Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Leaving on a Prop Plane

Magdalena River, just south of Neiva, Colombia
Day Cinco of La Aventura Colombiana Conmigo was a travel day. The day began in Bogotá, middled in Neiva, Colombia, and ended in the far south of the country in San Agustín.  (In case you're following at home, the updating has fallen behind due to limited internet access in Southern Colombia.)

The last few hours in Bogotá were somewhat discombobulating. I raced around my hotel neighborhood in search of an ATM that would accept my card which (a) was part of Plus, Star, and just about every other ATM network on the planet and (b) was accepted by every ATM I’ve ever used in Europe only to find out (c) that Bogotá is not in Europe. Well, I did have a stash o’ cash in case the ATM’s weren’t Wells Fargo card friendly, only to find that the currency exchange in my hotel was closed for the morning, the banks did not want to do a currency exchange, and there were no other nearby currency changers in the business neighborhood in which my hotel was located.

Oh well, I could change money at the airport. I would pay a super-premium on the exchange, but certainty has value. Off to the airport. I got a cab at my hotel. The cabbie, who spoke no English, asked if I wanted “internacional.” Well, I was flying domestic to Neiva, so I would not want to go to the “internacional” terminal, so I said “no,” that I was flying “Lan,” a South American international carrier, “a Neiva,” so I wanted “domestic,” pronouncing the vowels in proper Spanish hoping that that was close to the Spanish word for “domestic.”

He dropped me off at the airport. It looked a little different from what I remembered from my flight in. And I only saw Avianca check-in stations. It was then I remembered that Bogotá has two airports, El Dorado International and this other aeropuerto in which I was standing a little less than two hours to flight time. I guess I did want “internacional” after all. Fortunately, this was not like trying to get from JFK to La Guardia or LAX to Ontario. I asked a policia who spoke English as well as I spoke Spanish, and he walked me over to where I could catch a shuttle to the proper aeropuerto. The shuttle arrived in about five 10 minutes and it dropped me off at El Dorado in less than 10. I got pointed toward the Lan domestic ticketing desks and off to Neiva I soon would be.

I’m not going to bother explaining how Gate REG 1 is not the same as Gate 1 at El Dorado. I eventually did find Gate REG 1 and soon was on board the 36-passenger prop plan bound for Neiva:

Lan 3223 to Neiva
The one-hour flight to Neiva was uneventful save for the lone flight attendant pouring black coffee down the leg of my khakis. Not his fault. The plane hit a wild stretch of turbulence just as he was about to hand me my coffee.

Soon enough we landed in the hot desert town of Neiva. I was dressed for the San Francisco-style climate of Bogotá, rather than the high desert temperatures of Neiva. I was met at Neiva airport by my guide for San Agustín and a Hyundai minivan being driven by the owner of the guesthouse at which I would be staying in San Agustín.  It was a beautiful four-hour drive from Neiva to San Agustín. We stopped more than a few times for water, fruit, cheese or whatever:

Snack and rest stop overlooking the Magdalena

Generally, we hugged the Magdalena River, the main drainage river through the center of Colombia:

River Magdalena
This was the cheese stop which, contrary to the Monty Python joke, did have cheese:

Queso stop
We took a picture-taking stop in a beautiful little town in Southern Colombia named Timana, which had a beautiful old church:

Old Church, Timana, Colombia
With a beautiful 200 year old tree in the square in front of the church:
It' a tree, but is it a banyan?
I think it’s a banyan, but I’m not into horticulture. In fact, I’ve never once even led a whore to culture. (The old Dorothy Parker joke is in there if you sound it out.) I know it’s 200 years old because the guide said that this same species of trees were planted simultaneously across Colombia in honor of Colombian independence in the early 1800's. In this same square is a statue of the Indian maiden Gaetana:

Gaetana with the head of a Spanish official
This plucky Indian maiden chopped off the head of a Spaniard (look close and you can see the head in her hand) and sent the head and various parts of the body to her fellow tribespeople. The Spaniards, quite predictably, were perturbed by this chain of events and hunted the Indian maiden. When eventually cornered, she jumped into the Magdalena River (from an unsurvivably high point overlooking the river) rather than surrender to the Spaniards. For all that work, she got a statue in Timana. It IS a nice statue in a really nice park.

At sunset, we arrived at the Hacienda Anacaona, outside of the City of San Agustín:

My room at the Anacaona
We are close to the Equator here. The sun rises and sets at about the same time every day of the year. The elevation is around 6000 feet, so the climate is cool and mild. The area is relatively bug-free, so there is no glass in the windows or central heat or air. For dinner, served in the kitchen of the Hacienda Anacaona, I had fresh fish:

Fish dinner
Yes, it did have its head still on. Deal with it.  It was caught that day in a nearby river. It was tasty and mildly sweet. It was served with plantanos (plantains), rice and side salad.

Off to bed for Day Seis will bring the primary purpose of this trip to Colombia: a visit to San Agustín Archaeological Park.

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