The 'Tomb Raider Two' - Inside the Earth!

Sat 10th May 2014
Living to Be Happy 

On the morning of Wed 7th May I did a final online test for my paragliding qualification and passed with 84% (4 questions wrong out of 25). Successfully qualified and a proficient Open Sky Pilot, I proudly packed up my stuff and got a lift from Santi to the bus station where I bought a ticket back to Tulcán – back to the Ecuadorian/Colombian border.

My proposito (purpose/intention) - to take part in a 10-day silent Vispassana meditation course. The first one I did was in England a few years ago and it changed my life forever, so when the opportunity came up to do it again in a place just outside of Cali, I excitedly reserved a place for my second course.

But I don’t need to get to the location until Mon 12th May, which still left me a few days to do something else. Katharina told me about a place called Tierradentro (‘inside the earth’) which not only sounds exciting, but is about half way between the Ecuadorian/Colombian border and Cali.

It is time to go tombraiding again! The first time was while travelling with scooby Sonya to the ruins of Palenque in Mexico when my boobs were closer in size to Lara Croft’s. I started this blog after Mexico when I entered Colombia, but you can scroll through some photos from that first tombraider experience here

Thanks to several months continued backpacking, I have since lost a lot of my excess chub, but the man boobs still bounce sufficiently enough to warrant a second tombraiding experience.

This time almost 5 metres down underground into real tombs constructed by an ancient pre-Colombian civilisation!

Tierradentro is not that easy to get to and still relatively unvisited by backpackers; many of whom move straight between Cali and Quito and skip the bits in between. In order to get there, I needed to cross the border from Tulcán back to Ipiales, and from there get an 8 hr overnight bus to Popayán.

Arriving at 7am on Thur 8th May, I then had some time to check out ‘The White City’ until 10.30am when I took another 6 hr bus through a crazy slippy mud road along a high mountain edge to the actual area called Tierradentro.

As I sat looking out of the front window wondering at the amazing skills of the bus driver who was keeping the bus moving steadily forward through the wet cement-like ground and not driving us off the mountain edge, I was chatting to the only other gringo in town, Angus, a 38-year-old travelling South-African born Englishman who accepted a £1000 bet from a friend that he could not visit every country in the world before he reached 40. He has currently visited 158 of the world's 198 independent countries, and has flights for 7 more countries already booked.

Angus is a whole blog post unto himself! I really admire his passion to visit all the countries of the world, and his intricately organised record of all the countries he has already visited, including how many times each, when he went, for how long, and with lots of example photos! – all thanks to some really clever apps on his neat travel iPad and a load of enthusiasm for his project.

But at the same time the references to all the places he has visited and detailed planning of the places he next wants to go to confuse me. He is doing a form of travel that I have never come across before! - a 'global trainspotter', who arranges one or two weeks off from his flexible top IT job in London to zip into countries and visit one or two specific places for some amazing experiences, and then tick the country off as done.

It is so far removed from my super-slow go-with-the-flow choice of travel in which I don’t remember what I did yesterday nor have any idea where I am going tomorrow. Instead, I immerse myself in the culture of where I actually am now. My amazing adventure is in the experience of actually living as a traveller.

Two really nice guys with really big hearts travelling in two really different ways, and one really cool shared objective - to go check out the tombs of Tierradentro tombraider-style! 

We were bound to have a good time!

When we arrived in Tierradentro, Angus and I got off in the tiny village called San Andres where we were immediately greeted by one of the indigenous locals called Leonardo.

He set us up for the night in his newly built hostel and we went for a walk around while it was still light. San Andres is in such a beautiful setting surrounded by a luscious green mountainous paradise, perfect for camping if it didn't rain so much, and even more dramatic than the landscape in the Salento coffee region due to its remote and unique location.

Fri 9th May was our only full day to check out the ancient ruins of Tierradentro, so we set off nice and early to make sure we had the whole day to walk the whole archaeological park.

When started from the village of San Andres, the 7 hour archeological hike takes you first to a collection of tombs at the site Alto de San Andres, which literally means 'high above San Andres'. From there it is a long steep climb up to 2000 meters and the site and viewpoint called El Aguacate ('the avocado').

Next the hike takes you back down 500 meters to the museums and half way point.

Continuing from here, it is a less steep upward climb for 20 minutes that takes you to the most extensive of the burial sites, Sergovia, which contains thirty opened tombs.

Another long walk from here takes you to the final burial site, El Duende ('the spirit'), before hiking the final distance to El Tablón ('the beam') where the statues can be found.

From here, it is a short hike back to the first paved road which lets you know that you are back on the grid and have reached the village of San Andres once again.

One of Colombia's real gems, the collection of five large burial sites that make up Tierradentro have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

Very little is known about the ancient inhabitants of Tierradentro and why they suddenly dissapeared. The artifacts found buried show that they were an agricultural people with great skills in painting, carving, and ceramics.

Four of the sites contain tombs dating from 600 AD to 900 AD which provides a date and shows that they lived at the same time as the nearby San Agustin culture; the final site contains a collection of statues that were found buried in this one area. The statues are similar to those in San Agustin except carved in a more rustic volcanic stone than the durable stone used in San Augustin.

The people of Tierradentro placed all the bones of the dead from one family into one ceramic bowl made out of a muddy clay mixture. These bowls were found in San Agustin, as the statues of San Agustin were found in Tierradentro, which suggests that the two cultures traded regularly.

The tombs are notable for their beautiful paintings. These paintings are done in red, ochre, black, and white, and consist of intricate geometrical patterns. How they carved out the rock, painted the tombs, and how the markings are still today so preserved all remains a mystery!

Read more about this fascinating ancient civilisation here

Be inspired ♥

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