It has only been two weeks since I left Ecuador from Quito, but having been in Colombia my equatorial adventure feels like an eternity ago. The distance between Quito and the Colombian border seems tiny on the map, but map-distance can be deceiving as it took 5 hours from Carcelèn bus station to the border town of Tulcán. After having dealt with border formalities and changing my last remaining dollars for Colombian pesos against a not terribly favourable rate, I was on my way to the colonial city of Popayán.
For some reason arriving in Colombia feels like coming home, while I enjoyed stunning sceneries on my way to La Ciudad Blanca, the White city, as all the facades in the city centre of Popayan are white. Despite it being a student town, there isn’t an awful lot to do. It has a pleasant tranquil feel to it though, and having the grandest of views from my lovely hostel room over the main square, Parque Caldas, I felt at the heart of all the provincial action. The day after my arrival there was some gathering on the main square in celebration or commemoration of the armed forces. As I caught a news item on television on similar gatherings across the country, it might have been a national thing. The army plays a rather peculiar role in Colombia from my perception. In general I am not too keen on uniformed professions in general, as a large presence of soldiers or police offers gives me the idea of present danger and people who can’t quite handle the power their uniform gives them. Here in Colombia, however, the army is to give a sense of security against FARC activity. FARC is a Marxist guerrilla organisation, which started out in the 1960s as the military wing of the communist party opposing the Colombian government and- later on- right-wing paramilitary groups to gain control of the country and rural areas in particular. Because of this Colombia has endured several decades of intense civil strife costing ten thousands of lives and the displacement of many more. Although FARC is still active, the country, with some exceptions of some very remote areas, is generally safe. The army are not necessarily universally considered as the good guys, as the armed forces have committed atrocities by killing innocent young men labelled as FARC fighters. However, their current presence is to instil the idea of security among Colombians and foreigners alike.
After a few days in Popayán I ventured to the south east through yet more stunning sceneries via a terribly bendy and partly unpaved road to the town of San Agustín. Besides being surrounded by fabulous mountain scenery, the region is known to have been the home of two ancient cultures living in the Magdalena and the Cauca river valleys. These cultures made large statues depicting animal, human-like, and anthropomorphic figures, which have been found in the hills surrounding San Agustín and now feature in a well-set up museum, park and small forest. The vibe in both the park and the forest is tranquil and it is a joy to wander around. As much as archaeologists and other geeks have tried to put the statues into a context that makes sense- who made these statues, why and how were they used- all is speculation and basically, one doesn’t know jack-shit. This can either be experienced as annoying, since we are used to almost everything having a logical and known explanation a few digital clicks away, or it can add to the mystical vibe of the place and also as a reminder that we actually know very little about an awful lot of things. In most cases we just think according to some theory or assumption that has become the dominant thought in mainstream science. These theories can be highly flawed, yet any counter arguments will come across some staunch resistance from the mainstream.
Those statues in the hills might have made by a few – or only one!- visionary artist(s) who thought it would be funny to mess with the mind of future generations and keep some archaeologists busy. Or keep some Dairy Fairy Traveller entertained, as she is totally digging Colombia.