23.06.2016 - 01.07.2016 31 °C
It feels weird to post this on the last day of my trip with my flight home being only a few hours away!! However I will keep posting until I've shared with you all the stories and pics from my trip, that way it will feel like I'm still travelling, going from place to place and enjoying the beauty of South America...
Once Sam had gone, I decided to head to Riohacha, a short bus ride East from Palomino and a great base to organise a trip to La Guajira, the northern Colombian peninsula close to Venezuela. Instead of doing a tour I decided to save some money and do it on my own. La Guajira is not very easily accessible and requires a lot of time and effort to get there, but it is worth it, so I bought enough food and water for 3 days and set off.
The first stop was Cabo de la Vela, where I got to after a 1h collectivo + another 2h collectivo (and 1h wait in between). I met 2 girls from Chezch Republic in the car, and one of them had just turned 18, it made me feel old haha... Cabo de la Vela is a remote Wayuu fishing village where communities live in traditional cactus huts by the beach. It felt nice to be somewhere so far removed from civilisation. We took moto taxis and went to Playa del Pilon, a striking beach of bright orange sand and wild craggy cliffs. We climbed up the Pilon de Azucar hill to get a picturesque view that the Lonely Planet describes as 'a tropical beach on the rocky coast of Ireland' - pretty unique! Next was the Ojo de agua beach, a quiet spot with very few tourists, perfect to read my book while listening to the soothing sound of the waves. We finished our tour by going up El Farol (the Lighthouse) to watch the sunset, a nice end to a great day.
The next morning I set off at 5am to board the 4x4 that would take me to Punta Gallinas. You have to get a tour which organises transport for you: it is the only way to get there as there are literally no roads... In my car were a French girl, an English girl and 2 German guys travelling together, plus Chesca, an English girl who had been living in France her whole life. So the journey there (3h car + 1 boat) was a very bumpy yet scenic route through the desert, crossing local women selling artisanal bags and little children asking for drinks and sweets. We finally reached our accommodation (which seemed to be the only one...), in that little area where only 8 Wayuu families live, 60 people in total. After breakfast we set off to explore the surroundings in the open back of a pretty worn-out jeep, enjoying the wind in our hair... We started with a nice rocky beach, then went on to see the official most Northern point of South America and finally Bahia Hondita where the view is breathtaking and makes you feel like you're at the end of the world - a bit like when Cristopher Colombus thought the Earth was flat and that everything fell beind the horizon! Along the way we had to stop to push our jeep as it got stuck in the sand haha... Our last stop was Playa Taroa, considered to be Colombia's most beautiful and remote beach accessed by sliding down a giant sand dune all the way into the water. Despite the strong sandy wind, you could appreciate the beauty and majesty of the place. After lunch and a (much needed) nap we went to watch the sunset on the beach. There is no electricity (and no wifi of course!) after 10pm therefore we all had an early night in our super comfortable chinchorros, a tradional locally hand-made colourful hammock. It took some getting used to but now I can sleep very well in a hammock: it's all about the position, you have to lie down in diagonal in order to lie flat otherwise your back will hurt!
The following day we already had to head back. The rest of the group split up between Palomino and Minca while Chesca and I decided to stay one night in Riohacha to relax. We went to the Mercado Nuevo, an impressive market with every possible colour combination of traditional Colombian handbag you can think of. I've always wanted a hammock so I was pleased to find a beautiful pink and green chinchorro: they take 3 months to make as they are entirely hand-woven! I can't wait to hang it in my garden...
The next day I was planning to go straight to Tayrona National Park but realized that I couldn't possibly go there with my massive backpack. So I decided to follow Chesca to Taganga, close to Santa Marta, for 1 night to leave my bags there. We had a nice hostel with a pool and a great view of the town and the beach.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
I took an early bus the next morning to El Zaino to reach the entrance of the Park. I met a couple of English girls and we walked together the 2h hike to the camping in Cabo San Juan, walking past some beautiful beaches and amazing scenery - so many palm trees too! I booked my hammock for the night and after a quick lunch I went for a walk on the beach and went up the gazebo to enjoy the impressive 360 degree view. I spent my afternoon reading lazily on the beach and working on my tan, before exploring the beautiful wild beaches nearby. I was thinking I should have just brought my hammock and hung it in between two coconut trees, no one would have cared...
I woke up early the next day to set off for my hike to the ruins of the pre-hispanic town of El Pueblito, one of Tayrona's major settlements thought to have been home to 4000 people. As per what I had been told, it was a tough hike especially in the sun (it was already hot when I left at 7.30am) with a very rocky path that I had to properly climb at times! But the scenery was beautiful. I made it in about 3h return which I was quite pleased with. I enjoyed some relaxing time on Cabo beach and after lunch I walked to La Piscina, a beautiful stretch of white sand with palm trees. It was so hot that I had to jump in the water every 5min! Then it was already time to catch my boat back to Taganga (avoiding the 2h painful walk in the sun).
I met up with Chesca and Jade & Francis, this really cool Canadian couple we had met in Taganga, and we all headed to Minca, above Santa Marta and slightly more inland. When we finally got there after dark, we realized the entire town had run out of electricity! So we had to find our hostel with a head torch, and had a burger dinner by candle light haha... I wasn't planning to spend that much time there but our hostel was very nice, with hammocks and the cutest little kittens (I had my own favourite!) so we ended up spending about 3 days there. We cooked at the hostel most nights which made us feel like we were at home.
We took mototaxis to go to these little waterfall with watering holes to swim in, and I jumped from about 10m! Then we did a nice hike all the way back to town, enjoying the beautiful scenery, very different from what we had seen so far.
We also went for a full day tour starting with a long hike to a couple of big waterfalls (the water was freezing!), with beautiful views along the way: the vegetation was so lush and green, it was amazing! Our guide welcomed us in his home, a traditional house made of bambus, and cooked us a delicious lunch. Afterwards he took us through the production process of cocoa and then we went to this small local coffee producer to learn all the secrets about coffee and taste it. Did you know that coffee has an expiry time? To enjoy it at its optimal state, it should be consumed within 3 months of being toasted, yet you should wait 3 weeks after it's been toasted to grind it, and once it's been ground, you have 3 minutes to make it otherwise the volatile coffee oils will evaporate... Coffee is more complex than you think! That night was a very fun night out and I tried aguardiente for the first time... And probably the last as I had a big headache the next day haha!
And that's it for the beautiful North coast of Colombia! It's been a great adventure but there is still so much more to see in Colombia, so wait patiently for my next post where I will make my way South to explore the cities.