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Westward to Tierradentro & Popayán, COL



October 18th, 2017

We drove from Florencia to Tierradentro (an archeological park), through the small city of La Plata. It was 212 km/130m but it was slow going near La Plata and then again shortly after. We did stop for supplies in Florencia, met Joe & Josée on the road (by chance) once more for a snack and then later we had a gas stop (truck began acting up again so we filled up and got an additive to put in next time). The road outside La Plata is being rebuilt and it had many detours and finally was just hard dirt/gravel for the last 20k, very slow going. We got to the Hostal El Refugio, got set up and relaxed. We are at 1500M/4500’ so no need of AC although there is power and a pool here but it was not that warm and the sun was waning so we did not try it out.

We had a very quiet night here – there did not seem to be any guests at the hostel itself and we were the only vehicle in the car park. We had access to bathrooms and showers but no internet way out here and neither of our phones picked up any cell signals that worked.

Thursday morning we went to the Park Entrance around 8am, paid our 25,000 COP (just over $8USD), received a passport booklet and checked out the museum first

before following a pathway to a covered bridge after which you climb up past four lookout points to the first site: Segovia.

The area is very well known for its pre-Columbian hypogea (burial tombs), which were found in several excavations. The typical hypogeum has an entry oriented towards the west, a staircase (which can be straight, zigzag or circular) and a main chamber, usually 5 to 8 meters below the surface, with several lesser chambers around, each one containing a corpse. The pre-Columbian culture that created this funeral complex inhabited this area during the first millennium B.C.

Tierradentro Archaeological Park features hypogea dating from 6th to 9th centuries AD. The degree of complexity achieved by the architecture of these tombs with chambers that resemble the interior of large houses is evident in the admirable carving in tuff of the stairs that give access to a lobby and the chamber, as well as in the skillful placement of core and perimeter columns that required very careful planning. The symbolic symmetry achieved between the houses of the living above ground and the underground hypogea for the dead, also evokes a powerful image of the importance of a new stage into which the deceased has entered and the continuity between life and death, between the living and the ancestors.

Underground tombs with side chambers have been found over the whole of America, from Mexico to north-western Argentina, but their largest concentration is in Colombia.

some artifacts not put into national museum
decorated surfaces
faces carved on columns

Many of the steps are huge! Fran bummed her way a lot. You are required to bring your own flashlights here but many of the tombs do have some lighting however not always sufficient for photographs as, naturally, no flash photography is allowed. Once bleached and smoothed with stone sanders, the surfaces were painted with geometric designs in red and black inks derived from minerals in the soil. On the tops of columns there are carved and painted faces with the same style eyes and mouth formed by small incisions with a wide nose.

Once you begin seeing these tombs, they all begin to look the same so after seeing several of what the guide said were the better ones, then we headed back down, returned to Tigger and drove to a second site 3km away which is known for its statues, El Tablon.

Then we hit the road and began to make our way west to the large city of Popayán, a white colonial town. Like many cities, there are few options for overlanders, but there is a camp/hostel about 12 km from the centre of the city where many overlanders stay and there are buses to take you into the city.

The road here was a mess! It’s a dirt/mud/gravel road that is under construction but there is more dirt than pavement at this point. It began to rain before we were half way through and that made conditions slippery.

When we finally hit the main paved section we came across a big field of frailejones – a type of plant native to Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.  These plants grow very slowly, only half to one centimeter a year to a maximum height of three metres but they can live to 300 years old!

About two-thirds of the way, we stopped at a small welder’s shop and had the exhaust pipe rehung (yes again – after the road to La Macarena, it needed reattaching). Our outside cubby also decided to cause issues again in that it won’t stay locked as the box is sagging so the door won’t stay locked/shut. We lost a few cans of stuff already! So here Doug showed them how he’d like brackets or a frame around the box and they fixed us right up for about $7!

Getting exhaust rehung

Sidebar: We know that our vehicle is an oddity on the roads south of the US but the weirdest thing is that most people who stare at us, stare at the spare tire on the front (it actually is rare to see a spare tire on a vehicle here let alone mounted up front). We do find ourselves giving tours of our casa at most campsites and sometimes at gas stations and parking lots.

Upon arrival at Ecoparque Rayos del Sol, we saw many pup tents set up and this huge truck/bus/ people mover:

There are 25 people on this rig travelling from Alaska to Ushaia to Rio in eight months (it holds 40)! They are from various countries including: Canada, US, UK, Germany and Japan. Not our cup of tea, but to each his own, right? They left the next morning planning to be in Ecuador in two days.

The owners of this B&B, Maria & Armando, are very nice and they brought us warm rolls for breakfast nearly every day!

We were able to get a few chores down on Friday morning including using the self-serve washing machine and we spent the afternoon catching up on the internet. When Fran went to do the laundry, Armando insisted on doing it so Fran then insisted that when it was finished washing, she would hang it and when it was done he sent over his employee to tell her it was done washing. It was all dry by midafternoon and we lucked out with no rain to re-wet it all!

Saturday we caught a local bus for about 50 cents into the City of Popayán. The bus took about a half hour and then we wandered through the white colonial streets, checked out a few churches and squares before looking for a few items we needed.

We picked up a few other necessities and stopped for a terrible lunch which we didn’t finish (all deep fried and cold!) before catching the bus back.

Unfortunately when we left the camp spot in Florencia (fully expecting to return because Gentil said he’d take us to a welding spot), we forgot our heavy duty extension cord. This proved not too easy to replace here; we ended up buying the 12 gauge cord and the attachments for either end separately and Doug managed to “build” us a new one.

Popayán does not offer a lot to the tourist in the city proper (other than the white colonial buildings and a few museums which we are not into) but does have a few day trips you can take if interested; one of which we’ll do on Tuesday. It is often compared to Cartagena but we felt it was more like Antigua, Guatemala with much fewer cobbled streets and no old structures left standing for eye candy.

One of the things we’re looking for is a new jerry can; the one we had repaired in Panama is leaking again and finding metal ones here in South America is proving impossible so if we change to plastic, the rack on the back of Tigger that holds our jerry cans needs to be changed as well as they are, naturally, a different size than the ones we have now. One of the cans is also quite rusty on the bottom and the other two are beginning to oxidize as well.

Sunday we had a busy morning doing “housekeeping” chores and chilled in the afternoon.

Sidebar: speed limits change rapidly in Colombia. It will just increase to 80/90kmh and 10 metres later it will be 30/40! It’s crazy. We’ve actually seen sections where there will be three speed limit signs in a row all different but have yet to get the opportunity to get them all in one shot on a camera.

Doug needs a dentist for his quarterly cleaning and wants to have his eyes checked. Maria & Armando showed him both on a map and he took the bus back into town on Monday and had both done as well as purchasing a plastic jerry can which we’ll take to a fabricator to see about redoing our jerry can holders.

It has been fairly dry so far while we’ve been here at Popayán with only a few short sprinkles and every day the sun has come out for a few hours. The temperature has hit the mid 20’sC/high 70’s but it cools down sufficiently at night not to need AC. Since the big bus/truck left last Friday, we’ve had no company which has meant not having to share bathrooms or internet with others.

Monday evening it began to rain, not all that hard but it persisted most of the night and we awoke to light sprinkles on Tuesday. Today we are taking a day trip to a little rural town called Silvia- it’s up at around 2500m/8000’ and here on Tuesdays it’s market day and many of the Guambianos (local indigenous peoples) come down the mountainsides into town to go shopping. The rain cooperated by stopping when we arrived and restarting after we left although the sun never poked out.

The town itself is not very noteworthy but on market day it does come alive and the Guambianos are dressed in their tradition clothing: dark blue skirts with fushia trim, black bowler hats and some straw ones and, of course, ponchos, come down from the home mountain homes for selling and buying.

We did a bunch of fruit and veggie shopping here; for 20,000 COP (less than $7) we bought: broccoli, spinach, onions, tomatoes, carrots, avocadoes, limes, apples, bananas, strawberries and a pineapple. Oh and some sweets to take back to Armando.

On the way back, we looked for another welding shop. We also had purchased an additional two plastic jerry cans at the market in Silvia. We needed a welder to reconfigure our jerry can holder to hold these shorter, wider containers. We stopped at an Esso station to fill up our water tank and asked the friendly owner, Luis Alfredo, if he knew a place. He called a friend and the man drove to meet us at the gas station in ten minutes! Doug advised what we needed and he told us to follow him to his shop/home about five blocks away and he’d do the work for us. By the end of two hours, the work was done: the three holders for the metal cans were now three holders for plastic ones.

We headed back to Ecoparque and spent the rest of the afternoon chillin’ and had another quiet night.

Now Doug had arranged with Luis (from the Esso) to take him to get a noise looked at that we’d heard under the truck coming back from Silvia (we suspect it’s muffler related). We could hear it only when driving up hill on a right hand curve (?). Doug also wanted an underside inspection done after all the bad roads we’d been travelling on to ensure no nuts and bolts were missing or loose.   So Wednesday morning Doug unhooked Tigger and went to meet Luis while Fran stayed behind at the hostel with her laptop. It took most of the day but the noise seems to be gone and a few things under the truck have been fixed/adjusted. Luis also told Doug he knew someone who might be able to assist with our security camera. We had purchased a new one while we were back but it didn’t want to connect so Josée and Joe are taking it back with them when they fly home in two weeks. So Thursday morning Doug returned to Luis’ Esso station and a man showed up on a motorbike, looked at our system and left. He called a while later and advised he was still investigating and would call us this afternoon or tomorrow so Doug returned to the hostel.

Late yesterday afternoon, a German vehicle pulled in carrying a family of five. We met Olie, his wife, Giza. They arrived in Cartagena three months ago and are spending a year doing the PanAm with their kids. Doug made the boys balloon animals.

Friday we awoke to sunny, clear skies so we decided to laundry once again including all the sheets since we are leaving here on Sunday (that’s the plan anyway!) and it would be a good day to completely strip the beds. We also decided to take out Doug’s over the cab mattress completely and clean up in there so a dry day was needed for this task.

Armanda had his female employee wash our clothes again but we again insisted on hanging them to dry ourselves. The clouds began rolling in just after we hung them (of course!) but 98% got dry before the rain.

The man that was trying to source a camera called us and advised he could not do so, so that job will have to wait. Shame we have another day of hanging around.

The rain began in the early afternoon and it was quite a storm and it rained till supper time which of course meant we had water leaking at the back of the rig AGAIN! We awoke Saturday to another cloudy day and it rained some on and off. Doug did some research and found that the windows that were installed in Tigers back in the day our rig was built, are known for leaking and he’s looking into a few solutions, hoping we don’t’ have to take out the windows and reinstall them…..