Posts tagged ‘Mountains’

Scenes from San Agustín and Tierradentro

I had no intention of visiting San Agustín and Tierradentro. But after perusing the information wall at the excellent Hosteltrail.com hostel, the Colombian Heritage Circuit struck me as the perfect four-day getaway to an interesting and not-very-visited part of the country.

This is an area that only recently opened to tourists. Long the domain of leftist People’s Army, a.k.a. FARC guerrillas (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), the Colombian army has succeeded in pushing anti-government forces out. While I felt safe in my travels so far in Colombia, my current guidebook (published only months prior) still had intriguing warnings on specific routes:

You should not travel after dark, not because of guerrilla activity but rather due to late-night bandits…

I asked several locals in Popayán and no one seemed to think the area or the journey were all that risky. So off I went, during daylight hours of course.

San Agustín and Tierradentro are the sole UNESCO World Heritage architectural sites in Colombia, important reminders of the ancient culture of southern Colombia that dates from 4000 BC when settlers established agricultural communities and thriving trade connections.

Unfortunately little is known about this civilization. But hundreds of unearthed statues remain, beautifully sculpted from volcanic rock, represent humans, sacred animals and even fantastical monsters. Today these are viewed atop panoramic altos (hilltop burial grounds) overlooking emerald forests.

I arrived safely to San Agustín town after an uneventful (yet bumpy) bus ride through the sparsely populated Andean hills. I did see armed Colombian soldiers patrolling the roads but the only apparent threat were the hairpin turns on unpaved roads that teetered above steep chasms.

Continue reading ‘Unearthing Colombia’s Ancients in San Agustín and Tierradentro’ »

The capital city of th Tiwanaku, the great Andean civilization that preceeded the Incas and who influenced them heavily

Tiwanaku

I couldn’t bear another cold, rainy day in La Paz so I struck out after breakfast one Saturday to visit one of Bolivia’s most important archaeological sites Tiwanku, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 90 minutes from La Paz. This “cradle of Andean civilization,” which preceded the Incas, was centered near the fertile soils near Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly 2500 years until about 1000 AD when the site was abandoned after severe drought.

There is no written history of the Tiwanaku so unfortunately very little is known about this civilization.  An agriculturally based society, they developed sophisticated farming methods (including the sukakullos which Paul and I saw near Copacabana earlier this year) which sustained a considerably growing population. By 800 AD, the capital city of Tiwanaku had perhaps 50,000 residents and recent studies suggest up to 1.5 million inhabitants lived in the region.

The walled Kalasasaya, sacred space featuring many of the most important icons and temples (as seen from atop the Akapana pyramid).

The walled Kalasasaya, sacred space featuring many of the most important icons and temples (as seen from atop the Akapana pyramid).

They worshipped many gods, the most important being Viracocha who created the earth at Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca and brought forth humans from the earth’s rocks. He is celebrated in the site’s outstanding Temple of the Sun, one of the few remaining monuments at the site.  The Tiwanaku also placed great spiritual importance in prominent mountain peaks, the apus (deities) that control weather and determine agricultural output, traditions which continue to this day.

One of the iconic monoliths central to Tiwanau sacred art. This religious leader holds a goblet-like keru for chicha and a wooden case holding hallucinogenic herbs.

One of the iconic monoliths central to Tiwanau sacred art. This religious leader holds a goblet-like keru for chicha and a wooden case for hallucinogenic herbs.

Continue reading ‘Tiwanaku: The Cradle of Andean Civilization’ »

One of the great joys of living in Cochabamba is the ease of access to its surrounding mountains which abound with great hiking trails.  The lofty peaks of the olive-colored Tunari Range of the eastward-reaching Andes awakened my inner rambler and I headed to the hills on many weekends.  Here are some highlights:

Parque Tunari

My first weekend in Cochabamba I rose early, grabbed some bananas and chocolate and my filled water bottle, and hoofed it from my apartment to the gate of the Parque Tunari.  This is the closest and most accessible areas for hiking and soon I was rising high above Cochabamba. The city’s iconic Cristo de la Concordia with his monumental outstretched hands quickly faded to a mere spec far below.  I was surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus and the spectacle of spring bloom.

I encountered very few people on the trail, just a couple families out for a picnic and one dedicated student, his nose diligently in his textbook at a particularly inspired lookout above Cochabamba. Eventually I reached an abandoned campground I and goofed around in the children’s playground:

I kept ascending and finally stopped high above the Cochabamba valley at around 3700 m (over 12,100 feet).  I took in the beautiful vista s of the valley below and the towering Mount Tunari (the highest peak in the region at over 5000 m) covered in clouds to the west.

It was a satisfying hike from house to hilltop, I’ve never had this luxury before.  All my previous hikes required some sort of transport from my home… this was fueled by just my own two feet.

Continue reading ‘Afoot in the Hills Above Cochabamba’ »

Here’s a visual of my awesome paragliding adventure with the great guys at AndesXtremo.com in Bolivia. It was a thrilling tandem ride from over 10,000 feet above sea level in the Tunari Range of the eastern Andes and landing in the Cochabamba valley below.

I can’t recommend this highly enough, I will definitely do this again!

Here’s a 3.5 minute video of our eight-hour journey through the Bolivian mountains from La Paz to Cochabamba.  We saw all sorts of inclement weather, beautiful terrain and unfortunate accidents during the trip.  Thankfully we arrived unscathed.