Outisde of Tierradentro near San Andrés de Pisimbalá, Colombia -
No internet. No tourists. A couple restaurants. Two or three stores and a gathering of (empty) hospedajes line the road to the entrance of Tierradentro. There isn’t much here and it’s perfect. I guess I shouldn’t say there isn’t much. There are more tropical flowers than you can shake a fist at. Green mountains. Banana trees. Hummingbirds. A small, gently flowing river and a small, but very friendly community of locals.
I came here with Analie who I had met in Popayán. We walking down the one and only street looking at what was around and asked a couple of the stores in town if they had any avocados.
“Yes, but they’re not ripe yet.” was the answer we got at all of them.
We had given up the search when a woman sitting outside next to her house asked what we were looking for so I asked one final time.
“Ripe ones? No ripe avocado’s right now.” she replied.
No luck. I guess we’ll have to go without for now. I talked with the woman for a few minutes and for no real reason she gave me two oranges from her tree in the front yard. I began eating and she kept asking anyone who passed by if they had avocados. Still no luck. We parted ways and I returned to my hospedaje. An hour later the old man who owns the hospedaje came up and presented me with an avocado.
“It’s a gift.” he said.
Apparently the word had gotten around town. Each day he also wanted to give me oranges from his orange tree and talk my ear off. I couldn’t understand half of his mumbled Spanish but he was more than friendly.
I didn’t come here for the abundance of tropical flowers or to meet the friendly locals but I’m really glad that they’re here and are so welcoming. My purpose for being here was to view some ancient burial tombs. That’s why I took a four and a half hour bus ride that covered a whopping 48 miles from Popayán.
My interest in this part of Colombia came from my curiosity of the underground burial chambers and that it receives hardly any visitors. I’ve heard that this is, in part, due to the fact that the area used to be a FARC stronghold. I think the long bus ride that covers almost no distance probably has something to do with it as well. Whatever the reason a quick look at the guest book backed up the fact that almost no one visits. Each day there are between 6 -12 visitors leaving you to explore the tombs at your own pace.
The tombs were created between 500 – 1000 AD in the hills surrounding San Andrés de Pisimbalá . Each tomb is about 15 ft below ground and are fairly similar to one another. A set of circular steps leads below ground to an entrance way with two columns in front. Some have bare walls and others contain diamond shape patterns in black or red paint. After looking at half a dozen you get the general idea but there are still dozens more for you to look at if your so inclined.
Each tomb was for a particular family and was the secondary burial chamber. A body was first put into another tomb to decompose. Once there was nothing left but bones they were taken out of the first tomb, stuck into a clay urn and put into the secondary tomb for final burial with the bones of their ancestors.
Saturday Night Fun in Tierradentro
Not much goes on in the cluster of houses outside of Tierradento after 6:30 when the sun says goodbye for the day. If I had to guess the total population of this ‘town’ I would say it’s about thirty people. A few kilometers up the road is the actual town of San Andrés de Pisimbalá. There isn’t much of anything there either. My Friday night was spectacularly quiet and I passed the time by walking to a local tienda for a beer and watching a movie in my room and then reading before bed.
I was expecting Saturday night to be a repeat of Friday night. That was until all thirty townspeople gathered across the street from my hospedaje. Speakers and a microphone had been set-up and they began clapping and singing. At 10:00 pm they had been clapping, singing, praying and praising the Lord for the past three hours. As each hour passed I held out hope they were drawing to a close only to be completely disappointed when a new per-recorded song was played with a tone-deaf woman on a microphone singing along. The crowd, enthusiastically, clapped along.
I was sitting on my bed looking at my computer and also praying\hoping that their worship session now in it’s third hour would soon draw to a close when I felt a sharp sting on my right ankle. I immediately reacted by uncontrollably flinging my leg around and shaking my pant leg unsure of what just bit me. I saw nothing but stinging wouldn’t go away. I was furiously shaking my leg and thinking of possible options.
Bee sting? Spider bite?
I still saw nothing but then felt something crawling around in the leg of my pants. I gave one final shake and jumped in the air. Analie came running in the room as I yelled out, “Something bit me and it f$!#ing hurts!” She then jumped back and pointed at my bed.
“No way!” I yelled.
On my bed sat a scorpion. Stinger coiled and pinchers outstretched. Analie started snapping photos as I stood on one leg looking at a few red dots forming on my right ankle and feeling a strange combination of burning and numbness slowly climb up my leg until it reached the back of my knee. Pissed off and a bit freaked out about not knowing what kind of scorpion this was or the consequences of being stung by it would be I was subjected to a loud rant of (Quoting directly here),
“Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Mas Señor! Todo la mentira, Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Mas fuego! Gracias a Señor!!!”
My patience had reached it’s end with bad keyboard music, terrible singing and an inaudible Spanish woman yelling praise. As my ankle began sweating around the sting Analie pushed the scorpion onto a small notepad of paper and hurriedly flung it out the window. Both of us just looked at each other not really knowing what to do. Am I seeing spots? Do I feel warmer than normal? When will my leg stop burning? Are there any other scorpions in this room? What else is around that I don’t know about? All questions that popped into my head but none seemed more important than when will this praise session end?
It’s 11:00 and were now passing the four hour mark for praising the Lord. I’m not seeing spots or having any other side-effects. I remembered reading something about the scorpions in this part of the world not being deathly poisonous so I decided to just deal with it. Just a very uncomfortable burning sensation in my leg. Can’t I at least lay in bed with some peace and quiet though!?!
Answer: No, not until 1:00 am after six hours of praise. Three hours of which with a scorpion bitten burning leg. For whatever it’s worth I found out that scorpion sting lasts twenty four hours with a sensation that changes from an intense sting, to burning to a ‘pins and needle’ feeling and finally numbness.
Photos of Tierradentro: