San Agustín is a pretty small town in southern Colombia. We made the 4 hour dirt road journey from Popayán so that we could see these super old and mysterous things.
Aside from the Anthropological Park, one if the best ways to see these mysteries is on horse back.
So we set about trying to figure out how to rent a horse. In these parts, it’s not as simple as following a sign that says “horseback riding this way”. We wandered around the little town, trying to find a tour agency or anything that looked remotely like it might offer horseback riding tours.
We couldn’t find anything.
So, back up the hill to our hostel. A little defeated, but vowing to figure this out – somehow.
When we were walking back up the big hill to Casa de Nelly’s, a man appeared out of nowhere.
He introduced himself, said he worked with/for/at Casa de Nelly and was talking to us (in Spanish) about horseback riding and renting his horses.
It’s like that saying, it’s always in the last place you look! Or in our case, it appeared out of thin air as soon as we stopped trying.
Things were progressing nicely in the horse rental area. Or so we thought.
All of the sudden the guy whips out a little black book.
He opens his little black book to a random page and holds it out for us to read. So I start reading and see that it’s full of testimonials from travellers. They said things like:
“Thanks so much for taking care of us. We had a great time!” — Lucy and Steph, from Canada.
I was lost for context. I thought this man told us he was the chef at Casa de Nelly. How good was his food? I mean, I’d heard the dinners were good…but the food must be freaking unbelievable if this is what people were saying.
I didn’t get it but whatever. I just wanted to rent 2 of his horses.
And try his food now.
So I said that’s great, very cool.
We were all back to talking about horses when all of the sudden the guy says (in English) in a near whisper, “I used to work with Pablo Escobar.”
As a refresher, Pablo Escobar was a notorious Colombian drug lord, affectionately known as The King of Cocaine. He’s basically the reason why older generations might think we’re mental for going to Colombia in the first place.
Really, we said to him, neither of us having any clue what that had to do with renting his horses. Unless…in Colombia they call drug mules something different…something like horses?
Jokes, that never crossed my mind. But it wasn’t the greatest character reference, was it!?
Oh jeeze. What were we getting into.
Then he clarified (not that we asked – the conversation was over as far was we were concerned).
Did we want to do a special tour with him? He could take us somewhere secret where we could make cocaine.
OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH it’s all coming together now. When I thought he said “cocina” (kitchen) he actually said “cocaina” (cocaine). And those testimonials in his little black book weren’t talking about his cooking…nope, not at all.
No thanks, man, we’re good. And we definitely don’t want to rent your horses either. You know, just in case they’re stuffed full of drugs.
As an aside or an afterward or just cause we’re not the type of people to do stupid stuff like make or do drugs anywhere on planet earth…here’s what we think about it:
The special tour is really stupid to do!
First of all, you don’t make cocaine. It takes at least a week to make it – not 4 hours like the tour leads you to believe.
Secondly, you look like a fool for paying so much money for a phony experience and few pinches of cement-laced chacha.
Thirdly, by taking part in the tour you’re exacerbating corruption (the police know about this tour and are bribed to keep it going). Why would you want to consciously do something that makes every day life for every day Colombians really freaking hard?
Fourthly, it’s illegal! So if those bribes don’t get paid, guess who goes to jail? You do!
Fifthly, the guy taking you on the tour didn’t work with Pablo Escobar. It’s a lie to help make the sale to you. You look like a fool if you do it to everyone but your drug riddled self.
In the end, Harry (the awesome guy who works at Casa de Nelly) found us different horses to rent.
The next day, we went horseback riding through the countryside, visiting different archaeological sites. I had an amazing time. Matt had a good time too, though it was a little painful for him.
You see, when we were getting assigned our horses, Matt was told to “no touch the side of the horse because he no like.” This brief but perfectly clear explanation was accompanied by a disctinct bucking motion.
So, Matt spent about 4 hours riding his horse like he was riding a Harley Davidson: legs straight out in front of him. No matter the speed of the horse trotting, Matt never moved his legs for fear of pissing off his horse. So he ended up just helplessly bouncing around in the saddle. I almost died laughing! Actually, I’m laughing again as I write this a month or so later. Why he got that horse is beyond me.
Our horseback riding tour was our first up close and personal introduction to the mysterous statues and tombs of the mysterious pre-Columbian people in San Agustín. It served to only pique our interest.