So we’ve been on the road for more than two weeks now. It’s crazy how much we have done and how far we’ve gotten. We aren’t planning on going this quickly for much longer. Once we get to Chile there will be a lot of stuff to stop and see. I’ll write about each country we’ve visited up to this point. Hopefully I’ll be better about writing regularly from now on.
We left Sogamoso on October 26th which was exactly a month since we had left the USA. As soon as the van, which we have now named El Chigüiro, was ready to go, we slapped on the solar panel, tossed our stuff in the van, and rolled out. Well, not quite that quickly, but we were eager to get on the road. Setting up the solar panel didn’t take Andrés very long at all. But we did have a problem with the inverter we had bought for the solar panel. I know nothing about these things, but from what I understand we bought a modified 800 watt inverter. When Andrés was doing all the calculations, this seemed like more than enough to power a small refrigerator, some LED lights, and charge our electronics. The problem arose when we plugged in the refrigerator. The inverter started beeping that there was a problem so we quickly turned it off and started scratching our heads. We came to find out that 800 watts would be enough to maintain the charge, but it wasn’t enough for the initial start up. When the refrigerator first turns on, there’s a surge of energy needed, but our inverter wasn’t giving it enough. It first seemed like we would need a larger inverter to do the job. After doing a little more research it appears the problem is mostly that the inverter is modified, meaning that it doesn’t provide an even wave for the electricity to travel. We need a pure sine wave inverter which would create a smooth path for the current. Unfortunately, inverters are crazy expensive in Colombia. We’re hoping to find a more reasonably priced one somewhere along the way. In the meantime, we’ve ditched the mini fridge and gotten an electric cooler. We can’t keep that charged at the moment either, but it should require less energy once we get the right inverter.
So anyway, back to the road trip. We left Sogamoso around noon, which meant we weren’t going to get very far that day. We had agreed that we wouldn’t drive more than 5 hours a day and that we wouldn’t drive at night. Also, in Colombia, we wanted to camp at established campgrounds for safety reasons. That day we found a few campgrounds near Guatavita. There’s a big lake there which provides water to Bogotá. It’s also said to be where the El Dorado treasure is hidden. We followed the directions on our handy phone GPS, which took us up and down an unpaved mountain road. According to the map, this was the quickest way. After talking to some locals, they all told us it would have been much quicker to come from another direction, which was of course paved. We got into Guatavita around 7 and it was already dark. We tried to find a campground, but all of them looked closed or abandoned. We eventually found one down a dirt road. The owners were very friendly, showed us around and let us set up the van in front of the office building. It was our first night in the van so we wanted to try everything. We pulled out the awning, used the gas stove (to make a rather unappetizing spaghetti bolognese), and set up the bed. Leia slept in the bed with us that night and I don’t think any of us got a decent rest. Leia moved around, laying on top of our legs and trying to take up half the bed. It was a little chilly outside but it was still stuffy in the van which also made it hard to sleep. We woke up early the next day, had breakfast at the campground, then went to check out Guatavita. The town was very charming with white stucco buildings and little plazas. We hung out for an hour or so then got on the road.
That day we made it to La Mesa, a small town on the side of the central Andes mountain range. The trip down there from Guatavita was really beautiful. The mountains were green and lush dotted with lots of small villages. We stopped in La Mesa for a late lunch and decided to find a campground that night. We asked around but it wasn’t until we stopped at a gas station that we got a suggestion. On the way into town there was a restaurant called the Macadamia that had a campground. We drove up there, but didn’t see anything that seemed like a campsite. We did see a small road alongside the restaurant so we figured that must be it. We drove down and got to a place where they do various extreme sports. There was a building on the side of the mountain that had the most breathtaking views of the valley. A guide chatted with us for a while and told us about some of the mountains in the distance and some other fun facts about the area. We wished we could have stayed there for the night because the view was amazing. Instead we were directed to the actual campsite which was a little down the mountain.
After that we made it to the Tatacoa desert. I read in my guidebook that there are great views of the stars at night and there’s even an observatory that has nightly viewings. We got into the nearby town around 3, then went into the desert to find a campsite. We chose one solely on the fact that it had a pool. It was pretty hot out and our van doesn’t have AC so we were ready to cool off. We hung out in the pool for a while, then took Leia for a walk. I didn’t realize the sand was actually really muddy. Leia smelled some goats or something and pulled me really hard and I ended up stepping right in a thick mud patch. I immediately got the a solid spot, but realized I was surrounded by tons of mud. I was too far away to just step back to where I had come from. Andrés tried to rescue me, but I still ended up stepping my other foot in the mud. Ug! We got back to the van, set up the awning and wanted to hang out until the sun set so we could head to the observatory. Of course instead of a nice star viewing, it started raining really hard. We noticed that the awning was starting to sag so we rushed to put it back in and ran to the restaurant area of the campsite. The owner was not very friendly and didn’t let us bring Leia with us. She had to sit near the entrance alone, which we weren’t pleases about. While we waited for the rain to pass we tried some cactus wine, a specialty of the region. Apparently it’s made with cactus fruit and is actually fairly tasty.
The next couple days we spent in San Augustin which is home to some of the oldest pre-Columbian artifacts in Latin America. Ancient civilizations carved statues out of volcanic rocks. There is a large park that brought together lots of the statues along with a few burial sites with their original structures. We were happy that they let Leia in with us. She enjoyed a nice long walk and was excited to chase after some chickens and meet some other dogs. There are several other archeological sites that can be visited, but we only had a chance to check out one other one. We also drove out to the Salto de Bordones which is the second tallest waterfall in South America. We had to drive down a narrow unpaved road to get there. It’s funny because even down the most remote roads, you can easily find places to buy or repair tires. Even though it was a long, bumpy ride, I’d say it was well worth it.
Our last stop in Colombia was Mocoa, which is in the Colombian Amazon. It was hot and humid, just as you’d expect. The owner of the campground in San Augustin told us about a waterfall in Mocoa called the Fin Del Mundo (the End of the World), which sounded interesting so that was our primary reason for staying in Mocoa. We tried to start the hike up to the waterfall around 2:00, but we were quickly turned away because we had Leia with us. They didn’t want dogs entering the area because they didn’t want the wildlife to be disturbed. They also said it was a little late because the hike up takes about an 90 minutes, then you want to spend time up by the falls. We decided to stay another night and get up early to make the journey. In the end, I was happy we couldn’t take Leia because it was so hot out and the hike was mostly uphill. I don’t know how well she would have done on the walk. There were actually 4 waterfalls at the top, three smaller ones and then the tall Fin Del Mundo. We were able to swim in some of the pools which felt amazing after trudging up a mountain in the heat.
Here are a few things I have learned while in traveling in Colombia:
- Always travel with toilet paper. It’s a luxury to go to the restroom and find toilet paper. Do yourself a favor and bring some with you no matter where you are.
- Drivers in Colombia are crazy. Keep alert at all times because there are motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses that can come barreling down the road at any moment.
- Be prepared for some horrible roads. Whether it’s potholes, unpaved sections of road, or speed bumps, they can come up without warning so drive with caution.
- Colombia is a beautiful place with lots of amazing views, friendly people, and delicious food. Drink as many fruit juices as possible because they won’t be as readily available going south!