Call it what you like, a ridge, backbone, rim, hogback, or spine, they manage to inevitably be in the path of a bicyclist. Our Spanish vocabulary has been expanded with the addition of the word cordillera (mountain range).
About half of Colombia (the western part) is mountainous. Three Andean chains, Cordillera Occidental (western), Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental (eastern) run roughly north-south through the country. The Andeas are big, really big. Several of the peaks are over 5000m (16400 ft) which dispels the myth that “everything is bigger in Texas”, my adopted home state. Guadalupe Peak¹, the highest point in Texas, measures a derisory 2667m.
We have been riding in the Magdalena River valley, a valley in-between two of the highest ranges (Central and Oriental). Today was our day to climb up to the rim to visit San Agustín, noted for its surrounding beauty and pre-Colombian stone statues. One guide book derided the town as “small and ugly and full of opportunists trying to rip you off,” as well as being infested by backpackers and new-age hippies.
We are also potentially meeting up with our friend Ric who we have kept in touch with after a chance encounter at a coffee shop in Texas.
After arriving in San Agustín soggy (of course we got wet, it’s the rainy season) and tired after a tough climb, we wondered if we were in the wrong place. The town seemed sleepy and half empty. Some shops were closed. A few hotels did not answer their doors when we were looking for a place to stay. I only saw one foreigner with a backpack being led somewhere by a tout. There were no drum circles. It was all a bit surreal and nothing like the guidebook led us to believe².
We found a great hotel (Hostal Diosa Lunar) after the owner approached me while Sarah was inside another place checking it out.
At this point we were juggling a few plans, all of which included the Parque Arqueológico to see the stone statues. Plan A was to meet up with our friend Ric and see what formed up after that. Plan B was to find Ariza’s farm, camp there for a day or two and do some hiking in the area. We were unsure if Ric had arrived from Bogotá due to the strikes, so it was looking like Plan B would be in effect tomorrow.
¹Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park both spectacular and well worth a visit if you like to hike. The Rim Trail in Big Bend is simply spectacular. They are some of the least visited National Parks due to their remoteness (The adjoining Big Bend Ranch State Park is also a hidden gem). Add Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about 25 miles north of Guadalupe Mountains NP and you have a perfect trifecta.
²The quality of the Lonely Planet guidebooks has degraded over time (I cherish my first edition Ecuador guidebook written by one person, rather than what now is a collection of sections written by jobbers). Originally catering to budget-conscious backpackers, this series has morphed to include more mainstream and affluent travelers, serving up a safer, blander fare written as if someone spent more time on wikipedia combined with a few brochures at a tourist kiosk rather than actually exploring or living in the places purportedly written about. Lonely Planet guides have been more acridly referred to as ” …the Book of Lies (formerly known to us as The Lonely Planet)…”.
Rough Guides are our current favorite, along with selective Moon Guides. Our advice for guide books, take them with a grain of salt. Get the one with the best and most plentiful maps for the area you will visit. Better yet, get a really good map and choose your own adventure and ask locals for recommendations.