Monday, February 5, 2018

Northern Colombia

Our round-trip through northern Colombia went quite differently from what we thought (we usually don’t make firm plans), but it was an enjoyable five-week tour.
road to the Caribbean
To the Caribbean/Richtung Karibik/Al Caribe

From our friends’ place in Piedecuesta, we went north toward the Caribbean and the village of Minca, where we were invited to stay with a Colombian-German couple we had met briefly down in Vicuña, Chile. They, Ana Maria and Mike, reported still miserably rainy weather and asked us to delay our arrival by a week.
playa de belen

We’re masters in slowing down and “lolligaging,” so complying with our friends’ request was easy. A ways north of Bucaramanga, the road dips down to the Magdalena River valley, where the heat envelopes and permeates everything; and there is nary a breeze. After several days along highway 45, the Ruta del Sol, we sought relief by heading east up into the mountains again.
Our destination was Los Estoraques, a unique natural area with erosive features reminiscent of Bryce Canyon in Utah. We enjoyed several hikes and nicely quiet and dark nights in this natural setting, before plunging back down into the heat of the Magdalena Valley.
parque nacional

Heading north on 45, we traveled through many sweltering towns such as Aguachica, Bosconia and Aracataca, the home of writer Gabriel García Márquez, who received a Nobel prize for his book “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Then, with the overdue period of drier weather in the area, we rolled into Minca.
Minca is a small village situated at about 2000 feet up the north slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This isolated mountain range rises to over 18,700 feet from the Caribbean beaches. It is the highest mountain in Colombia and also one of the highest coastal rises worldwide.
parque los estoraques
Los Estoraques
area unica natural

The effect of the excessive rain during previous weeks became quite apparent, when we joined our friend Mike, who needed to drive a few miles and about 2000 feet up the mountain to load up the current crop of coffee and haul it down to Santa Marta to be dried. We piled into his 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser with oversized off-road tires, and what followed was a horrific two-hour four-wheeling “adventure.”
Suffice it to say that I had no idea a vehicle could negotiate such a “road” peppered with boulder fields, mud bogs, and everything in between. We have no photos of this excursion, because this trip was a necessity for Mike, not for our leisure, and because most of the time we needed to hold on with both hands anyway.
flora, fauna and gas station

On the opposite end of the adventure scale, we spent a long weekend in Santa Marta, where we enjoyed the upscale tourist area near the yacht harbor. We were invited to stay in a spectacular apartment belonging to one of Marcela’s good old school buddies. From there, we visited the supposed tourist hot spot and fishing village of Taganga, which we found to be surprisingly small and overrated, in our opinion. It’s essentially a concentration of bars and restaurants in a small bay, and it’s likely party hell on weekends.
From Minca, we thought we might go east and north up the desert peninsula of La Guajira. After consulting several knowledgable friends and keeping an eye on the goings on in immediately neighboring Venezuela, we scrapped this idea.
local fruit

Instead, we decided to curve around the Sierra Nevada to its southern slope. We visited the village Pueblo Bello and stayed a few nights at La Helenita, an old hacienda converted to a hosteria. Pueblo Bello is in the traditional land of the Arahuaco tribe, and many tribes people are visiting the village every day.

From there, we meandered toward Cartagena and spent five days near the small towns of Turbaco and Turbana. Taking busses from there, we visited the old fort of Cartagena. The old Spanish fort and its surroundings are manicured and maintained for the cruise ship tourism, and are in stark contrast to the main city, which we found to be chaotic, noisy, and dirty. We recommend to anyone interested in experiencing this contrast to take the modern city bus system from the fort to the eastern bus terminal and back; or, if you have a few hours to kill, take the old busses most locals still use.
children playing
Children playing/Kinder Spielplatz/Niños jugando

By now it was a week before Christmas, and we realized my Colombian ID card was about to expire. Several people urged me to not blow that off and get it renewed. And that was one reason why we returned to Girardota, because I knew where the Migracion Colombia offices were in Medellín. And we were ready to get away from the Caribbean heat. 

Also, we knew there would be a special event where people launch their home-made hot air balloons, made from craft paper. These aren’t toys, they are elaborate works of art with a lot of skill and science behind them. Big ones can lift 40 pounds. They are over 30 feet in diameter and are reinforced with a net of fine Aramid thread. Some consist of over 1500 pieces, painstakingly glued together. It can take several months to build a single balloon. And then, their creators enjoy seeing them just fly away...
Additionally, we certainly looked forward to seeing our old friends again and go flying at the Morro.
rest area ruta del sol
Rest Area/Rastplatz/Zona de descanso

But now, the camper and we are ready to continue. We will visit the State of Boyacá, and then, finally, point the Toyota south again.


Mike Baker said...

Sounds like you're having a grand time.. Keep it up

Oliver Reinhard said...

Hi Dieter and Marcela
Great to read you are continuing to have fun exploring your own country! We spent 3 months touring Colombia last year so we are familiar — or should I say "all too familiar" with e.g. boggy tracks around Minca … — with many areas you have visited and it's great to reminisce with your stories.
In Cartagene we took a different approach and enjoyed the heart of this colonial marvel for a total of two weeks. Admittedly, the inner city is fully geared towards mass tourism and after a day we were sick of the hat salesmen approaching us every 20 metres even tough we were wearing much finer hats from Ecuador.
Anyway, we had chosen to park our truck in a guarded parqueadro in within the city walls and stayed at two different colonial homes (one at a time, of course) where the A/C provided much-needed relief from the heat at certain times of the day. We also found the surroundings of the old walled city to be crowded, dirty and unsafe. However, in the inner city we felt save (but still avoided dark alleys and corners at night) and enjoyed balmy evenings in alfresco restaurants, strolling through the alleyways and the admired Christmas lightings at night. Would have been a nightmare to travel back to the outskirts after that. So, if you have the coins to spend a few days in Old Cartagena, by all means, do it — it's well worth it.

Marcela and Dieter, ShredAir said...

Yes Oliver, this is one good way to visit Cartagena. Also, there are some good parking options for overlanders with vehicles along the beach in Boca Grande.