Saturday, August 1, 2009

Go directly to San Agustin. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

No pictures of today's fun. But here's an example of crazy colombian buses. This is the ayudante hanging out of the bus as it was going over 90 km/hr down the expressway outside of Bogota.

There are two ways in to San Agustin. One is on the nice paved roads coming from the north. The other comes from the west and involves one of the worst roads in Colombia. Since we were heading south, we opted for the smooth ride in and the bumpy ride out. Our smooth ride in, went smoothly for the first 6 hours of the trip until we are told to change buses in Nieve even though we had been sold a direct ticket. This gave us a chance to have something to eat so we slurped down a meal at the bus station cafĂ© under the impatient watchful eye of the bus driver who wanted to whisk us away on the next bus. We had to force him to wait while we went searching for a bathroom and as soon as we were out he hustled us onto the bus that was only going to Pitalito. When I enquired about getting to San Agustin, we were told we were going to have to change buses again. Hmph, so much for the direct bus route. This bus was smaller and older and the roads were much the same, giving the Colombian bus driver ample opportunity to scare us gringos by overtaking at full speed on blind corners. This wasn’t the first time we had experienced this phenomena, but it was the scariest as the road wasn’t the best. Trying not to dwell on it, I let my mind go blank and just kept reminding myself that they do this trip everyday so they must know what they’re doing, musn’t they? Well we arrived in Pitalito just after sunset and there appears to be some confusion about our onward journey. Eventually, someone finds the right mini van for us and we’re shuttled on it for the last and shortest leg of our journey in the smallest minivan of the day.

We arrived in San Agustin just almost 11 hours after we left Bogota. Not too bad considering we’d just traversed the bottom third of the country. The van dropped us off in the middle of the town just outside a tour office. The town wasn’t much more than the one street and not particularly attractive even at night. Immediately a rep from the tour company was at our side trying to sell us one of the tours to the archeological sites. Oh yeah, that’s why we were in this small little town, to see the stone statues of San Agustin. Nobody knows much about them and being a little off the tourist track not a lot of people go to see them. But we’d met a few who’d made the trip and gave it the thumbs up so here we were. The tour rep had a few different tours on offer to the various sites but we weren’t in the mood. I told the rep that we just wanted to get to our hostel and he kindly pointed us in the right direction.

Down the street and two our right we found the hostel and were let in by the night watchman who speaks two words of English. Hello and Yes. This was just enough to convince Adrian that he can understand him as he begins describing our trip in detail. Thankfully, the owner’s teenage daughter steps in and shows us our room. It was basic with a private bath that was just as basic. It was only $15 so we couldn’t be too picky (it did have wifi, amazingly). There are nicer places but they’re in the hills around town, and this time I didn’t feel like trekking for 30 minutes whenever we needed something from the store. So we took it, dumped our bags and then decided we had better book one of the tours for the next day since we hadn’t seen anything in our first 30 minutes that made us want to stay. Yes, poor San Agustin. After the pretty towns of Villa de Leyva, Barichara and even San Gil, it was the ugly cousin.

At the tour company, we signed up for the tour that would take us to the sights further away from town and included some of the picturesque waterfalls. This meant we’d skip the tour of the archeological park just outside of the city but with one day we decided to go with the tour that showcased the most of the region. Then it was time to get something to eat. It was a good thing we had had that big lunch at the bus station because there weren’t a lot of restaurants in town. Bars yes. Restaurants no. So our choices were street meats in the town square - either bright pink wieners or the pasty grey hamburger patties. We chose the hot dogs, which came topped with fried onions and crushed potato chips. Yum. Then it was back to the hostel to go directly to bed. After our not-so direct ride here we were wiped out.

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