Or San Agustin Archaeological Park amazes.
The two days I spent visiting the lava stone funerary monuments was the natural progression from the tombs of Tierradaentro and the original reason to travel South to the more isolated and dangerous regions of South Colombia. This UNESCO site is worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took to get there. According to UNESCO, who named San Agustin a World Heritage Site in 1995, the San Agustin Archaeological Park, “bears vivid witness to the artistic creativity and imagination of a pre-hispanic culture that flowered in the hostile tropical environment of the Northern Andes.”
You’re fine when you reach San Augustin, it’s a mellow picturesque little town and visiting the incredible sites there is safe for a woman alone, it’s outside those places on isolated roads you have to be careful. On that nightmare trip from Tierradentro I thought I’d had it. It was more the constant road signs that warned of guerrillas in the area and the sudden police check that showed me that there were still risks in this magnificent country.
Entering these sites is far less harrowing than the tombs previously visited and there is a feeling of calm and serenity. I avoided the few tourist groups so could have my normal weep at the wonder of it all. The ancient people who had established this culture and the master sculptors who had carved these gods and creatures of the imagination. A culture that very little is known about that flourished between the 1st and 8th century B.C.
This is an ongoing project which has continued to be an archaeologists dream for the last hundred years. It is said that the exposed megaliths were cared for and venerated by locals until the sites were recognised and duly protected. Scores of stolen blackmarket pieces have been retrieved and are in museums. Sadly the ancient tomb robbers, as usual, ransacked the pits and left only the pots. Only a few small artifacts of interest have been retrieved, dropped by the thieves.
Ancient ceremonial and burial sites are scattered over an area of roughly 250 square miles. There are around 600 known statues and at least 40 monumental burial mounds dispersed throughout the Alto Magdalena region and I could happily have remained to fight through jungle to see some more but sadly tempus fugit.
In this verdant land of many rivers and streams the people of old also carved totems and designs into a stream with large flat stones. The rocks that created mini waterfalls was ideal for them to create more bizarre figures and curling whirling designs still not really understood. The one thing that is evident is they worshipped the running water and created a magical place for ritual.
I was in seventh heaven! It was exactly what I had hoped for and seeing this artwork in situ made it easy to get closer to these people who vanished off the map in the ninth century.
Only two have been found fully painted and they give you an idea of how fearsome and awe-inspiring they were when freshly painted, only the faint residual paint shows on all the others. It’s more of a trek to get to these ones but you can rent horses if you wish however the final part you walk.
ALERT: I should add this area is full of Swiss chalet style hotels and although super pretty and very welcoming are very cold and damp in the night so get extra blankets. Also, the locals do like a party and very loud bass echoes around the mountains at ungodly hours probably sounding like the pounding drums of old but nowadays very unwelcome. Also if you have a fear of flying get your Diazepam out, it’s turboprop to Bogota from the next village which there connects you to Medellin. THERE ARE NO DIRECT FLIGHTS FROM THERE. You can go direct from Popayan after hours of ghastly track road that apparently is just not worth the bone jarring drive.
Next my arrival in Medellin, Botero and finding Pablo Escobar.
OVER AND OUT FROM BIGGLES.