Saturday 20th October – Tierradentro

This morning I set off from Popayán with only my daypack (what bliss!) for the region known as tierradentro. This area is known for its elaborate funerary chambers and is a 5 hour bus ride through some beautiful mountainous regions from Popayán. The bus arrived at the park at about 3pm which gave me just enough time to purchase my 2 day entry ticket and visit the 2 onsite museums before the park closed at 4pm. The first museum displays a number of the funerary urns (some with human cremains still inside). These urns were found inside the various chambers throughout the park. Around 900AD these ancient peoples used to bury their dead for around 6 years with all their worldly possessions underground. These chambers were small and personalised and not many of them have been found in the area due to their size. After 6 years, the bodies were exhumed and the families cremated them and placed them in these beautifully crafted funeral urns which were then placed underground in painted funerary chambers. No-one really knows too much about the people who lived at this time so there is a lot a speculation as to how these people lived. 

The second museum was the museum of Entomology – in this museum there was a lot of information and artefacts about the local indigenous people who are the Páez people. They have a pretty typical lifestyle and it´s interesting that like a lot of other indigenous tribes in South America, they are able to live with a partner for a number of years before deciding to get married. This is in order to ensure that both parties are able to have children which is the main goal of marriage in this area. 

Sunday 21st October – Tierradentro

The park opened at 8am and I set off on the loop trail that would take me to all the important sites in the area. The first, after a long walk straight uphill was called Segovia and contain some of the best preserved tombs in the park. I also met a lovely security guard/guide Mariella who was really keen to chat about the tombs and her life in general. As there was no one else there at the time I got a private tour of the chambers which were really interesting. They ranged in depth from 2 to 6m and each was reached by a spiral staircase carved into the stone. Underground, the tombs were usually circular in shape and some had columns to support the ceiling. Each tomb originally would have been painted but many have lost the paint over time due to looting leaving the tombs open to the air. The ones that still have the original paintwork are the most impressive and the geometrical designs in red and black are beautiful and sometimes a little bit creepy. The funerary urns were found in some tombs scattered randomly and in others orderly. Researchers aren´t sure if the scattered ones were originally like that or if the looters have moved them whilst looking for treasures.

The second site was called El Duende, which a local later told me is the name of a cheeky spirit who goes around haunting women with long hair by pulling their hair – this seemed a little bit strange to me! El duende had another 4 tombs which weren´t as impressive but they were higher up the hill so the views of the surrounding valley were awesome! I continued on the loop from here and was walking through some coffee plantations when a stupid little dog got very aggressive and started following me up the path. I wasn´t too worried until I felt a little nip on the back of my leg, the stupid dog had bitten me. This was super annoying because I knew that now I´d need to track down the preventative rabies vaccine sooner rather than later. A little bit shaken , I continued on with my walk, this time with stick in hand and a couple of rocks to chase away any other aggressive dogs. I soon arrived at the next location which was called El Tablón. This site had a number of carved statues similar to those found in San Agustín. The security guard at this location was super friendly and informative and he called in the dog attack too. It was really interesting that one of the statues is supposed to be a midwife. Clearly these midwifes were very important during these ancient times. 

I had a quick stop for lunch, where even though I´d asked for something sin carne (without meat), my plate still showed up with a huge piece of chicken! Next stop was the site Alto de San Andres which had a nice tomb which had been partially repainted, before a lovely but challenging uphill walk to the final site called El Aguacate which is situated right on top of the highest point of the mountain ridge. These tombs aren´t guarded or restored and you can walk down into them without supervision. But the main reason to visit El Aguacate is the amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. I spent a few hours up here chatting with a lovely local couple and drinking in the views before heading down the hill back to the park entrance. The day had taken about 7 hours of walking and I´d covered 17kms. Apart from the dog bite everything had been just amazing and i´d barely seen anyone else during the walk which was really hard to believe given how interesting and beautiful the site is.

Monday 22nd October – Popayán

Caught the 6am bus back to Popayán this morning. All was pretty uneventful except that we were stopped for an hour waiting at a section for roadworks which made the 4.5 hour trip take about 5.5hours.  I was now on the hunt for the rabies vaccine! I first visited a pharmacy which then directed me to a private clinic, which then directed me to a public hospital, which then directed me to another public hospital which gave the vaccine but only after the first dose was given at an emergency department, who then directed me finally to the correct place, the emergency department of a different public hospital. After a little bit of a wait to see the doctor, I got the rabies and tetanus shot for about $40AUD. The nurse gave me the shots in the corridor at the reception desk and didn´t bother to wipe the blood off my arm afterwards or cover the site of injection which was pretty strange!