Amazing Archaeological Site (So We've Heard)
San Agustin, Colombia
San Agustin is the scene of a very important Pre-Colombian UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological site. Two native cultures in the area used large volcanic boulders to carve huge sculpted figures, some anthropomorphic, some realistic.
When we arrived in San Agustin, we were immediately spotted getting off the bus and approached by a man wanting us to stay at his hotel. We explained we had a booking elsewhere, so he offered to arrange us a taxi, though at a high cost so we declined and decided to walk the 2kms.
As we set off a friendly man called Gustavo drove past and offered us a lift. He was a tour operator and it turned out was friends with the first guy so we are pretty sure he might have been told we were going to be there. Regardless when we saw the steep rocky road to the hostel we were grateful for the lift. Upon arrival at the hostel we chatted with Gustavo about a jeep tour he was running the next day, and decided to join.
The hostel was lovely. We had a private cabaña near the main house. The property was set in some really nice gardens, and conveniently they offered a good dinner so we didn't have to walk back into town.
In the morning the hostel manager told us that the main archaeological site was closed that day due to a dispute between the indigenous and the administration of the park. From what we heard it was a little violent with the police using tear gas while the indigenous threw rocks.
The dispute was over a road that the indigenous used regularly to get to town, schools, etc. which runs through the archaeological site, which the park administration didn't want used as it's part of the park. We were told the park would hopefully open again the next day.
Gustavo picked us up for our tour, which fortunately was for sites other than the main park. He had seemingly picked up some more guests for his tour as there ended up being two cars. We were in the Spanish speaking car rather than with all the other foreigners, perhaps since we had tried to converse in Spanish the night before and he was blown away with our mad skills?
The first stop was a little sugar cane processing factory, where the sugar was made into canela, a block of caramelised sugar. After being juiced, they would cook the juice down, then pour it into moulds to harden. We were able to try a bit, though even the tiny segments were so sweet we couldn't eat it.
From there we visited El Estrecho (The Narrow). This is a 20 or so metre stretch of the Rio Magdalena that narrows to about 2 metres, so the water comes gushing through the rocks. It was a nice little spot along the river.
After a quick stop was an archaeological site that we were told is the second most important in the area, Alto de los Idolos. We walked along a path up a hill which opened up to a lovely green hill, scattered upon which were several tombs, each different and with different carvings.
Walking around them, some of the tombs were big and deep, others smaller and shallower. While they had been raided long ago, there were some signs to explain the objects that had been in the tombs with the deceased, mostly pottery and sometimes gold. They mostly had huge flat slabs of rock arranged to make an entrance or tunnel into the tomb.
Some tombs had a single carved figure, others more than one. Sometimes female, sometimes male, sometimes part human, part animal. Some were amazingly detailed in their design and others quite basic. They were really fascinating to look at, and the park had been really well reconstructed and was well maintained.
Following this first site we had some lunch at a nice restaurant on a nearby hilltop, which gave views over the hills and farms surrounding us. We chose the churrasco which was BBQ meat still sizzling away on a hot metal plate as it was served, with chips, salad and soup.
From there we visited a second archaeological site, this time a bit smaller, and with some different and sometimes quite deep tombs. There were a couple that had carvings of what were identified as crocodiles, an animal not present in this part of the world.
Our last two stops were two waterfalls. Salto de Bordones we were told was over 400 metres high, the 3rd highest waterfall in South America behind Angel Falls in Venezuela and another in Peru. We took Gustavo's word for it, as from our vantage point we couldn't see all the way to the bottom of the valley. It had nothing on Iguaçu or Kaieteur but it was a nice view.
The second fall was a single drop waterfall, called Salto del Mortiño, 170m high. Bizarrely it was in the middle of private farming land, so we had to pay the owners to go in. This one wasn't overly impressive either but again the landscape was lovely.
The next morning we awoke hoping for good news about the main archaeological park, but unfortunately the situation hadn't improved. We heard a few reports that it might open during the day, but it didn't, and the reports that it might be closed for some time seemed the more reliable. So, we would miss out on the main attraction of San Agustín and the main reason we went there. Never before has the Fergus and Lindsay Effect been quite so substantial!
Instead we opted for a lazy day, and given it rained a lot we were ok with doing very little. After all that doesn't happen often! We lazed around the hostel, and ventured into town during a break in the rain for lunch, finding a little Mexican place that served us an enormous burrito and enormous burger. Then, back to veg in the hostel. We also had a wander through their gardens during a break in the rain which was really colourful.
Next stop Popayán, our last destination in Colombia.