Feeling slightly under the weather, we have a day of rest and plan to visit the archaeological site in the morning. We head to town for a menu del dia of soup, meat, rice, beans, salad and a juice, all for $3! There seem to be plenty of local tourists riding up the quiet main road on horseback. When a local asks if we want to take a horse tour, Martin just gestures that I would probably fall off and break a leg or two! Taking a drive around town and looking for a supermercado, we drive via the plaza square and church which is busy with locals sitting around chatting and taking a break from the midday heat.
We wake early getting breakfast in a small bakery in town then set off for the San Agustin archaeological park, just a few minutes drive down the road in the sunshine. There is a high military presence when we get there, around ten soldiers standing around the entrance area with huge assault rifles in hand.
The first section of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is an interesting museum with historical information (in English) about a mysterious ancient culture which inhabited these lands as long as 5000 years ago along with examples of the extraordinary statues which were perfectly carved with exquisite skill between the 1st and 8th centuries.
The San Agustin civilization developed in the valley of the Magdalena River carving and constructing sculptures from the volcanic rock, producing some of the most impressive pre-Colombian work in South America but little is known about the people who disappeared long before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
Located at 1800 metres, over 600 ancient megalith statues have been found scattered around the green hills surrounding San Agustin, some resembling sacred animals like the jaguar and eagle, others mythical animals, human like figures such as warriors with clubs and Gods, all skilfully crafted by the mysterious culture.
Only a small number of the sites have been excavated and it is thought huge pyramids and other structures remain buried within the area.
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At the entrance to the main site there is a small but interesting souvenir market.
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The walking trail takes us to the first grassy clearing where we see large ornate life-like statues placed around in among funerary mounds which look like tables supported by pillars, possibly guardians of the dead providing a link between the ancestors and the supernatural world. They are so well preserved, it is amazing that so many have survived so perfectly intact over the centuries. Who these people were and the exact purpose of these gigantic sculptures remains a mystery, yet they reflect the presence of a creative and complex pre-Hispanic civilization of religious and magical beliefs.
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A long trail then takes us to the next set of statues and the Fuente de lavapatas with carvings of animals, small pools and ducts made in the stone bed of the stream, which was possibly used for worship of aquatic deities.
A hot uphill walk brings us to stunning views over the countryside.
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An eagle like statue with snake.
Finally, we take a narrow trail through the forest with lots of smaller sized statues which had been moved from their original sites.
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This content was originally published here.