I fell off the grid for a few days in San Agustín. The area is isolated and has Internet challenges, so we had no WiFi at Finca el Cielo – the B&B where I stayed. It was fun escaping any semblance of reality for a few days! The trip from Cali to San Agustín was interesting. It was a small, clean bus with 15 seats. The bus station was chaotic and teeming with activity but we left promptly at 6:00 a.m. with a full load of passengers.
None of the passengers spoke English. 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 brought them to the bus station and rushed inside to buy a loaf of fresh bread (pan in Spanish) for them to take along. 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! It was amazing that he didn’t slam into someone or go careening off the side of the treacherous Andean road. The smell of brake fluid flooded the bus a few times. I tried not to look forward as it was too terrifying – glad I had a light breakfast!
During the first part of the route to Pitalito we climbed high into the Colombian Andes where the temperature dropped abruptly. I hugged a backpack in my lap to stay warm. Since it was so hot in Cali, I’d packed away warmer clothes.
The roads we 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 and sharper with many more twists and turns! The higher we climbed the greener the terrain became as we passed by coffee, banana, and sugarcane plantations, thick untamed jungle vegetation, cows, and horse farms. It was beautiful! A few hours into the 6+ hour ride we stopped at a checkpoint where government soldiers with machine guns reviewed the driver’s papers. The soldiers were very young and non-threatening.
As we passed different towns distinct odors permeated the bus. A few of the towns reeked of marijuana and some smelled like smoke from cooking and odors of unfamiliar herbs and plants. Colombian music played during the entire road trip – something that usually drives me crazy but it wasn’t too loud or obnoxious. To improve my Spanish, I tried focusing on the words being sung. In the past, our route 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, 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 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 high Andean peaks and were down in a valley where the temperature was considerably warmer. We waited a few minutes in the blazing sun and then an open-air shuttle bus picked us up and drove into San Agustín.
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 I missed her. After looking around a few minutes I decided to take 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. Of course they asked where I was from and we had a short basic conversation in Spanish.
Finca el Cielo is isolated outside San Agustín and absolutely gorgeous. It’s situated on rolling green hills with tropical flowers, horses, chickens, parrots, other exotic birds, and two friendly yellow Labradors. The buildings are made of bamboo. The owner is a Swiss woman – Dominique. Dominique has owned and managed the land for almost 20 years. She’s in Switzerland most of the time but plans to make San Agustín her permanent 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 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 San Agustín from Bogota – Juan, Juan, and Maria. They spoke excellent English and invited me to join in their exploration of the ruins. Their company was enjoyable and educational and it was fun getting to know them. The information they shared about Colombia and other countries in South America was valuable. Two 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 can get caught up on blog posts including the San Agustín to Quito adventure.
I was in Quito (on the equator) for a few days many years ago on the way to the Galápagos Islands. It’s changed tremendously and I’m re-learning how to get around, acclimatizing to the high altitude, and taking it slow for a few days. Wishing everyone a fantastic 2015! :o)