Sandoná: A jewel in Nariño

Panorámica de Sandoná
Foto: David Cabrera
By The City Paper Staff
Tomado de:
It wasn’t exactly the Panama hat I had envisioned when I looked in on the
stacked brown headwear in a small shop in Sandoná, Nariño
. The reduced brim
and dark straw would fare well as leisureware traveling the backwaters of
Colombia’s most southern department. After several hours of biting Andean wind
and stark UV rays beaming off the high Andes, it was evident that I needed to
protect myself, starting at the top, even if my choice in hats would betray my
existence as failed novelist.

While Colombia tends to promote destinations at lower altitudes, the
possibility of traveling the trails of a department named after Antonio
Nariño, one of the forefathers of the new Republic and who went on to write
many of the laws that today holds this patchwork nation together, seemed
timely. The announcement from Havana of the bilateral ceasefire with the
country’s largest guerrilla reached me in a region where the internal conflict
forced many landowners to abandon their farms and migrate to the industrial
heartland of the Valle del Cauca
.
Like Nariño’s legacy, Colombia is slowly shedding the antipathy of war for
the theatre of politics. Small towns such as Sandoná did not escape the
violence, but somehow hedged by topography and their proximity to a cultural
epicenter, Pasto
. During the first days of every New Year, Pasto, capital of
Nariño, sheds its politicking for frolicking as the Blacks and Whites carnival
streams through streets once reserved for viceroys. This celebration dates back
to pre-conquest when the agrarian Amerindians would celebrate the harvest
bestowed by a Moon Goddess perpetually shining above the Atriz valley. Even
though we were at the half-point of the year, Pasto was anything but boring.
Occasional plumes of smoke rose from the nearby Galeras volcano.
But after an overnight stay in the capital, I headed northwest to the
village of Sandoná, home to all things woven and graced by an ash grey gothic
cathedral
. Looming over the red clay tiles of the villages perched on the edge
of a typical Nariño geological formation, a gorge that could consume one of
Europe’s smaller nation states, the views are breathtaking and a waterfall
literally cascades into the village’s streets near barrio Belén coveting a
rock shrine to the Virgin of Lourdes. After strolling a grid of luminous blue
and white streets, I settle for one of the town’s local favourite snacks, a
panela cake. Sandoná is a quaint escape from Pasto and the tradition of seeing
these other Panama Hatters weave and bend, more than makes up for the many
curves in the road.
The department of Nariño rises up to nearby Ecuador from the impenetrable
jungle of the Pacific coastline to windswept plateaus near Ipiales
and back
down to the East to the craggy valleys of the Sibundoy and Putumayo plain.
While most travellers head to the department’s most sacred of shrines, Las
Lajas, there are high altitude lakes for water recreation sports, the largest
and most visited, Laguna de la Cocha.
With no shortages of vistas and the Galeras volcano a constant companion,
touring Nariño must include trekking shoes and plenty of sunblock. If you
attempt to climb the base of this active vol- cano head to the town of
Yacuanquer, 25 kilometres south of the capital and initi- ate your walk towards
the eco cabins at Telpis. Most of the national park Santuario de Flora y Fauna
Galeras is closed to hikers given erratic seismic activity. After meeting
plenty of millenials on the milliners’ trail to Sandoná
, a handful were
braving the treacherous road to Tumaco, the department’s port town on the
Pacific.
An eight hour descent from mist-covered moors to humid mangroves was once
one of the most perilous journeys one could attempt in Colombia, as the road
was beset by constant guerrilla checkpoints and prone to a rash of bombings, as
it runs parallel to the Putumayo-Pacific pipeline. With FARC having abandoned a
half-century long conflict with the state, this important road that unites the
coast with the highlands could well become a low cost alternative in the near
future for travelers wanting to soak up some of the most wild of this nation’s
Pacific coastline beaches
.
The only drawback of my Nariño trip was the return home. The tiny terminal
of the municipal airport of Pasto offers limited flights to and from the
Colombian capital and on the best of clear days, you can arrive or depart by
air, but all too often, the Antonio Nariño runway is closed due to strong
winds and clouds. These common climatic occurrences save you from gliding into
an abyss. If you’re a nervous flyer best prepare for the two- hour overland
trip to nearby Popaya
n.
As the country embraces peace, Nariño will surely draw in more tourists. A
few days is never enough to explore the high Andes and even when carnival is
out of fashion, the hats are always in.
September 23, 2016
Nota original:

Author: Miguel Cordoba

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