28 buses later

Day 71 - San Agustín

It was late on the 70th day that we arrived at this little town in the hills. Our first of five buses that day had an electronic speedometer fitted in view of and presumably for the benefit of the passengers. The fact that it only had space for two digits when the driver could easily have put three to good use was concerning indeed. We tempered our fear as we careered along jinking roads with the knowledge that at least we were making good time. If there are any maxims of foreign travel then 'don't sit at the back of a minibus' should be one. It was a rule we had repeatedly failed to abide and again we rued while bring thrown violently over bumps and down potholes with nary a dab on the brakes. To distract from the spine realigning ride Michael quizzed me on my Spanish. Nouns, adjectives and the linguistic lesions that are irregular verbs until my brain could contort itself no longer.
"¿Hola?", "¿Hola?" our greetings met no reply. There was eery quiet but for distant music and the sound of our taxi driving back to the town below. The place was not so much a hotel as a collection of cabins perched high above the Rio Magdalena but if it was a ship it would be the Mary Celeste. Michael bravely volunteered to mind the bags while I ventured down dark, foliage covered pathways armed only with a fading torch. I emerged into a rain-sodden clearing and with the wet earth squelching underneath my feet I walked toward the two storey structure sat squarely in the centre. "¿Hola?", "¿Hola? music blared from above and my cries were drowned. I walked on past and toward a wooden fence and building beyond it. Soft, loamy soil enveloped my feet to the ankles and helped to persuade that this was not the way. I tried another forbidding path. "¿Hola?", "¡Hola!",  at last a survivor of whatever horrible tragedy had befallen this place, of whatever virulent disease had swept through its inhabitants. She disappeared off only to return with the owners who were very much alive and well.  Clemenza was of a delightfully hippyish inclination and gave us a tour of the grounds while her husband busied himself with a joint. We smelt the Jasmine next to the open air shower, drank lemongrass tea and looked across the valley at distant volcanoes, all before we'd even checked in.
Two horses stood patiently awaiting their riders while a third carried a portly Colombian wearing a white cowboy hat. Michael's off-stated desire to mount a horse on this trip was finally being satisfied as we were introduced to our steeds and trotted off down the road. We both jockeyed (see what I did there?) To lead the posse each urging his horse into as fast a canter as his nerve would stand. Slowing to allow our horses to regain breath we passed plantations thick with sugarcane and fields of coffee bush dotted with red berries. The products of both might soon be in your morning cup on the other side of the world. I like horses, they are rather majestic animals. They might be costlier to run than a car but they have more personality and are a good excuse to wear a hat. We were disappointed not to be supplied with Stetsons but were at least unencumbered by helmets though Michael still hankered for chaps. Apart from the occasional nuisance of having to look at archaeological sites it was a most enjoyable morning in the hills.
Colombia makes England look as if an iron had been taken to it. You need only look from the window of an intercity bus to see its tectonic shifts. The landscape doesn't just catch the eye, it engulfs it, steepling ridges rear like giant jaws trying to swallow the sky. However the broken bus curse had struck again and I stood in the sun in some nowhere town, sticky from the lime juice Clemenza had prescribed to treat my insect bites. At last our inevitably smaller, predictably less comfortable replacement bus turned up and we were back on the road again through trees clinging to sheer slopes and shrouded in mist. We alighted at Popayan, a town in the colonial style (bit of a favourite round here) whose sights include a clock on the main plaza manufactured in Croydon and...did I mention the clock? At least there was the distraction of England's game against Italy which, via a bit of jiggery-pokery, I managed to stream via iPlayer and the Atlantic Ocean. The audience for this game increased by 50% with the addition of a Welshman, though one suspects he was an honorary Italian that day. The evening was spent at a funfair on rides whose maintenance records we couldn't help but question. As we looped the loop Michael emitted noises that I had never before heard. Colombia was nearly done but it had not left the indelible mark on me that I somehow expected. Whose shortcoming was that? Time may tell.

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