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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In/Around Bogota, Desierto de la Tatacoa, y San Agustin

With equal parts happiness and sadness I write this...  Sad because I left great friends and experiences behind in Bogota, and of course my girl Nina.  Happiness that I'm back on the road and was able to experience some amazing riding and sights the past two days.  

I left the city early yesterday and pointed the bike south for the desert.  Tatacoa, or "Sadness Valley", is the second largest arid zone in Colombia after the Guajira Peninsula, and provides some of the most attractive scenery in Colombia. It occupies 330 square kilometers of land in ocher and gray brushstrokes of green cactus.  The route was spectacular and provided beautiful scenery, river crossings, amazing dirt roads, and warm/friendly people in small villages along the way.  

After the super sketch river crossing referenced above, I ended up in Tatacoa just after lunchtime.  I stopped for a bite to eat just into the park and then explored for hours on the bike.  I tried to stay on the main road, but some of the offshoots and cattle trails were too tempting.  I ended up riding all over the desert enjoying the isolation and ethereal scenery.  I'm guessing it's the low season because there were no other tourists for miles.  After wearing myself out touring the desert solo Dakar style, I settled on a small, basic, family run spot called La Tranquilidad.  I was going to camp for 5k COP ($2.50 USD), but ended up paying 10k COP ($5 USD) for a hammock.  The additional small amount of money was worth it to not have to set up and take down the tent for only one night.  Plus, Tatacoa is known as the best place for stargazing in Colombia, so I figured an open air night would be nice...  and it certainly was!

This morning a dickhead of a rooster woke me up at 5:30am.  However, I felt refreshed and happy that I had time to sit on a small hill and watch the sun rise over the desert.  It felt like I was inside of a painting.  As the sun crested the mountains in the east, it washed the desert with a coat of reddish orange paint that was indescribable.  Certainly a moment I won't forget anytime soon.  After the sunrise I enjoyed a nice breakfast and then set off on my way just before 8am.  Getting an early start was nice as I escaped the desert just as the heat was setting in.  I got a bit turned around after exiting Tatacoa, but eventually found my way back on course after asking several locals, and then began the journey to San Agustin.  

Here is the 'Lonely Planet' description of the city/area...  "Centuries before Columbus dreamed of the new world, the rolling and remarkably green hills around San Agustin were home to an enigmatic civilization that congregated here to bury their dead and honor their memory with monumental stone statues.  It's easy to understand why they chose to consecrate this lush, mountainous land of dramatic canyons and ethereal mists.  Little is known about the people of San Agustin.  They didn't have a written language and had disappeared or dispersed several centuries before the Europeans arrived on the scene.  Yet they have left behind at least 500 statues that still enthrall the visitor.  Many of them are anthropomorphic figures - some realistic, others resembling masked monsters.  Still others depict sacred animals such as the eagle, jaguar, and frog.  The largest is 7m high.  Archeologists have also uncovered pottery and gold objects in the tombs of what is believed to be the tribal leaders."

The ride today was gorgeous.  The roads twisted side to side, up and down, and through the lush mountainside.  I rode from early this morning until around 2pm.  Following a recommendation from the owner of La Tranquilidad, I ended up making my way to Casa del Japones.  It is nestled on top of a hillside overlooking the town of San Agustin.  They have secure bike parking along with many other amenities (i.e. laundry, restaurant, bar, etc).  It is basic, but very nice.  Especially considering I'm only paying 15k COP ($7 USD) for a private room.  Tomorrow I'll wake up early and ride to the Archeological Park to tour the statues and the area just outside of town.  After getting my fill, I'll point the bike west and make my way to Popayan.  The ride to Popa is supposed to be epic, assuming there aren't any roadblocks, floods, and/or landslides (apparently an issue during rainy season, which just began).  I'll spend a couple of nights there experiencing Semana Santa in the city, which is supposed to be quite the festive celebration.

It feels great to be back on the road.  The time alone the past couple of days has been nice.  I feel like I've really grown on this trip.  Before, I would have been anxious, depressed, or felt like something was missing if I was to sit around and do nothing.  Now I'm more comfortable with myself and can sit for hours simply thinking, writing, and/or resting.  It's a great feeling.  All anxiety has seemed to melt away and I've been left with a sense of self confidence and calm.  Something I'm very, very happy about.  

I guess that's all...  For now here are a few more pics from Bogota, Desierto de la Tatacoa, San Agustin, and the surroundings.  

I'll be sure to throw an update online during or after Popayan.  Chat soon amigos, 

~ D

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