Day 13 of 44
Waking early in Popoyan to make our journey south-east the locals were setting up markets in Parque Caldas ready for Saturday trading. The bakeries were already buzzing and a group of nurses could be seen drinking tinto (coffee) from the corner stall, presumably after their night shift. Knowing that our journey would last five hours we bought a number of bread looking items to try. The small four leafed clover knot was simply dough that was lightly deep fried and quite bland. The small donut pastries had a strong cheese flavour and the other items tasted like cheese too. It seems they like cheese… and salt. Often the cheese has a strong dairy flavour- nice and fresh I suppose, but a bit overpowering for us.
At the bus station I chose Cootrans Laboyana at 8.20am for 35,000 COP per person ($11GPD). The journey would be 155kms and would take 4.5hours they say. I did some great miming to the pharmacist that we needed motion sickness tablets (sometimes actions are better than google translate).
Our ticket stated the bus would leave at 8:20… the bus rolled in at 8.20am and the trunk is filled quickly by the locals’ newly bought electronics and belongings, leaving little room for our rucksacks. Everything came out and then had to be reloaded. We left the Estacion at 8.40am, the bus driver requests a stop right away. It seems he needs a tyre changed. The passengers agree that this would be okay as quite frequently buses break down on the forthcoming journey and generally spend the night awaiting for a retrieval. We get moving again at 9am and heading east into the mountains towards the Parque Nacional Natural de Purace.
Our destination isn’t a hotspot amongst travellers we have met along the way. San Agustin is a little out of the way, however it is a great destination for anyone seeking out an archaeological experience to remember. Anyone that had made the journey generally mentioned the long and bumpy journey and that it’s not really on the way to anything. One blog mentioned the possibility of going on a ‘brewery’ tour which is actually an opportunity to watch the production of cocaine and have a few lines following – can’t be any fresher right!
Those travellers were right as within half an hour we are on an unsealed road with potholes, bumping along. We were surprised there were seatbelts, and I clicked in straight away hoping to minimise the risk of bouncing out of my seat. Sarah however had a seatbelt but no catch! We passed a number of military checkpoints without concern and watched the farmers going about their business. It appears to be quite traditional here, from their appearance of cowboy hats and ponchos to their farming practices whereby the dairy milk cans were by the side of the road waiting to be collected. We had close shaves with trucks and finally one too many potholes as we all heard a loud clank on the front left. Grinding to a halt the driver takes a look, decides it’s all ok, and gets us going again until 50 metres up the road we hear a clank…plonk, something falls off. We stop once more and the driver picks up a piece of metal, places it under his seat and gets going again. Within a minute we are stopped, the driver removing his shirt to take a closer look under the bus. With no explanation, the driver jacked the bus up with all on board and started tinkering. We were only about 35kms into this journey and the remaining trip was agonising slow as the driver crawled over the bumps hoping not to scrape the undercarriage.
We had amazing views to distract us as we climb higher and the surrounds change frequently (similar to the Port Augusta to Wudinna route) as we enter the National Park owned by the Indigenous people. At times there was a sheer drop beside us into an impenetrable rainforest and at other times a continuous field on either side of what looked like yakka plants. The Magdalena River was far below us and large cascading waterfalls were in full view. We watched as all the later buses overtook us and we arrived at the San Agustin junction at 3.30pm, three hours longer than anticipated. But that wasn’t the end of our journey…..
Although we purchased a ticket to San Augustin, most buses drop any passengers wishing to head into San Augustin at the junction. We waited whilst the driver made a call, and then an already full jeep turned up. We lifted our bags onto the roof racks, one piece of rope holding them down, then crammed into the jeep. Sarah was safely inside the cabin, however I had little space and held on for dear life.
We arrived at Casa De Nelly (House of Nelly) our ‘hostel’ for the next three nights nestled on the foothills above the town. I’m sure the British would describe it as ‘Lush.’ The large property is surrounded by tropical gardens and trees making it a tranquil oasis. We delighted in lounging on the outdoor settings with a bevvie in hand…relaxing after an epic journey.
Stay tuned for what become a memorable and totally worth it adventure off the beaten tourist trail…