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Published: October 24th 2012
We are both by now having a really large smile on our face! Why? Well, after having nearly passed out while on foot in the middle of Colombia Guajira desert & gave up hopes to spend yet another exciting day in a melting pot of dilapidated transports, we are seated under the shadow and standing in front of us is the 4x4 car that will bring us to the next stop (and yes I am finally enjoying my first coffee of the day!). We have made it to Cabo de la Vela, a tiny fishermen village wedged between Caribbean Sea and the scorching hot desert which already felt like the end of the world, and we are now officially optimistic that we will make it to Punta Gallenas, the northern most tip of South America.
By when? Guess that if you have read my previous entry on Guajira Peninsula, you already know by now, the best advice ever for anyone with an adventurous mind enough to venture into deserted Guajira is “Forget about scheduling and sweat it out”
Without going into too much details, a trip from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas during
what local refer to as the rainy season (although we didn’t see a drop of rain..) involves a combination of elements to ensure that you will never ever forget the journey!
To set you in the right adventurous mood, incertitude is essential
A short guide on how to make any journey “memorable”, Guajira style!
– luckily enough, our local guide understood that so he shown up two hours late without anyone knowing what was going on and keeping in mind that he was the one who had insisted the day before that in order to be able to make it to Punta Gallinas we HAD to leave early. Comfort must be avoided at all price, or else why would you look forward to reach the destination
– here we are, seven of us standing next to the 4x4 ready to take off, and I am counting and counting once more…Seven passengers, to which you add the driver/guide and a helper, that makes nine persons to accommodate and I can only see 6 seats. The guide & its helper didn’t seem to be bother by it, business as usual, so squeezed in we were for the next hour
and half journey on a bumpy dirt path across the desert. Ensure an encounter with outgoing visitors to Punta Gallinas, hearing them talking about their journey there will make you feel better, it could have been much worse!
We finally made it to the “port”, a more or less random point along the coast chosen by locals to unload crumbling fishing boats, one of them being actually awaiting us…
What felt a bit like a tourist group swap, us going to the boat them to the car that brought us in, allowed us to get first hand feedback. After this short discussion, we had a clear sense of how lucky we were: the fellow traveler we met had been waiting in Cabo de la Vela for four days as he was then the only foreign tourist around and as such no trip could be arranged, whereas we had managed the whole thing in less than 24 hours… Ensure that everyone on the “boat” quickly understood why normally boats don’t cross in the afternoon
– somehow a miracle that no one slipped a disc during the three hours plus boat roller coaster. Now we all know WHY the
boats normally only leave early morning… Whenever someone ask how much longer it would take to get to destination, reply 15mn and point randomly toward the coast line
– got a lot of the “15 mn reply” and “direction pointing” only to quickly realize that the boat was not getting any closer from the coast and the 15mn turned out to be 30 and then 45mn (that is after a two hours and half bumpy ride obviously..) Show how much you care about environment by setting free a turtle that was trapped in fishing net and give it a ride on board of the boat to avoid that it get stuck once more in a net
– well at least that was the official explanation, now we didn’t actually see the turtle being released and we were all having more than strong doubts that it ended up being anything else than a meal before the remaining parts being sold… preservation of mother nature still need to go a long way in this part of Colombia. But then Guajira IS breathtaking…so make sure that the last 15mn of the boat ride make everyone forget the previous three
as we arrived finally closer from our destination, we entered a lagoon and that was spectacular: the water turned to different shades of blue and green, mangroves were lining up the coast and the ride suddenly became extremely smooth. One word came to my mind: HEAVEN!
Enjoying every single moment… this is indeed a very special place, some of the highlights… Riding to the different “must see” sites onboard of a cattle car
Standing at the back, and holding to the wooden structure of this really old pickup truck turned cattle/ tourist car, it felt a bit like being on a safari. The landscape is made of colorful layers: the ground is covered with dust that takes different shades of yellow, copper and red depending of the time of the day, surviving on this dry land cactus and more cactus some of them starting to have flowers and guarding this peaceful setting a deep blue sky who takes on mind blowing colors as the sun starts to go down…Now technically a “safari” would involve some fauna sightseeing, in the Guajira this could be summarized to: donkeys, goats, more goats and then plenty of birds and
lizards…guess these are the only species that manage to survive in this harsh environment. Standing at the northern most point of South America
I got to admit that although the journey matters more than the destination, standing in this precise point, watching the sea and the waves crashing on the rocky coast line was quite something. The site in itself is far from stunning, a crumbling house with faded paint indicating that you have reached Punta Gallinas and a just as crumbling tower on its side, but wherever it is I simply can’t get tired of being on a coast line and this one is special. Witness gigantic pristine sand dunes plunging into the sea and RUN toward it
Well technically, after the climbing part, the dunes are so steep that running is the only way down to Taroa Beach! The site is simply superb, untouched, and except us there was simply no one around the whole afternoon. Went for a swim, then back on the dunes to enjoy once more the beauty of the desert meeting the sea until we settled for some Colombian/Spanish snacks on the beach…arhh Spanish people they
never miss an occasion to bring some of their home delicacies with them! Locally made Arepas with Serano brought from Spain, love it!
As the sun started to descend over the dunes, colors slowly started to appear and it is with yet an unforgettable sunset over the desert that we drove back to the hostel… Grab a chair and seat outside at night to watch the never ending lighting show & the Milky Way
Standing at the far end of South America, with not light around, the desert offers you one of the most beautiful sky one can dream of at night…It feels like you are star gazing for the first time of your life (well technically for me, it was the second time, the first time was on the north Korean coast during the winter, another place where you don’t get to have too much light around) just so many stars shinning above. The added bonus is that due to its location and the “rainy season” (still didn’t see rain though…), lightning happen every second or so, yet another stunning sight. Get up at 5.30 in the morning, and walk on
a tiny path bordered with a sea of cactus, down the hill up to a secluded beach to see the sun rise in a firework of colors
Sunrise and sunset are my favorites in the Guajira and the second morning, we all decided to wake up early to walk a 15mn away from the hostel and watch the sunrise. Torch light in one hand and my camera in the other, absolutely not woke up (that was way before my first coffee), still somehow managed not to break a leg while climbing down to the beach. This is a tiny place with an old fishing boat and some mangroves, and right in front of us, the sun rising over the sea with the sky taking shades of purple/red and then moving quickly to orange and yellow hues. Mother Nature in its purest display… Staying alive, lobster time !
Lobsters are plentiful in this part of Colombia, so when asked what we wish to have for dinner, without surprise we all went for it! Freshly caught and then grilled on charcoal, these were superb. At times I actually enjoy the fact that whenever you order food in
Colombia, the serving is gigantic, especially when this applies to lobster! Ended up having one and half each for a bit less than10 Euros, best meal so far!
Trying to go back to Uribie in one piece…
Coming back from the dunes the second night, we found another group of nine tourists, all except the two Colombian, quite loud. The next morning, our group was supposed to take once more the crumbling boat back to the port and then drive to Uribie without passing by Cabo de la Vela.
Guess by then we had all forgotten about the “don’t plan” rule
when we found out that the other group had been encouraged to leave too (well, they had booked for two nights and had asked whether there was more to see than what they had managed to see after they arrived late afternoon the day before, and were told that they had seen everything…)
Now, the crumbling boat we came on (the famous three and half hour ride) could accommodate a few more people but definitely not 18 of them… Seems that the local guide had decided to put everyone on it, saving
Local Wayuu kids
on fuel cost, and as far as we were concerned definitely putting our and their life at risk.
After a short discussion among our group, we decided not to go for it and see whether another solution could be found. The guide and the woman in charge of the hostel didn’t seem too please by it but they offered an alternative which we did appreciate, by road that is! Now, we were a bit surprised as supposedly you cannot go by road at that time of the year
(the famous rainy season), and after the other group left, the woman told us in a quite abrupt way that we better not complain if we end up stuck in the mud and having to push the 4x4…
mmm… Seems it was not the first time that this happen.
Anyhow, by then there was no other option, so when they informed us it was time to go we all squeezed once more in the 4x4 and waited for the guide/ driver to come out. We waited and waited…until I finally went to ask whether we were leaving or not. The woman pointed out to the young helper (the same one as
on the way in), who was having breakfast at a very slow pace…guess we will wait in the hammocks!
A short while later, we were finally on our way, and this is when the guide decided to make a call and enquire about the weather forecast. No good news on this side, and although the sky was clear where we were, we were told that the road ahead had been flooded, time for a plan B!
Thankfully the guide was resourceful & with an excellent knowledge of the numerous path going around the Guajira desert. We ended up taking another direction to yet another “port”, crossing remote parts of the Guajira until after nearly three hours we made it to a beach where the very same boat as the one we were supposed to take was waiting for us.
Somehow ironic but the journey although bumpy and dusty was beautiful.
There, one of our travel mates, couldn’t believe his eyes: on the beach next to the boat waiting for us, two of his foreign friends who hadn’t manage to meet us in Cabo on time to go to Punta Gallinas. Now, they had been through the
Lobster time !
bumpy 4x4 ride from cabo, on the boat for one hour to this remote beach (thinking that they will reach Punta Gallinas), only to understand once we met them that they were going back to the port they came from (to drop us) before going once more on the boat for a three hours boat…Patience is the mother of all virtues in the Guajira!
As for us, it took us exactly 11 hours to go from Punta Gallinas back to Santa Marta
: three car rides, one boat, and one bus …. When we finally reached Santa Marta, exhaustion was a weak word to describe how tired I was but this was as well one of the best & most memorable part of my trip in Colombia… Next
: going back inland for a week packed with adrenaline, mountain style!
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