I can’t believe that I am already 7 weeks into traveling. It really feels in a lot of ways that I just left yesterday for this crazy adventure and I can see how this journey is going to fly by. My time spent in Santa Marta with Lost City, Tayrona, Punta Gallinas, and Minca was so action packed that I feel like I have barely gotten a chance to breathe or relax. I will warn readers ahead of time that this is a really long post and I have included a lot of details so that I remember all of the crazy things that happened this week. Feel free to just skim!
The roads were pretty crazy
So after I returned from Tayrona, the next morning at 4am I had to leave on a tour to Punta Gallinas which is the northernmost point in South America. The scenery there is very unique in that it is where a very dry desert meets the very blue sea. I was so excited because in the morning when I woke up I found that the group of friends I met to go to the bar were also going to go on the trip with me! We got into a transport shuttle that drove us to Riohacha and then from there we were placed into a 4×4 car which would be our car for the rest of the trip. We were lucky because there were 5 of us and in each car they put 5 people. The people in my group were Viviane (Holland), Ashleigh (Australia), Marc and Jimmy (US).
The first day we drove out through town on dirt roads. Very quickly we learned why we needed a 4×4 vehicle to get around in the north. The roads were so bumpy and throughout the journey we drove in large amounts of mud, water, and sand and over very large bumps. We wove through mud bumps like we were slaloming in skiing. Good thing we had our driver Orlando with us. Communication was not his strong point throughout our journey, but he was one of the best drivers I have ever seen. Yet, he was a bit sketchy because we think he may have bought some cocaine when we were leaving town and was dealing it to his local friends throughout the journey (or that is the story we made up to justify our million little sketchy stops). The first thing we came across were large salt flats. They varied in color from white, green, red, blue. It was very stunning. Some of the local mine the salt flats for money and other salt flats are mined professionally. We saw lots of birds and most especially flamingos sitting on these flats. We stopped for lunch in Cabo la Vela which is a small beach town. In high season, it is supposed to be a very busy beach town and is known for having great wind surfing. Yet, during low season, like when we were there, there was absolutely no one except for us and the locals. They only turn on the water and electricity for a couple of hours at night.
After lunch, we continued in the car to a lighthouse on a cliff. We hiked up in sandals (did I mention the Orlando did not tell us much) and looked out at the entire coastline. It was stunning because the coastline was these large brown cliffs and the water was the most beautiful blue. After we hiked down, we were brought to a beach were we could swim. We swam for a least an hour and a half where we proceeded to split a bottle of rum while playing a game of keep away (middle school style – boys vs girls) in the water with a bottle of coke filled with ocean water. To this point that is still one of my favourite memories of this trip. Then, a bit tipsy, hiked up another hill to watch the sunset over the cliffs. We returned for dinner, showered, and played some cards. That night we went and laid on the beach to watch the stars. The whole trip we slept in these large wonderful hammocks.
The second day we woke up early and hit the road. The road past Cabo de Vela got even more insane. You had to make your body like a rag doll and just let the car bounce you around because if you didn’t it would be too much effort to keep yourself upright. The scenery on this day was the best. We went through mud fields with nothing growing, Fields of cactus with a small road through them, to great sand dunes. The cactus fields were interesting because since it was a small road, the local people were put up ropes and chains in the road and only let you past if you gave them food. So we had plenty of little snacks to keep them happy. Sometimes our driver would just gun through these barriers and when I asked him why he said that these were not indigenous people and we shouldn’t give them food. We stopped several times during the morning for picture moments, but most of this time was spent in the car. We had lunch at an amazing little restaurant in the middle of nowhere and ate goat.
In the afternoon, we went to the great sand dunes and if we hiked up and over these dunes we slid down to a really beautiful beach. We swam at this beach for awhile but the current was really strong and it was hard to stay in one place. I had a long talk with Ashleigh here in the water and that was really fun. After, we started on our way to see the sunset again, but we never quite made it to the lighthouse for sunset… All of the cars travel in pairs out there because it is so easy for something to go wrong. Earlier in the day, the car that we were traveling with got stuck in the mud and we had to strap it to our car and pull it out of the mud. We also saw another car stuck that had been stuck for 2 days and the were digging the car out with shovels. So on the way to see the sunset, the other car got stuck again, this time in the sand. They tried to get themselves our first and ended up pushing their car down a sandbank and into a tree only making it worse. So, we drove our car down to try and get them out and then got stuck ourselves. So we spent about an hour pushing these cars back up the hill. Literally pushing. Back on the road we saw the tail end of a beautiful sunset and didn’t make it to the lighthouse until after dark, which our driver was not happy about. Tradition at the lighthouse was the each group needed to make a tower out of rocks. Some of the rock towers were huge and elaborate, but seeing as it was after dark already ours was a bit pathetic, but it was uniquely ours.
That night we arrived and showered at Punta Gallinas. I really like the place we stayed and the hammocks were nice as well. We ate dinner, played some cards, and finished our second bottle of rum. After we finished this bottle, we wanted some more beers, but the beers were locked away and the lady couldn’t get them. So instead she offered to sell us a bottle of local Wayu Rum (Wayu is the name of the indigenous people that lived there). We expected a normal packaged bottle, but instead she came out with a plastic bottle of their equivalent of moonshine. It smelled and tasted a bit more like Cachaca from Brazil than it did Rum, but we liked it. So we continued to drink and then again went to watch the stars, which was a bit dangerous because little did we know we were sitting next to a really steep cliff.
The final day was a much longer day than we all expected. We woke up (a bit hungover) and breakfast, and then during breakfast our driver just left us while taking all of our stuff (didn’t I say he was bad with communication). So we were a bit confused until a lady came up to tell us that we were to get on a boat. So we all walk down and go on this lovely boat ride on the water and go over to see a group of hundreds of flamingos. They were feeding there and it was a very stunning sight. We reached the other side and took a swim in the water and then our car showed up.
The rest of the day we were meant to just drive back home, yet we had a couple of complications. First we stopped on the side of the road where all of the drivers bought massive amounts of shrimp, which then smelled up the car the rest of the time. Then, we stopped at a local school (also a store) for some drinks and while we were buying some drinks our driver runs off jumps in the car and leaves us again (very bad at communication). So here were are, 5 gringos stranded in the middle of nowhere at this school with all these kids staring at us. We tried to talk and play with the students, but they didn’t speak much Spanish, only their native tongue. So we kicked around a bottle cap and waited for over an hour hoping that our driver would return with all of our stuff to take us home.
He finally did come back and it turns out the same car that got stuck twice had electrical problems and wouldn’t start and therefore we would have to tow the car back with us. Remember all that mud and bumps, yea not we would also have a car in tow behind us head only by a cloth strap. We did this for the next hour and a half and it was not a fun experience because on a lot of bumps and hill our car got jolted backwards when it was trying to pull the other car. Eventually we left the other car behind, but instead everyone from that car crammed into our car with all their stuff and it was a packed house. So we are very behind schedule and not super comfortable. Then, we leave them on the side of the road about and hour later and continue on to eat lunch at about 4pm. Finally we make it back to Riohacha, and have to still take the transport back for another 3 hours to Santa Marta. Little to say it was a very long action packed day and I was glad to be back home again.
The next day (Thursday) I had planned on going to Minca and even booked a hostel to have a low key night. I was going to stay at the hostel in the morning for awhile for some wifi and then head out in the afternoon, yet those plans changed. So now is the time that I have to admit that I have joined Tinder. I did this mainly because I thought it would be interesting to meet locals and get the local perspective of where I am traveling. So, this is how I met David. I returned from Punta Gallina and had a message on Facebook saying that we matched on Tinder and he thought he had seen me around and really wanted to meet up. He seemed nice so I agreed to get lunch with him. This turned into shopping for a lock for his restaurant (he owned a Chipotle like restaurant in town), getting a smoothie, him driving around town and showing me the local side of Santa Marta and the neighbouring beach towns, getting an ice cream, then a beer so he could work on a design proposal for his website. So needless to say, I didn’t end up going to Minca that night and instead stayed in Santa Marta. We dropped off his car at his grandparents house were I met his grandparents where his grandfather was 102!! It was fun to have a chat with them and then continued to walk through the town and see the local side of things. We had a couple more beers and had dinner at his restaurant and then went out to dance salsa. It was a really fun day!!
So, finally the next day I made it to Minca. I went to a hostel called Casa Elemento which was a really cool hostel because it was high up in the mountains and you needed to take a shuttle first to Minca, then you could take up a mototaxi for 20,000 ($7) or you could walk about 2 hours up. I opted for the second option. It took me a little over two hours and it was a beautiful walk through the forest. I saw lots of butterflies, a waterfall, and saw my first ever red squirrel. Once I reached the top it was only sunny for maybe an hour, then started to rain for the rest of the day. The top was beautiful overlooking a valley and the hostel is known for their very large hammocks. I forgot to bring pants or a long sleeve shirt so I was very cold and ended up just holing up in my room for awhile and taking a well deserved nap. When I woke up Ashleigh, Viviane, and Jimmy from the Punta Gallons tour arrived and we all hung out. We played cards against humanity with some other Dutch guys which was really fun then went and sat by the fire. The second day was quite chill as well. I read my book in the morning, then played a game called Jungle Speed with some Israeli’s. During the morning, I was feeling a bit off and I was absolutely freezing while others seemed to be ok. So I went to bed around 5 and I was shivering so bad for two hours that I couldn’t get my body to stay still. I had a terrible fever and ended up throwing up. So began the 3/4 day saga where I became really sick in Colombia. The following day I woke up, dragged myself in a Jeep down the mountain, laid sick in a hammock at my old hostel for a couple of hours, then took a bus with Viviane to Cartagena where I had booked my own private room. This is where I will pick up next week! Sorry for the long post, but life was just so fun this week (minus the sick part) that I just wanted to share everything!