Inside of the Earth

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Today is a long day of travel, starting at 6am, and involving several changes of pickups and buses. We're stranded in La Plata for 4 hours when the first pickup turns up and starts driving off without waiting. We rush out in the pouring rain to claim our reservation - apparently there's one place remaining, but there's not enough room to sneeze in the space, let alone an extra person.

We arrive at Tierradentro just after sunset following a slow journey on sodden muddy red roads punctuated by puddles and mudslides. We walk the last 2km to San Andrés de Pisimbala in the moonlit darkness, greeting farmers walking back to the village from the fields, and families sitting outside the houses enjoying the night. The village itself seems small and very social with people wandering round and chatting in groups. At its heart sits the unusual white thatched-roof church.

Our pensión Los Lagos is a few minutes walk from the church. It's good value, but very basic, our room with 4 paint-flaking walls, a cold shower, and dinner with unidentifiable lumps of fatty tissue (possibly brain stew). Luckily Rex, the resident Alsatian comes to aid enabling us to dispose of several spoons of dinner under the table without offending Hernan the owner (and part-time chef).

Next morning after a much more normal breakfast, a photo with the family, and introduction to the tiny wild parrot that eats bread from their table, we walk back down the road to the archeological site of Tierra Dentro (literally inside the ground).

First stop is the museum, a collection of local indigenous artefacts and dioramas. The slightly inebriated caretaker has no end of fun demonstrating the hyperactive reaction his yappy little dog has to the manequins. The tombs we've come to see are a bit of a hike up a steep hill which gives a good view of lush valley we're in, with San Andreas several kilometres to the right, several farms, and cultivated fields.

We reach the site and track down the caretaker who has the key to unlock the trapdoors to the distinctive spiral stairs that lead into the tombs. Again, our timing is impeccable, with the arrival of somewhere between 50 and 100 school children to share this spiritual place with us. It's not all bad! We meet an enthusiatic teacher Adolfo and his wife (who are helping to babysit the kids) and have a good chat, while interested kids crowd round and goggle at my camera. Again we're impressed by the friendliness of Colombians - Adolfo effusively thanks us for visiting his country. Where else in the world would this happen? The tombs themselves are startling, carved from the earth and filled with red, black and white geometric paintings and stylised faces, that for me rival the wow-factor when I first saw the interior of the Tombs of the Nobles in Egypt.

Our circuit around the valley is completed with a visit to some more tombs where we surprise the sleeping caretaker, another site of statues, and a brief encounter with a naked woman having a shower behind her house (when we erroneously take the incorrect path).

It's getting late and we're back on the main road waving the bus of school children goodbye and wishing they were going in our direction (Popayán) so we could hitch a lift with them. We also have a fond parting with the site guard who wants to buy my Mountain Hardware jacket. "Why can't I buy yours and you can just get another one?" Not as easily said as done when it's you're ownly jacket and you're in a tiny village in the middle of Colombia! He actually asked to try it on. It isn't the first time in our trip that someone's tried to buy our personal belongings. Goods that aren't obtainable locally obviously take on a desirable aspect - the allure of the exotic.

Our bus to Popayán doesn't doesn't show, but over the course of 2-3 hours we've seen every conceivable mode of transport pass by carrying hundreds of people to the tiny pueblo of San Andrés for a night of Bingo... yes Bingo - a very popular pastime for many Latin Americans, and liberally combined with drinking and salsa dancing. Transport includes around 9 buses with people spilling from the roof and windows, 15-20 pickups, 18 motorcycles and scooters, 5-10 horses with riders, numerous people on foot (and some of the women in high heels on the gravel road) and two other backpackers (who we end up sharing dinner with after abandoning hope of the bus turning up)!
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