Weeks 12 & 13 - Tierradentro and the Tatacoa Desert
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
We headed East, did some awesome dirt roads with some spectacular scenery, both fell off because of the mud (yes, Kelvin has now actually fallen off as well), we ended up riding in the dark for the first time and saw some great archaeological sites. After that, we visited Rivera and the popular Tatacoa desert, completing our first spot of wild camping. Read on to find out more.
We left Popayan via Tutoro, Inza and to Tierradentro, a small town just before San Andres, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The road started as tarmac until a little while before Inza where there are multiple roadworks and thick mud... my favourite...NOT!
Kelvin came off for the first time this trip in the thick mud when his front and back wheel decided to go in different directions. A lonesome road worker ran over to help and they only just about managed to pick up Kelvin's bike after a couple of attempts as it was (and unfortunately still is) sooooo heavy.
The mud wasn't all challenging as in most places there was stone under it, which was just as well or it would have taken many more hours to get through it...for me at least.
After Inza, we kept going until a few kilometres before Tierradentro, but there was a road block...not the protest kind just the road has caved in kind! It came complete with a local makeshift band sat under a tarpaulin at the start of the roadblock, who appeared to be having a great time.
One guy said it would be 10 minutes until the road opened, however one hour later we were still there and then a local lady sent us to talk to a guy. He advised us that the road would in fact not be open today. Another guy turned up on a bike and said he was going to La Plata, which was in the same direction as the other road to Tierradentro, and we could follow him if we liked. He did warn that it was a pretty hefty detour, however it was a much better option than sitting still in the middle of the road all night. There was a guy following behind us most of the way and when we stopped at one of the junctions he said he was going all the way to Tierradentro and for us to follow him the rest of the way. Woohoo!
What an amazing service, people were so friendly and helpful.
Unfortunately, I dropped my bike on a steep downhill in the rain which was really slippery clay-type mud! I also managed to wreck my left hand mirror in the process, which was a bit of a bugger, but the rest of the bike was ok, so all was well.
We got to Tierradentro in the dark and the guy we were following stopped just outside of a hotel. Awesome! What a day! We were shattered (especially Kelvin who dropped his bike again in the gravel car park), and felt starving, but we were buzzing after our awesome adventure to get to this place, despite the tumbles. The place was super quiet, however we managed to find some beer and crisps at a random little bar nearby and a cheap as chips dinner in a local hospejade. Sorted!
The next day we walked down to the archaeological centre in the town and it was actually quite cheap to get in (about £6.50 each for a multiple entry pass). We also acquired a lovely local dog who we later discovered was called Maya. Maya followed us from the archaeological centre, through all of the amazing sites several kilometres to San Andres pueblo. We ended up eating lunch in a little restaurant where we discovered the restaurant owner was also Maya's owner.
The archaeological sites were beautiful with really interesting excavations, and well worth the walk. On the last site we got to that day, we met the guy we'd spoken to the previous day who had advised us to take a detour as he actually worked there, what a coincidence! His name was Jesus and he let us into a tomb that had recently been excavated and was still being examined by archaeologists. Cool!
It's not really possible to explore all of the sites in one day because they are spread over quite a large area and the hills can be quite a challenge. The next day was 'scorchio' and it was a hot and hard hike to the highest site on the trail. Thankfully the view made up for the hard hiking in the heat , so all-in-all it was worth the effort! Although I'm not the biggest beer fan, it was very welcomed at the end of the hike and I have to say, well deserved.
Rivera and the Tatacoa Desert
Leaving Tierradentro it was a hot day and we headed to Rivera on the back roads and very beautiful winding roads. We stopped at a small town for money and wifi (often available in central plaza's) just before we got to Rivera. We found a little hopejade (guest house type place) with a pool. It was the first pool we had found at a nice temperature, plus the sun was out all the time so I went in the pool every day! We both slept lots to catch up as neither of us had slept that great in the last few days for some reason.
We went to thermal baths (Termales Los Angeles) on our last day in Rivera...lush! It was a bit nicer than the swimming pool type thermals we had been to previously near Suesca, however it was still quite manmade and busy. There were four sections with different temperatures of water and the sulphur smell was almost absent. We enjoyed chilling out in the water and got there early enough to have some quiet time without all the crowds.
At the Hospejade, I asked the manager about buying drinks as I thought they sold some. As they were out of beers etc, the manager took me to supermarket on his scooter to get a supply of beers, he ordered us a takeaway pizza and allowed us to wash the big chunks of mud off our bikes on his drive. No soap or cloths, just a hose but it did the job and bikes still looked rugged but just not super caked dried-on mud!
Following the weekend (17th July) and lots of swimming, we headed to the Tatacoa desert. The views were awesome, and we took several different roads just to look at what was around. The desert was split into two distinct areas: the red desert and the grey desert. We stopped for a little while at a place with a pool, right in the middle of the desert in Valle de Constellations. We talked to two mums and their sons from Bogota for ages and ate papaya together that the owner bought over. I even got a little bit of a Spanish pronunciation lesson from one of the mums, and it made sitting out the hottest part of the day much more enjoyable.
After the scorching heat of the afternoon sun slightly reduced (and I really mean slightly) we headed off down the track and found a great wild camping spot. We took loads of photos, watched the sunset, did some awesome star-gazing, got bitten like crazy and then had very little (if any) sleep as it was so hot, and there was loads of heat in the ground. The major floor to our tent is that the fly-sheet has to be pitched so it's not great when it's hot weather! Thankfully, we plan for most of our camping to be in cooler climates.
So, our first ever motorcycle travel wild camp was completed... great except for the heat, bugs and having to get up at 6am! We took the tent down, sweated lots, and left by 8am. Even though it had rained in the night (yes, it rained in the desert), the tent was bone dry. The last thing we did in the desert before heading north was flying the drone and we even practiced the 'follow-me' function, although it wasn't wholly successful but we got a few lovely birds-eye-view photos. More practice definitely required!
We then headed North, aiming to be back in the cooler climate of Bogota in a few days, completing a big loop of Colombia.