Week 5, Part 2 - Palomino and Minca
We must have left Cabo de la Vela at around 7am after a small Wayuu boy tried to sell us some bracelets. I said "No, gracias" but gave him a piece of bread we had left over that he was eyeing up. He was happy. We were trying to be as quiet as possible, but in all likelyhood waking the whole of Cabo as soon as we touched the ignition switches! Sorry guys! It had obviously been raining a little inland as the tracks were a little wet and muddied-sand, but luckily not too bad. We had seen lightning storms in the distance every night, but none overhead. The corrogations on the road were a lot more brutal on the return trip than I remembered on our way in, and went on for miles. They shook me and my bike to bits. Apparently, if you ride fast over them (there is an optimum speed), you don't notice them, however this is another theory I will leave as theory and to Dakar riders, especially when you have kamikaze goats everywhere and people dodging puddles and mud without a backward glance. One bus seemed to be enjoying the mud, with it's back end sliding side to side. I was glad I wasn't on the bus and I decided to stay well back.
One thing you may have noticed...I haven't mentioned any kids with string or aggressive adults demanding payment. I wonder if this is because it was low season or because it is a practice that is trying to be stamped out and begging is openly discouraged. There was clear evidence that this has happened previously, with bits of string in the sand accross the road from tree to tree, but nothing in action on our way to or from Cabo. As we passed by the Wayuu houses, kids stuck their hands out, but that was it. We didn't stop and give anything other than a smile, and often we would get a smile and a wave in return.
We stopped for breakfast in Riohacha, immediately quizzed by some local men about our bikes. After a ten minute chat we sat down, ate a very lovely breakfast and amused ourselves by watching the traffic...I don't think I will ever get bored of watching Colombian traffic.
Sadly, on our vouyage back to Palomino, there was one village that had suffered torrential rain, and I would estimate that at least 95% of the houses were flooded where the nearby river had burst it's banks. The only place that wasn't flooded was the main route through the village, so many of the inhabitants were stood at the side of the road, several brandishing signs asking for help. It was quite sad. We were glad to see a huge truck full of 'agua potable', however it was quite clear that there was so much more to do and the waters were still raging, most people left homeless. I've tried to google it to find out what happened, but to no avail.
Another sad thing (sorry), but obviously a fact of life in some places in La Guajira, is the treatment of some (I hope not all) goats. Yes, we saw what must be hundreds of them enjoying the apparent freedom of the roadside, but goat is a common dish in this region. I have to say I haven't tried it. That's not the sad part. This is the sad part. We came accross two or three utility vehicles full of ALIVE goats with vine wrapped around their mouths and their legs tied, all thrown in on top of each other. It was heartbreaking. That and seeing several dead dogs at the side of the road or just dead in the street, or poorly, hurt dogs, and I've had my fill of animal heartbreak for one month. I will add to what I said in the last blog...not only would we have a house full of cats if we lived in Colombia, we would have to have another one for all the dogs we would rescue!
Ok, back to happy times! We arrived back in Palomino, and after a bit of confusion we found our Hostal for the night, tucked away down a dirt track; Hostal La Media Luna. We highly recommend it to fellow travellers despite no wifi. It was beautiful and quiet. It really wasn't far from the main road to the beach but just far enough to be tranquil and feel like you're in a mini paradise away from everything. The parking was secure, the room was good, complete with mosquito net, and the shower was semi-alfresco! The resident cats and dogs were very chilled and had meat on their bones...a pleasant change from the majority we've seen. One of the cats had been rescued and it was discovered that the previous owner has removed it's claws, and therefore couldn't fight off other cats or hunt for food, unless it could paw it's prey to death!
We walked down to the beach with our guide 'Cookie'. He led us down the road to the beach, waited for us when we were being a bit on the slow side, and relaxed in the shade and chilled a little with his friends on the beach whilst we had a fresh passion fruit juice (suprise, suprise) at a little cafe on the sea front. Unlike our last visit, this time we got the seats right at the front. It was so relaxing. We love the sea. Cookie then accompanied us as far as a little resturaunt, waited for us to order food but then headed back after our food didn't come quick enough. Oh yeah, Cookie is one of the resident hostal dogs! Apparently he also accompanies guests when they are tubing down the river, getting out at the rapids. What an awesome dog. We liked him a lot.
The next morning we awoke to no additional mosquitos bites...hurrah!! We went down for breakfast and met a really lovely German couple...I am so unbelievebly shite with names, (I want to say Matt and Sevrine but I'm probably way off), I'm sorry, I can't remember them. We chatted over breakfast about our trip so far, and all of the places they have been in the last few months in South America. I love hearing about other people's stories. They had even been up to the summit of the most active volcano (I think the most active in South America at least) on a guided tour complete with gas masks...brave. They were going to skip Colombia but decided that they should visit based on many people's feedback and finish their trip in Quito, Ecuador.
After breakfast we kitted up again, said goodbye to the four cats, two dogs and the hostal owner. We set off, stopping for a couple of photos of beautiful beaches on the way. Sadly another flooding and many trees ripped up and dumped in the river by the previously strong torrents of water.
It was only about a one and a half hour's ride, and the winding roads had returned with a vengance, especially on the climb upto Minca. On our arrival in Minca I suddenly felt overwhelmlingly glad I had booked a hostal near the centre. It had been raining a lot and many of the other hostals I discovered later, were at the end of dirt tracks, which had now turned to thick mud. What joy. Initially we couldn't find the hostal and there were loads of guys around wearing blue and black zip jackets with 'Moto Mink' on them. We thought they were a motorcycle group. They in fact were not. They were the local motorcycle taxi service, however, as we had assumed differently and assumed they were just passing through on some bikers outing, we didn't ask where the hostal was. Instead I asked Kelvin to investigate up the road a bit to see if he could find it. I would wait (lesson learned...see Week 2 blog). 15-20 minutes later, after losing comms for the majority of that time, the wanderer returned. I was not best pleased. In that time I had ridden to the end of the tarmaced road and two guys had stopped and asked if I was ok. Of course, I said yes, but inside I was starting to get worried as it should have been 5 minutes max, and I knew it was a dirt road, muddy and he had a fully laden bike. Luckily he returned just before I launched a one-woman search party that in all probability would have ended badly. We agreed on a time limit for future 'scouting'. Anyway, I did have the sense to ask one of the kind gents that stopped to check if I was ok, where the hostal actually was. It was just back down the hill 100m, across the bridge and on the left. Easy peasy. We found it and parked in the 'secure parking'. Initial thoughts: secure my arse! Secondary thoughts: the hostal owner was quite confident the bikes would be safe and she was lovely. She allowed us to keep our panniers with camping gear and tools in the reception, so we only had to carry the essentials to the room, which was us a flight of stairs. Phew.
Bike kit off, showered, dressed and we set off to find 'Pozo Azul'; a waterfall somewhere on the hillside. After walking straight past the path, we managed to find it about 20 minutes later and bumped into two guys (one American, one Spaniard) who set off three hours previously from Minca and hadn't found the falls yet. It was sold to me as a 40 minute walk. We told them we were reasonable sure we were on the right path, so they took off quick march in the same direction. Fortunately we were right, I hate getting other people lost as well as ourselves.
The water fall was, well, a water fall surprisingly enough. Unfortunately I have been spoilt by crystal clear glacier waterfalls in Northeast Iceland, and instead of being 'Azul' (blue), it was a muddy brown colour, however it was still worth a visit and I was very glad to be there right at the end of the day, without the hoards of tourists. In the day time, a whole load of buses turn up mid-morning and drop everyone off and they take loud music, which personally I think detracts from the natural soundtrack and ambience of the place (am I getting old?!?!). I think had there not been a lot of rain prior to our arrival, Pozo Azul would have been able to show off it's true beauty, but on this trip at least, we won't be finding out.
We walked back to the hotel, and besides the odd bike or two wrestling with the mud, we were the only ones on the track, with a beautiful backdrop of forest that had come alive with the hundreds of living creatures that call it home, and in the distance the sun setting majestically over Santa Marta, that looked much more beautiful stood at a distance in the evening haze. The camera really doesn't do it justice. We were hungry and it was now dark, so when we got back to the centre of Minca we went for a wander. Again, like everywhere else in Colombia that we have been where the climate is hot, Minca came alive at night. The temperature is a lot more tolerable and the atmosphere just pleasantly changes. We saw a bride and groom having their pictures taken outside of Minca's large church and lots of kids running around playing, families chatting, street vendors and such like. It was generally just a happy and vibrant environment to be in.
We came across a place called 'The Lazy Cat' and I have to say, we highly recommend it if you are looking for some good grub in Minca. It's very tasty and just fab, as are it's resident cats (no we didn't eat them!). Whilst ordering, another english couple turned up. They were from London and this was their second long trip in varoius different countries, having worked a few years in between. They were beginning the last two weeks of their seven month adventure, however they actually felt ready to go back. I wonder how we'll feel? We chatted about travel all evening, and it was a novelty to be able to have a full-on conversation in english, as it's now a rarity, not that I'm complaining. It was a lovely evening.
The next morning we had a yummy breakfast whilst watching the Hummingbirds feeding on the sweet water, and then we set off to the viewpoint 'Los Pinos', somewhere up above us. Unfortunately, I didn't appreciate just how out of scale the local tourist map was (yes, I know) and just how far the round trip back to the hotel would be. I told Kelvin that it would be worth it because the view was supposed to be 'amazing' and we needed to keep fit anyway. So, about 9Km later we finally get to the viewpoint...which was cloud. Hmmmm. We waited a little while but no movement of said clouds. Damn it! Righto, fail one of the day. Fail two...not checking the route for amenities, resulting in what I would now term a 'Lyndon Poskitt' moment after this year's Dakar! I will say no more!
The 7Km back to the hotel was interesting. It was a very narrow mud track, through the wilderness, quite steep, and occasionally a couple of choices of path which wasn't helpful. I'm glad to say, our first snake sighting was in a much more open area with plenty of room to bypass it, not on an overgrown path in the back-of-beyond, and although I will be jinxing it, I'm estatic to report no tarantula sightings as yet. The best part of the whole walk was coming across a beautiful, tall waterfall in the middle of nowhere. Again, a group of four other people, but other than that, just us. It was peaceful and the path up was lined with interesting flowers that I hadn't yet come across. Having absorbed the beauty of the place for a while, we left to complete the last 3Km of the walk. Our feet were aching and both our knees starting to protest at the sudden increase in demand on them. Luckily, the last part was a bit flatter, less challenging and we knew it was the home stretch. We definitely earn't our dinner, however I'm not sure Kelvin will go on any of my 'little walks' again so readily in the future.
That night it rained, in fact it chucked it down, and the insects were out in force. The walkway to our room way caked in them, with hard-shelled flying beetles randomly crash-landing here, there and everywhere. Once back in the room, we evicted the new four-legged inhabitants (the small eight-legged one was far too fast to catch) and set about duck-taping around the door and gaps in the windows. Even then, some little buggers managed to find their way in, but for the most part, it was a big-bug free night, well, inside at least.
The next morning after breakfast, we loaded our bikes up and set off for Cartagena, reportedly Colombia's most beautiful city.