How to spend two nights in the Desierto de la Tatacoa, Colombia

After a couple of days chasing an invisible waterfall and laughing our asses off with Ale’s funny faces in the National Park, it was time to move on to the next spot. No waiting until a Mexican arrives, exhausted after a couple of days sweating on his bike, but instead taking the bus together to Neiva and further into the Desierto de la Tatacoa.

First views of the desert and its only road.
Goat friends and the showers of a hostel.

First of all, buses depend on a certain timetable, so I had to drag the Mexican out of his bed and into the shower, in order to be on time for the bus direction Pitalito and further to Neiva, Villavieja and Tatacoa. This time, luckily, we’d already packed our bags in advance and left most of our stuff in the hostel, together with Ale’s bike. We would pick it up three days later and enjoy two nights in the Colombian desert. Since I’m quite Belgian and my sense of timing is also quite Belgian, we arrived well on time at the street corner, where the buses direction Neiva departed, at 8 o’clock in the morning. Some 10 minutes too early of course – rather too early than too late – which meant we had extra time to score some breakfast. Hurray for plastic bags of yoghurt and chocolate chip cookies in Christmas packaging! Once in the minivan – taking a ‘bus’ could mean anything in South America, from a normal bus with 56 seats to a minivan or a truck with some extra seats in the back, I’ve seen them all – we took off direction Pitalito, only to have a half hour break and switch to another minivan headed to Neiva. On the way chatting a bit with Ale, when he wasn’t annoyed with being stuck on a bus – or sleeping -, watching other villages pass by. By the time we reached Neiva’s bus terminal, we were lucky enough to have a collectivo to Villavieja waiting for us. Ignoring my growling stomach, we were in for a not-so-comfortable ride to our last stop. Last stop with a normal ‘bus’ at least.

Once in Villavieja, a bunch of moto-taxi’s and other vehicles where eagerly waiting for us to transport us into the jungle. None of it quite ‘cheap’, in comparison with the price we paid for the bus, knowing it would only be 15 – 20 minutes while we were already traveling for 6 hours. Anyhow, we didn’t have any other options, which the drivers knew as well. We jumped onto the last tuk-tuk – by lack of other words, I need to call it a motorized tricycle with space for three in the back and two in the front, each with one butt-cheek on the front seat, but tuk-tuk is easier – and while Ale as the only native Spanish speaker chatted away with the driver in the front, I was chatting in French with the couple in the back of the tuk-tuk. I let Ale do the negotiating in the first place, since he’s the Macho Alfa of the two of us, but this time it really came in handy. While the guy mentioned his price before we stepped inside, Ale managed to get us a discount and to let the driver drop us off at a hostel right in front of the Observatory. Yup, the desert has also something to offer at night… If you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, of course.

Evening walk between the cacti
The Mexican kept on following me. All the way to Tatacoa. He even left his bike!
Goats everywhere.

1. GO ON AN EVENING WALK

The first thing we did when arriving was, of course, book a room. We didn’t want to sleep outside in the open in the middle of nowhere and we read that accommodation could run out fast…only not when we were there. Almost the only ones in the hostel – called ‘La Tranquilidad‘, only the French couple decided to stay there as well – we had plenty of rooms to choose from. For solo travelers reading this, I would go for the hamaca-option if I were you, plenty of hammocks to sleep in, which we also tested later that evening. But we were hungry, especially since it was past 3 pm. After installing our stuff in the room, we went to the owners who cooked us a meal with the usual ingredients: chicken, rice, platanos. Soup as a starter, juice with the meal. The typically ‘menu del dia’ dishes, but delicious because I was already starving the moment we left Neiva. During the meal we got to know Sr. Sebas the Second – named after his apparent twin Sebas I, Ale’s cat in Mexico – and the Cannibalistic Chicken. The chicken seemed a bit crazy – think about the chicken in Disney’s Moana and you’ll get what I mean – and was quite eager, as in running for it, to eat all the scraps of chicken we threw on the ground for the cat. Maybe even eating her own sisters. Hmpf. Anyway, after our late lunch, it was time to explore a bit. Too early to see the stars but too late to go for a hike, we opted for a little exploring walk in the Desierto.

More cacti..we were in a desert after all.
We stumbled upon some baby goats.
Too cute not to take a picture.
Ahem…I guess I still need to work on my posing skills.

And I call it desert all the time, after the Spanish ‘Desierto’, but technically the Desierto de la Tatacoa is a ‘semi-arid dry tropical forest’, slowly becoming a desert. When the Spanish arrived a couple of centuries before, you could find fields of flowers and a reptilian creature called ‘Tatacoa’, which went extinct already ages ago. Now you can find reddish and greyish canyons – the desert, I’m still calling it that, is divided in two parts with different colours – and plenty of cacti, goats, snakes, scorpions and other animals in the area. Luckily I only got to witness the cacti and the goats. Phew. Anyhow, we decided to have a little walk in the desert. Now, I’m somebody what they call an ‘over-thinker’. I think too much about everything that could happen – when I’m not busy making impulsive decisions and decide to follow a Mexican stranger on a bike, through Colombia – and I was thinking too much when walking in the Tatacoa as well. Okay, it was fine. The landscapes where amazing, the cacti huge and the baby goats we encountered were the cutest ever. But then I’m thinking about not getting out of the desert when the sun goes down and we will lose the path back – sun was still shining high and brightly, Ale taught me then how to roughly calculate with your fingers the time you have until the sun sets -, what about snakes and how about not bringing any drinks? After Ale promised me to take me out of the desert alive, I did take some time to enjoy my surroundings. The beautiful colours reflected on the stone pilars around us. The reddish glow of a sun setting. Baby goats. Following a strange bird, which wasn’t the Cannibalistic Chicken. The overall feeling of happiness of being outside. In nature. Somewhere new. With someone I liked. In the meantime I taught that same person I liked some things in Dutch, which sounds really funny with a Spanish accent. Who then repeatedly said the same words over and over again, screaming as loud as he could. – I’m so glad Dutch is not such a common language – After all that worrying for nothing, during our walk, we had a great time after all. Until we decided to go back and got chased by a dog again – remember our waterfall adventure in San Augustin? – A small one this time. For only the last 20 meters. Which wasn’t scary at all, actually.

Moon. Taken through a telescope.
Beware of the donkeys after dark.

2. STARGAZE AT THE OBSERVATORIO ASTRONOMICO ASTROSUR

After arriving back at the hostel, we relaxed in the hamacas the last half hour before the sun was really gone and we could cross the road to the Observatory. One of the reasons why I really liked this hostel is because it’s so close to both the red desert and the grey desert PLUS the Observatory is only a 2-second walk crossing the road. We saw some tiny lights blinking in the observatory and paid the fee, ready to be amazed by the wondrous mysteries of the sky. Which was without a cloud, lucky us. We had to be quick though, since we had the chance to see Saturn through a telescope, which would be gone within the hour after sunset. Quite amazing actually, how a simple instrument made by man can let you see a planet lightyears away from you. Yes, we could see the ring around Saturn. No, I couldn’t take a picture of it. – sad emoticon – I did take a nice picture of the moon, with its white shiny surface and all its craters so detailed as if it was hanging next to my head. We saw some pulsing stars in different colours – I saw the pulsing, the others saw the colours…I think I’m nightblind – and we spent quite some time at the telescopes, seeing planets and constellations, before the big presentation started. In Spanish. Which is okay for me, since I speak Spanish and have been speaking it all the time when travelling with Ale, but after a while my brain just shut down and I relaxed, laying down on the soft floor – they put some rubbery cover on the floor, so you can lay down comfortably – next to Ale, content with watching the clear skies and tons of stars. Doing my best not to fall asleep – I was pretty comfy after all – while the Mexican was listening attentively to everything said by our guides.

Another great experience to add to the list. Happy, we went back to our hostel and straight to our room, only to discover we had two pets waiting for us, which we named Mike and Eduardo. Mike, named after the lizard Ale once had in his room in Mexico and Eduardo, named after the lizard I once had in my room in Croatia. Basically, Mike II and Eduardo II were waiting for us on the wall and decided to take off once we got too close, ready to let us sleep – well… – in peace, so we would be well rested for the next day in the desert.

Pink cap on a horse. That’s me.
Grey desert.
More grey desert. In the morning light. Sounds more poetic.

3. EXPLORE THE GREY DESERT ON THE BACK OF A HORSE

Our first and only full day in the Tatacoa desert started with breakfast followed by a tour through the grey desert. On a horse. I know, there are plenty of other ways to discover the grey part of the desert, going from renting bicycles or motorcycles to driving around in a hired tuk-tuk. Nevertheless, the only way to really make the most out of your desert trip is on a horse. You simply can get to places where there are no roads and not reachable on foot. – At least when you don’t want to die a painfull death lost in the desert. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. – That said, I’m not very fond of sitting on top of a horse. Ale and me talked about it the day before and decided that discovering the desert by horse would be our best option, but I still think we both had our doubts, even though we never mentioned them to each other. Anyway, Ale arranged a tour with the owner of the hostel and we took off as soon as the Cannibalistic chicken and Sebas the II ate the scraps of our breakfast.

Now. The horse. I was able to get on top of it, sit still and let the horse walk, while grabbing the saddle very firmly with one hand. Great! Luckily the horse knew where to go, we just needed to follow the guide. Off we went with two extra horses to pick up another couple in another hostel before heading into the grey part – the biggest part – of the desert. Ladies. Here it comes. One tip. Wear a good bra when sitting on a horse. I knew we were going to stop at a swimming pool – Los Hoyos – later on, so I prepared by wearing my bikini already, which is in no way as comfortable as a normal bra. Also, NO support. Which is kind of painfull when you have a horse that thinks a normal pace is too slow, no, galloping is the way we go. Having three hours of you boobs wobbling up and down is not something I wish upon my worst enemy. Anyhow, I learned my lesson the hard way.

Besides all my nagging about being scared on a horse and painfull boobs, visiting the desert on top of a horse is amazing and definitely worth it. You have the feeling of being completely alone in the middle of nowhere – besides the guide, Ale, the couple and the horses -, surrounded by grey canyons and cacti, only to be disturbed by a wild goat or two. The views are endless, but in no way boring. As I already mentioned, somebody had the genius idea to build a swimming pool in the middle of the desert, which is very refreshing after a while on a horse. In total our tour took about 3 hours, of which I took very little pictures, because I was too busy making sure my horse didn’t throw me of a cliff. Luckily, Ale filmed a lot with my GoPro – because I needed my two hands on the horse – so at least I have some funny, shaky videos to look back to.

The red part of the desert is the prettiest part. Clearly.
And you can walk all the way to the bottom…
…but we stayed on the top. Just looking over it is already quite amazing!
Poser.
More red desert.

4. DISCOVER THE RED DESERT ON FOOT

After our experience on a horse, our host asked us if we wanted to continue the trip around the red desert as well. Hardly feeling my butt anymore, both Ale and me said ‘no thanks’ and opted to have a little siesta in the hammocks before walking to the red desert and discover it on our own. I remember telling the Mexican I was very glad to have both feet on the ground again, showing him the blister on the palm of my hand where I was holding on to the saddle. Apparently, he was very surprised that I’d been scared at all, he thought I was looking very calm and composed on my horse. – while I was screaming mentally ‘they feel it when you’re scared, keep calm, breathe in, breathe out, just follow the group, don’t run, please, DON’T RUN THAT FAST,…’ – All the time I was thinking he was the calm one, looking like he had been born on a horse, while he wasn’t too comfortable over there either. A big relief for both of us.

Ready for a little siesta in the hamacas – playing with Sebas II – and with a bra on this time, we left for the red desert, only 10 minutes walking from our hostel and much much smaller than the grey desert. More photogenic as well and the best way to explore is just by foot. You have several paths going through it, well indicated and easy to follow. Or, if you’re like us, with a painfull butt and not really into a long walk after spending 3 full hours on a horse, you can look over the canyons while walking along the road, following the path and be surprised by the superb views upon the red desert.

Red desert. I’m getting out of inspiration for these captions…
A Mexican in the desert.
A Mexican and a Belgian in the desert.
More canyon and desert. Sometimes I can hardly believe this is Colombia.
Pretty view. Red desert. Again.
Giant cacti for a change!
Little cacti. With pink flowers, adding a bit more color to the desert.

One full day exploring Tatacoa and we were exhausted. We managed to have just enough energy to walk to the next hostel / restaurant to have diner and play with the cat of the house. And drink batida de Guanabana, my new favorite drink. The next day was going to be a hard one, leaving early in the morning just to go all the way back to San Augustin, where Ale’s bike was waiting for him and my backpack ready to be strapped on, because I would be exploring Tierradentro on my own! – No, I wasn’t yet ready to leave the Mexican behind, he just needed 4 full days to reach our next destination…which gave me the chance to go a bit off the beaten track and head to Tierradentro –

Still want to read more about my – and the Mexican’s – adventures in Colombia? Prepare yourself for the next blogpost: Off the beaten path: what to do in Tierradentro?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Desierto de la Tatacoa, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus San Augustin – Neiva: one way – 30.000 COP / 9,00€

Collectivo Neiva – Villavieja: one way – 7000 COP / 2,10€

Tuk-tuk Villavieja – Desierto de la Tatacoa: one way – 15.000 COP / 4,5€

Accommodation

2 nights in Hostel Tranquilidad, Desierto de la Tatacoa: private room – 50.000 COP per night / 15,00€ per night for two people

Activities

3 hours horse riding through the Grey Desert: 45.000 COP / 13,5€

Evening in Observatorio Astronomico Astrosur: 10.000 COP / 3€

Food

Diner in hostel: rice with chicken, platanos, etc. and a drink – 14.000 COP / 4,20€

Breakfast in hostel: 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Batido de Guanabana: 4.000 COP / 1,20€

A visit with funny faces to the Archeological National Park in San Augustin and how (not) to find the Cascada el Cinco

After some days in the White Colonial city of Popayan, it was time for us to move on, direction San Augustin, where we wanted to visit the famous National Park. – The one with all the statues. I’ll explain later in this blogpost, don’t worry – But first, I had to wake up a grumpy Mexican – The only thing he disliked about me (as he says) was how I woke up too early. And since he was sleeping with me in his arms, how I woke him up too early. – and we had to get ready to head to the bus station, after picking up our laundry. Luckily, as you might remember, Ale is also an excellent cook and I had to chance to enjoy some quesadillas for breakfast AND he made me some for lunch too. Having a packed lunch for a change made me look forward a little bit to the bus ride I had ahead of me. Only a little bit.

And the bus broke down…watching how other people work while eating quesadilla’s.
Enjoying the sunset when waiting for the driver to fix the bus.

After saying goodbye to our hostel we headed towards the bus station, where I would figure out which bus to take while Ale cycled to the laundry store to pick up our clothes. Knowing South America a little bit, I knew I didn’t need to buy the ticket for the bus going in 30 minutes, instead I went for the one 1,5 hours later, calculating that Ale wouldn’t be arriving back so soon. Proved to be right, since half an hour passed and I hadn’t seen a sign of him. I did meet a nice police officer who asked me about my trip, decided to have a little chat with me while I was waiting and who bought me some sweet pastries before he went back to work. Right on time to have Ale arriving – the laundry wasn’t ready yet when he went to pick it up -, bike already in order and with my clothes clean, dry and ready to pack. Only a short stop to kiss me goodbye again, off to San Augustin, where he hoped to arrive the next day. – Hehe. This is the funny part. I always knew he was overestimating himself, I just needed to wait for the message he wouldn’t be in that evening and change my plans – So I waited for the bus, which left an hour later than expected and settled down for what would be the rest of my afternoon, watching the landscape pass by. Only to try and shout ‘Alleeeeee’ out of the bus window when I saw my Mexican two hours later, cycling very slowly up hill. – First time I was awake to see him cycling during the trip – Little did he know – or me – that the heaviest part was yet to come: more than 30 kilometers through the Puracé National Park, with literally nothing. No restaurants, no stops, not even space to park a car on the side of the road. The only thing you’d see was a road filled with potholes, heavy trucks speeding by and thick forest on both sides of the road. Ale wouldn’t ever be able to sleep or put up his tent during this part, there was literally nothing. NOTHING. Quite close to the middle of nowhere. Even closer when our bus driver suddenly stopped the bus, went to check the tires and took off without saying anything. Since he started driving again, I didn’t worry, only when we arrived back into the land of the living after crossing the Puracé Park borders, we stopped for real to get our tire replaced. I watched while eating my last quesadilla. At least I got some time to stretch my legs. The sun started to set and with a couple of hours delay I got dropped off at the side of the road, together with two German girls who also were headed to San Augustin. There we had a jeep waiting for us to drive us the last part up the hill into the city, chatting with the driver who wanted to know who we were and what our plans where. When hearing the story about my Mexican cyclist, he needed to tell me that there are two wild lions living in the National Park, after they managed to escape a travelling circus. Never to be found again, probably roaming in the woods of the Park. Being more scared of Ale being hit by the huge trucks passing by than being eaten by wild lions, I still wisely decided not to send him a message with the news. He probably didn’t have wifi anyway.

After a long day in a shaky bus and the last kilometers in jeep, I finally arrived in my hostel, where I had this double room all for myself. I discovered the hostel a bit, met some people, chatted and played ‘Shithead’ – needed to show off my skills, duh – and went to bed alone.

Streets of San Augustin.
First walk around the city.
Space to park your horse.

WALKING AROUND SAN AUGUSTIN

Waking up with free coffee in the hostel and a long chat over breakfast with Julia and Mitchell, a couple from the US travelling all around Central and South America. I particularly remember them because they were extremely excited to hear my story – apparently two people travelling together with two different ways of transportation is not quite common – and I continued to follow them on social media for the rest of their trip, returning to their favorite country Mexico and all the way home. Anyway, I spend a big part of the morning chatting with them and with Anna, a girl from Russia who decided to explore San Augustin with me. San Augustin is not such a big city, smack in the middle of the mountains and surrounded by plenty of walks, hikes, waterfalls and of course the famous Archeological National Park. Cobblestones dot the streets, a square next to the church and a range of shops is all there is to see in the city centre. An average South American city I would say, but because of all the things to do in the area, you do have quite some hostels here and the city has an overall nice vibe. It doesn’t feel dangerous, not even at night, there isn’t too much traffic, it’s actually quite perfect to relax a couple of days. Which I did the first day. Since Ale and me were planning to visit the Park together, I used the first day to figure out everything we could do: how to get to the park, what are the other things to do in the area, where’s the supermarket – I bought some milk and cookies for Ale, since he would be starving when he arrives and he adores milk and cookies apparently – , where do they sell the best batidas de guanabana… I managed all that and still had some time left to write in my journal, relax and discover that Danna and Brecht stayed also in San Augustin… so I paid them a visit in their hostel, catching up on travel stories while waiting for my Mexican to arrive…

Magnificent view from the rooftop of our hostel.

Who did arrive the second day. As he told me. To my big surprise, I was already getting worried not having heared from him around 6 pm – the time he sends me a message to see if he would be making it or not – and it was already dark, so he wouldn’t be able to cycle anymore… Being a bit stressy about it, I left Danna and Brecht and returned to my hostel’s wifi, just in time to read he arrived in the city and was finding his way to the hostel. I ran outside, eagerly waiting for Ale to arrive, and when he rounded the corner he just looked exhausted. Sweaty. And very happy. We installed the bike in the hostel and headed outside to the pizza place three doors down, were we ordered take away pizza to eat on the hostel’s rooftop terrace. Very fancy indeed. That’s also where he told me he wouldn’t have made it at all that day, having just arrived at the Puracé National Park at 4 pm, he realized he had this whole way ahead of him without any place to stop, eat or sleep. He stopped a local bus passing by, where the busdriver confirmed his suspicions and, because it was that late in the day already, he never would’ve made it out of the park that same day. Spending a night on the side of the road would’ve been suicide, so he took the only option he had, buying a busticket and getting his bike on – lucky as he was – one of the last buses of the day passing through the park. Dropping him off just outside of town, so he still needed to cycle uphill, in the dark. I was relieved to see him, since I had been travelling on that road and I was worried about him passing the 30 km in Puracé, with all those monsterous trucks speeding by. But, he was there, I was there, we had milk, cookies, pizza and a plan for the next day. Even though he had to pay for the bus, we both were very happy to see each other safe and sound again.

Not a bad place to get buried, I guess.
I would also like a tomb like this. Any volunteers to carve something for me?
More tombs, protected against the sun.
The one of the left is the creepiest ever. Doing a good job protecting is tomb I suppose?
More open spaces, more burial sites.
This little fellow was my favorite.

VISITING ‘EL PARQUE ARQUELOGICO NACIONAL DE SAN AUGUSTIN E ISNOS’

Our plan for the next day was quite obvious and the reason why everybody visits San Augustin in the first place: the Archeological National Park. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is a part of one of the biggest concentrations of megalithic pre-Columbian burial sites, funerary monuments, burial mounds and religious monuments in South America. It was deserted in the 14th century and discovered again in the 18th – 19th century. The most interesting part for Ale and me was of course the National Park, were a third of the known San Augustin statues is placed. There are plenty of other places around San Augustin and especially in neighbouring Isnos where you can find other ‘megalithic funerary monuments’, but the park is the easiest to reach from San Augustin.

Like a real tourist.
Like two real tourists.
Show me what you’ve got.
Almost, almost…

So, after a nice night of sleep and cuddles, we woke up, took a shower and decided to dress up with hiking boots and shorts – well, shorts for me – to walk all the way to the National Park. On our way we had a little pit stop in a local restaurant were we ate a cheap breakfast containing rice, chicken and platanos. With coffee. Yes, it wasn’t the first time this would be my morning food because we were cheap asses that couldn’t afford a European breakfast – Ale wouldn’t even have wanted to eat a sweet breakfast I suppose…I was still travelling with a Mexican, remember? – and actually I do kind of like chicken and rice. Easy as it was, we took the one street leading out of San Augustin in the direction of the National Park, which should’ve been a nice, 30 minute walk if Ale didn’t decide to do something a little bit illegal and got caught by the police. Ha. Let’s say it wasn’t something very serious, but he ended up giving them all the money in his wallet in order not to go to the police station with them. After this short intermezzo, we continued our way to the National Park where I of course ended up paying for the two of us.

One happy statue and one happy Mexican.
Monkey business.
The views were not that bad either.
Little Mr. Frog.
The Colombian countryside is just stunning.

When you visit the Park, it’s advisable to visit the museum first before you go further to check out the different mounds and burial sites. Not because they know that much about the civilisation that made the statues and the sites, but rather because you’ll get an idea of what you will see, how to recognize the animals they used as inspiration for their statues and just to get an overall feel of what you’re about to see. You’ll get a little passport at the entrance of the park, with an overview of all the different sites you can visit and a small map of the park. Every time you pass one of the checkpoints you get a nice stamp in your Park-passport, which was kind of a bonus to head out and explore as much as you can. After the museum, it was about time to head to the park. With the sun coming out after the past rainy days in Popayan, it was the ideal day to have a walk outdoors. We kept the best for last and decided to head to the higher trails first, walking past different mounds and through the forrest, up some stairs and eventually all the way up a long staircase, until we reached the most magnificent view of the park. We were at the feet of the Andes and the landscape absolutely stunning, surrounding us with green hills and mountains. Those pre-Columbian civilisations really knew which spot to pick to get buried. We decided to rest a bit there, sheltering in the shadow against the heath of the sun. I don’t know if our game already started there, but I noticed that some of the faces where kind of naughty. Angry. Scary. Or just plain funny. So I challenged Ale to do his best to be as pretty on the pictures as those ancient statues. Always in for a challenge, Ale definitely did his everything he could to excel in the funny-faces competition, as you can see for yourself. After the highest point, we left to the spot that’s for me the most iconic of the park: El Bosque de las Estatuas. Far away from the sun, as in a magical little world of their own, many of the statues they’ve found got their ‘final resting place’. Plenty of funny faces and pretty pictures opportunities, where I took the best Polariod picture ever – accidently, of my own double chin – while saying ‘Ow, fuck’. Well, I made a better one later on. Without double chin this time.

Stairs to the upper part of the Park. Still wondering how they got all the stones up…
Statues with a view.
Still life. Mexican in San Augustin.
Hello there.
Checking his new passport…
The views stay amazing.

Since the sky was getting cloudy and it seemed that it might be raining anytime soon, we decided to leave the park after 3 or 4 hours discovering it, ready to have lunch and a nice rest. We ate in the same spot as where we had breakfast – menu del dia, of course – and headed to the supermarket already thinking about our homemade diner. Made by Ale, I’m only the dishwasher on this trip. After lunch, supermarket and diner we met up with Danna and Brecht again, with a first time for the Mexican to meet another Belgian on this trip. – I met them in Cali and Salento, he’d never seen them before, besides a short ‘hello’ to Danna during the salsa night in Cali – We spent the evening chatting and drinking beers / juice – wine became too expensive and I don’t like beer, so no more alcohol for me – in Danna & Brecht’s hostel. Quite funny of all places you can choose, I met the same couple three times during the same trip in Colombia, a huge country, without even planning to head in that direction. But as always, it is nice to meet new friends and I definitely hope seeing them again, in Belgium or elsewhere. Anyway, after a day full of explorations, climbing and walking around, we were both exhausted and headed to our own bed.

I really like this one in the Bosque the Las Statuas. Seems like the big Chief.
Pretty one.
Another monkey.
Two monkeys over here.
That’s more like it.
A kiss to end the visit.

HOW (NOT) TO FIND CASCADA EL CINCO

The next morning we woke up, ready for our final day in San Augustin. We already discussed the future of our trip together at that point, while initially I would continue to the Desierto de la Tatacoa alone, parting with Ale, and start travelling to the north again. Ale himself also felt like visiting the desert, since he had had to make a decision at the beginning of his trip: see the Cocora Valley and Salento and to continue to Cali or travel down to the Desierto, heading to Mocoa. Now he could do both. At the other side, I didn’t feel like having a hasty goodbye in the middle of the road of one of the bus stations, while we each split up our ways to next destinations. It didn’t felt good. I didn’t want it. So I adapted myself again and since I started without any fixed plans anyway, I let the road and my company decide for me. The plan ended up being: going to the desert together, returning to San Augustin to pick up our stuff – we would go on a bus together, the Mexican abandoning his bike for just three days – and continuing together: Ale ready for the 4-day journey to Mocoa, me on a bus direction Tierradentro and heading to Mocoa afterwards, with the intention to arrive the same day as him. After all that, going to Pasto together as a last Colombian stop, hopefully to celebrate Ale’s birthday there. Big decisions and big plans, but we were looking forward to it.

First, the same day, we wanted to visit one of the plenty of waterfalls in the region, preferably one were we could have a swim. Eliminating the ones were we needed hours on public transport – or a taxi drive – for, we opted for the Cinco waterfall, in our hostel described as a ‘waterfall were you can also swim, 45 minutes walk from the main Archeological Park’. Ideal. As we thought. This day is known as the day we discovered you ‘don’t just go and swim in a waterfall in Colombia’. This day we realized a bit of research and a guide come in handy. Well. We went our way and stopped at the breakfast place of the day before and, as usual, ate our chicken and rice before stopping one of the buses on the road to bring us to the National Park. Once there, we asked the bus driver if the direction was correct – ‘A little bit before the main entrance you will see a road that goes left. Take this road and continue straight’ – and started our walk to the waterfalls. The sun was out, it was getting hot, I had my bikini on and we were both excited of a day relaxing in nature. The surroundings were amazing and during our walk we had some nice views over the valley. Until we came to the split in the road. According to the instructions ‘When the road splits, always keep to your right until you see a sign that says Cascada‘, so we had to go right. Which we did, after asking some of the people living there, but the road ended somehow in the garden of somebody. A bit confused, we found a path going down, leading up to a river. We went to the river, but didn’t have any clue if we needed to follow, so back up to ask. One of the men living there decided to take as down, and gave us some vague instructions about crossing the river. Hmpf. That’s where it became a bit difficult. Vague instructions, no ‘cascada’ sign, and somewhere down at the river in the middle of nowhere. The old man muttered something about crossing the river, and we could hear faraway sounds of water falling down, but no sight of where this Cinco waterfall could be. Crossing a concrete beam, as a little bridge over the river, we went to the other side and decided to go up the mountain, to check if we could see something. We ended up at a farm with a lady telling us it was completely the opposite way, we had to return our steps. A bit sweaty and demotivated, we headed back down. Only to be chased by two of the lady’s dogs, barking and running after us after we left the property. In the beginning everything was okay, but they came close very fast and Ale prepared some stones and branches in case they would attack. He also let me go first – or rather, I was so scared a almost sprinted down the mountain -, keeping the dogs at a distance with his stick. I crossed the concrete beam again and was relieved to see Ale alive and well, without a dog having eaten a chunk out of his sexy pompis. He crossed and the dogs stayed at the other side. Which left us with nothing more than trying to ‘take the small trail that goes along the river until you reach the waterfall‘. We tried again, another side, until bushes closed in around us and we were somewhere on a field filled with banana trees. Bummer. Needless to say that after 3 hours of walking, searching and getting chased by dogs we decided to give up and head back to San Augustin.

We were also quite hungry at that point. The little handwritten signs at the houses selling homemade helado were too tempting for us and we decided to dig in, as a little treat after not finding the waterfall. Oh boy. They only had maracuya flavor – passionfruit – and with the 300 COP it cost, it was the cheapest and most delicious ice cream I have ever eaten in my life. Seriously. We regretted immediately that we didn’t take two. So we indulged on some yoghurt instead, buying it off one of the sellers speeding by on his motorbike. After all, the long sweaty walk was worth it, for the views, the adventure and the best ice cream in the whole world.

Ready for the Desierto de la Tatacoa. Rawr!

Once back at the Park, we took the bus to the centre, headed to the supermarket and bought some provisions for our days in the desert. And we had another ice cream. Because we could. We ended our day playing ‘Shithead’ – somehow, Ale started winning again -, cooking – the Mexican – and eating – me – a delicious pasta with a salad and we already packed our bags BEFORE leaving the next day. Improvements from the Mexican’s side. Well, he had to wake up early to catch the bus anyway…more about our trip to the desert in a next blogpost: ‘How to spend two days in the Desierto de la Tatacoa’!

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in San Augustin, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Popayan – San Augustin: one way – 34.000 COP / 9,64€

Bus to and from National Park: 2.400 COP / 0,69€

Accommodation

4 nights in Hostel Bambu, San Augustin: private room – 45.000 COP per night / 12,76€ per night – nice social hostel close to the city centre

Activities

Entrance fee Archeological National Park of San Augustin: 17.500 COP / 4,97€

Food

Breakfast chicken and rice: 7.000 COP / 1,99€

Take Away Pizza in El Faro, next to Hostel Bambu: 14.000 COP / 3,97€

Best Ice Cream in the world, bought in a house along the road to the too hidden waterfall El Cinco: 300 COP / 0,09€ – still sad I didn’t buy two

You bewitched me already, Montenegro.

When I travel, I like to mix. Mix and match my clothing, so I don’t have to carry 20 kilo’s on my back. Mix my drinks, as in gin and tonic. Rum and coke. Sometimes only rum. Though my favorite mix is the travel mix: a little bit of culture, a little bit of history, a lot of nerve-wracking, breathtaking, adrenaline rushing adventures. Heaps of stunning views and picturesque small villages. Add to that a pinch of ‘fiesta en la noche until mañana’ and we have the perfect trip. Guess that sounds like Montenegro. Continue reading You bewitched me already, Montenegro.

Snapshots of Zion National Park.

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I don’t need to exaggerate, but Zion is a little bit crazy. Crazy beautiful. Crazy and stunning. Crazy huge and crazy green and crazy red. With crazy animals and crazy weather. And especially crazy views and picturesque scenes and mouthwatering walks. Pure madness. Madness, because I’ve only spent one day in it. Sometimes I lose my mind and the decision of spending so little time in such a spectacular environment is one of those moments. Continue reading Snapshots of Zion National Park.

Snapshots of Bryce Canyon.

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Before I went traveling through the US and Central America, I would’ve called myself a city girl. The buzzing sounds, people walking and talking, going to work, driving cars and taking a tram back home. Houses, buildings, skyscrapers, they all fascinate me and they’re all equally beautiful to me. – okay, maybe not aaaaaall of them – I like the graffiti covered concrete walls and stickers on streetlights. Food stalls spread their flavours and make my mouth water. Museums and culture, habits and traditions aplenty. Party all night long and sleep until night falls and the city gets more and more alive again. Twinkling lights and flashing lights, lights to dance on and lights that accompany an early evening walk. Continue reading Snapshots of Bryce Canyon.

All the colors of Cuba.

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So far I’ve only talked about Havana. The mixture of feelings, impressions smells and colors. How big of an impression it left on me. Little did I know how big the impact would be of Viñales. Or Trinidad. Or Varadero, initially not my first choice to go to. How warm and colorful the country and most of all, the people, are. How different a country can be. How I loved being in the moment – no wifi, no internet without paying a lot – and just seeing what happens on the way. Continue reading All the colors of Cuba.