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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
958 days a wanderin'

When the Cost is Greater Than the Price of Admission

Oct 26, 2017
by John

One of the biggest inspirations for our trip was the photo Song of the Road posted of the night sky in Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America. It moved me so much I saved a copy to my phone. Our plan always included making the drive north but while in Cartagena we changed our minds. This may come as a big surprise to those I showed the photo to, my exuberance was probably quite annoying.

Our decision wasn't swayed by the desert drive or the stories of recent robberies (don't run the roadblocks), we are trying to lessen our impact on the areas we visit. In the case of Punta Gallinas, the local people have been setting up more and more ropes across the road and demanding small contributions in the form of rice, water, candy, and sometimes money. While in the past there might have been 8 or 9, friends of ours counted over 40. Not minimizing the destitution of the people, or saying they shouldn't receive compensation from those who traverse their land, our position is that we cannot support the individual implementation of compensation which has been obviously increasing. We know that rice, water, and candy are relatively inexpensive in Colombia, our point is that just handing over a few items to each person may not improve their situation.

In Mexico, we ran into similar roadblocks many times so we have been discussing this for over a year. While we sometimes complained about the Ejido fees implemented in parts of Chiapas, we agree that the fee is fair and, in theory, can be used to better the community as a whole. Our wish is that the people along the route to northern Colombia unite and maybe start collecting a fee that can be appropriated to improve the community. We would have loved to explore the region, but we personally cannot condone the current system of compensation so we chose our conscience over our desire.

What We Did

Chicamocha Canyon, Santander

Once we decided that we would be skipping Punta Gallinas, our priority shifted to getting back into the mountains instead of exploring more of the Caribbean coast, choosing Chicamocha Canyon as our first destination. It was a decent two day drive, overnighting in a love motel Joe & Josee recommended before reaching Cabanas Campestres, 20,000 per night ($7). Matty & Ingrid were already there so we maneuvered behind them and started catching up. The view is quite beautiful so we mostly hung out, cooked big meals, and watched them go paragliding the day before they left.

Chicamocha Canyon, Santander, Colombia

Don't botch that running start

Chicamocha Canyon, Santander, Colombia

But no tequila

Chicamocha Canyon, Santander, Colombia

Some kind of event horizon

We did manage to break our slothlike behavior and hike to the Chicamocha National Park, 50,000 per person ($17.40) including the gondola ride. It was a beautiful day and the hike was a nice introduction to what we will be facing in South America. Fortunately, the clouds came out during our hike back so it wasn't as brutal as it could have been.

Chicamocha National Park, Santander, Colombia

Desiccating on the microphone

Chicamocha National Park, Santander, Colombia

Wee

Chicamocha National Park, Santander, Colombia

Must, have, water

Chicamocha National Park, Santander, Colombia

This side is greener

Chicamocha National Park, Santander, Colombia

Not easy nor fast

Barichara, Santander

After supplying up and spending a less than stellar night outside San Gil, we arrived and were soon parked across from the Capilla de Santa Barbara, Matty & Ingrid joined us 15 minutes later. We had been told that we would love Barichara, which indeed we all do! It is an immaculate sleepy colonial town. There isn't a formal campground so we spent three nights free camping across from the Capilla and one in the soccer field behind it, which oddly wasn't as quiet since there are early morning exercisers. Again, our days were spent walking the town, sightseeing, drinking cappuccinos, eating too much, and ogling high end merchandise. The pool next to the soccer field charged 5,000 per person per day ($1.75) so we were able to grab a cold shower and use the flush toilets. A nearby tienda charged 1,000 to use the toilet ($0.35) so we had access to the bare essentials.

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

Sweet Jesus

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

Why always with the hills

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

Missed a spot

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

There better be coffee

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

Got steeple, no people

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

What an eerie eye hole

Barichara, Santander, Colombia

Dead end

Wanting to get in some form of exercise, we decided to hike the Camino Real to Guane. It was mostly downhill with some spectacular views, something Colombia just keeps on giving us. The region is famous for its fossils, the trail is littered with them. Once we reached the little town, and after lunch, we visited the Museum of Paleontology and Archaeology. Photos weren't allowed but it's a small and interesting mix of artifacts, not bad for the $2 it cost for the two of us. We eventually caught the local bus back to Barichara for 2,200 each ($0.75).

Camino Real, Santander, Colombia

When we thought it was all downhill

Camino Real, Santander, Colombia

Cloud wars

Camino Real, Santander, Colombia

It's as safe as safe can be

Camino Real, Santander, Colombia

Stomping on the old, the way of humanity

Camino Real, Santander, Colombia

I'm just glad we don't have to push a cart

Guane, Santander, Colombia

The van would totally fit

Guane, Santander, Colombia

That moment you need a sign

Guane, Santander, Colombia

Dino droppings

Las Gachas, Santander

Leaving Barichara Matty & Ingrid went a different way. Knowing we'd run back into each other soon, we pointed the van to Las Gachas. There are several access points to the river, but we opted for the one next to a cafe, no surprise there. It was a nice stroll to the river, a local family charges 1,000 per person for access ($0.35). It was too chilly for our Florida selves to fully submerge so we soaked our feet and watched the antics of the country dogs. Returning to Cafe Mi Tierra we had cappuccinos once their power was restored and bought a pound of some of the best coffee of the trip for 12,000 ($4). They were kind enough to let us overnight in the parking lot for free and left the bathrooms unlocked. The people of Colombia are wonderful! We left the following morning and decided to drive to the nearby town of Guadalupe, striking out on breakfast, on our way back through San Gil.

Las Gachas, Santander, Colombia

No smart ass remark needed

Las Gachas, Santander, Colombia

Cue Laura Ingalls

Las Gachas, Santander, Colombia

Getting her feet wet

Las Gachas, Santander, Colombia

This place is going to the dogs

Guadalupe, Santander, Colombia

Eventually

El Cocuy, Boyaca

Sometimes shit just happens, hindsight says for the better. Our plan was to grab breakfast outside San Gil, supply up, then head to a waterfall to spend the night before setting off for El Cocuy. After having a nice local breakfast the van wouldn't start, joy. I popped the hood to take a look then jumped under the van to start poking around. A few minutes later I located our problem, the power cable to our starter had broken off. The owner of the restaurant went to town and brought back a mechanic who was soon on his back, next to me, working to get a replacement end on the cable. It took almost two hours but we were fixed for the low cost of 70,000 ($24). It was mid-afternoon so we supplied up, scrapped the waterfall, drove to a water park Matty & Ingrid had told us about, and spent the night listening to one hell of a party that was happening just up the hill.

Tired but determined, we set off after breakfast on the two day drive to El Cocuy. We have taken many memorable dives during our trip, the first leg to the park through the remote farmland on Highway 64 has been one of the best. The events of the previous day were pushed far from our minds by the stunning scenery and breathtaking landscapes. It was overcast and foggy, no matter. We spent five hours bouncing along the dirt rocky road with wide eyes and happy hearts, pulling over for rests or to snap a few photos. After reaching highway 55 we located another water park and spent a wonderfully peaceful night.

The second day we drove Highway 55by12, mostly paved with pot holes and washouts, reaching the town of El Cocuy just after noon. Soon we were back hanging with Matty & Ingrid with plans to head high into the park the next day, that night was spent at 8,500ft. The following morning we all had breakfast, grabbed a few more supplies, then set off on another epic drive to Lake Palchacual. The hike to the lake was short but taxing at the higher elevation, the views spellbinding. Wanting to explore the region a little more before making camp, Matty & Ingrid led the way on a Google Maps track that proved to reveal some great views of the park before reaching Hacienda La Esparenza for the night. At 10,000 per person ($3.45), we had access to a bathroom and a level-ish place to park at 11,800ft. Unfortunately, Mandi and I both awoke with headaches, Mandi's was barely bearable, so we decided to abandon our plans with Matty & Ingrid and head back down to a lower elevation. We have later learned that we should not gain more than 500m, 1,600ft, in altitude at a time. There really wasn't a way to step up that gradually around El Cocuy that we could find but we are very happy we got to see what we did, it is truly stunning.

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

It doesn't look that high

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

They almost match

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

Crooked creek

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

Like it was meant for it

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

Nature clearly can't make up its mind

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

I feel you creeping

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

We like the open air concept

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

Frail your homies

Highway 64, Boyaca, Colombia

As if we'd keep it clean

Highway 55by12, Boyaca, Colombia

What goes down must go back up

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

White shit, what?

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Lazy burgers

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Fake, faker, extra fake

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Sticks out just as much as we do

Lake Palchacual, El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Definately don't drink it

Lake Palchacual, El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

OK, this might have been worth it

Lake Palchacual, El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Wimps, it's only 11,000ft

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

Cragalicious

El Cocuy, Boyaca, Colombia

More white shit!

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca

Never making much sense with our route, we were wanting to get the van checked as she had started smoking a lot at start up and was a little crankier than usual at altitude, we decided to follow a lead on a mechanic in Bogota. We arrived early, the van received a cursory look, we were told they couldn't handle engines our size, then we proceeded to play mechanic plinko for a few hours before abandoning the city of Bogota all together. Ironically, the van was running much better after the drive to the city. Most mentioned fuel as the possible culprit, we think the ACPM we bought was part of the problem but we will scout Medellin for a diesel shop and stick to Mobil and ESSO for fuel. Needless to say, we severely disliked driving in the city and salvaged the trip by stopping at PriceSmart to pick up some extremely hard to find items such as organic coconut oil and Bounty paper towels. Those at home may laugh, but those on the road understand the power of a good paper towel...never to be underestimated.

Since we were further south than originally planned we spent the night in the parking lot of the Salt Cathedral for 10,000 ($3.45), deciding to check it out on our way back north. At 50,000 each ($17), we feel it is way too expensive for what it really is. Essentially, it is an interpretation of the Stations of the Cross, only depicted in crosses not crucifixes and each by a different artist. The tour ends in what can only be described as an underground mall. The most enjoyable part was a salt carving near the end that is only 40% complete, itself not worth the price of admission even though it is very beautiful. Not wanting to sway anyone, we just can't recommend it.

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

At least they polished the floor

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

The lord blasted those predators to smithereens

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

There is always at least one ass

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Same shit, different store

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Salterines, 2 for the price of 2

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

The owl though

Salt Cathedral, Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Peeta taught him how to camouflage

Iza, Boyaca

We had been wanting a good soak in a thermal pool so we chose Los Sauzos as our base near the town of Iza as it was a short walk to Piscina Erika. Camping is in the parking lot but they opened a room for us so we could have access to a toilet and shower. The 8,000 per person per night ($2.75) was nominal as the setting is wonderful and the WiFi was the fastest we had experienced in a long while. Matty & Ingrid were in the area, they joined us shortly after we arrived. It is a working farm so Mandi was able to buy some fresh milk and Ingrid picked up some fresh eggs. The water comes from the mountain so we all happily filled up our portable potable tanks.

Mandi and I visited the thermal pool at Piscina Erika once, 27,200 ($9.35) for the two of us including the required swimming cap. It's one large pool with two pipes at one end feeding it the hot sulfuric water. We planned to return later in the evening with Matty & Ingrid but the weather changed forcing us all inside our respective rigs.

During the three days and nights we spent at Los Sauzos we attempted to catch up on our blogs and managed an excursion to Playa Blanca on Lake Tota for 4,000 ($1.35) per rig. It was really crowded and windy so we just walked a little then headed into the town of Iza for lunch and dessert before returning to Los Sauzos. It was a great time with wonderful friends and we were lucky enough to share in a birthday celebration, all huddled in our van eating a hearty soup.

Los Sauzos, Boyaca, Colombia

What happened to Westley the farmboy?

Los Sauzos, Boyaca, Colombia

Get in our bellies

Los Sauzos, Boyaca, Colombia

It's not dilapidated, it's an opportunity

Lake Tota, Boyaca, Colombia

Biggest isn't always bestest

Lake Tota, Boyaca, Colombia

Our thoughts exactly kid

Iza, Boyaca, Colombia

That face is better than the taste

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a few standouts.

Pan Jeronimo, Barichara

Our go to spot for cappuccinos, 4,000 each ($1.40). We are suckers for good cappuccinos made from a real espresso machine. When we find them we normally don't go anywhere else. Pan Jeronimo is in a great location on the square and also sells fresh baked bread and sweets.

7 Tigres, Barichara

It had been a while since we had decent pizza, 7 Tigres delivered. While not the cheapest, two personal pizzas and a drink set us back 55,000 ($19). It was a wonderful surprise and one we should have visited again before we left Barichara.

Uzaque, Soata

We asked if we could camp in the parking lot and were allowed for 12,000 per person ($4.10). It was our stop after our first day driving to El Cocuy and where we returned after waking up with headaches from the high altitude. While a decent spot, the dinner we had was fantastic. I had the steak and Mandi the chicken, both were tender and delicious. I opted for the patacones which were the best either of us had ever had. Our total bill after tip was 36,000 ($12.35).

Hostel Villa Ines, Suesca

We hadn't planned on staying at Hostel Villa Ines but we couldn't locate the staff for our first choice. We were in need of a hot shower and decent WiFi, so we dropped by to see if Hostel Villa Ines could suffice for at least one night. After a bit of back and forth we found the camp shower cold but the owner told us about a shower in the bathroom located in the parking lot that was super hot. Good internet, hot shower, separate grassy field for campers, free coffee, power for our computer, quiet nights including the weekend all for 15,000 per person per night ($5.15). It's no wonder we stayed 4 nights after our failed Bogota and Salt Cathedral excursion. The breakfast tamales on Sunday were out of this world and only 8,000 each ($2.75).


Say what? (3)
Sandy in San Diego
Oct 26, 2017 at 08:23 PM
Simply amazing. Your words, your photos. Thanks for writing and taking such beautiful photos. Again, captions are great!
george
Oct 26, 2017 at 08:24 PM
well good to see you are progressing and a slight change in plans may be good!
Oct 30, 2017 at 03:46 PM
Thanks Sandy and George!
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