Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Mbe lun do."

We left Salento heading to Cali, the salsa dancing capital of Colombia. We found a popular hostal among backpackers and travelers called Juvitas that offered free salsa lessons so we stayed there for a few nights, tooks some free lessons, went out on the town dancing and kept heading south. After Cali, we heading a few hours to Popanyan, where we spent Thanksgiving and had a lovely dinner out at an Italian restaurant (courtesy of my family since anything more than a ramen noodle dinner is out of our budget).
From Popanyan, we headed east over a horrendous road, reminiscent of the Dakar-Tamba, to the beautiful town of San Augustin. San Augustin is famous in Colombia for it`s Archaeology Park displaying the carved stones of an ancient civilization circa 3000 B.C. gone long before the rise of the Inca empire and the arrival of the Spanish. Not much is known about them other than what can be discovered and interpreted from their burial mounds and statues. We took a day long Jeep tour around the area visiting different parks, vistas, waterfalls, and villages, then another day spent visiting the main Archaeology park walking around. We stayed with a lovely and hospitable Colombian family owned hostal called Maya Hostal run by the patriarch, Super Mario. San Augustin was one of my favorite places we visited in Colombia.
Heading out of San Augustin, we headed to Mocoa, a place once dominiated by the guerilla terrorist organization F.A.R.C., not even mentioned yet in the Lonely Planet, and with only one hostel, Casa del Rio, owned by a Belgium guy named Filipe. The hostel was in a beautiful location and gorgeous but we were slightly unimpressed with the owner selling the tiny bananas that grow everywhere for 100 pesos a piece (should be free or at least 100 pesos for a handful) and his rule of closing the main building at 11pm when we were 20mins left in watching a movie (come on man, cut us some slack). Always try and stay with locally owned hostals over foreign owned. Local owners are much more hospitable and accommidating. Foreign owners are generally money-driven to all decisions. Gotta love that Capitalism! Anyway, we went on a hike called "El fin del mundo" or "the end of the world" which was SPECTACULAR. A muddy, steep, muddy, and steeper trail leads you up this mountain until you descend into a river valley with waterfall after waterfall, each which have large deep potholes carved from thousands of years of churning and forceful water wearing away at the rock (Which is stronger, water or rock? The Zen master always knows the answer is water), allowing you to jump from the top and swim around in the cool, crisp water before hiking to the next falls. Unbelievable hike. Wait till this place is in the travel books.

Mocoa was our last night in the beautiful, lovely, friendly, inspiring country that is Colombia. It may have had its bad years, many of them. But these people are strong, they believe in happiness above the violence and war that has plagued their soil for so long. They love their family, their country, their heritage, and they love to party, to celebrate life, love and fun times. It was inspiring to see a place or such wealth of spirit after so long living in fear and under corruption. We left Mocoa early, sitting in the back of a pick-up traveling through the mountains on a single lane dirt and gravel road on the side of a cliff, similar the road of dealth in Bolivia, connecting Mocoa with Pasto. From Pasto we headed to Ipialies, from Ipialies to the border. We got our exit stamps in our passport (Spirit Airlines, we weren`t lying...so go stick it where the sun don`t shine as Grandma would put it...I`d put it a little more vulgur but you can figure it out) and walked across the border into Ecuador. Ciao Colombia. "Mbe lun do." ("See you another day")

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