rapa Nui from above

Myths, Legends and the History of Rapa Nui
Today experts believe that they have a pretty definitive history of Rapa Nui, but with very little oral accounts and an un-deciphered written record, questions still remain. However, generally speaking, this is a brief history of Rapa Nui.
Millions of years ago, with four independent volcanic eruptions, magma and ash from the sea floor was forced to the surface, to make the island that we know today as Rapa Nui. The island remained uninhabited until Polynesian travellers arrived somewhere between the 8th and 12th century. At the time the island was a true paradise, palm trees covered the island, the weather was very favourable and the sea was full of fish. The new arrivals landed in the north of the island but soon split up and formed tribal groups throughout the island, mostly living on the coast to take advantage of fishing.
Life was good and all they needed was in plentiful supply, therefore they had time on their hands. Time enough to honour their tribal leaders with statues to adorn their burial sites. These statues, called Moai’s, got grander as the centuries passed by. However, what they hadn’t realised was that they were using resources faster than they could be replenished. They thus found themselves in a famine situation, and as humans do, one tribe stole from the other and war broke out. Many lives were lost through starvation and warfare; cannibalism became riff, and the population collapsed.
By the time Europeans arrived, the Rapa Nui population only numbered in the hundreds. With the Europeans bringing new diseases with them, and plundering the locals for the slave trade, the island lost almost all of its inhabitants. And with that went most of the historical record, verbal or written.

Moai’s
Moai’s are the massive statues that make Rapa Nui famous. These monuments range in size from three to twelve meters tall, are carved in a likeness of a tribal leader and are placed on top of a platform (a Ahu). Beneath the platform is a burial chamber containing the leader remains (confirmed by the few sites that have been excavated).
The Moai is carved from a single piece of rock (compressed volcanic ash) taken from the only dedicated quarry on the island (Rano Raraku). The carving is of the individual’s head and body, but nothing below the waist. The reason for this is unknown. Once carved it was then transported to its destination and erected on top of the Ahu. Transportation could be over 20km of undulating terrain, most likely using palm tree trunks to roll it. Many men were involved in this activity and each Moai was estimated to take about a year to complete. It has also been noted that as time went by the Moai’s got bigger, probabley due to the advancement in technology.
Once the Moai was erected it with given a “Topknot or Pukao”, this is believed to be his hair and not a hat. The Pukao did not come from the same quarry as the head and body, so more carving and transportation was involved. The Pukao were carved at Puna Pua, an area with a high iron ore content. So giving the Pukao its red colouration. Once on site the Pukao was placed on top of the Moai head, to finish off the construction.
Moai’s are erected to face away from the sea and overlook the tribal village that they once ruled (there is one exception, where the Moai’s represent the seven journeyman who first landed on the island). But today most Moai’s lay broken on the ground. This is because during the tribal wars they were all pulled down, either to celebrate victory or because the prosperity they represented no longer existed. In fact the only ones that stand today are the ones re-erected by archaeologist and historians to show what they would have looked like in times gone by.

Moais

Moais

Modern Day Rapa Nui
Although our primary goal was to explore Rapa Nui’s ancient culture and history, sometimes the modern way of life is equally as interesting. First we discovered that what we see today is relatively new, and is off the back of a tourist boom in the past 10-15 years. Today, residents are reliant on tourism for their livelihood. That aside a number of interesting fact came to light whilst chatting to the locals, of which here are a few.

There is only one hospital on the island, but not enough doctors evidently. The hospital can deal with usual demands, maternity, minor cuts and breaks, etc. But for anything serious, an air ambulance is required to take the patient to hospital in Chile, 5 hours flight each way. Fortunately, the cost of this is covered by the local heath care insurance.

Rapa Nui is not self-sufficient and relies on shipments from Chile for most things. Small items come by plane, but large items need to be transported by boat, and take much longer. But that is only part of the problem, Rapa Nui doesn’t have a harbour deep enough to dock a large container ship. So to get round this, they unload the ship out in the bay using a specially designed barge with crane. This involves many journeys from ship to shore, as the carrying capacity of the barge is much smaller.

Harbour activities

Harbour activities

Shipping almost everything from Chile also has an impact on what you can find in the shops at any one time. The locals obvious realise this and shop wisely, but for the few self-catering tourist like us this can be a bit of a problem, especially when you arrive around Xmas time. Although we didn’t fully realise this when shopped on our first day, it was a good job we did because the shelves were almost bare when we returned on Xmas eve. And food is not cheap, although alcohol is at Chilean prices, the rest are closer to Icelandic prices.

We wondered about refuse as well, what do they do with it. As you can imagine the problem is getting bigger as more tourist visit. But for the moment they have an incineration plant for about 60% of it, with a target of recycling the other 40%. It is debateable whether this is being achieved, but what ever is recyclable, it is packed up and shipped to Chile for processing.

In respect of energy, surprisingly there isn’t much renewable at the moment. You see a few solar panels, but most of the power comes from diesel generators. Maybe in time this will change, because what the island has plenty of is wind and sun. Maybe even an ideal location for electric cars, as distance are short, but they would have to be robust to deal with the roads.

Horses and cattle roam freely around the island, with only fences/walls to keep them out of the National Park sites. This means it is common to find them wandering in the road, almost anywhere on the island. Another driving hazard to contend with.

Cattle roaming freely on the island

Cattle roaming freely on the island

Wild horses roaming freely across the island

Wild horses roaming freely across the island

In the UK I am used to church bells being rung in a standard way, without any real tune you could recognise. But on Rapa Nui, and I don’t know whether it is only at Christmas, the bells chime out Christmas carols.

John
If anyone reading this is planning on visiting Rapa Nui, we can highly recommend our guide John. He can be found at Cabana Tongariki, close to the hospital in Hanga Roa.

Posted by MAd4travel 14:27 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

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