Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hanging with Jerry Lewis.

If the 7 parrots squawking outside our door didn’t wake me up, the ice cold shower certainly did. And when I say ice cold, I really mean it. It was so cold…how cold was it?...I swear I bumped my head on the icicles hanging off the showerhead. It was so cold that I was considering find another place to sleep that night. I warned Adrian and stepped out in search of hot coffee. I found a cup and two other guests, an Australian couple on the beginning of their first big trip ever. When I tried to bond over the cold water, I was met with blank stares. They had no idea what I was talking about. In fact they told me, their shower had been too hot. When I asked the daughter of the owner, she kindly showed me that I had turned the wrong tap on. Tee hee, whoops. I hope my frostbitten appendages forgive me.

While Adrian enjoyed his hot shower, I chatted with the Aussies and the British couple who were traveling with them at the moment. They were headed off to the Archeological Park and tried to convince us to come with them. Meanwhile, the tour company rep showed up accompanied by an English speaking guide. Adrian joined me as she tried to sell us his services. It was tempting but Adrian is the one that said no even when he knocked another 10,000 pesos off the price. The Aussies and the Brits told us we could join their tour tomorrow and split the costs with them. But alas we were still taking off tomorrow. When they asked us what the rush was, I didn’t tell them about our lack of enthusiasm for San Agustin, but about the real reason we were motoring through the southern half of Colombia. For some reason, we had only received a 30-day visa when we arrived at the airport. Normally, it’s a 60 or 90 day visa but for us, it was only 30 days. Most likely because I had guessed (having no idea what to expect in the country) that we were going to be here for 4 weeks when asked. That left us with just 8 days to get across the border. They understood and headed out to the park while we walked down to the tour office to join our group.

Our jeep transportation was waiting. Actually it was a pickup truck with a couple of benches in the back but Adrian and I are lucky to get seats in the cab that we share with the driver and a Colombia mother and her grown daughter. The son-in-law and grandson were in the back along with an Italian couple and their two teenaged kids. With everyone piled in we drove off. About 15 minutes on the bumpy unpaved road outside of town, the Colombian woman sitting beside Adrian, began questioning the driver about the guide. When the driver explained that the guide was extra, the woman immediately called the office to begin negotiating. The price they gave her was the same price we were given – 70000 pesos. She put the phone down and asked us if we all wanted to split the cost. Well $14 is a lot better than $50 so we agreed. We waited at the side of the road and 15 minutes later the guide showed up on the back of a motorcycles. It was the same multi-lingual guide we had met earlier this morning. Woohoo. Now I wouldn’t have to translate for Adrian all day.

Once the guide jumped into the back of the truck, the driver took off down the road and through the incredibly scenic countryside. The lush green mountains and valleys are beautiful and are enough to make me forget the dullness of San Agustin. And finally, after 3 weeks on the road in Colombia my preconceived visuals were being met by what I saw. Especially at our first stop. El Estrecho, was where Colombia’s biggest river, the Rio Magdalena, was forced through a narrow 2 metre cut in the rock valley. Imagine the Amazon –okay not quite the Amazon. Imagine the Thames or Seine or some really important and big river, being squeezed through a narrow gap as it rushed down a mountain. Oh ya, I almost forgot. El Estretcho was at the bottom of a deep gorge in the mountains. And to get there we had to walk down a steep and slippery stone path, where I discovered that my shoes were useless on wet stone surfaces. But I made it down without landing on my butt and then took the appropriate number of pictures of Adrian posing in front of the scenery before heading back up.

Our next stop was Obando, a small town just as bland as San Agustin. But years ago, the locals raised money to dig up their main plaza, unearthing tombs buried beneath it. The excavated tunnels were a nice change from the usual benches and fountains we usually found in front of the town church and once again Indiana Barrett had fun climbing into the tombs demanding I document his every move with a photo. There was also a small museum which explained a little bit about the tombs and the excavation. The guide earned his money explaining the displays in Italian, Spanish and English. He told us to call him Jerry Lewis. When I asked him why, he looked just as confused as I did before saying matter of a factly, that that was who he looked like. I suppose if you squinted really hard you could mistake him for the nutty professor – if you were blind. I asked him if a French person told him that. But he didn’t understand so I quickly changed the topic.

Jerry Lewis the Colombian was much better company than Jerry Lewis the Comedian. At our visit to Alto de los Idolos, he did a great job of trying to explain the mostly unknown history of the stone statues and the people who cared them. He tried to convince us to by a combo entry ticket so we could visit the Archeological park too. And seemed really disappointed that we weren’t visiting it as well. I could have blamed him. He did such a great job of guiding us through this small site and describing in detail the meaning of the statues that we didn’t feel like we were missing anything by skipping the Park. Los Idolos is at the top of a hill (alto means high so I should have guessed), and covered with stone pillars carved in the shape of men and women and each marking a tomb. The carving is hard to make out at times and some of the tombs are in rough shape. Jerry apologized for the poor condition, explaining that up until a few years ago they were exposed to the elements. That was until UNESCO demanded that the government do something. Now all the sites are covered with tin or thatch roofs but much of the painted surfaces are too faint to make out. However, Jerry was great at filling in the blanks. The taller statue on each mound represented the person buried. And in this area the majority of tombs belonged to women. How could he tell? Well, the female statues wore skirts and were accompanied by male escort statues (the males didn’t wear any clothes, if you get my drift) to keep them company in the afterlife. And vice versa for the men. It was equal rites in this ancient society even when you were dead. Jerry then suggested that aliens were responsible for the stone work and maybe even all the Incan and Myan ruins. Okay so maybe the nutty professor was a bit nutty after all. I respectfully declined to comment.

It was almost two and time for lunch so we stopped at the town of Isnos at the appropriately named Restaurante el Turista. Thankfully, it was aimed at Colombian tourists so the prices were decent for a two course filling meal of comida tipica. With full tummies we head off to Alto de las Piedras another archeological site up another hill. The Colombian grandmother who had been climbing all the hills with the rest of us, sat this one out watching us huff and puff our way up check out more tombs and statues. This site was different – there were still the male and female (photo above) statues but there were also totem pole type things. Jerry explained that these were statues representing the features the dead person wished to acquire in the afterlife. Interesting but forget about the speed of a puma or cleverness of a monkey. How about alive like a human I would have suggested for my statue. If you’re going to dream, dream big I say.

We were then supposed to continue up the dirt road to the biggest waterfall in the area but when we booked the tour we were told that there were some big problems in the area and no one was going there. At the time I was afraid to ask but silently suspected this meant rebels but we soon found out the truth. Just up ahead, the local villagers were protesting the state of the roads. And the roads were bad - it had taken us 6 hours to visit the sites only 25 km apart. So I don’t blame them. But their protest was rather ingenious. They had dug a waist high trench across the horrible road. They could cross it on their wimpy motorbikes by lying a piece of lumber across the top but all larger motorized traffic was cut off. Meaning that nothing was coming out of the area that the government wanted. And it had worked (supposedly). The government was sending a road crew in mañana to start the repairs. But this is Latin America, and mañana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow. However, for the sake of all the butts that had to travel down that road, I hoped they did send a crew in.

So instead of those waterfalls we were heading to Salto del Mortiño instead. The good thing was that they were closer to San Agustin and therefore along a better road. But unfortunately we were told they were smaller. However, when we got to the Salto they certainly didn’t seem any less impressive. They were almost 200 metres tall and we stood at the top of the gorge looking down on them. The owners of the land we were standing on, had even built a small platform that jutted out over the edge. The Colombian family thought I was scared to stand on it because of the height. But it was shady construction methods used to build the platform that scared me more. Eventually I eased myself out to the edge to let Adrian take a picture. Look closely and you’ll see the fear and tension in that smile. But I came back when the young boy came running out and began jumping up and down testing the sturdiness of the platform until his mother told him to stop.

We then piled back in the van to head back to town. Thanks to the crappy roads, visiting those sites had taken us all day and the sun was beginning to set when the van pulled up to the tour office. Now it was time to pay Jerry. The Colombian daughter gathered up all our money and handed it over to Jerry. We said goodbye and walked towards our respective hotels. Jerry walked with us to our hotel, I realized he was waiting for a tip from us. I explained that we’d all split the cost with the rest of the group. But he was fine. Not surprising since he’d made his full day price. So we shook his hand and headed inside. Thankfully didn’t scream LADY! and beg for more as we walked away.

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