29 August 2012

San Agustin: Number 4

Paco, Barb, Martha, Carlos!
When I first decided to start my "new life" in Cartagena, in learning more about the place so I could tell everyone what I was doing, I learned it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site. As I spent more time in Colombia and traveled, I learned there were other such sites; I visited the second, the Coffee Zone (or "Eje Cafetero"), last New Year's. At Easter time, I visited another: MompĆ³s. I was starting to think that maybe everywhere in Colombia was a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site and so maybe it didn't mean so much, amazing as these places are. But I've since learned that there are only seven UNESCO World Heritage Cultural sites in Colombia, and, as someone wanting to learn a lot about the country and see the amazing places they have, I just happen to be hitting them.
The park is filled with sculptures & tombs

I hit my fourth in August, when I traveled with friends to San Agustin, in the Huila Department of Colombia. Martha, Carlos, Paco & I took an overnight bus from Bogota to San Agustin, a 525 km/325 mile trip that took 11 hours. The seats on the bus aren't bad, better than economy airplane seats these days. They even show movies (often US ones dubbed in Spanish & then subtitled in English!). Colombian buses have a reputation for "setting the air conditioning to stun" and so hand out blankets for the trip (why not just turn down the AC??? Who knows??!).

Small section of a carved river fountain
In the morning we got to San Agustin, a town of about 40,000 people and is known for it's Stonehenge/ Easter Island like ancient stone carvings & burial grounds. The main focus in the archeological parks there is on people who lived from 3,300 BC to about 800 AD. Not much is known about their lives, but these people left some amazing sculptures & mysteries, such as how did they move these multi-ton slabs around?? I was really impressed by how well-presented the sculptures were in the parks and how well-kept things were in general in this area, a little different from other parks and parts of Colombia that I've seen. 

All those camp years learning to ride for naught :)
The area around San Agustin was beautiful. On our second day there, we visited some archeological sites on horseback. I hadn't been riding since I was about 15 probably. I didn't really need to worry about remembering how to do anything as the horse knows what to do, since he does this same route with tourists several times a week. But I would have liked to have stopped him from galloping off whenever he felt like it (although honestly our whole "pack" would all gallop off at the same time so I'm sure there would have been no stopping my horse!). It rained a bit that morning but it was still gorgeous countryside.

Few sculptures still had colored paint
That afternoon, we drove to a couple of more spots, including the narrowest part of the Magdalena River. The Magdalena is Colombia's principal river, running pretty much the length of the country on the western side. It starts near San Agustin and ends in Barranquilla, just an hour east of Cartagena. There is talk of putting a damn in the Magdalena near where this narrowest part is, which of course some are in favor but many are not....and it is such a gorgeous site it would seem a shame to flood it.

So in less than a year, without really trying, I've been to nearly all of the Colombian UNESCO World Heritage Cultural sites. (In comparison, the US has only 9 and I have only been to only 4 of those, not quite half!) It is a pretty amazing country with a lot to offer, and there are other categories of UNESCO sites to hit here too! I plan to be visit the last Cultural site, Tierradentro, in late November. But before that, I'll be visiting a "wannabe"--one of the sites that's on the "tentative list" for becoming one of these cultural sites--when I do the 4 night/5 day Ciudad Perdida ("Lost City") trek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Tayrona National Park.

Rock sculpted on 3 sides overlooking the Magdalena

View of the Magdalena

More photos of San Agustin can be found here (day 1: parks) and here (day 2: horseback riding & Magdalena narrows).

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