Colombia 3: Desierto de Tatácoa and the polluted Rio Bogota

A desert in Colombia? The thought was intriguing and to reach a hot and dry region in this lush country was a welcome change.

Die Wüste Tatácoa ist wohl einzigartig in Südamerika. Ein grosser, farbenvoller Canyon, trocken und heiss mit fast keinem Regenfall. Vollmond und paar Regentropfen machten den Ort besonders fotogen.

Our route took us via Pitalito, Altamira and Neiva to Villavieja on the east side of Colombia, along the flow of the Rio Magdalena. Slowly the landscape changed and along the road we saw the first interesting formations making us excited for what may lying ahead.

Along the route we came across the traditional vendors producing a refreshing sugarcane drink on wooden presses. It was hot and we sampled the delicious juice, freshly pressed and cool.

Soon the landscape started changing with cacti and euphorbia replacing trees and palms.

With the change in flora also the birdlife changed.

We found a suitable camping spot on the edge of the cañon at the Tatácoa Desert Camp, offering a splendid view. When we arrived temperatures ranged around 37-38 deg C, but a few raindrops towards evening tempered the heat to 31 deg C during the night.

Being full moon we sat outside and enjoyed the view until late.

From our location we could conveniently explore the cañon on foot, which we did in the early hours of the cooler morning and found it a worthwhile two hours spent, viewing the cañon from below.

Black headed vultures circled waiting for nature to deliver.

We escaped the midday heat by travelling via Potosi along a small road following the Rio Magdalena until a bridge offered us a crossing and after a tunnel we get back on Ruta 45.

The tarred road was good and via El Espinal and Girardot we turn off at Bocachica close to Bogotá and drive along the Rio Bogotá to find a suitable camping site. At this point we had to pay Peaje (toll) again after we had paid on the main road minutes before. It dawned on us that Colombia is heavy on toll roads everywhere and had to get used that we would spend about Rand 1.00 per km from now on -almost as much as we were spending on fuel to drive. (On a normal day R150 =US$10, on a long drive day R600 =US$40 approx).

To our horror the river is being used as a sewage dump and is probably the worst pollution we have ever come across. Warning signs urged people living along the river not to get in contact with the water.

Even at the scenic falls Salto de Tequen-dama we could not escape the incredible stink. Foam everywhere.

Finally we found a place at the Ecolodge that overlooked the valley offering us a good view of the active volcano Nevado del Ruiz as well as the dormant  Nevado del Tolima.

Nobody was in attendance at the camping site, but fortunately the ablutions were open. Even when we departed there was nobody around when we left again. It seems to be primarily an action park with slides, ropes etc.

Next morning we found our tyre to be flat again without finding a reason after taking it off and checking it. We tracked back to El Espinal and carried on in the direction of Ibagué.

 

This post covers 18th-20th September 2016.

Colombia 2: San Agustin petroglyphs and Rio Magdalena

Little detail is known about the Agustin culture that existed before the Spanish conquerors and the petroglyphs of the burial sites invite many questions.

San Agustin ist wohl die schönste Sammlung von Steinskulpturen in Kolumbien. Hier wurden die alten Agustinianos mit Schätzen aus Keramik und Geschmeide, Armreifen und Brustschmuck und kleinen Goldfiguren begraben. Der Campingplatz Gamcelat ist ein günstiger Punkt, diese Gegend zu erkunden. Die Skulpturen stammen meist aus einer Periode zwischen Christi Geburt bis 900AD, obwohl manche auf bis 3000v.Chr. zurück zu führen sind.

Our base was set up at the camping site Gamcelat, which is situated in the vicinity of the San Agustin arqueological site and is conveniently close to the very good Italian restaurant, Pepe Nero, just across the road.

The petroglyphs are exhibited at the original sites where they had been found. The San Agustin culture reaches back to 3000BC although most are of a later date up to 900AD.

The excavations reveal some detail of the burial sites and the sarcophagi of many generations buried under artificial hills. Unfortunately robbers of graves have removed valuable figurines in gold as well as the ceramics and personal jewellery interned with the dead .

The San Agustin culture disappeared before the arrival of the Spanish and no written documents exist.

Then we explored the surrounding area and the valley where the mighty Rio Magdalena is still moderate and passes through a 2.5m gap in the rocks. Wherever we went we were heartily welcomed by the locals as Colombians really enjoy seeing tourists visiting their country again.

The area is a deep green and jungle like. Next we decided on a visit to Colombia’s desert cañon, Cañon de Desierto Tatácoa, which would be a welcome change and decided to proceed there.

This post covers 16th-17th September 2016.

Colombia 1: Las Lajas, Laguna la Cotcha and Trampolin de Muerte

Following a 2 hour border crossing, during which a rainstorm started, we drove to the Las Lajas church of pilgrimage and from there proceeded to Laguna la Cotcha. Little did we know that for the next 7 weeks there would only be 2 precipitation free days. Colombia is known for high rainfalls (up to 8000mm pa in some areas!)

Unser Grenzübertritt verlief ohne nennenswerten Probleme und vor Einbruch der Dämmerung standen wir an der Teleferico (Seilbahn) und campten, und fuhren dann am Morgen mit der Seilbahn zur Wallfahrtskirche. Der Regensturm hatte dafür gesorgt, dass der uns zugewiesene Platz recht matschig war – es wurde eine kalte Nacht.

An der Laguna la Cotcha gab es keinen Campingplatz und so standen wir mitten im Dorf und durften die Toiletten benutzen. Jedoch beim Nachtgang wurde uns klar, dass am späten Abend die Toiletten geschlossen wurden und wir mussten dunkle Ecken aufsuchen. Wegen des Regens konnten wir am nächsten Morgen keine Bootsfahrt machen und begaben uns entlang der berüchtigten Strasse genannt Trampolin des eTodes. Die Fahrt war wunderschön, sorgte aber für ein paar spannende Momente.

The church Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas is a destination to which many pilgrims wander and in many cases it is purported to have been instrumental in miracle healings -many plaques testify to this effect and the church was built after such an event.

Architecturally it is a beautiful construction arching across a river in which some pilgrims washed themselves hoping for healing.

We returned again via the teleferico to a much drier camping spot and the mud had dried up. The road took us through Pasto (2850m), where we were happy to find a replacement gas cooker for our lost Cadac gas bottle.

Laguna la Cotcha was our next destination and we reached the picturesque town Puerto towards late afternoon.

Nobody seemed to worry that we parked our vehicles next to the boat embarkation where we found open public toilets.

Little did we expect that they get closed at eight o’clock in the evening and presented a challenge during the rainy night. The weather prevented us next morning to go onto the lake by boat, especially to visit the island  “Isla de la Corota” with its forests and birdlife.

Early in the day we departed along the “Trampolin de Muerte”(Death Road), a narrow road cut through the mountain and forest with steep drop-offs -exciting especially with oncoming traffic of trucks and buses.

The road was lined with ferns, palms and a variety of trees as well as frailjoles plants. During a short lunch stop we counted 7 different species of butterflies within a short period.

The day ended at Mocoa where we took a refreshing dip in the river next to our camping site in the backyard of hostal Casa del Rio. At 600m above sealevel we enjoyed a balmy night.

Unfortunately the night was cut short by heavy truck traffic on the road nearby and we proceeded to San Agostin after watching some Tucans and other birds in the morning.

This post covers the period 13th-16th September 2016

Ecuador 4: Trip to the coast into the Cayapas Mataje Ecological Reserve & Tulcan

A trip with Hans from Finca Sommerwind to the coast provided a welcome change from driving with our own vehicle and taking an old train track into the jungle was full of surprises.

Mal einen Abstecher an die Küste machen und mit einer selbst gebauten Draisine in den Urwald fahren? Diese Chance liessen wir uns nicht entgehen und fuhren mit Hans von Sommerwind an die Küste in die höchsten Mangroven und anschliessend in den Urwald. Die Weiterfahrt nach Kolumbien führte über Tulcan mit seinem einzigartigen Friedhof – ein etwas aussergewöhnliches Ziel.

Following some house keeping chores like washing laundry, cleaning the vehicle etc. we booked with Hans from Finca Sommerwind his “special” tour to the coast. Special in the sense that he is the only operator promising a train ride into the jungle along this disused railway line starting at the gold diggers town of Alto Tambo. Furthermore the trip promised to take us in what could be the worlds tallest red mangrove forests.
So we set off, Hans, Bernd, Marion, Karin and myself together with Dagmar Thum. This meant not all of us fitted into the Chevvy double cabin,a clapped-out bakkie and a heavy scale had to be delivered in San Lorenzo on the coast as well, a vibrant but poor community of African descent.

Nevertheless the ride was enjoyable and we reached San Lorenzo (via Salinas) -where, while visiting the harbour front, the police wanted to see our passports and entry papers which none of us brought along.

Some negotiations followed before we were allowed to proceed to Las Peñas, where we stopped at the La Enramada, a favourite eating place of Hans and had a huge seafood platter before going down to the hotel Playa Arena Cabañas where we were booked in.

Pool and airconditioning – pure luxury compared to our mobile abode. The warm weather on the coast was a real treat and so was the dip into the warm Pacific ocean.


(Note: La Enramada restaurant also allows camping on the beach side -they have recently added toilets to make this possible).

Next day we drove to Borbón, a harbour on the estuary of the confluence of the Rios Santiago and Cayapas.

From here we were taken by boat first to the island of La Tolita where we were amazed at the pottery shards visible on the beach of the old Tolita culture. A visit to the museum allowed insights into this pre-Inca culture from 500BC to 1500AD.


Lorenzo, the boat captain then took us deep into the red mangroves, trees approximately 20m in height, inhabited by brightly coloured crabs.

From here we rode to Limones(Valdéz) for a local type lunch.

This area of Ecuador is mainly inhabited by ex slaves from Africa who have formed their own cultural community.The community is poor and buildings look delapidated also due to the tropical conditions and high rain fall. Sometimes members of the only 5000 Cayapas indians can be seen in the town selling their crafts and acquiring goods.

Next stop were imbibing some freshly picked coconuts on an island along the way.

On our return journey to Borbón, Lorenzo took us to his manufacturing of canela pura from sugar cane juice, the ingredient that is later used to make cocada, a type of sweets when refined with peanut, coconut etc. A by-product of the process is the making of charcoal.

After a pleasant supper, too many cocktails and a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Las Peñas, Hans took us to a cacao plantation where the process of growing, harvesting and drying of cacao beans was explained. The flesh of the fruit is delicious, however is unsuitable for human consumption as it dissolves the calcium of the bone and would lead to loss of teeth.

En route Hans showed us Balsa trees, endemic to Ecuador as well as a similar looking tree, the teak.

Next stop was Alto Tambo,a gold digger town, at which the long awaited train journey began with self constructed draisines running on truck rims helping to stay on the very uneven track which has not seen any maintenance for a long time.

Amidst rain we made our way into the jungle for about 10 kilometres at which point the vehicle was centre pivoted on a jack and turned around by hand. On the way back we stopped at a waterfall for a refreshing swim, but had to negotiate a muddy and slippery path to get there.


By evening we were safely back in Ibarra at Finca Sommerwind despite rain along the way.

We said our goodbyes to other overlanders (some bigger than others…) at the customary weekend braai and left for Tulcan.

In Tulcan an unusual cemetery can be visited, famous for its finely cut hedges and trees depicting cultural figures of the past.

Before we left Karin could not resist trying fake ice cream we have seen often in this area – a sweet marshmellow-like cream with fruit taste -jummy?

This post covers the period 4th to 9th September 2016 before crossing to Colombia.

Ecuador 3: Ibarra, El Angel Eco Reserve and Gruta de la Paz

Ibarra is known to most overlanders passing through Ecuador to Colombia due to Finca Sommerwind- a convenient stopover to explore the area.

Als Overländer in Südamerika ist nichts schöner als ein Campingplatz, der sauber ist, alle Waschmöglichkeiten bietet, hausgebackenes Brot, wochenends Kaffee und Kuchen sowie die Möglichkeit, hierhin Ersatzteile zu verschiffen oder gar den Wagen stehen zu lassen zwecks eines Heimaturlaubes. Bei Hans und Patrizia fehlt es an nichts, und es ist wie ein zweites zu Hause.

Once settled in at Finca Sommerwind, which is situated next to Lago Yahuarcocha (in Quechua lingo meaning Blood Lake), and close to the autodrome, we started cleaning vehicles and clothing, then visited the old town centre of Ibarra – not as spectacular and as elaborate as others, but still worth a short visit.


On the outskirts and overlooking the lake, the statue of arcangel Miguel, the patron of Ibarra was next on our list.


To escape the weekend noise of the pending motor race at the autodrome, we decided with Bernd and Marion to explore the area and take a drive via the town of Mira ( where we come across a grand parade of honking trucks from a race) into the El Angel Eco Reserve to see the Frailejones (Mönchsgewächse) that can withstand the cold of the Paramo weather due to their hairy leaf structure.

We proceeded to camp in an area where the old Polylepis trees grow ( 15mm per year and up to 1500years old) that get rid of parasites etc by shedding their bark in a paperlike fashion. Again, due to the altitude, the night was cold, but we found an excellent spot to camp wild.

Our return journey took us past the Gruta de la Paz, a church in a grotto and pools of healing waters in the river that runs from the grotto. Many people visit this holy place on Sundays and partake in the mass celebrated inside.

The road to and from the grottos is narrow and some reversing manoeuvres were required when busses tried to pass us.

This post covers to 5th September 2016.

Ecuador 2: Crossing the Equator onwards to Otavalo and Cotacachi

Trying to catch the moment on the GPS when you cross the equator on a busy main road was not easy -fortunately there is a park where the pre-Inca’s already had figured out that this is an important place.

Unsere Route ab Quito ging nach Cayembe, vorher an der Sonnenuhr Quitsato am Äquator vorbei, zur Laguna San Pablo und dann bei Otavalo zum Campingplatz und Herberge La Luna de Mojanda. Die Fahrten zu der Laguna de Moyanda, dem Otavalo Markt und dem Parque Cóndor sind der Mühe wert gewesen.

Proceeding from Quito our route then took us to via Cayembe to Otavalo where we camped at the beautiful hostal and camping of La Luna de Mojanda – complete with a good restaurant run by the owners Kevin and Tamara. The view across to volcano Cotacachi thrilled us every morning.

In Otavalo we visited the fresh produce market enjoying fresh juices as well as the well-known craft market where quality crafted articles are offered. In this area the local women wear embroidered blouses and can also be be seen in town practising this craft.

Otovalo has arty lamp posts and some old buildings and a plaza.

Since the Condor park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, we took a drive up to the Laguna Grande de Moyanda and the smaller Laguna de Chiriacu (Laguna Negra), both cold, but clear waters. At Laguna Grande de Moyanda camping is permitted, the surrounding area beautiful and very tranquil.

On Wednesday we finally visited the Parque Condór bird rehabilititation centre (also Condors can be seen close up) and were not disappointed by the variety of birds of prey and owls to be seen there. Seeing the mighty Condor close up for the first time is quite something – albeit that the beauty of their head is debatable.

The evening rain and mist made us forget that we are close to the equator -a cold night was awaiting us.

From Otavalo we headed via Quiroga to the Laguna Cuicocha close to the volcano Cotacachi(4939m). Despite the overcast weather the craterlake was beautiful with its two islands in the middle. The area is within the large Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas.

Continuing towards Ibarra we stopped in the village of Cotacachi, known for its exquisite leather and fashion goods and we noted the many ceramic murals in town – how does an artist create ceramics in these dimensions and matching the colours perfectly?

Our journey ended at the favorite overlanding camping site Finca Sommerwind in Ibarra where a few days rest would be welcome.

This post covers 28th August to 1st September 2016

Ecuador 1b: Avenue of the Volcanos – Cotopaxi and capital Quito

Cotopaxi -maybe the most beautiful of the lot. Evacuation signs remind the visitor that it is still an active volcano.

Entlang der Strasse der Vulkane ist der Cotopaxi relativ leicht zu erreichen. Die Umgebung und der Park um den Vulkan sind besonders und wir haben deshalb einen zweiten Tag dort verbracht, bevor wir nach Quito weiter fuhren. Eine Übernachtung bei Gerd im Hostal Zentrum ist interessant, wenn auch laut, wenn man im Dachzelt schläft und nicht in einem seiner Zimmer.

Our next overnight stop was the campsite at Cuello de Luna, Swiss owned and attended by Adrian with 3 large St.Bernhard dogs. Volcano Cotopaxi was not yet visible on our arrival and we hoped for clear weather.

While cleaning our vehicle next morning, we discovered that a mouse had joined us in our vehicle – and despite our best efforts, we could not catch it (a nuisance for the next three weeks until only poison proved to be a solution). The weather cleared and our afternoon drive took us to the parking below the refuge at the foot of Cotopaxi -one of the most beautiful volcanos. Cotopaxi errupted last in 2015 and grey ash still covers the glacier while smoke is still emitted.

On the next day the weather was even more perfect and visibility very clear while we again decided to visit the park and we took time to drive a circular scenic route in the park observing Cotopaxi from different angles and enjoying the flora. Again we were delighted that there were no entrance fees into this park.

Camping inside this nature area is also permitted at designated spots -well worth it if there is little or no wind, however we did not make use of the opportunity and remained at Cuella de Luna.

Our route then took us via Rumipamba and Sangolqui to the capital Quito, where we camped in the city at Hostal Zentrum run by the German Gerd -85yrs and full of interesting stories -offering the best breakfast imaginable. Gerd emigrated to Ecuador at the age of 72yrs and started the hostal then. Hostal Zentrum is conveniently close to the city – however, sleeping in our rooftop tent proved to be noisy due to the busy street.

Be aware of your vehicle’s height -ours just fitted in.

Excursions took us to the old city, grande plaza, saw the golden La Compania church and took the teleferico cableway up to the high viewpoint over Quito, quite spectacular.

Pity we did not have a view of the surrounding volcanos due to cloud cover, but we had clear views of the city and the old town section.

A visit to the president’s palace in Quito on the Plaza de Armas is possible and was interesting: it is where the cabinet operates from and where the official residence is. All official gifts from different countries are on display and form part of the nations heritage.

Our trip concluded with visits to the cathedral and Virgen del Panecillo.

Leaving Quito we headed for Otavalo with its interesting craft markets.

This post covers the period 23rd to 28th August 2016

Ecuador 1a: The Avenue of Volcanos – Chimborazo the highest volcano

Along the avenue de volcanos the Ecuadorian volcanos are visible all around you -provided the clouds stay high.

Entlang der Strasse der Vulkane konnten wir die schönsten und höchsten Vulkane bestaunen -einer gewaltiger als der andere. Cotopaxi ist wohl der bekannteste, denn er war noch 2015 ausgebrochen. Asche und Lavastrom sind noch sehr sichtbar sowie die ständige Rauchwolke.

Once we left Peru, the desert-like landscape changed very quickly into lush banana plantations (who knows Chiquita bananas, the big sweet and yellow ones?) and agricultural fields right up to the high slopes.

Reaching Cuenca, we camped at the farm-like campsite Cabañas Yanucay with Umberto and Maria, conveniently situated to walk into the old town centre. Here a number of the original workshops can be seen where the famous Panama hats are made. We visited the Basilica as well as the old wooden church, today being a museum with exquisite wood carvings exhibited.

Next day we drove via Gamete to Laguna Atilla which was unfortunately misty and rainy and had to turn around due to landslide activity.

We decided to camp along a stream below a forest tree fellers’ road where during the night suddenly 2 trucks camped next to us awaiting the rain to settle.

It was a cold and wet night, but our Alucab Shadow Awn and sidewalls turned the evening into a cosy affair with rum generously added to our tea.
From here we continued to Riobamba where we camped in the yard of Hotel El Troje (Peacock) which Bernd and Marion had used on a previous trip. We found visiting the local market worthwhile where one hall is designated to the traditional speciality of grilled pigs -a sight to get used to at first – and had a delicious lunch of tender and spicy pork and crackling.

From Riobamba we accessed the volcano Chimborazo on a spectacular beautiful day. Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador (6310m) but is also the highest mountain on earth as measured from the centre of the earth (2000m higher than Everest).

We drove right up to the mountain station giving us spectacular views. Our friends were chaffed as on their previous visit 3 years ago all the volcanoes were under clouds. While at the top viewpoint we also were lucky to observe an Andean wolf, the Lobo de Parano.

Entry to the park was free and the top little restaurant served delicious cake and sandwiches.

Returning to Riobamba Bernd’s cruiser needed an oilchange and both vehicles got an intensive cleaning in a family-run cambio de aceite y lavandero. In the interim our two ladies took a taxi to find the most delicious grilled chicken in town -it probably was the most expensive adding the taxi city tour into the cost of the grilled pollo.

Next day we attempted to see the active Tungurahua volcano but a landslide and clouds prevented us getting there.

On the way we saw sidewalk restaurants offering grilled guinea pigs -we did not try them as well as pigs where the crackling is done with a blow-torch.

En route we passed San Miguel de Salcedo, know for its artesana ice creams -delicious and different, looking more like a lollipop than a conventional ice-cream.

For the night we stopped at the crater lake Quilotoa on a cold and very dusty and windy afternoon- put up our awning and outside tent to shelter from the cold winds -but during the night it almost blew away while we watched one off the roofs of a nearby cottage disintegrating. As counter measure we tied it down and gathered heavy rocks to keep the tent and awning in one piece.

Next morning we walked up to the viewpoint of this beautiful lake, the wind kept on pounding us but the view was fantastic.

On our return we stopped at the Cañon del Rio Toachi.

We continued towards Lasso, where we visited Hazienda La Cienaga, the hotel where Alexander v.Humboldt had stayed .

On the way we visited an indigenous art gallery.

Next on our trip we aimed to see the recently erupted (2015) volcano Cotopaxi – see our next post.

This post covers the period 16th to 22nd August 2016

Peru 9: Through the Cañon del Pato and along the coast to Zorritos

 

The Cañon del Pato road runs through the tunnels originally dug for a train track. Driving it today is an experience of a different kind.


Diese Strasse bietet genügend Aufregung: schmal und durch etwa 20 Tunnels direkt in den Stein gehauen. Nichts für schwache Nerven-es fällt steil ab und Gegenverkehr in den Tunnels veranlasst plötzliche Bremsmanöver. Trotzdem sollte diese Strecke gefahren warden, den sie ist landschaftlich spektakulär.


We left Caraz and took the road known as Cañon del Pato. It leads through many short tunnel sections, which were originally dug for a railway line. The dropoff into the Rio Santa is at times deep and steep but scenic.

A private toll road of the Projecto Chavimoche shortens the distance to the coast considerably and is in good condition.It helps to skip Chimbote on the coast and ends on the Panamericana Norte. We passed Trujillo and camped next in Huanchaco at the Huanchaco Gardens RV Campsite where overlanders meet.

It has a pool and clean ablutions inside a room made available to the campers. Along the beach and pier there are many restaurants and the traditional fishing boats made of reed can still be seen (Caballitos de Tortora).

The pier reminded us of back home in Namibia, Swakopmund. In one of the many seaside restaurants we had a good meal of prawns and calamari.


Next day we were back on the Panamericana Norte. Originally we intended camping in Bayovar, decided against it on gutfeel and ended in the Estuario de Virrilá where we wild camped and which has an enormous amount of seabirds, the town’s light visible across the estuary. At these beaches sea turtles lay off their eggs.

The route then took us to Piura with a shopping stop at PlazaVea and on via Mancora to Zorritos on the coast where Bernd and Marion Frauendorfer were patiently awaiting us to continue joint travels into Ecuador.

At Zorritos we camped at Swiss Wassi, where Jaques and Melba run a very nice overlanding stop and Melba makes a mean Pisco Sour on request. We also booked her for a lobster meal one evening in their house-delicious!

Also meet Colossus, the naked Peruvian dog.

This blog covers period 11th – 15th August 2016

Peru 8c: Parque Huascaran LLanganuco Sector

 

Sector Llanganuco
The dirt road starts near Yungay –a town which was heavily hit by an avalanche from Huascaran after an earthquake in 1970 and the scars run deep as 18000 people were buried alive – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huascaran

Only one church tower remained standing-the massive cemetary visible behind it today reminds visitors of this tragedy.

The winding dirt road took us past two lagoons.

Our Landcruiser diligently climbed high up the pass to 4730m with spectacular views of the highest peaks in the Peruvian Andes. The views are difficult to describe-we let the pictures tell the story.

We returned to Jaime for another pleasant night’s stay on the farm, getting ready to tackle the Cañon del Pato.