When You Don't Take Advice - Hiking to Aguacate

As I explained in the  previous post, we finished  the first section of our hike  at the museum and planned to tackle Aguacate on our way back to  San AndrĂ©s de Pisimbalá after lunch.  Here's a map which illustrates the route. We were staying at the charming La Portada and the map is from their website - where you can get lots more information on Tieradentro.

As we turned to begin the walk we ran into a young Colombian couple who we recognized from the hotel. They looked exhausted and somewhat concerned, "Are you experienced walkers?" he asked as he look dubiously at my Keens. I didn't know what to say to this. Yes, we walk quite a bit but the truth is I'm a fair weather hiker and I hate hiking boots which I find  clumsy and too heavy. I always walk in Keens, a lightweight water shoe.  I once went walking in the Tibetan foothills in Keens and socks. Not my most stylish moment but I ensured no photos were taken! Their concern wasn't dissipating, they stressed that the walk was extremely demanding, that the path was narrow and treacherous and that they didn't recommend it. They  repeated this several times. Apparently the recommended route was from the hotel to the museum via Aguacate and not the reverse direction which we were proposing which, they said, would involve an extremely steep ascent. They pointed up the hill which seemed to rise ominously behind us and said discouragingly, "It's straight up and for a very long while." 
D was looking discouraged which was a logical response.
When someone suggests I shouldn't do something that I want to do, I can't be relied upon to think logically,  my response is more visceral. Hearing that perhaps we weren't up to it (from a fit young couple decades younger than us) was enough to send me straight up the hill. Of course their assessment had as much to do with the difficulty of the hike as their take on our capabilities, it was sincerely meant but in the moment that wasn't how I read it. I was determined and we were doing it. The good new was we'd stopped for lots of water, the bad news was that  D said if I wanted to keep going despite their advice,  I would be the one carrying it! Thankfully he relented somewhat later, I think perhaps at that stage I was looking rather pathetic!.

Indeed the first section was directly up and I couldn't really see the path, so we headed up, and then up some more and yes, you guessed it, a whole lot more after that! Up, up, up no nice switchbacks here just straight up.This gives you an idea of the slope.
The path was narrow and rocky and I spent a lot of the time looking down  to ensure I didn't trip.
However, the views were getting better with every step and there was time to admire them as I tried to catch my breath. The only problem was this had been described as a long, taxing walk and we needed to keep up the pace in order to make it back before dark.
There wasn't time to sit and relax like the cows but as we climbed the view just kept opened up.
I tried to use the view as an inspiration but there was just so much of it, and as in all strenuous hikes the hills just kept coming. When ever I naively thought we had reached the top there was a decline and yes, more up, up, up! 
I spent a lot of time looking at the back of D.'s head as he walked farther away.  As you can see below once we reached the ridge he was far ahead of me. Though this was reversed once he took the pack.
The path was narrow but distinct and we were moving as fast as we could. From the ridge we could now see into multiple valleys and for miles. It was stunning and a reward for the effort, not that there was time to stop!

Because however much we had covered there was plenty more of the path ahead of us and we still hadn't made Aguacate!

We kept going along the ridge which meandered up and down and eventually we came to another signpost.

The views were spectacular from the top. Driving to and from Tierradentro was magnificent as you pass through seemingly endless knot of steep hills and from the top of Aguacate we could see they stretched as far as we could see. This is the northern Andean range and it's incredible to think how many countries mountains traverse.
As we looked down we could see the archeological site stretching out along the ridge. Each red tin roof marks the tomb entrances, there are quite a number of them here but none are as well preserved as those in either Duende or Segovia which we visited earlier in the day.
Coming down from Aguacate the views were equally extraordinary although the track was sometimes a little hard to find.I was reminded of my friend John who says it's harder to go downhill than up and certainly it was more precarious. My legs were tired and I fell on some loose scree. At first it was a relief to be heading downhill until we realized that the would need to go into the valley and back up the next hill. Yes, what goes up must come down and up again!

The landscape changed as we descended and we were walking past smallholdings with cattle,  growing bamboo, vegetables, coffee and bananas. We even encountered some excitable dogs!
The landscape was far more tropical and the ground was wetter as we reached the valley floor. Here was a small bamboo bridge over a stream. The handrail was a necessity here!
Looking up (pictured below) was not encouraging as we needed to tackle one more ascent, luckily the path climbed up and around the hillside and we pressed on. There wasn't much talking but we were taking it all in as we went and now we were most of the way home I was feeling a rising sense of accomplishment though I was exhausted.
We were heading to Alto de San Andres and it was within striking distance. With one look back at the secluded valley we turned towards the village.

The morning was all about the sites but at this stage it was all about the hike and we didn't have the time or energy for Alto de San Andres which we passed on our way downhill. There was one last stream to cross and a short uphill stretch and we came out right along side La Portada.
It had taken us over four hours at a prompt pace and we were elated but also exhausted. As we turned into the restaurant for a drink we saw the young Colombian couple, they couldn't believe we finished the hike. Others laughed when they heard we'd done the whole circuit in one day, "That's a two day walk," they said! We were lucky to have been warned about the difficulty of the walk (and that we were heading in the "wrong" direction) because this set our expectation and ensured both that we took the hike seriously and that we tackled it at a relatively fast pace, which was a necessity given that we started after 1:30pm.
I was delighted to return to the hotel!
Certainly people do this walk in a single day but I can see the logic of giving yourself two full days to enjoy Tierradentro.  I'd recommend three nights at La Portada which would allow an more leisurely exploration of the area. Given the effort it takes to get here, the archeological park and the wonderful walking I think it makes sense to take advantage of the simplicity, charm and value offered by La Portada which makes such a delightful combination with a visit to San Agustin. Tierradentro was one of the highlights of our trip to Colombia, sitting eating the wonderful set dinner and talking to the other travelers (many of whom were Colombian) was an incredibly congenial and memorable experience. I highly recommend making the effort to get here.

Tips: You need to carry plenty of water, the weather is hot and the hike is demanding. Leave at Take more than you think you will need. You will need to be reasonably fit to complete this hike , I would recommend leaving yourselves five hours to be safe, particularly if you are hiking in the direction we went in or if you want time to explore the sites.  Be prepared for a narrow , rocky track that may disappear at some points, as well as demanding uphill and downhill sections. You will find yourself walking on loose scree and some muddy sections. Don't be surprised if you end up on your bum at least once!


Dona said…
Wow what a hike. Great photos. I don't think Colombia knows about switchbacks. We're finding hikes in Ecuador much better marked.
It was indeed some hike! Glad to know things are well marked in Ecuador, we plan to learn everything from your trip!
Anonymous said…
My sons & I could have written this post! We stayed at La Portada & hiked Tierradentro July 2014 & did the same loop & direction as you did, also in one day! I truly thought I was going to have to sleep overnight on the pathway because I've never been as physically exhausted as I was when climbing to Aguacate (I was 46 at the time but work out daily). The only difference in stories is that it rained heavily when we arrived at the top so our entire hike back to the hostel was on mud-soaked paths. We slipped & slid our way down. It was NOT pleasant. But I'm glad we did it.
So interested to read your comment
So fascinated to read you comment, thanks for posting! I'm glad my description matched your experience. I can't imagine how difficult it was to return from Agaucate in the rain and mud, I'm glad we didn't experience that it must have been awful.