After arriving in Popayan, a woman had approached me at the bus station and sold me a ticket to San Agustin. I wasn’t sure what to make of it until she led me over to a ticketing window that appeared to be legitimate. Figuring it would be good to have my ride confirmed, I’d gone ahead and bought a ticket from her, leaving in two days, at eleven-thirty in the morning. When I got to the station, however, the bus was delayed. I waited for an hour before the same woman appeared, apologizing, and saying that now the bus wasn’t leaving until three. That news didn’t make me happy. She did some searching around and found another company that was willing to drop me off. I walked over with her and gave my bag to the driver.
The bus that agreed to take me on was half-size and green. There were only about ten of us onboard. I was way in back, in a seat ahead of the back bench. In front of me was a man in a poncho and straw hat. At one point he threw his hat up in the luggage rack, next to my backpack. Driving through the mountains and jungle the road was rough, but there was about fifty miles of it that was unpaved and just ridiculous. Sitting right above the rear axle, I was getting catapulted all over the place. At one point I tried hanging from the luggage rack to save the wear and tear on my already fractured tailbone.
Once we hit pavement again, we stopped at a restaurant for a twenty-minute break. I went to retrieve something from my backpack and saw it sitting on the old man’s hat, which was crushed flat. I didn’t know if I should say something, but he discovered it on his own and somehow restored it to shape with his hands.
When we arrived in San Agustin, I was met by a man who said he had information on getting to Mocoa. He hustled me into an agency where a woman tried to sell me a tour to the archaeological park, as well as a few side attractions. When she understood I wasn’t interested in the tour, she offered to sell me a ticket to Pitalito, where I would need to catch the bus to Mocoa from. I told her I’d be back later. I needed to find my hostel before I did anything.
The hostel was a long way off, mostly uphill. I’d booked a single, for a reasonable price, that included a bathroom. Since it was late in the day, I headed out right away to see what I could of the town before it got too late. One guy I’d seen in the hostel passed me on the street. He was sporting a mess of dreads and I figured he might be someone to talk to about ayahuasca. As it turned out, I didn’t need to wait to run into him again.
There was a small park in front of the Church of Saint Augustine. In every corner of it were the same crouching stone creatures you find in the archaeological park. Some looked human. Some looked like animals. A few of them sat perched on another one’s shoulders. Most of them wore a scowl. I got a few papas from a vendor and a cup of coffee. Then I went into the cathedral, which was very dark, only lit by a few candles.
When I got back to the hostel, I went up to the top floor, which was an observation deck with a few hammocks strung up. The sun had set, but the sky was still blue, with purple clouds, lit up by flashes of lightning. In one corner were three travelers smoking a joint. I sat watching the sky for a while, before entering the conversation. There was a Brit attempting to ride a motorcycle to the tip of Argentina. An Italian who’d been living in Australia had just arrived in Colombia and was looking for ideas. Then there was the girl, another Brit, who was on her way to Mocoa the next day. I didn’t need to ask her about ayahuasca ceremonies. That’s all she talked about.
When I mentioned my interest, telling her I was planning on just showing up and seeing what happened, she assured me I was going to the right place. Some of her friends had property there and might be having a ceremony later that week. She took my email, laughing that I was the only person she’d ever met who used Yahoo for email. I told her I also had a cool Gmail account, but joked I’d have to know her better before divulging that information.
As soon as we were done talking, I ran down and checked hostels in Mocoa. There didn’t seem to be many options. The only one I could find was about seven miles out of town, which didn’t excite me. As I scrolled through the reviews, however, I found one that slammed them with a one-star review, accusing them of using the hostel to try to start an ayahuasca cult. I went ahead and booked five nights.