Tuesday, July 03, 2007

San Martin

Last weekend was yet another 3-day holiday weekend. We took the opportunity to visit relatives in San Martin. San Martin is a very small town in the Llanos (plains) about 60 kilometers from Villavicencio. The town itself was founded about 500 years ago and makes it one of the older towns in the country. To get there, we went south and left Bogotá via a tunnel through the mountain. On the other side of the tunnel, we wound our way down the mountain to a crevice between two giant mountains. The road traverses this crevice following Rio Negro. Only when we passed through another, longer tunnel, did we leave the mountains.

Regular readers may remember the description of the road to Villavicencio. It is a spectacular drive. I took photos this time so if I get properly motivated, I will post some of the best.

The road we traveled all had extensive military presence. I know that I mentioned this previously, but this time it was different. This time, there were multiple armored personnel carriers with mounted M-16s. There were hundreds of armed soldiers spread along the road. And there were random checkpoints (in none of which we were stopped) conducting inspections and searches.

The country was at a high state of alert due to a credible threat warning issued by the US embassy. A small town near Bogotá called Melgar was targeted for terrorist activity. This town is noteworthy because the US government conducts police training activities (IMET) there. The threat warning was issued on June 29 based on specific intelligence. On June 30, the Colombian police arrested several men in Melgar who had explosives and target photos. This was no joke (unlike the threat warning a year ago to stay out of the Bogotá’s shopping malls) and the military reacted appropriately.

San Martin is true, small-town Colombia. It is also very loud. Small town Colombia is dominated by motor scooters. These are smaller than motorcycles and I’m guessing more economical. There were hundreds. The noise of them going by was one element of the cacophony of the small town. The blaring salsa and music of the Llanos was yet another part. I have no idea what normal life must be like in a small town as I have only visited small towns on holiday weekends so I can not speak of what is normal. Our hosts told us that normally the town is much quieter. I’m inclined to believe them as this was a festival weekend as well. There was blaring music until 6 am both days (which was distinctly unpleasant at 430 am) as well as a greater number of people.

At any rate, I was overwhelmed with the unspeakable awe of the mountains. The Llanos (plains) run straight up to the mountainside, mountains that stretch a mile into the air and as far as the eye can see from North to South. In some places there are mini-ridges the front the behemoth. It makes one wonder just how easy it would be to defend the central part of the country. I know little of the war of independence here, but it is something that has garnered my attention. It certainly appears that a smallish force could very easily defend against outside invaders with ease.

We had a very nice, relaxing time. I finished reading Against All Enemies and ate my fill of delicious meat and fish. The house we stayed in had two large hammocks so I spent a significant amount of time lolling in one of them. I do so enjoy hammock time. The ride back was relatively quick. There was little traffic (most of the tourist traffic went to Ibagué, a small town in the mountains that had a huge festival) and I drove about half-way. It was my first time driving in the Colombian mountains. I prefer to be a passenger. You can see more.



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