We attempt to get to San Agustin today driving on one of the two main routes; we jump in the car, type in San Agustin and press go. The route looks about right and the distance is also correct so we head off. The paved road winds through the mountains with stunning scenery, although we notice there does not seem to be much traffic on the road. About an hour later, Martin questions if we are actually on the right route as the GPS is showing an unusually straight road leading to San Agustin. At this point we are probably 50kms as the crow flies from our destination.
We come to the supposed turning in the road just to find a sheer cliff face; we assume the map must be wrong and the road must be down the hill somewhere. We continue on looking for the elusive road before stopping to ask some very young local military police along the way. They gesture us back in the direction we had just come from!
We arrive at a small town where the locals tell us the road we need is in the opposite direction! It is at this point we realise we are completely lost. Looking at the map again, it looks as if there is a possible route further on up. We end up in a busy little town where there seems to be a festival going on with people in masks and a parade of cars going down the street.
We stop to check we are heading in the right direction with some locals and they insist we come in for some freshly brewed mountain tea! One of the girls speak perfect English and tells us we have come into a FARC hot area and that we should not go any further. We have a nice chat with them about our trip and they send us on our way 130kms or so back to Popayan!
After 7 hours of driving wasted, we arrive back where we started in Popayan, exhausted! Only a menu del dia can make this day better!
Feeling refreshed, today we set out for our second attempt at getting to San Agustin! Getting out of Popayan proves to be a nightmare as a there seems to be a festival on and the police have blocked off some of the main roads. During the drug wars of the 80’s and 90’s, the road we are about to take was controlled by the FARC guerrillas; when Martin was last here around 10 years ago, he was advised not to travel in the area.
The winding road out is paved for the first few kilometres with gorgeous views over the green mountains and valleys, and then we turn into a gravel road for a few kilometres before returning back to a brand new paved road!!!
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It continues this way as we near Purace national park but it then quickly turns into a very rocky bumpy track, with potholes dotted all across the road. We had read it may have been recently paved and hope it’s true but it does not turn out to be the case!!
What follows is a very bumpy and slow probably the worst in Colombia so far; it takes around 4 hours to get there via the national park, as we literally bounce our way along 130 kms of gravel, rocks, potholes and no tar in sight! We share the road with buses, trucks and 2 wheel drive cars which are scraping up their undercarriages as they attempt the drive at 20kph! Overtaking car after car becomes tiring.. ..A group of around eight soldiers guard the bridge a few kms into the journey, giving us a smile and a wave as we drive through.
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By the time we reach town which is set in the middle of the valley, I’m feeling a more than a little queasy but happy to be stationary at last!! Martin, as usual is un-phased, it’s just another drive in the countryside for him!
The route to the hotel we had booked takes us up some steep dirt roads out of town in the hills in the middle of nowhere. To make it worse, there are no signs and we get completely lost trying to find it then when we do find it, it looks so dire that we decide to leave! So we cancel and head downhill into town to find another. A lot are fully booked due to it being a bank holiday but we end up following a local on his motorbike who takes us to his hotel which is just outside of San Agustin.
Dinner is in a casual open-aired upstairs restaurant looking down over the busy street.