Colombia: El Desierto de la Tatacoa

September 25, 2016 § 7 Comments

Coming to Colombia was kind of a random decision, mostly based on a conviction that there was coffee and salsa music on every street corner. And while the tinto is not exactly the coffee fix I had dreamed about, and I still haven’t stepped on a dance floor, Colombia has impressed in other ways.

Mainly, hospitality and landscape:

After a transitional trio of days in Bogotá, I hopped into a Bolivariano van for a 5-hour drive to Neiva. Except for the fact that I couldn’t make up my mind about whether the air was hotter inside or outside the van and for the passenger that kept throwing up into a little, plastic bag (when does this not happen in Latin America when crossing mountain ranges?), it was a better ride than I had hoped for. I spent most of it sitting up front with the driver and chatting away about life- something I’ve gotten really good at since I got into this country.

In Neiva, I transferred into a cattle colectivo (I’m not sure how to better describe the colectivos in which you sit in a metal trailer attached to the back of the truck), which took me to Villavieja. There, I stocked up on water and questionable biscuits and started the “4km” hike into the desert. The weather was on my side: clouds and early evening.

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However, the 4km to the observatory were actually 8km. Halfway in, a motorcycle (Colombia’s main form of transportation) offered me and my too-big backpack a ride– thank goodness. I arrived in front of the observatory just as the sun was starting to set:

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Then, I was warned that I need to find lodging ASAP because there is no electricity in the desert. Once the sun sets, it’s pitch black. Which is kind of a lie, because most houses operate on solar power, but since the day had been cloudy all day, this way pretty accurate for the moment being. So, I walked over to the observatory and, in a couple of minutes, snagged myself a hammock to hang on the front porch for the night.

There was an evening astronomy session with the local astronomer (Mars, Venus, and Saturn; what a treat!), and then a clear sky and crisp breeze to lull me to sleep. Unfortunately, there was also a baby crying all night and a grandpa snoring inside the house, but that didn’t distract much from the spectacular sunset seen from the hammock.

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Since the next morning was cloudy until noon, I was lucky enough to walk around the desert for a good six hours, poking my nose everywhere I shouldn’t have.

There are three main sections: the Red Rocks:

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, the Grey Rocks:

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, and the natural swimming pool, which I walked to, but couldn’t find amid the shrubbery. Every inhabitant in the desert seems to be a guide, so there are many options for a guided tour that show all of the natural marvels and local vegetation, as well as an excursion to the pool and transportation (if walking for sunny hours in 50 degrees Celsius doesn’t sound like fun). I opted to wander around solo, even though I had very generous offers for free, full-day excursions to anywhere I wanted in the region, motorcycle included. However, it probably came with some sort of payment, and I didn’t wanna deal with guys.

My soul was frazzled and my mind turbulent, so I kept moving the next day. However, the day I had in the desert was absolutely breathtaking and refreshing in its clear skies and liberating openness. Infinity stretching on in all directions, bordered by mountain ranges on all sides and the Milky Way up above.

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Definitely a place I didn’t initially associate with Colombia, but one I would like to come back to for longer. There’s not much there in terms of civilization; most houses are basic mud shacks and bottles of cold juice as as extravagant as the day’s menu gets. However, it’s this sense of being far away from everything and transported back in time that gives the Tatacoa Desert the remote wilderness that it possesses.

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