Monday, 28 November 2011

Day 27: San Agustin and Popoyan (371 kms)

We left Neiva after breakfast; if we'd known the state of the road ahead we might have been in more of a hurry.

The road to San Agustin continued along the same river valley. San Agustin itself is high above the valley, and the road follows the ridgeline itself so, for at each hairpin switchback, you can peer down on one valley and then the other.

After a very typical lunch that came with a sweet oat beverage, we visited the spectacular statues at San Agustin. These dozens of carvings were set around the funerary sites of a culture that thrived in the area until around 1100AD, and then disappeared. The statues are extremely varied in their style and design, but familiar; perhaps through copies in countless Hollywood movies?

We got back on the road at 2pm with 150kms to Popoyan. A man told us the road would take 3 hours. That seemed absurd, and we still hoped to push a little passed Popoyan towards Pasto. At first the road was terrific (Colombian main highways, when not washed out, typically were excellent), but after climbing above 2500 meters the road turned to rough dirt track, little wider than a single truck. The track continue for 100 kilometers and climbed to over 3700 meters.

And it became even more difficult. Back when Peter and I rode across Africa, our most difficult day of riding was the first in Ethiopia. The road was being paved for the first time and so it was intermittently either the original dirt/stone track or the new sand/dirt foundation for the asphalt road. This second surface, after an intense rain, had turned to mud that was six inches deep. Along with some Italian motorcyclists, we ended up pitching our tents IN the roadway!

So when Nathan and I came across the first road construction site, I thought of Ethiopia and worried. The Colombians are building a concrete road to last for all time (see photo for thickness of the slab). Then it started to rain hard, and I really worried. But despite some slippery and technical riding, it turned out fine. We covered the ground steadily and without incident. It just took time, we didn't reach Popoyan until 8pm. The scenery was also spectacular until darkness fell. At one point as we descended into Popoyan, the road passed inches from the base of a 30 meter waterfall. We felt its presence before seeing it; realizing what it was, I turned my bike around and caught a glimpse with my high beams.

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