Riding a horse around the Colombian highlands seemed to be an obligatory experience in Colombia. It felt very authentic when we jumped on some horses without helmets and were told to only hold the reins with one hand with the other one resting on your leg. Forget about everything you learned at Pony Club, this is cowboy style.
Our little Colombian horse guide introduced himself as Jerry Lewis. “You know, like the American comedian. Because I like make jokes and I am very funny. People, they call me Jerry Lewis.” I was doing the trip with a couple from Switzerland and we looked at each other and said, “This could be entertaining”. And it definitely was.
We rode through the town of San Agustin and headed out into the surrounding mountains following dirt roads. The main idea of the trip was to actually visit a few archeological sights around the area where the famous stone carved figures are found. It was extremely interesting to hear from Jerry Lewis about the history behind the stones and the civilisation that lived here. They were primarily grave stones and carved only for the most important people who died. The figures mostly portray animalistic characters demonstrating the power of the person, for example pumas, eagles or snakes are the most common. Some of the statues were female, the pre-Colombian civilisation was a rare example of gender equality, females held as high a status as men, some even being leaders.
The most intriguing thing however, was that there is evidence of humans living there from 6000BC. Unfortunately, the evidence is confined to samples of cloth and rocks rather than actual human remains therefore it has not been verified. Furthermore, some believe that the civilisation must have had trade relations with Ancient Egypt and Asia. On some of the stones there are images of elephants, tigers and lions, animals which are not native to South America. Jerry also pointed out that coca leaves have been found in some of the mummified remains in Egypt. Some historians dismiss the idea and believe it was Europeans who were first to navigate the seas. However, one writer decided to test the theory back in 1947 and set out on a boat with no modern technology and just let the natural currents of the ocean guide him as people may have done back in time. He eventually landed in the Pacific Islands and claimed that it was therefore possible that ancient civilisations could have traded across the seas.
We sat down for some coca tea and Jerry Lewis decided to pull out a joint, “want some?”. We looked at him and then each other, “No thanks”. As we rode off heading to the next stop he said, “Do you want to go on a special tour after this?” ….special tour? “You know, you can go and see how cocaine is made.” We didn’t know whether to laugh or not. Was he serious or just high? “Only 120 Colombian pesos, you go meet a farmer, see the process, see the chemicals he uses AND you even get one gram each to take home!!”. He was serious. Now we were laughing. He continued to try and sell us this special tour, “Your parents would be so proud. You tried Colombian cocaine?! The best in the world!”
Still high from the weed Jerry Lewis decided we should go galloping, “Yeeehaaa!”. The poor Swiss girl had never ridden before, she had to learn pretty quick just to hang on. It was a lot of fun, racing across the hills with the most beautiful back drop around us of lush green farms and waterfalls. The poor horses were sweating by the time we got to our next stop. There we had fresh juices made from the fruit in the local farms and Jerry smoked another joint.
He then started talking to us about his experience with a shaman. He said he used to practice and learn under a shaman for 10 years and once a year he still “cleanses his blood”. What does this involve? You drink a solution that the shaman makes and within an hour you have severe diarrhoea, vomiting and hallucinations for a few hours. “Only 120pesos each, you can go tonight!” No thanks. “It’s healthy. It cleans your blood. I feel fantastic after it.” I’m sure you do, Jerry.
Just on top of the hill there were a couple of statues that still have the natural colour painted on them. Natural paint that the natives got from the plants and fruit. It was amazing to see an example of how all the statues would have looked originally.
Apparently, a German archeologist used infrared over the area from an aeroplane and estimated that there are hundreds more graves and statues to be found. However, UNESCO has declared it a finished site, digging for more will only ruin the land and possibly damage whatever is still unfound so they will remain underground.
We said goodbye to Jerry Lewis and thanked him for the entertaining horse ride which went an hour over time thanks to his frequent stops and chatting. “Special tour tonight? Really, I can arrange! Once in a lifetime experience!” No thanks Jerry!
*post adapted from my trip here in September 2015 and from my previous site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com