Week 5, Part 1 - Uribia and Cabo de la Vela
Our last day in Uribia was productive as we managed to find a bike shop with some really helpful chaps. Unfortunately we slept badly due to loud air con and the flock of birds nested above our room, but the sun and wall of heat as we emerged from the hostel soon woke us up. We trundled off, hugging the side of the road that was shaded from the sun, and found an aladdin's cave of bike goodies. In fact, we found two shops that were well stocked in Uribia. We stocked up on some engine oil for the bike, just for top-ups (we will do an oil change in about 1700 miles time), some thin 'Fox' off-road gloves for Kelvin as his gloves were far too hot, a bolt for my exhaust (first lost bolt of the trip...there will be more), ISO 68 hydraulic oil for our chain oilers and high temperature silicone. Naturally, they wanted to show us all of the other things they had that would be really useful for us but we politely declined. After we left the shop, one of the chaps that served us went past on a cycle-taxi (rickshaw) with his son. They waved and gave us two beaming smiles. All the rickshaw drivers wear removable sleeves due to the intensity of the sun.
We made a plan to depart for Cabo de la Vela the next day, looked at the map and decided on a route. We also read a lot of the advice on iOverlander about the various routes for any issues. The two main things were weather, and children holding string barriers asking for money and sweets. The weather looked like it would be hot, hot, hot with no rain, the latter issue is something we would just have to 'wait and see'.
We ventured out into Uribia at 8pm that evening and the place had come alive. The main Plaza, a big round area right in the centre of Uribia, was a hive of activity full of street sellers, families, school kids, sleeping dogs and not many mosquitoes. The temperature was just nice and warm and the sky clear. We sat there for about an hour just soaking in the atmosphere, and a family came to play on the slides near us. The dad, a police officer in uniform, helped his younger two sons (aged 3 and 5ish) on the slides and timber climbing frames, while the other one (aged 8ish) practiced running up the slide and whizzing back down again. The mum ventured off to find them some slush puppies (or at least Colombia's fresher, cheaper, more natural equivalent) from a street seller. It looked very inviting, however we still needed dinner and had already had a nice juice so we settled for our water instead. Dinner....you guessed it - a hawiian pizza to share!
We woke the next day and packed up all of our stuff. We have been leaving the panniers and camping stuff on the bikes when the parking is secure, which has made life a lot easier, however we were both still soaked with sweat as we kitted up to set off. One last blast of air con in the room, checked-out and got the bikes started. The lady from the hostal gave me a contact in case we encountered any issues on our travels North of Uribia, which was very kind. I did wonder if we should be expecting any issues, and just hoped for an uneventful ride. In the back of my mind was all of the feedback that was written by other travellers about the kids (and sometimes adults) that would create barriers and get quite angry at times, demanding money and sweets. Kelvin was much more relaxed, but being a very much non-confrontational person myself, and not the most assertive of characters, I did have some anxieties looming. Despite this, I wasn't going to not give it a go, so we set off. The road was immediately bumpy but not too bad. It progressively got more bumpy with large potholes in places, but the road was largely dry and dusty. I dread to think what it would have been like had there been rain storms for a day or two. We were lucky. We passed many motorbikes and trucks. There were a few 4x4's bombing it down the road and I was very glad to be on my bike. Most tourists travel in the back of the 4x4's to Cabo de la Vela, sitting for about two hours on a solid seat, often suffering less than efficient suspension, squished in between many other people and provisions being transported to Cabo. Again, we felt lucky. We turned left off the main dirt road from Uribia and were blessed with tarmac...for about a kilometer! Then it was dirt road through the desert, mostly compacted however sometimes some loose sand. There were often multiple options of route to take as many vehicles just carve a new route if the previous one is flooded or not taking their fancy. We just kept going West. We had Kelvin's GPS to point us in that direction and we knew that once we hit the sea (ideally not literally) we just turn right and follow the coast until Cabo de la Vela. It sounded simple, and it was! The route through the desert was great fun and I actually really enjoyed it, as did Kelvin. I didn't enjoy the loose or deeper sand.
The theory: keep the speed up and keep going, don't pull the front brake, weight back (easy when you have a tonne of luggage behind you). In practice: Head says no! Or at least mine does. The fear of stacking it trying to 'keep it going' in the sand is overwhelming. My option in the deep (very slidy sand), keep revs up, feet down (I know off-roading friends, I'm sorry!) and paddle it through slowly. It worked, no dropped bike and not another story about me abandoning ship. The only bonus of me falling off in the desert with no concerned helpful and public around would have been the photo opportunity, but anyway, it will happen at some point.
Once we arrived in Cabo de la Vela we looked fror somewhere to stay. We had been recommended the 'Kite Addict' kite surfing school, and it was on iOverlander so we headed there. The chap who owned it came out as we were sat outside on our bikes working out if we were at the right place, and you couldn't really miss the sound of our bikes. He offered for us to camp in their compound for 10,000 COP per person per night (approx £2.50 each), or have a Wayuu hammock or 'chinchorros' for 20,000 COP each a night (£5-ish each). We went with the chinchorros option; we have been assured that they are much more comfortable than standard hammocks.
Also, all of the chinchorros were up in a little covered area of the wooden building, with a table, chairs and amazing view of the sea, and importantly a good view of our bikes. It also fell easily within the daily budget and the thought of being in a tent in the sweltering heat didn't appeal. We tucked our bikes in the corner, partially unloaded and made our way up to the sleeping area where we met Leah from France, and Alex from Spain. Both spoke great english, as did the hostel owner, and we chatted about our trip, their trip, where to find cold water and cold beer. They had only been there one night and hadn't yet discovered where to find these key things so we went for a mooch around the area and virtually without trying, stumbled across a chap in a tiny store that looked like a house. He beckoned us over and I asked him if he sold water and Cerveza. "Si" he said, very animated and happy to have a customer. He gave an even bigger smile when he said "fria?". "Si" I said, mirroring his beaming smile. Jackpot! We bought two COLD waters, two COLD Cervezas and a packet of crisps. We walked back to our lodgings, very happy with our little haul, pulled up two chairs and watched the sun set over the sea and hills in the distance, with a couple of kite-surfers still trying to eek out the last few drops of daylight. We were quizzed by our hammock buddies about where we sourced our nice cold beverages from and they immediately set off in pursuit of some joy of their own. Later we went for another little mooch about and stumbled on a street seller with cheese twists and empanadas, plus a wierd thick, iced milk drink. Kelvin had some and really liked it. I thought it was ok but wasn't fully sold on it. We bought a couple of empanadas and a cheese twist then set off back to the hostel. £2 well spent...so we thought. Again, Leah and Alex saw our latest gatherings and immediately set off in the direction of the street seller. Sadly, on biting into the lovely looking morsels, our smiles turned a little upside down. They were filled with a very fishy/seafood mix, but not the kind I enjoy. Kelvin doesn't like seafood or fish full stop but normally I love it. This was different, and I'm sad to say but it went to waste, or at least it wasn't eaten by a human. That was our first street food fail (following our first restaraunt fail in Uribia - see Week 4 blog). So, beer and crisps for dinner. Healthy! We clambered into our chinchorros and went to sleep...on and off...it takes a little getting used to!
The next day we awoke super early. Leah and Alex were woken at about 4.45 by the 4x4 that was giving them a lift to to Uribia on their route to Palomino. Naturally, we woke up as well. It was actually lovely, despite being tired. There was minimal wind, the sea was flat and a beautiful blue-green colour, the sun was coming up and apart from the truck it was silent, so once it had gone, it was truly tranquil. There was the odd person raking sand in the distance and a dog or two, but nothing else stirred. When we finally got up we had a lovely breakfast made by the hostel of eggs, fresh fruit salad and museli, then we watched the kite surfers for a while. We did plan to go for a play on the bikes, however Kelvin discovered he had a flat front tyre. Bugger! A rusty little nail had pierced the tyre and just scratched the inner tube enough to create a slow puncture. Perfect, our first puncture in the blazing heat surrounded by sand! After melting just getting the tools out, we rested. Then we got out Kelvin's motorbike prop stand that he made back home out of an old crutch, and proped the bike on it's side-stand, keeping the front wheel off the sand. He then removed the wheel and we took it into the shade to remove the tyre and inner tube, after another cool-off break. Being super hot, the process of changing the inner tube took a little while as it was super uncomfortable but we got there. I helped hold the tyre levers when requested, as well as standing on the edge of the tyre as required. Success! Kelvin replaced the front wheel while I stabilised the bike and then we retreated once again to the shade. That was enough, the play time in the desert would have to wait until tomorrow so we booked our third night stay enabling us to have the following day to explore without time constraints.
In Cabo de la Vela, people live reasonably simply, and the kids spend their time swimming in the sea, playing board games like chess, kite-surfing if lucky and just playing; not glued to a TV screen, then and iPad, then a games console. It was refreshing. Ok, one quick rant (I don't do it often); I have read many people on Tripadvisor moan about the 'lack of infrastructure' in Cabo de la Vela and that it's 'not set up for tourists'. My advice, if you want a tourist destination with good infrastructure, don't go to the desert and read about where you are going BEFORE you go there so you know what to expect, and I don't just mean a quick glance at the latest Lonely Planet guide!! Blogs are useful for exactly this purpose - and don't just read one person's, try to read a few.
Ok, rant over.
Where we were staying, the toilet flush was completed by getting a bucket of seawater and pouring it into the toilet bowl, with regular use of the plunger required. No-where in Colombia should you ever put toilet paper in the toilet as far as I can tell. It goes in the bin. (Top tip: In some places the communal toilet roll is outside the cubicles...get this first...I learnt the hard way!). Also, the shower was a large bucket of non-potable water siphoned from a huge container, refilled on a regular basis by water-trucks. You then carry the bucket to the 'shower room', and using a bowl, wash yourself with the water and soap. It sounds a drag but actually works quite well, and very welcome after a day in the heat and that all too familiar feeling of sea-salted skin, whether you've been in the sea or not. Obviously, I do prefer a shower but this worked well and after all, we were about 2 hours from the nearest town, surrounded by desert. It was great! Also, no wifi...kind of refreshing.
The next day, thursday I think, we woke up and I noticed one chap was using Kelvin's wing mirror to have a shave. Glad to be of service. We found some bread rolls and water for breakfast as well as two big, six-litre plastic bags of drinking water (a common way to buy water in Colombia). We filled our empty bottles, got dressed and set off on the bikes in the direction of the hill in the distance. We didn't bother with a sat nav/GPS, just the Delorme. We decided to ditch the motorbike trousers for the day due to the intense heat and Kelvin also ditched his jacket, opting for just boots, cargo trousers, shirt, gloves and helmet. I just had my armoured off-road top in addition. We had a great time on the dirt and sand tracks all around Cabo de la Vela and saw some amazing views. I did a mini river crossing, went over some reasonable rocks and some very soft, slidey sand with rich burnt-orange desert either side. Instead of asking Kelvin to ride the bike I did my 'controlled', constant, slow paddling and got through in one piece. Sand and turning 90 degrees on very loose stones were my two biggest challenges of the day.
We walked up a big hill to see a stunning view of several miles of the La Guajira coastline, where desert abruptly meets the turquoise sea. We had left our bikes at the bottom of the steep hill under the watchful eye of three local Wayuu kids who seemed to find enjoyment in greeting us with a fist bump. I exchanged this 'watching' service, plus allowing us to put our bikes in the shade of one of their shelters, for a bottle of coca-cola. Yes mum, I'm sorry, I bought the kids some coca-cola, however they didn't want water and by the looks of it, they didn't get much else very ofter and they REALLY wanted some cola. 400ml between three won't rot their teeth too fast (I hope). Hopefully no dentists are reading this, but I imagine many parents will be tutting. Oops. Anyway, bikes safe and cool, amazing views, nice breeze and happy kids. On our return to the bikes a couple of local men turned up, also on bikes and we had a lot of interest. Again the first question was the usual "how big is the tank", and what year the bikes were, plus a new interest in the material of the tanks - plastico! They evidently don't have plastic tanks there. They kept tapping it and saying "plastico" with a bewildered smile. A chap said "KTM or Honda?". I replied "Suzuki"! I guess a lot of people associate adventure style bikes with KTM and Honda, but he was pleasantly content with my answer.
One young lad was really interested in my bike, testing the back brake pedal, clutch and pressing everything that could be pressed (including the kill switch I realised a little while later when I couldn't get the bike to start). A little lad got on and tried my gloves on and pretended he was riding the bike, on the side stand of course. I told him that the bike may be a little to big for him and he smiled. In fact, I really got to practice some Spanish that day, broken spanish, but I'm getting the hang of talking about my bike now and our trip.
We made our way back to the Kite-school by mid-afternoon, picking up a German traveller half way and giving him a lift back to Cabo. Kelvin and I both had big smiles ear-to-ear, and Kelvin's tyre stayed firm, yey. Great day, and guess what...I didn't drop the bike once!! Ok, no luggage, but I was chuffed because there were some challenging elements to the day and as far as off-roading goes I'm used to a little 230cc Honda CRF, which I can easily pick up (multiple times usually) by myself. I just hope that my anxiety of riding in the sand and mud improves over the next year, which I'm sure it will...it has to. All I can suggest to anyone else is, before you embark on an adventure like this, at least do a little bit of off-roading if you haven't already...join the TRF if you have a group nearby or a social off-roading group. It will pay dividends because you can explore more than just the main Pan-American highway etc, if that's what you want. I still class myself as a novice, but if I hadn't done some off-roading before now, 1) I probably wouldn't have chosen a DR650 to travel on (and I love it), and 2) I wouldn't have got to visit Cabo de la Vela or explore the backroads of Barichara (see Week 3 blog).
Needless to say, we were quite hot after our little jaunt in the desert, so we got into our swim stuff and went for a dip in the Caribbean Sea. It was perfect, and as usual, no waves with a nice sea breeze, hence why Cabo de la Vela is a paradise for kite surfers. We spent quite a long time in the sea just relaxing in the water that was the most perfect temperature I have ever experienced. That evening, after the heat of the day had died down somewhat, and the sun started sinking behind the lighthouse, we packed up our bikes in preparation for an early getaway; back to Palomino.
Ooh, and before I forget, Kelvin with yet another cat!!