This month I got a week free, so I decided to head up to the coast, because I was in serious need of some ocean time. Living in a land-locked crevasse certainly takes its toll on a beach loving kiwi.
After sleeping a nice, freezing night in the Bogotá airport with my fellow pleb-strangers, too tacaño to book a hotel for the night, using my backpack as a totally lumpy pillow, I made my way to Barranquilla on a 4am flight. Once I arrived, I met up with a friend from the programme, and we swiftly began our journey to La Guajira- the northern-most point of Colombia, a desert which is notoriously known as an absolute nightmare to get to.
First step was to catch a normal bus from Barranquilla up to Riohacha. We loaded up on breakfast-rice and a big bag of sweet snacks, and began our journey. This trip took about 5 hours, and was totally comfortable and sleepable (supez important). Once in Riohacha, we relied on locals to direct us to the place to get the “colectivo” (a normal car that anyone can hop into, which leaves once it is full). Once in the car with a strangely stern driver, and a little family with a baby, we drove 1.5hrs on the desert road to a town called Uribia. This is essentially your last stop before “civilisation” (as we know it, anyway) ends. We hopped out of the car to a delightful chorus of people yelling “monaaaaaas! Gringas! Hola! Cabo de la Vela? Agua? Novio?”. Uribia is the place where you stock up on water, because any further up, and water becomes extremely hard to come by. We bought a big badass 6L bottle, and embarked on our next part of the marathon.
This mode of transport was another colectivo, but a slightly less conventional one, as below. Stocked up with various consumables, and totally not enough leg room for the leggy gringa, we began the 2 hour journey up to Cabo de la Vela.
The trip was fairly barren, not really much to see- just a never ending desert road. The intriguing thing was that at various points along the desert road, people hopped out to go to their homes. I wondered how they actually knew that they had arrived at their destinations, when the road looks exactly the same the whole way. Is it just a case of “oh yee m8 this looks about right”?
We started to see more and more indigenous communities, some selling bags and other artisanal products, some just watching or waving. As we approached the water front, what struck me was the amount of rubbish lying around. It made me super sad to see that, when surrounded by such a paradise. But at the same time, what are they supposed to do with their rubbish? There’s not exactly a recycling plant in the middle of the desert.
We arrived at Cabo de la Vela at sunset, hopped out of our wagon, and checked out which hammocks we wanted to sleep in. After finding two ($10,000 COP per hammock) that were beach front and under the stars at a kite surfing school, we dumped our things and hunted for food and beer. We then got ready for bed, were reminded that there is no running water, and felt sad when we realised we couldn’t have a shower to wash the day’s grime off ourselves. There was a toilet, but to flush it you had to walk down to the ocean to fill a bucket of water, and then throw it into the loo.
The next morning I was shocked to wake up at 5am to a man just kind of standing there at the end of my hammock- “who the hell is that?” I asked Michelle, alarmed. It was of course Mikelly, the guy who we had organised to go to Punta Gallinas with the next day. My groggy mind quickly got up to speed. If you want to do the same, when you arrive to Cabo de la Vela, simply ask around for someone to take you to Punta Gallinas. Usually, these guys are affiliated with a hostel, and will sort everything for you. It will cost you $150,000 COP, which seems alot, but as I will explain below, actually this price is totally fair and worthwhile.
We hopped into yet another mode of transport, a 4WD, with a group of other superb gringos, and embarked on the 3hr ride up to Punta Gallinas.
This ride was even more desert-y than before. It wasn’t even a road, just literal desert. I take my hat off to Mikelly for knowing how to drive there.
We drove through a bunch of indigenous Wayuu communities, where there would be gorgeous children standing out on the “road” with a thin rope in our way. The driver would toot, and the kid would drop the rope for the car to pass. What the kids are really hoping for is some water or food from the tourists. On the way back we were able to give them water and snacks, and it absolutely broke my heart to see their ecstatic faces when they received something as simple as water. How easy it is to take these things for granted.
We arrived in paradise 3 hours later, and hopped on a boat to take us to our hostel.
Now I couldn’t actually tell you what the hostel was called, but I’m gonna go with “Hospedaje Alejandra”, because I saw a sign sitting on the ground there that said that. The hostel was cool- super desert-y, with a nice big hammock area, private cabins, and nice clean toilets and showers. What I found super impressive, was that although there was no water there either, the genius hospedaje owners used water from the sea to have flushing toilets and running taps. So despite the fact that a salt water shower doesn’t exactly feel clean, at least it gives you a chance to wash the sand off your body. Nice work y’all.
The hostel organised to take the group on a drive to a couple of beaches. The first one was a beach where tourists, like us, take rocks and stack them to make little piles. I have no idea why and I don’t find that fun, but to each their own.
The second beach was amaaaaaazing! We arrived at a dauntingly large sand dune, climbed it, and were welcomed by the most beautiful contrast I’ve ever seen, of the orange sand dune, right next to the blue blue water. I felt so instantly free and happy. We spent a few hours at the beach swimming and smiling, then got picked up by the hunny in the jeep.
After lunch, we went on a boat ride to a flamingo colony, took a bunch of photos, and complained alot about how much the rocks hurt our feet.
After watching the most perfect beach sunset, we went to sleep in our hammocks (a hammock ranges between $15,000 COP and $20,000 COP a night, depending on which type you choose) fairly early that night. Desert lyf really takes it out of ya.
Early the next morning we were picked up by our pal Mikelly again, and driven all the way back to Uribia.
From Uribia, we began our journey back to Barranquilla, first in a colectivo back to Riohacha, a quick stop in Riohacha to look at the pretty Wayuu mochilas being sold on the waterfront, then the bus back to Barranquilla.
I 100% recommend making the effort to go to La Guajira, and more specifically, up to Punta Gallinas. The journey is long and tiring, but in many ways, part of the whole experience. $150,000 COP for the round trip to Punta Gallinas can seem a bit costly up front (and note it doesn’t include food or your hammock), but when taken into account all the things it includes, I really think it is well worth the price. Please if there is one thing you do in Colombia, it is La Guajira. It is like nothing you will have ever seen before.