Tatacoa to Las Lajas
After a two day drive from Zipaquira, we ended up in the mysteriously beautiful Desierto Tatacoa. Stopping for a roadside lunch of strawberries and ham & cheese sandwiches, we enjoyed the dry, warm air and talked about where we would camp for the night.
We found a perfect little campsite towards the end of the road. We parked the truck and walked around, observing the unique landscape that surrounded us. The beginning of the road in the dessert offered views of red rock formations and interestingly eroded canyons. As we got closer to the end of the road, the earth slowly turned into a silver-ish gray color.
That night, after dinner, we sat in our chairs with our heads pointed up at the sky. We had heard that the stargazing was unreal there, but that was an understatement. It was absolutely breathtaking. I felt like a little kid in a movie theater with my neck cranked backwards and my mouth hanging open, pointing to all the new constellations and stars I was spotting.
Next on our list was San Agustin. There, we visited the San Agustin Archaeological Park where we were able to see the only place in the world that holds over 500 stone statues which were used as spiritual resemblances during funerary ceremonies.
The statues were impressive, some towering over ten feet tall. We strolled through the park, admiring not only all the work that went into chiseling these rocks into perfect formations, but also admiring all the work that went into discovering these massive works of art and the hidden tombs surrounding them. They were so intricate, each crevasse giving the monolithic sculpture character and meaning.
Walking around the beautifully laid stone pathways, Nate and I talked about the extensive ceremonies that took place in honor of the dead. “Can you image being buried in a clay pot, only to be dug up years later for research?” In a way, it seemed wrong. But then again, had these burial grounds never been found, we would not have the chance to visit and learn about the culture from 3000 years ago.
We walked around the park, completely involved in conversation, when BAM! A coral snake slivered its way along the pathway and then darted into the jungle. Nate tried his best to capture a shot of the poisonous reptile before it disappeared.
We spent about a week wandering around the town. One morning, while making breakfast, we were approached by an odd looking pheasant-type bird. Unsure of what it was, Nate grabbed the camera to try to snap a few photos. These birds were particularly feisty, trying to get as close to our food as possible. While I had one begging for pancake batter at my feet, I heard Nate squeal like a little girl and come popping out from the other side of the truck. He had bent down to get a closer shot of the spunky bird when it lunged at him, aggressively pecking at him.
We would walk into town once a day to find internet (which is harder to find in that town than one would think) and get necessary groceries at the local store. At night, the town square filled with people playing music and chatting the night away, with the church lit up with black lights as a beautiful backdrop.
Upon making dinner one evening, we couldn’t find our chef knife for the life of us. We tore apart the back of the truck, even looking in between the sheets “just to make sure” to no avail. We stood there, stumped, wondering where the heck our second favorite (the cast iron pan being the first) piece of our kitchen could have run off to. We remembered using it in the desert the night before and have succumbed to the fact that we must have left it on the tailgate, tire or bumper and it fell off as we drove away. I picture it smacking against the sand and screaming for us to come back for it, and then shedding a tear as it watched the back of Truck bounce happily along the dirt road farther and farther away. The next morning, I went to grab my bath towel from the fence that I strategically placed it on the night before. To me, it was a good spot because it could air dry while being sheltered under a small roof so that it wouldn’t get wet if it rained. As I walked over to the fence, there was no towel in sight. I kid you not, someone stole my nasty, smelly, unwashed towel sometime during the night. Unfortunately for Nate, we are now sharing one towel until further notice 😉 RIP Green Bath Towel and Wonderful Chef Knife, we hope you guys are livin’ it up without us!
Our main form of “route making” is by word of mouth, whether it be meeting other travelers, talking with locals or reading stories online. While in San Agustin, we met a couple who had mentioned hot springs to us. Not needing to hear much more, we packed the truck up and headed west towards Popayan. Just before the town, off a windy dirt path, we found the hot springs we were looking for. We pulled in to find a closed gate and no one in sight. I slid between the gate and searched for the owner while Nate stayed with the truck. Once found, the owner graciously opened the gate and told us where we could park to camp for the night. After finding an almost perfectly level spot, we threw on our swimsuits and hopped in the murky, thermal waters.
For the next couple hours, we hopped to and from a few different pools feeling their temperature difference and soaking in the beautiful sights that surrounded us. The waters are said to have healing properties because of the high level of mineral content along with the temperature of the water. The springs were located in the valley of two mountain ranges and you were able to see the houses that dotted the hillside with cows balancing on a narrow path that zigzagged its way all around the lot. We watched the sun set over the hills, trying to gain the courage to step out into the cool air. Once it got dark, we dried off with our shared towel and made some dinner before slipping away into a blissful sleep.
We spent the night before crossing into Ecuador with a fantastic view of Santuario de Las Lajas, a beautifully constructed church precariously situated in a valley above the Guáitara River. Before dinner, we took a stroll down the hill to check it out up close. It truly was magnificent. Its ornate and intricate design reminds you more of fairy-tale European castle than a Colombian church on the border of Ecuador. Built in the early 1990’s, it isn’t very old and is a centerpiece for locals to come bounding down the hills for a daily mass.
Once dark out, we made our way to the restaurant next to our hotel to enjoy one last Aguila, a hot bowl of soup and a heaping plate of chicken and rice; all while helping a little girl with her English homework.