“If I hadn’t had two years of living in Costa Rica for training, this would be quite intense,” I said to my mom, as we both breathed a sigh of relief after passing through yet another mud pit on our way from Silvia to Tierradentro.
“Well, this is still quite…exciting,” she replied, having finally selected a word that truly captured the moment.
We had set off from the small town of Silvia only a few hours before, climbing up into the mountains on a lesser-traveled route to get to San Andrés de Pisimbalá, the closest town to the historical tombs of Tierradentro.
Our driver had selected the current route after asking around town and finding out that the main road to San Andrés was blocked by a landslide which had taken place 15 days prior. What we didn’t know when we set off, however, was that this new route we were taking was perhaps even more treacherous.
As we got higher and higher into the mountain range, we became further from civilization. Soon, we were in the middle of nowhere, in a misty fog, and the road had turned into sloppy muddy ruts from the wheels of the busses and motorcycles that had passed on before us.
We safely passed our first little landslide and mud patch and the road reverted to its normal compact dirt country road.
“Thank goodness that’s over,” said my mom. She had no idea we were only just getting started.
We spent the next five hours crawling through the mountain roads. The views were beyond breathtaking, with mountains upon mountains as far as the eye could see, and lush green countryside all around, but the roads were in terrible condition from the rain.
From time to time we would encounter an unmarked fork in the road and our driver would always look to me, and say, “What do we do?” or “Qué hacemos?” in Spanish, like I had the answer. Thank goodness that despite being in the middle of nowhere, we always seemed to find someone who could confirm our route, whether it was a child, a cowboy, or a “mala indígena”, a “bad indigenous person”, as our driver said under his breath after he got directions from a man cutting plants alongside the road.
“What’s mal??” asked my mom, snapping to attention when she recognized a word in Spanish. When I told her what the driver said, her eyes opened wide. She had done a lot of research for our Colombia trip, and the guidebooks had mentioned that the mountains around Tierradentro had a reputation for being a guerrilla stronghold. As we continued on our muddy, hilly, beautifully dangerous route, her mind ran wild with what-if situations where we got stuck in this desolate mountain region.
At one point we were behind a “chiva”, a bus-truck that was full of people with supplies they had bought at the Silvia market down below. We watched as the men unloaded bag after bulging bag of rice and beans and other various supplies that would have to last for the next month until they went back into town to buy more.
Along the route we also had several encounters with horses carrying loads of sticks, which would be used as cooking wood in the houses. It was quite funny because usually these horses or donkeys would appear in our path right as we finally had a dry, straight patch of road where our driver was hoping to make up for lost time and go a bit faster.
One horse ended up galloping in front of us for a few minutes before darting off to the side of the road and another swayed its hips from side to side slowly walking in front of us, apparently unaware of our existence, with no owner in sight.
The last stretch of the drive was some of the most nerve-wracking of the whole five hours. Our driver was a champion, carefully easing his way down through the steep muddy stretches, maneuvering around busses and horses, and maintaining his calm when the going got tough. When we finally arrived to San Andrés de Pisimbalá, and immediately found our hotel, La Portada de Hospedaje, we all could have kissed the ground with gratitude and relief.
The next two days were spent blissfully relaxing at La Portada, in the quiet town tucked in the lush mountains of the Huila Departamento, and exploring the awe-inspiring archeological tombs and indigenous statues found in Tierradentro.