Whenever I am asked about the highlight of my trip, my answer is 'La Guajira'.
Merciless heat, no trees to give even an inch of shade, an I ncredibly limited food supply and close to no running water make for the harshest conditions I have encountered on my travels. The magic of this region is difficult to capture and neither words nor pictures can come close to explain why exactly it is these four days out of 238 on the road that remain so crystal clear in my memory.
Maybe it is the feeling of adventure, the isolation that is so difficult to find on a continent where the backpacker's trail is already well trodden or the surreal contrast between the desert and the ocean. Probably it is all of these aspects combined, and more.
Our group of 4 started the journey to Cabo de la Vela in the small beach town of Palomino by catching a bus from the side of the road. With its reclineable seats and air conditioning it would be the most comfortable ride by far for the following days.
Dropped off at an intersection called '4 vias' (literally 4 ways), we were quickly approached by a middle-aged man offering to take us to our destination. After negotiating the price, we were told we would have to wait for two more passengers. Thinking this would take half an hour at most, we sat down with a cold beer for less than $1... an hour passed and meanwhile, our driver was getting progressively more drunk on numerous beers. We finally agreed to pay more just so we could leave.
The drive that ensued was pure hell. The ruthless driver became even more so with every additional drop of beer (which is sold every few kilometers along the dirt road), driving at 70 kph where I wouldn't dare to drive more than 50. Arguing that it would take us hours at a slower pace, he would not slow down, and we had no choice but to hold onto our seats and hope.
Finally, after what felt like forever, we got to Cabo de la Vela. Wanting to get away from our driver as quickly as possible we ignored his recommendations for a place to stay and walked off on our own. Since the town is nothing more than a single street along the coast, we had no possibility to get lost and quickly found a 'hostel'. With two rooms and space for 4 hammocks behind the house on the beach, it was basic to say the least but after the ride we'd had, I blissfully relaxed into my Chinchorro, the typical hammock in this region.
In the evening, we drove to the lighthouse in the back of our host's truck to see the sunset, picking up about 10 Wayuu (the name of the indigenous people of this region) children along the way. These kids seemed to radiate pure joy and had an innocent curiosity about them, listening to Thomas playing the Ukulele and singing in French before trying to grab the instrument themselves.
The people in this region are some of the poorest in Colombia and I have never felt the gap more strongly than here. Water is rare, vegetables other than tomato, lettuce and onion impossible to find and jobs are for the majority dependent on the influx of tourists. On the hand, I truly hope that the increasing tourism will give them more opportunities in the form of schools, electricity and running water but then again I wonder if it would truly make their lives better or just destroy their local culture. Honestly, I am not informed enough to pass any sort of judgment.
What I know is that I was speechless sitting on top of the hill, staring out onto the seemingly endless mass of water left, right and right in front of me. As the sun set, the clouds became orange, then red before finally disappearing when the entire sky turned dark.
I was woken up at 4:30 the next morning by the family's rooster and it's dozen friends in the village. After falling in and out of sleep for a few hours I decided to get up and started the day with a dip in the perfectly refreshing ocean a mere hundred meters from my hammock. Were it not for the salty taste in your mouth, you would think you were bathing a in a lake, seeing how flat the sea is.
We then made our way to another view point, this time on the back of two motorbikes. Samy and I were lucky enough to be on the better bike and made it there in one piece, but Thomas and Dominic ended up crashing on the sand and Thomas burned his leg pretty badly.
This of course dulled the excitement, and I felt guilty enjoying this place as much as I was while he was in obvious pain. Still, the views were incredible and it was difficult to not simply stand in awe.
Time seems to pass more slowly in this part of the world and I relished in the fact that there was nothing to do but swing in a hammock, read, play cards, go for a swim and repeat.
Having spent an entire day in Cabo de la Vela, we planned to leave for Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America the next morning.
At 5 am, we stood outside our accommodation, waiting for the truck that would bring us to Punta Gallinas. In true Colombian fashion, it was over half an hour late but we were eventually on our way.
After a bumpy ride and a short boat trip, we arrived at our final destination. Hospedaje Alexandra stood on top of a hill, nothing more than a dinning area, a bathroom building and two hammock areas. The lack of walls allowed you to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings even more and we all settled into our 'beds' happily.
As a vegan, the food situation had been difficult for me the past days, but breakfast on the first morning in Punta Gallinas was the only time that there was literally nothing for me to eat. Everything was already prepared and so I accepted my fate, having to get by on 3 Oreo cookies until lunch.
Not even the fiercest hunger could have lessened the magic of this morning though. Vast sandy plains turned into turquoise blue water while the midday sun beat down on us. We slid down a massive sand dune right into the ocean and sought shade under the only tree in a range of hundreds of meters. I couldn't help but smile, being there with this random group of strangers who I got on with so effortlessly it felt like we'd known each other for years.
I am still amazed every time by how close you can get to people in a matter of days when you're traveling. As so often, we had nothing much in common but the fact that we wanted to see more of the world and were incredibly grateful to be there, and this was enough to create the wonderful athmosphere that makes me still get a warm feeling in my chest when I think back on those days.
Quite a few of these pictures were taken by Dominic, so check him out over at wanderholic.com!