Colombia: San Agustin

The day to mosey on to San Agustin had arrived. Consensus on how long it would take, meanwhile, hadn't. Betting on the trip length soon settled around seven hours for each in our merry trio, with Kate winning by taking the high side. Women! I blamed my translation of this - of the trip using almost all of the day's daylight hours - on her as a consequence.

The nadir of the journey was possibly a stop for repairs in Coconuco only an hour into the journey. Something was said about a rock in a tire, but all we heard was the whacking of a sledge hammer below. This jarring experience went on for 20 or 30 minutes, followed only 15 minutes later upon motion's resumption by losing pavement. Climb, climb, and climb on the newly bumpy track was now all that was proferred us.

We soon proceeded through an elevated area, both windy and with threatening rain clouds. This put us in the village of Purace. There we had a lunch stop, with all three of us agreed that we were glad we had not chosen this as a day trip to climb the nearby volcano from Popayán. We had traveled only 50km in two hours!

The more immediate thought of filling our gullets now took priority, a new... nadir? We took to miserably trying to find a spot out of the wind, simultaneously away from the bus. The entire road fronted by a massive roadworks project, we had only just (and unceremoniously) pulled up to a stop outside of a restaurant. We had no had no interest in the venue, but that was where the bus driver obviously had the usual deal of a free meal.

Instead we settled on sitting nearby, amidst a pile of boulders. There we'd make do, outside of an untended convenience shack selling potato chips and the like - but offering some wind protection. Dogs soon gathered as we opened cans of tuna, periodically adjusting our butts on the crude ladder I had laid on some massive, discarded truck tires. This was going to be a joy.

It didn't take long for these only-momentarily-bashful dogs to move in, soon found whenever and wherever possible trying to lick crumbs. They quickly zeroed in, though, to the ground where we had spilled out the oil from the cans - only after giving us a microsecond to clear out. Ah, the bliss of travel.

We reboarded the bus a mere minute after finishing with our grub, resuming our move-on under heavy fog. Our peak views quickly disappeared as the bus returned to its traditional banking into blind curves, when not avoiding potholes unsuccessfully. Still, this was oddly and surprisingly enough turning into a mystic journey of sorts for me - thank fog! The fluffy, watery stuff DID cover up many a blemish.

One such scarring of the land was the many kilometers of the road being readied for pavement. More importantly, though, THAT led to a distressing thought: soon the traditional road game of chicken would resume here, both picking up travel speed while resulting in showier casualties. The "no more stars in the road" campaign so heavily advertised on the highways, trying to lessen road accident deaths, would soon have a new trail of bloody track to adorn.

A couple of times I noticed odd carvings into the freshly-bulldozed, roadside walls of mud. These were freshly carved virgin Mary displays. More oddly, each was surrounded by a host of disembodied headlights - all seemingly from an array of ancient VW Bugs. Weird.

Perhaps this was somehow fitting in our foggy plodding forward, though, where our bus and the minimal opposing traffic traveled without lights. Drifting away in the excitement, I dropped off to a fitful, head-bouncing sleep over 25km. I only completely snapped-to again when we rolled back onto pavement. We had meekly roared into (San Jose de) Isnos... which was where, exactly?

Ah, Isnos implied that we were now only half an hour away from San Agustin officially. Cool! Or it would have been if another delay hadn't come into our schedule next. An hourlong stop in town would be required to allow for a road closure ahead. At this point our resignation was taken for a given, so we rolled out of the bus to check out our temporary environment.

Spying a cluster of interesting storefronts nearby, we sampled a coffee and a local panela store's many wares (mostly of panela, which is essentially sugar) to kill the time. When finally ready to leave, we realized that the two Dutch girls - ALWAYS the Dutch with me causing problems! - had gotten lost, anyway. More delay. In the end that wouldn't matter, though - the highway closure ahead was still going on. This allowed many of us to pile out of our vehicles to admire the massive valley below, this in spite of the misty haze found throughout it. We enjoyed 30 more minutes of such sitting around before finding motion again

Next we resumed dropping rapidly down to a turnoff split near the river. We were there matter-of-factly told to get out of the bus, then immediately hustled into a waiting jeep to take us the last 5km uphill to San Agustin. Wait a sec! This was exactly what I had bargained for NOT to happen way back in Popayán; we were instead to receive direct town-to-town service. Sigh.

From the turnoff it was a left to department seat Pitalito; we took the right to San Agustin, of course. At least we didn't have to wait but a moment to be in motion and, however slow, five kilometers was only five kilometers. Views abounded for the tasking in the meantime as we rolled into the town of 30,000 and its hoard-pile of ancient statuary.

The town was less than impressive at first blush, but at least the trip was over as we ingloriously pulled up to a tourist operator. Some jockeying for hostels and tours ensued (which we would rather have put off to later), but we finally rather randomly decided on a place I had a brochure card for - the Casa de François.

A concrete destination tempered the mayhem of being sold services in the short term, and it was only a few minutes to François's place, thankfully. The tour operators tried to work their annoying magic to a bitter end regardless, trailing us even as we escaped into the Shangri-La realm both created and realized as François's finca. There no one else was found around at first, but an Irish woman with a nonsense-babbling two-year-old son soon joined us for some company and assurance that we were in the right place. Finally François made his way out to greet us; we took to ending the day in an extended conversation with our new host.

Unfortunately, François was on the tail-end cusp of a marriage with a local Colombian woman, making him alternately a grieving and welcoming host. WIth all of her stuff stacked near the entrance to go, he was successfully and deservedly on his way to getting drunk; in our tired state the best we could do to aid him was commiserate. This we did in earnest, while also eliciting San Agustin tidbits in the process. Eventually a long day's travel took its toll, though: we all nodded off one by one.

Day Two in San Agustin was relatively prescribed for us - everyone (almost) came to San Agustin to check out the enigmatic sculptures of the ancient Agustin people. The 'Agustinos' were so called mainly because no one knew what else to call them, but fair enough: this was where they had left their tombs and interesting markers behind, even if little else. Nothing to read or make otherwise sense of - nope, just wacky heads on rocks among tombs galore. We'd give it our own try, though - surely we could decipher it all in a few passing glances - archaeology, shmarkiology.

Just outside of San Agustin lay the main archaelogical park. There we'd find a museum, a number of in-situ funerary sites, and a forest populated with numerous sculptures found in the area. Yup, this was an archaeological smorgasbord. Indeed, the sculptures of people/beings and the odd beast (lizard, bird, serpent) were all sufficiently curious-looking, and substantial in size (most measuring one to two meters in height).

Still, as these things went, none of us were floored, jaded tourists all. One ancient culture's detritus begins to look like another's to an experienced traveler, allowing only so far an imagination could fruitfully wander... when mostly eyeing holes in the ground surrounded by large slabs of rock. We DID have good imaginations, didn't we? DIDN'T we? Sniff.

Back in the day this statuary undoubtedly would have been more impressive, what with their original paint of yellow, red, brown and black showing. Those days were long gone, though. The flecks of paint had chiefly disappeared, along with the gold and similar treasures left as accompaniment to the afterlife. That came to pass a long time ago, with the oldest of these sculptures dated back beyond 3000BC - old in anyone's book.

Still... the descriptions and details noted alongside each affected a familiar summary, one seen many times in museums the world over regarding ancient cultures. There were conjurations of fertility, a littering of bowls and plates in offering, even (not rare) large penises to allow for the other side of the gender divide's prowess. All the good things in life, in other words.

A second day of touring these sites afield, in conjunction with viewing a few natural wonders, occurred the next day by jeep. Alto de las Piedras and Idolos were two such places; by the time we came to a similar third we'd already had too much. We couldn't be bothered with inspecting the tombs central to the small town in which they were found, opting for walking around its nearby blocks instead. We'd be hit up for money, anyway, mostly by a disgruntled old man who said he had been the one to make the original discovery and founded the town. Sour grapes? Opportunist? Both?

Likewise we ignored a second waterfall in our tour's offerings, only after appropriately gaping at the first one proferred - the third highest waterfall drop in South America. At that one we were followed about by an army of kids, each in official-seeming tourist shawls, some reciting like robots two identical sentences regarding the falls' stats and lore. They were otherwise endearing and cute when they returned to unscripted conversation.

The first thing we had checked out on the tour turned out to be the best of all: the Estrecho de Magdalena (Strait of Magdalena). This was where Colombia's mightiest river narrowed to only a few meters wide, with some thirty meters of depth - while charging through sheer rock. A well-placed cross reminded anyone of the danger of the undertow should one wander too precipitously near the cliff's edge... although the bubbling waters and the way a stick I threw in was swallowed gave ample clue. All in all, the long day of countryside jaunting about and bouncing in a jeep for $15 was probably worth it... if it wasn't for the pulled back I would begin to experience starting the next day.

At least my cough of a few weeks was seemingly nearing its end by then. Some compensation. I had been hacking only too much and for too long without feeling otherwise sick, but enough was enough... even if I wouldn't opt kindly to its eventual replacement. No, throwing out my back (as shall soon be related) would only give a good excuse for a massage... or two.

Post the long outing by jeep, only preceded by the walk to the archaeological park, we each felt we had already seen what was likely the best that San Agustin had to offer. No more statues, please! Enough with the tombs! With this in mind, we decided to stay near town from then out, perhaps taking in some short hikes and... AND... yep, we'd soon be robbed at gunpoint. Crap!

Looking for nice places to stroll near town, we had easily talked ourselves into viewing an adjacent ravine. Minutes from town, it dropped down on one side to the famous Rio Magdalena. Also, being just such a short distance away, we believed it was supposedly a safe area to hike in - so we had been advised. Indeed, the three of us meandered toward the ravine never thinking this to be a fateful day of any import - it sure didn't look the part.

Instead of thinking lions, tigers, and bears (Oh MY!), we strolled along basking in only sunshine and, amazingly enough, found ourselves commenting on how safe we had been feeling in Colombia. Could this be a foreshadowing of irony? Duh. We all remarked how easily we would recommend travel in the country; for my part, I was surprised that I still had my crappy old camera. Surely it would have been swiped by now. That oversight, or problem, would be solved - soon enough, anyway.

After a nice, extended view of a fire, licking the rock wall's face across the canyon, we eventually neared asa much of the ravine's bottom as we were willing to go. We had a pleasurable experience of some kids clambering into orange trees to toss us fruit, a capper to a pleasant hour or two ambling leisurely toward the ravine's depths. It came time to make our way out, while the sun was still plenty high. In good spirits, we relished the flavor of the oranges, the friendliness of the children, and the fact that the fire was nearly done consuming the opposing wall's greenery. Ah, Colombia!

Yes, Colombia, and what that implied to so many. Regardless, it was with some surprise when, rounding one a hairpin turn found in this unusual switchback for Latin America, a masked bandit was waiting crouched in some weeds. (Literally, he could've step out of a movie, what with that bandanna wrapped over his face up to his eyes.) Gun in hand, Matt ran into him first. Soon he was backing around the hairpin curve, until all three of us were covered by the weapon. Not much questioning needed occur: we knew that we had found ourselves in the relatively non-negociated situation of having to make a hurried farewell to our pesky cargo of cameras and cash. B-bye!

Since Matt's arms had gone up in front of me in surrender before the gunman could see me, I stumbled into a modicum of good fortune. I was lucky enough to pitch my iPod and trumpet mouthpiece (of course!) into the brush. In doing so I whispered to a still-unsuspecting Kate behind me "We're being robbed - hide the camera!" - not timely enough, unfortunately. Soon I had the role of playing translator and negotiator in a nervous situation to boot.

Still - it could have been worse. Although holding the pistol in a shaky hand, our new acquaintance managed to hold off shooting - a big plus in anyone's book. The biggest, actually. He also was not successful in his one-handed search of Matt's backpack, nor in his viewing of the contents of my trumpet case. To his credit, let it be said, he let us keep the rest of the lot after taking hold of the cameras and cash; I was extremely relieved that I hadn't brought my trumpet. Matt was likewise relieved that he had his fake wallet with false credit cards to hand over. In the grand scheme of things, we got off exceptionally well.

The grand tally would be worth noting, of course. My losses totalled 70,000CP ($35) in cash, plus a camera that couldn't be sold for $5. Indeed, I was actually left with an addition to my overdue pile of excuses for an upgrade to my camera. I was ready for an increase and improvement in its memory card, while hoping to halve its physical size. Matt and Kate would do somewhat worse, though, losing about $90 in cash. They'd more rue the $300 camera they had just gotten a very good deal on back in the U.S.

Pictures? Yeah, MY San Agustin record would disappear in that fateful moment, last backed up in Popayán. Bummer. Fortunately, though, Matt and Kate had backed up the night before. For my sake this would be especially fortuitous - we'd been together in San Agustin the entire time. All we'd lose would be the visual memory of the hike - to which we'd like to add the experience at its end. Sigh.

Robbery concluded, we were next told by our local Robin Hood to wait an hour before moving on back into town. Sit on those rocks... there!, he ordered. Fortunately we would feel secure to short-circuit that, by a half-hour, when a boy came up the ravine on a mule. I asked the boy if he knew of robberies occurring in the ravine, to which he nodded in the affirmative. Franç! I thought, thinking of the affirming go-ahead safety-wise we had received from our host concerning nearby areas.

Accompanying mule-boy, yet still suspicious and looking ahead, I soon spied someone watching us from a hiding place above as we went in that direction. Hmmm - someone indeed was slyly spying us in the first house we'd encounter when we came to the top of the ravine. This soon led to some speculation: how had that bastard been tipped off?

We pondered various scenarios. For instance, the robber had initially made hand motions to someone above when he was backing Matt up with the gun. Was there an accomplice in reality? (We never had seen anyone else). Or had he noticed us, by himself, on that short and lonely road? Would he have dared to walk far down this single and lonely road after robbing, an easily identifiable person in a small town? Hmmm.

When we went to town the next morning to make the report - the tourist police office had been closed in the evening - we received surprising information. Only those last few houses before the ravine had separated us from a military checkpoint! That very presence had been placed just to deter what had happened to us. Huh! The tourist police were thus both surprised and dismayed at what had happened, relating (upon my asking) that we were the third robbing for the year. This was way down from the bad old days, but still....

Similarly, we were disappointed in ourselves: our host had told us that there was nothing to worry about in the area; we had too easily taken that word as holy (enough) writ. Back at the hostel, and expressing genuine sadness and shock at the robbery, it nevertheless wasn't long before he admitted that he knew of the other robberies. Argggh. Here all three of us prided ourselves in being savvy travelers - this wasn't supposed to happen. False information!

We each soon decided to chalk it up to our own foolishness and overplaced trust in the end. We'd not let this unduly influence our positive view of Colombia and its (mostly) friendly people, either. Besides, with so many American guns floating around the country traded for cocaine trade headed to America (and Britain), perhaps there was some poetic justice to this sordid turn of events. Rationalization is a healthy thing.

In the end, the robbery would be the least of my troubles in San Agustin, anyway: I'd fully slip a disk in my back the next day. The jeep ride had first aggravated my lower back/sacrum area, the hurried return to town after the robbery had worsened it, then a soft mattress I had switched to that night (in my empty dorm room) didn't help. But, best as I could figure it, it was a series of ferocious hackings in my cough brigade (of a few weeks and counting) come morning that did the trick in winging a vertebrae to a very wrong place.

This trigger event, the real culprit in my book, occurred on the morning when I hobbled with Matt and Kate to the tourist police to make our report. Indeed, by the time we made it to the office, I could barely locomote. There I immediately took to sitting down in the most awkward and leaning way, so much so that it led the tourist policeman to even ask if I had been physically assaulted in the robbery. Sure was starting to feel like it!

It would get worse when we next went for a coffee, too. In a matter of minutes, after sitting at a table, I decided to lay myself on the ground just to relieve the pain. This was bad, real bad... and I wasn't sure yet what to do. Perhaps I needed to just get into a bed and rest... which should've meant a fifteen minute walk to return to the hostel. THAT would turn into an agonizing forty or so minutes, with many stops to bend over and catch a breath. Just how bad had I screwed myself up?

Pretty awfully, it would turn out, and the cough was still the worst of it. Although on its way out, it was nevertheless the case that in these last stages of it - involving the final removal of detritus from my lungs - that the coughing greatly exacerbated the pain in my spinal column. By the time of my return to the hostel from the café, I had even begun to take to crouching on all fours for help. Like a drunk, I assumed this position to let the phlegm move by gravity to the front of my chest, easing the "vacating" process. My legs would act as shock absorbers; I was reduced to a mechanical state of being.

Ironically, before the day of the robbery, I had just been hopeful to get anything out - dry coughs were getting me nowhere with a long-term, irritable cough. Now that arid aria had ended, and in the most untimely manner: I felt like a host of cats trying to barf intractable hairballs. The smallest cough wreaked havoc and hellpain through my entire body as my torso seized for the ejection. Mer-cy!

In agony, I couldn't figure out if it was better to lie down or stand up to help the healing process. It wasn't like there were any doctors in town, either - although the Irish girl soon suggested a witch doctor she knew. He ONLY lived six kilometers out of town on a bumpy, unpaved rock road. She was even willing to take me on her motorcycle. Uh, no thanks - I envisioned that ride only with horror.

Desperate, I moved on to yoga and muscle relaxers as my salvation. That would prove a slow-going and mixed bag, but at least eventually I started getting results. Before that progress, however, I had fatefully looked at my torso once in the mirror by chance after an aborted shower (heat, water pressure, and electricity were not givens in San Agustin). Oh my.

I was shocked with what I saw: my torso had the formed of tweaked S. From one hip the line of my body came in like a V, only to twist to a side in an off-kilter direction from there up. This was scary enough to push all of my buttons. I admittedly panicked a bit at the sight.

With no chiropractor or doctor around, I turned to what WAS available - massages from a traveling Brit, Abi. I had been thinking of her services anyway, having previously seen advertisements where she offered an hour at the shocking price of $10. Time to make an appointment - like now! When she soon arrived, with her bottles of aromatic therapy in hand, I'd get an unexpected bonus, too. Heh heh - no, not THAT.

On both occasions when I received a massage, someone came by to look at the dorm room, hoping to stay the night there. Talk about good timing: these were the only times, after the first days of arriving in San Agustin, that someone else arrived to be a possible roommate. Both times the potential roomie entered, stumbling into a room and taking in my prone and mostly naked self. Both times Abi towered above me, making sweeping motions with her oils in full massage mode. Problem solved: I forever had a private chamber reserved for me. And the massages seemed to temporarily help, too.

Meanwhile I mentally went through my entire yoga repetoire, trying to guess what might help. I'd be certain to avoid what might (sharply) hurt, of course. Things like sitting and getting up to stand were more than a slight chore, excruciating motions instead - those would initially be no-gos. I invented new rest positions instead. Eventually, however, I concentrated on things to make my body take on a more linear form. Accentuate the positive, or some such slogan, prevailed.

I focused, thusly, on poses where I pulled on doors or railings. I'd do these as elongatedly as I could, anything to get me in the right direction. I even put an undue focus on sitting upright on the toilet: there'd be no escape for the wicked or weary, apparently. All the while the ramifications were all the more apparent, too: I had no idea how long this recovery would or could take. Old age loomed further as an extended nasty dream if this was any indication.

In the meamtime my longstanding companions of two-plus weeks, Matt and Kate, finally moved on from me. They left a bottle of ibuprofen in their wake, a last tasty leftover meal, and some fond memories of our time together. I'd miss them. Perhaps I should have guilted them into leaving behind heavier-duty drugs - if they had any. Seriously, I'd miss them.

Indeed, Matt had been a steady, nervous stream of gab ready to take the piss out of one and all. That is, so he'd be when not inventively cooking something wonderful from the mediocre ingredients and cracked crockery generally available in our domiciles. I'd miss THAT, too. Lovely Kate, meanwhile, had been likewise enjoyable in conversation. She never ceased to amaze me in her mastery of the British art of speaking (or rather, enunciating) clearly while barely opening her mouth. [I think I'm going to hear about that comment... some day.]

At least a rewarding caveat of getting robbed in their company would be my access to their San Agustin pictures someday later. Only that fateful robbery day would remain a blank spot in my pictorial record of Colombia. In any event, Matt and Kate still had more places to go to in the near term, like onward to Ecuador... before their wedding upcoming in several months in Brighton, England. Southern Africa awaiting them in between. I was sure that the smirch of losing their nice camera and cash would soon melt away for them but, most positively, I had a feeling I'd be seeing them again in England or Western Washington's Cascades... should they not cower when reading just that. I'm an equal-opportunity TripTrumpet!

To the task at hand, though, their leaving meant that I was now left to my own devices, in full cripple recovery mode. Quickly I decided that it was well and likely for the best that I should remain on my current premises - moving myself and my backpack was inconceivable. No, I'd be a stationary soul to temporarily (I hoped!) greet any and all fleeting groups passing through San Agustin subsequently. Lucky them.

On the helpful side to them, I could warn all newcomers of possible robbery; helping myself, I might be able to partake in their medications - especially extra strength ones, at the rate I was going. All good, no? I thus committed to San Agustin for the short haul, letting plans to fly into Leticia and the Amazon region go to doubtful at best. Soon they'd reduce to nonexistent, too, over the remaining week and a half I'd spend in town.

Leticia's death would favor a slower, safer recuperation - I now had a yoga retreat looming more by force than by choice. Too bad I left behind my mat in Arizona - as if the uneven floorboards would've allowed it, anyway. At least I'd get to make more friends of the people I'd meet as consolation.

For example, I got to know the Irish girl looking for shamans better, likewise the British girl who massaged my aching back. Plus, I'd get to be the only traveler to get on the good side of the older of the two women working at François's. While all visitors had pinned a battle axe image onto her in their short stays, I'd singly manage to coax smiles and conversation out of her. Soon, in fact, she'd treat me like a proper guest of all things (still in contrast to the others).

With so much time spent in my room, I soon became ever more intimately acquainted with its bamboo ceiling, cowshit/glass walls, and its other inhabitants. Since my two massages had scared away the only two PEOPLE to check out the dorm room during my recovery, those would consist entirely of BUGS. They'd be the natural part of getting back to nature, I'd guess.

There were beetles galore of many sizes (including a large rhinoceros beetle), the random flying wasp, and even some spiders the size of a child's fist. Yummy. Beyond such critters, too, the room's interior appointments would be just as exciting to consider. Its walls were made of mud (/cowshit mix), glass bottles, wood planks, and guadua (bamboo) for structure. It was a wee bit from airtight, yes, but long on character.

Indeed, every morning I'd find new bits of mud rubble and dead bugs here and there, all littering the floor's wooden planks. I ruminated on the fact that I probably ate a few while sleeping, too, but at least the mosquitoes had been few - THEY actually bothered me. They picked up in number on each random hard rain (or rather, just before or after), but altogether they had been mercifully absent for the most part.

Birds, meanwhile, made me regret the loss of my camera. With my spending so much time doing yoga in my room's foreground, a spot with a marvelous and sweeping view of the valley beyond, I received a vast number of eyefuls of them. There were hummingbirds aplenty, typically the most eye-catching of fowl, but many small (and even some large) birds of sharp yellow, green, red, blue, or a mix with markings in black or white came by, too. A pile of them fluttered past all day long, crescendoing at dusk and dawn. With the massive mountain view as a backdrop, at least my eyes would be wonderfully pleased while my back bitched and... bitched more.

Market day came and went, too, another Sunday. A host of campesinos rolled into town for a little bit of shopping, but mainly they came to get more than slightly drunk. The saloons and billiards rooms filled to capacity; music blared from each. In anticipation, the chivas stationed themselves in a variety of places, eager beasts ready to sturdily rumble home with the wreckage.

Perhaps that wasn't the best day to try and make phone calls, trying to buy an airline ticket. You'd think not - yet that's what I was up against on Skype when my credit card was repeatedly rejected. A forgotten charge of $20 in four months turned out to be the culprit, causing an effective shutdown of the card. Uh, customer service...?

It took some flailing about in voicemail-land, including several runarouds on hold and the muzak nightmare THAT portended. Fun. All that to achieve the joy of running through a battery of security questions to get it reactivated. For all this souci, though, I finally procured a ticket to Miami and Tampa beyond several days earlier than planned. I was ready to return stateside to finish the healing sooner than later, anyway - ticket prices made it a cinch.

In the interim still lay a week, however. Fortunately, on Day Seven of The Misery, I woke up to a first, albeit slight, change. I felt a whopping 40% recovered! Maybe even 42! Immediately I gave proper due to my determined yoga approach, particularly the variations of Uttanasana that I had been focusing. Nothing like taking credit, true or not.

It certainly felt true in this case. Every time I PROPERLY did the Uttanasana pose, I could feel a relaxing of the tension in my lower back and sacrum below. On this fated, now fête-d morning, I was able to rise for my first Uttanasana sans a great amount of difficulty. If I could've jumped painlessly for joy, I certainly would've. This lifted a bit of my terrored fog, simultaneously showing a gentler-if-still-misshapen S to my spine in the mirror. Most importantly this meant that something was working.

To celebrate, I went on a hike - a week was a long time to be cooped up. Perhaps this was not the smartest thing to do, but I felt I surely had to be up for five miles if I took it easy. This I did, even if the path was awfully steep up and down near the highlight of the journey. Up proved WAY better than down for the troubles; I sprinkled in forward bends every 10-20 minutes or so to keep things honest. That seemed to do the trick, as I well knew by then.

I used the hike to check out two of the closer archaeological sites to town, El Tablon and La Chaquira. The former was only five meagre statues under a shelter, but the latter was worth the effort. Not for the carving, however: THAT was only one deep etching in rock. It was the location was stunning instead, facing the massive, narrow, and deep canyon dropping down to the River Magdalena.

Coincidentally, I could even make out a scorched patch of earth only a short way to my right, across from... where us three musketeers got robbed. Oh yeah! It was so close, and yet... I was in a much safer pace. No one was on the trail with me for the duration of the hike, true, but THIS was a noted tourist track. That tended to count for a lot in Colombia when it came to security. At least I FELT secure - that's 99% of it, anyway. The rest is just, well, robbery.

The cliff's-edge sculpture further served to help me understand the demise of the Agustin people of long ago. I came to a new realization of why some cultures died, and others survive. How, one might ask? Simple: I contrasted between hermits carving into inaccessible rocks on cliffs, like this one... and Shakira shaking her hips. The former screamed solitude and (therefore) a dwindling away in numbers, the latter... fecundity, let's say. And I don't even get paid for this.

In the meantime, with my back only at 40% strength (or whatever appropriate number next comes from my rear end), I began to make plans to ditch any sidetrip on the way back to Bogotá - like to Tierradentro, for example. The lengthy unpaved roads to get there? Traversing them twice (coming and going)? With this cracked back? Not likely.

Thoughts instead turned to more achievable things like buying a few gifts instead. The mostly appealing ones were the ubiquitous Colombian wristbands - both high on color and low on weight - and bags of coffee (neither of both). Not that I'd find any of the latter in San Agustin, though. El Niño had been waxing the local coffee crop, disallowing even the one decent shop in town from selling me any of their stock. A coffee country out of coffee - that just warn't right no how!

Should I digress? Why not! Was it me, or wasn't every year beginning to turn into El Niño or La Niña? I mused on this. Hmmm - maybe the powers that be should've gone ahead and created La Niño and El Niña as well - just call it a day! Matching gender and such linguistic details be damned! Global weather had unquestionably turned into an unpredictable mess compared with times past; it wasn't just in San Agustin I was hearing this, but all the time and all over the globe.

Soon I thought, too, of the two recent, massive earthquakes in Latin America, the 7.0 in Haiti and the 8.8 in Chile. The former's damage was far more massive due to widespread poverty and poor infrastructure, but both were significant. Shouldn't I be getting my silly ass out of this continent, back to Seattle? We were only expecting a 9.5 there (i.e. total destruction), or waiting for the nearby volcano (Mt. Rainier) to explode (more ruin, although probably not in town) - that's all. Hmmm.... with both of those due any day, and with only a meager 200-year margin of error, perhaps I would do better to head to Florida instead. Oh yeah, I was! Nothing but puny hurricanes to fester over! Enough of these digressions!

The days of recuperation kept dragging on in the meantime. I now closed in on two weeks for this extenda-tour of San Agustin, with only the one significant improvement coming a week into the back disaster. Prolonging the recuperation in San Agustin made sense, though, if only for the scenery and cleaner air. From my balcony - where I spent most of my time - I never did tire of the deep view across to the mountains in all directions. Talk about the ultimate "zither" (visual focus point) for yoga! I'd zather zither there than many other places.

Neither did I ever mind the constant chirping and flitting of the countless birds of countless size and color. With almost every day a beautiful mixture of rain and sun, I couldn't even complain against the lushness and pleasantry found weatherwise. Perhaps I could whine about the nightly invasion of interesting bugs that flew around my room, bumping into my head as I read or played the trumpet? Yeah! THAT did start to get old.

I could also lament that I couldn't take any photos of these amazing surroundings. If only for that that I missed my camera. Indeed, I plead for some photos from any of a few of the other guests, all who came after Matt and Kate had left. Perhaps some would show up one day. [Two months later, nary an email with photos...] I really had too much time to think.

Meanwhile, as bus-to-Bogotá day drew near, at least there was SOMEthing I could do: steadily lighten my backpack. With the overall Colombia trip nearly done, my mindset had accordingly changed. I made a concerted effort to use or give away all food beyond tide-me-over stuff for the trip's remainder, for example - no need to carry around the olive oil any more!

This cleaning house fun continued: I had enough muscle relaxers to last the trip's duration, but a shirt found itself pitched as did some old socks. My camera's charger, cable, extra battery and card - what to do with those. All would be left in the dorm room for whomever - maybe even for whoever bought the fenced camera! The doorstopper of a book I just finished (The Girl With The Green Tattoo)? That'd be left without being traded, either. Everything now was hedged for a lighter load on my back, to be further lessened by employing taxis whenever possible and reasonable, too. The changing of gears creakily forced the issue.

Yoga meanwhile did its job, a panacea for any stiffness I felt. A crisis after a night of coughing? Solved with forward bends. Another poor choice, trying out a different, softer mattress in the room? More forward bends. Just ended a nap? I'd wake up to some bends. Walking downhill? More bends. Uphill? Bend it like Trippy, baby. Walk a kilometer? B-bend. Eat, read, sit? Yep, you know it. It worked, a reliable salvation. With that in mind, I was ready to leave San Agustin - NOT all bent out of shape.

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