The deep canyons dig incurable wounds along the Andean ridge and mark the border between Colombia and Equador: we reach Ipiales following the Pan-American highway from Popayan through Pasto. We greet therefore Colombia, a large and wonderfully wild country, sad and crazy, happy and “thief”… Colombia, a country that more than every other Andean state, has been underestimating its most precious treasure, the wisdom of its indigenous peoples, asphyxiating their culture in a logic of useless conflict. Colombia, the country that condenses all its seducing fascination in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad), written by the Colombian genius, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“Bienvenidos al Ecuador” (Welcome to Equador), says the enormous cartel: the next challenge and many projects to realize, our dream to discover the Amazon. After traveling for so many months we reach the half of the world: a foot to north and the other one to south, or vice versa, we cut the line of the Equator.
From Tierradentro the unpaved road goes down to the the bottom of impressive valleys, towards the pueblo of La Plata. The heat increases, entering in the department of Huila: after Garzon and Pitalito, two dusty cities, we reach San Agustin, the “archaeological capital” of Colombia. Reputation due to the traces left by a mysterious Pre-Colombian civilization, clearly related with the cultures of Ecuador and Peru. The monolithic statues narrate the history of a people who underwent the cultural influence of the Andean world and the fascination of the gorgeous Amazonian nature, thanks to the strategic position of San Agustin. Here, the most diffused means of transporting is still the horse, while the typical Colombian chivas transport merchandise and campesinos in unbelievable number, during market days.
The return travel towards Popayan is a a hard trip in camioneta, crossing fields, paramo and forests, flanking tired volcanoes and swallowing kilos of powder… we dream a shower, but what a privilege to visit such remote places.
The archaeological site of Tierradentro is an impressive and mysterious artwork, from an unknown but refined civilization. Located in the esplanades of Segovia, El Duende, El Tablòn, Alto de San Andres and El Aguacate, the hipogeos of Tierradentro are oval burial chambers, with a deepness that reaches nine meters. A winding staircase, built using volcanic stones, leads to the entrance, while two columns support the circular vault inside of each tomb. The walls are richly decorated with geometric and anthropomorphic figures, using red and black (life and death respectively), on white background. Nearly nothing was found in the chambers when they were discovered, because of the thieves activity (guaqueros), but what remains gives a clear idea of how incredible were these architecture artworks, able to resist the tremendous earthquakes that periodically hit the region of Tierradentro.
A friend, beyond that many beautiful photos, left trace of our nights in San Andres Pisimbalà, follow this link: www.flickr.com/photos/mariusencolombia.
In a day of movements with buses and camionetas we cover the whole Cauca valley, from Armenia (eje cafetero) to Popayan, passing through the lively city of Cali. Our goal is the region of Tierradentro, an archaeological site, almost unknown by tourists for problems of security, but particularly interesting for the presence of underground burial chambers, unique example of Pre-Columbian art (V-VII sec D.c.). The village of San Andres Pisimbalà is a charming place, inhabited by extremely nice people, belonging to the Paèz indigenous community. It remembers to us Chiapas and Guatemala, where we lived unforgettable experiences. To reach this pueblo an entire day of travel on unpaved roads is needed, but just for this reason the region conserves its authentic beauty. Here, the nature is wild and strong, leaving no satisfactions to the campesinos, nevertheless you can breathe an incredible peacefulness. We stay at Doña Marta’s casa familiar: she’s a nice old woman who loves cooking us the best arepas of Colombia.
Rising towards the peaks of the Nevado Ruiz, we discover the small village of Salento, a island of peacefulness in the middle of the wonderful Colombian coffee growing region (eje cafetero). A pueblo lost in the past and dominated by the rhythms of nature, that shows its most impressive side here. In direction of the Andean nevados in fact extends the “Valle de Cocora” (Cocora Valley), an Alpine-like valley, where the wax palms, a biological species heading towards extinction that catches up considerable heights (until 80 meters), grow numerous. Dipped in the mountain jungle, we find the ideal place to go for a walk, trek and horse-ride.
Armenia is one of the most desolated cities we’ve visited during our travel: in the gray buildings and in the looks of the people, in wide measure of Slavic origin, hides a piece of Balkans. In the evening, the center gets full of street nomads, everyone with his “mistaken history” to tell. We get lost in Rosalba’s silences, a girl from Cali with three sons, two recently born and the last one still in her womb, the husband in jail and an ocean of loneliness to carry, heavy as a cross. She gives us all she can, a smile and two splendid bracelets, how to return this kindness?
Medellin is the city of the Colombian social-economic supremacy, risen in the middle of nowhere and exploded under the protecting wing of the drug traffics. The utopian project of Pablo Escobar: a modern and efficient center, enclosed in a wonderful and green valley, where the Andes become bluffer. Medellin and the skyscrapers, the metropolitan, the suburbs and the favelas, where young people can’t see a future and have as unique hope sniffing glue. Medellin and the extension of our visa, a real bureaucratic odyssey. Medellin and the portrait that Fernando Botero paints, a colorful and eccentric society, animated from voluptuous, sensually opulent personages. The 50’s, the time of the flowers and the brothels (www.museodeantioquia.co).
Afro Caribbean soul, far and neglected spirit, that let seduce itself just beyond the border of the world. In the land of no one, where every man is owner of his life… the land strip that extends from Cartagena towards Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario, is a dusty fireside of underbrushes and doggone lives, where the whole population it’s of African origin and survives of expedients in the extreme heat. The travelers who cross this border without law get transformed in victims and guilty of a cruel system, money and power. “When you left to us this desert of skeletal cows and foul ponds”. Then, the dancing girls appear from the powder, a frenetic and echoing African rhythm, a cumbia or makulele, a skillful and enchanting dance, mockingly put up in front of a cartel saying: “Don’t give money to the dancing girls who charm the tourists”.
The passage between Central America and South America is a problem that many travellers are forced to face. The Pan-American Carretera is interrupted in the region of jungle and swamps called Darien Gap, making impossible land connections between Panama and Colombia. From the experience of other travelers we have collected some information, that we publish hoping it will be useful to someone in the future. The options in order to exceed the Darien Gap, avoiding the dangerous passage by land (in the Colombian region of the Choco are present groups of guerrillas and paramilitary), are substantially three:
- sailing ship or boat from Cartagena (Colombia) directly to Panamanian territory, passing for the Islas de San Blas (cost: approximately 250$)
- flight between Panama City and Bogotá, Medellin or Cartagena (cost: variable according to the season, 150-300$)
- bus from Medellin or Cartagena to Turbo (23$), traveling by night in order to reach Turbo in the morning and to go up on lancha or boat until Capurganà (20$, 2hours) where there are economic lodgings and the Caribbean is wonderful. From Capurgana’ you can take another lancha for Puerto Obaldia (10$, 40 min), that is already in Panamanian territory and there is an immigration office. From Puerto Obaldia there are two flights every week towards Panama City (57$).
Barranquilla is a chaotic industrial port, famous in Colombia as the center of the craziest carnival of the country. A short travel takes us to Cartagena de Indias, one of the most beautiful historical cities of America… actually the old town, enclosed in the Spanish walls, is an open sky museum: the characteristic wooden balconies run out on the narrow streets, richly adorned by colourful bougainvillea. But just outside the walls, it emerges the melancholic and forgotten soul of the seaport cities, especially the Caribbean ones. Lodged in the prophetically biblical quarter of Getsemani, we perceive the feeling of living an underground world, surely neglectful, but equally authentic. Here the black spirit voices its suffocated complain…