Sliding over to Tierradentro

Trip Start May 10, 2010
Trip End Apr 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hospedaje La Portada
HostelTrail Guesthouse

Flag of Colombia  , Cauca,
Saturday, July 17, 2010

Before taking the 6-hour bus ride to the archaeological site of Tierradentro, I'm spending a day or two in the colonial town of Popayán. Next morning, while reading through my e-mails at the hostel, I hear a familiar voice downstairs. It's Caroline who just arrived to town. Coming from Tierradentro, she has been travelling into the opposite direction of me since her stay in the Amazon. Crazy coincidence!

After making arrangements to meet again in Cali, I leave Caroline and Popayán, and get on the morning bus to San Andrés de Pisimbalá. This road has a reputation of being difficult and narrow, and we soon get to experience what that exactly means. While the bus driver tries to stear the bus around a landslide, I'm sitting on the window seat and failing to see any road below us. Just when I'm grabbing my camera to immortalize this disturbing window view, we feel the bus slowly starting to tip. In a mass reflex, all passengers sitting on the right side of the bus (myself included) make an instinctive jump to the left and with a well-timed stamp on the gas pedal the bus pulls itself back on the road. A few screams are followed with a collective phew and we're good to go again. For the remainder of the bus ride I don't see too many sleepy eyes anymore.

Two other tourists share this adrenaline rush with me: a miner from New Zealand and an English teacher from Peru. Also sharing the same hostel in San Andrés, we soon plan to explore the archaeological sites together.

Now, what's it all about? Tierradentro is known for its pre-Columbian burial caves, which are spread over several archeological sites. The caves have a spiral staircase and a main chamber, usually 5 to 8 meters below the surface, with several lesser chambers around. The pre-Columbian culture that created this funeral complex inhabited this area during the first millennium A.C. These huge underground tombs, dating from the 6th to the 10th century, reveal much of the northern Andean world before the Spaniards arrived.

Also the peaceful town of San Andrés was quite interesting and charming. Indigenous people represent a significant share of its 850 inhabitants and are very approachable and unusually easy to talk to. There is also one single bar in town which always seemed to be out of beer. It didn't take us too long to found out where the local beer deposit was though.

After a great day walking from site to site, we turn to bed early to catch the 6:30am bus back to Popayán. Relying on my companions's alarm clocks, we awake by the sound of the bus entering town. After getting dressed and packed in under 30 seconds, we just make it to the bus before it sets off. Turns out the New Zealand's battery died overnight and the Peruvian clock was switched off before it got the chance to ring (God knows why!).

In Popayán I will change for the bus to Cali for the start of my last week in Colombia.
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