I fell off the grid for a few days in San Agustín. The beautiful area is isolated and Internet challenged, so we have no WiFi at Finca el Cielo – my B&B. It was fun escaping for a few days!
Cali to San Agustín
The trip from Cali to San Agustín was interesting. The small, clean bus had 15 seats and was waiting in a chaotic station teeming with activity. We left at 6:00 a.m. sharp with a full load of passengers.
None of the passengers spoke English, so I went with the flow. The vibes were mellow, and I sat next to a young brother and sister traveling together to Pitalito. Their mother walked them to the bus station and rushed inside to buy a loaf of fresh bread (pan) for them to eat during the trip. We exchanged smiles, and they slept toppled over each other for most of the trip. Passengers included adults, babies, children, and a curious puppy that smelled everyone’s feet at least twice.
My seat was a few rows behind the young driver who clearly had made the trip a few times before. His passing and tailgating tactics were horrifying! Amazingly, he didn’t slam into someone or go careening off the side of the never-ending curves and bends along the treacherous Andean road. The smell of brake fluid flooded the bus a few times. I tried not to watch, as it was too terrifying!
During the first part of the route to Pitalito we climbed high into the Colombian Andes where the temperature dropped abruptly. I hugged a small day pack in my lap to stay warm. Since it was so hot in Cali, I’d packed away warmer clothes.
The roads traveled were some of the most crooked I’ve ever seen – reminiscent of the coastal road from San Francisco to Stinson Beach in Marin County, but longer, sharper, and with more twists and turns! While passing by sugarcane, coffee, and banana plantations, horse farms, and untamed vegetation, the higher we climbed the greener the terrain! It was beautiful!
A few hours into the 6+ hour ride we stopped at a checkpoint where government soldiers in uniforms with machine guns reviewed the driver’s papers. The young soldiers were non-threatening.
As we passed through small towns, distinct odors permeated the bus. Some reeked of marijuana and a few smelled like smoke from cooking and odors of unfamiliar herbs and plants. Colombian music played during the entire road trip, but it wasn’t too obnoxious or loud. To improve my Spanish, I focused on the words being sung while marveling at the jungle scenery. In the past, the route we followed through the Andes was popular with Colombian FARC rebels.
We stopped for lunch at a small out-of-the-way roadside café. The family running the restaurant lived in part of the building and offered travelers a quick meal of chicken or fish, rice, and vegetables.
Parts of the road to San Agustín weren’t paved, and the driver had to maneuver loose gravel and large potholes. There was heavy traffic on the rough road – pedestrians, horses, motorcycles, buses, cattle, dogs, people, and cars. That part of the trip was extremely dusty, and the bumpy motion of the bus was how I imagined being inside a washing machine would feel! There was no way to read, write, or take photos. The fact that some locals were sleeping was amazing. Sharp turns forced passengers to cling tightly to each other or their chairs – no seat belts.
A few hours after the lunch stop, the driver dropped those of us headed for San Agustín at a crossroad outside Pitalito. At that point, we had crossed the higher Andean peaks and were lower in a valley where the temperature was warmer. We waited a few minutes in the blazing sun until an open-air shuttle bus picked us up and drove into San Agustín.
Finca el Cielo
The owner of the B&B where I stayed was to meet me in San Agustín for the short drive to Finca el Cielo. Somehow we missed each other. After looking for her, I took a taxi with two Colombian guys who were selling guided tours of the ruins. They were talking so fast – couldn’t decipher any of their Spanish. They asked where I was from and we had a short conversation in Spanish.
Finca el Cielo is isolated outside San Agustín and absolutely gorgeous. It’s situated on lush rolling green hills with tropical flowers, horses, chickens, parrots, other exotic birds, and two friendly yellow Labradors. The buildings are made of bamboo. Dominique, the Swiss owner, has owned and managed the land for almost 20 years. Most of the year she lives in Switzerland but plans to make San Agustín her full-time home soon. A lively Colombian family lives on the property, takes care of the animals, and manages the B&B while Dominique is in Switzerland.
With Finca el Cielo as my base, I spent several days touring the fascinating pre-Columbian archaeological sites around San Agustin and will describe that incredible experience in a separate blog post.
The first day at Finca el Cielo I met three friendly Colombians visiting from Bogota – Juan, Juan, and Maria. They spoke excellent English and invited me to join in their exploration of the ruins. They were fun, and the information shared about Colombia and South America was valuable. Countries they recommended were Suriname and Uruguay – both are on my list. After talking to them and others, I’ve decided to skip Venezuela as it sounds too dangerous.
After a long bus ride from San Agustín through Pitalito, Pasto, Ipiales, and Tulcán I arrived in Quito yesterday. Now it feels like the whole thing was a dream. The Internet here is strong, so I’ll catch up on blog posts, including the adventurous trip from San Agustín to Quito.
I visited Quito (on the equator) years ago on the way to the Galápagos Islands. It’s changed tremendously and I’m acclimatizing to the high altitude, re-learning how to get around, and taking it slow for a few days. Wishing everyone a fantastic 2015! :o)