From San Agustin, I swing wide across the Colombian Massif in search of a bit more dirt towards Popayan. Just on the other side of the valley a few km's from San Agustin in San Jose de Los Isnos lays Alto de Los Idolos - another impressive archaeological site of burial chambers and stone funerary sculptures.
Afternoon skies do their thing as I leave Isnos and wind my way up to the truck stop village of El Marmol.
Roberto, digs the cockpit while fellow northbounders Tom and Ben from Australia and I catch-up over coffee before camping together for the night.
Back up at 3.000m, we skirt the southern edge of El Parque Nacional Natural Puracé the following day through fields of Frailejones.
Protective goddess mural. Check.
The white-walled, small colonial city of Popayan serves up a few lazy days of coffee and wanderings while I give a small infection some time to mend.
I pick up a backroad out of Popayan transitioning from paved to dirt to single track before depositing me in some guys backyard. I can only imagine what he's thinking as a sweaty gringo with a weird bike leans against his fence asking for directions.
Re-routed I pick my way through a few tiny villages high above the valley floor as locals kindly nudge me along.
A twisty descent and climb back up the other side of the valley brings me to the hard luck town of Purace for the night.
The following morning I head up into Parque Nacional Natural Purace. A bit off the beaten tourist path, the park is wonderfully quite with a moss banked dirt road cutting through Frailejones and winding past a few of the four major Colombian rivers that originate here. The weather is not great, so views of the countries most active volcano are not happening and I decide to skip hiking out to the laguna and the thermal pools.
From a highpoint of roughly 3.400m, I stand on the pedals for the rest of the afternoon and drop down to the sweaty lowlands and pick up some fast, tree lined riding outside of La Plata.
Bright greens and those Colombian skies.
After a night in gritty Neiva, I head out towards Baraya and pick up the quiet back door entrance to La Desierto Tatacoa.
Surrounded by humid heat and deafening insect sounds on either side of the park, the silence and dryness of Tatacoa seems like a geographic anomaly. Encompassing roughly 350 square kilometers, the park is the second largest arid zone in Colombia behind the Guajira Peninsula up north. I hop off my bike and scamper around Los Hoyos enjoying the rich veins of greys and subtle yellows.
Not far from Los Hoyos is el Cuzco with its iron rich coloration reminding me of the Desert Southwest. Unfortunately, night skies are not clear enough to enjoy the observatory, but I team up with a great group of Germans and a Colombian for the night at Noches de Saturno.
The following day I shake off a few too many Pokers as the desert transitions slowly back towards greener hues.
The day ends with a soulless 30k stretch of dangerous traffic, depositing me in the truck stop town of Saldana for the night. The following morning, I follow a patchwork of tiny dirt roads. As I close in on Rovira, a friendly local motions me over to the side of his truck with a fatherly look of concern on his face. He rattles of a few names of pueblo's I can't comprehend and but I clearly understand "it's a bit delicate." After a few back and forth as I try to clarify, I show him my route on my GPS and he gives me a thumbs up. Gracias Amigo.
Pounding late afternoon rain has me put in a few more km's to seek a dry night in Ibague. The following morning, I pick up a near silent route tortuously snaking its way in and out of the valley folds up towards Salento while the gear jamming of trucks echoes across the other side of the valley.
The simultaneous existence of more traditional ways of living barely a stones throw from the "progress" of a Dunkin' Donuts in Ibague is an aspect of South America that continues to amaze me.
Toche "wellcomes" me with open arms as an instant fat bike hour group materializes from nowhere.
The one street town has an amazing array of casita colors in less than a hundred yards.
A wincher shortly out of Toche brings me back up above 3.000 m to ride amongst a few of the tall guys - Quindío wax palms.
Deep greens and one final in and out before topping out at 3.400m and standing on the pedals down into the tourist mecca of Salento to chill for a few days and ring in Xmas.
San Agustin - Isnos - Popayan - Purace - La Plata - Yaguara - Neiva - Baraya - Desierto Tatacoa - Saldana - San Luis - Rovira - Ibague - Toche - Salento
Note: The second "connector GPX track" between Popayan and Purace starts once you cross a bridge and take a hard right and then hard left up a hill. The original file goes straight after the hard right to nowhere. Also you'll see a bit of a "tail" in this file. Skip this as this is where I ended up in a farmer's front yard.