“Death Road” Meets Indiana Jones
Until we reached Popayan, the roads we travelled were excellent. These conditions changed rapidly when we travelled from Popayan to Tierradentro and further on to San Agustin. These two trips, a few times, reminded us of the notorious “Death Road” in Bolivia. The main difference is that there is very little traffic here. The cliff is also “only” a few hundred meters deep, not one thousand.
Chivas is one mode of public transport in rural Columbia. These old Dodge buses huff and puff up steep mountains roads, changing gear often causes frightening noises. Basically, we wondered that these busses do not fall apart. The others are tiny pick-up trucks. It is needless to mention that all these are hopelessly overloaded. Only briefly did we reflect on how the brakes handle the excessive weight. Of course there are “normal” busses, but those do not run frequently.
To cover the 120 kilometers from Popayan to Tierradentro took us 6 hours, which was topped by the 9 hour trip between Tierradentro and San Agustin. The distance you would never guess: 130 kilometers! This voyage is particularly tricky, since the eruption of the volcano Nevado del Huila last year created such landslides that the bridge crossing the Rio Cauca was washed away. This is not the first time this has happened: in the mid-1980s, whole villages were destroyed in that valley killing more than 1.500 people.
Since the bridge was only replaced by a little swaying footbridge, these are your options: rent a jeep or motorbike in Tierradentro to get to the bridge 10 kilometers away, walk across, then get into one of the Chivas waiting on the other side to take you to La Plata, next bigger town. Or, endure a 3 hour detour on roads that cannot be found on any map…this trip also eventually ends in La Plata.