Colombia 101: From Bogota to the Tatacoa Desert

Our improvised packaging works, and everything comes out the other end as intended in Bogota. Next, we need cash. Lately, sometimes Tyndall’s debit card works and sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight is one of those times it doesn’t. The bank claims the card is fine. I give mine a go and instantly feel rich. Prices here are in the thousands. I quickly try and recall those big Spanish numbers.

A taxi ride through the night takes us to Ambrose and Becky’s doorstep. They give us a home base to use for a few days, exploring the city on the many bike paths.

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We’re staying in the north part of Bogota. To exit, we need to travel the length of it – all the way south. Bike paths help us get there, but the going is slow. Car lanes are next to bike lanes are next to pedestrian lanes. In a big crowded city, everyone shares. Imagine that.

We take a few wrong turns, but slowly the city relinquishes its hold. The only other things leaving are trucks and buses. We take a right, and I can hear the birds again. The Bogota River rushes beside us. It’s almost perfect, except the color of the water: black, with frothy white soap suds. It’s distressing, but reality. There’s no Clean Water Act here. Then, we come around a corner and are floored by this. From far away, it’s almost impossible to tell it’s polluted.

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The road gets smaller and smaller. The riding gets better and better. Guillermo and Mercedes give us a place to sleep for the night. Rain pounds down on the tin roof. I watch it fall in sheets from the porch, thankful for the sturdy protection tonight. In the morning, we’re fed fresh eggs and fruit from their finca.

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Again the road narrows, the only traffic we see is a truck driven by what looks like a ten year old. He expertly navigates the ruts and curves while we stand aside. The rain picks up again, but it’s too hot for rain gear. We wonder about the integrity of our dry bags, not tested since sometime in Canada.

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As our altitude plummets the mercury rises. The humidity sets in. I buy ice cream from a passing motorbike vendor. In Suarez, a cold shower is in order. Washing away the mud and the sweat improves moral.

In Prado, the standard lunch fair wins again. For $2 USD, all this.

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We linger in the shade, then over ice cream, before setting out in the heat. Our progress slows. Every spot of shade has us stopping. The road narrows. Como voy Villaviaja we ask. Again and again, we’re waved onwards.

Near dusk, we slip through a gate to a field and camp. The stars are bright. I find the southern cross. Lightning flashes on both horizons. Even laying still, I am sweating. By morning, it’s raining again. The double track become a single track becomes a washed out, rock strewn, muddy mule path. Still, we’re urged onward. Wheel sucking mud slows our progress. Everything is caked with it but the mosquitos keep us moving. Just as we are about to give up, a truck engine revs in the distance. We perk up our ears and press on. First the motorbike tracks return, then the truck tracks. We’re spit out into a lush, flat floodplain, skirting the edge of the Tatacoa Desert. Bug bites and dried mud make my legs itch. I do a dance and shake it out. Gunabana juice and empanadas wash it all away.

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The pool at El Peñon del Constantina provides relief from the heat while my eyes soak up the desert landscape. Instead of sweating in the tent, we splurge on a thatch roofed whimsical structure with a bit more space to spread out and sleep. In the desert, the mosquitos are absent.

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Past Neiva we leave the Rio Magdalena behind, slowly heading for the mountains. We need to find some cooler, bug free temperatures.

Where we went: Bogota – El Charquito – San Gabriel – Nilo – Suarez – Prado –  San Alfonzo – La Victoria – Villaviaja – Desierto de Tatacoa – Palmero

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