Chasing waterfalls in Mocoa, all the way to ‘El fin del mundo’

My solo trip to Tierradentro ended a bit on a bad note: limping and exhausted from a painfull night, I started my journey towards Mocoa. The Mexican already had let me know he would arrive early, already being on the outskirts of the city. – For once he calculated his cycling time correctly! – Quite early in the morning – at 6.30 exactly – I started my long trip towards this tiny city I hadn’t even heared of before I started this trip to Colombia, the only thing I knew was that 1. It was on Ale’s route to the south and 2. It’s close to the Amazon and there were supposed to be a lot of waterfalls. But first, I hopped on a ‘bus’ – minivan – to Pitalito, once there I caught a bus straight – another minivan – to Mocoa. Seeing that the driver had a roll with plastic bags laying on the dashboard, I knew it didn’t promise any good. I was sitting in the back, together with one woman and her two little boys, who were covered up with blankets and ready to sleep a bit during the ride. The road itself was beautiful. As I said, Mocoa lays very close to the Amazon, so not long after we took off, the landscape started to change. The houses along the side of the road started to make place for a long and winding route through the mountains. Lush vegetation everywhere, a river at the bottom of the valley, the sun slowly coming up. I was really enjoying myself watching the landscape pass by, until… one of the little boys’ stomachs started to protest and yes, he started throwing up. In his mums’ hands. Ieuw. Anyway, after that the plastic bags came in handy, because his brother joined in on the fun. The ride could’ve been slightly better, without two puking boys next to me – and without their mother throwing the full plastic bags out of the car right into the bushes. Horrible. – but I really, really enjoyed the landscapes.

View from the hostel. Quite amazing.

About 6 hours after I left, I arrived in the tiny city of Mocoa. Leaving the bus – already being the only foreigner on it -, I already had the impression there wouldn’t be many foreign visitors in this city. Seeing that I got many onlookers, being this small, white girl with a huge backpack, I decided I would just take a taxi to my hostel instead of figuring out if there was a bus going that direction. The fact that my foot was still badly hurt and that I couldn’t walk anywhere without limping severely – imagine a limping girl with a big backpack on her back and a small one in the front, you’ll imagine me in Mocoa – made it all the easier to just jump into a taxi. Our hostel wasn’t in the city centre, rather closer to the area where all the waterfalls were, not in the middle of nature, but a lot more peaceful than the grimy busy city I’d just seen. My driver didn’t really know where to go when I told him the address, but maps.me came in handy again and showed him at least the right street. Stopping in front of a colourful gate, I was wondering if this was the right place. When I slowely peeked behind the gate, I asked a guy in the front yard if this was the right place and if, by coincidence, a Mexican guy on a bike already made the check in. Apparently, I was talking to Juan, who was keeping the hostel and he could confirm me that, yes, the hostel was correct and yes, the Mexican cyclist arrived an hour before. I hopped and limped back to my taxi to retrieve my big backpack – no way I was carrying that weight with me in case I wasn’t in the correct place – and while I was paying, a happy Ale was waiting for me, ready to swing my big backpack on his back and show me our room. Especially when he saw what my ‘little problem’ was. Obviously, somebody was very curious to know what happened…but first I needed food.

Where we spent most of our time in Mocoa: inside a hammock.

I think this was the longest time we’d been separated since the moment we’d met, so we both were very excited to share our stories and walked – limped in my case – accross the street to one of the restaurants selling home-made chorizo – Casa del chorizo is quite the obvious name – and later on past some food stalls to buy more meat and pineapple. – I had no clue Ale was actually buying stuff for me too…I just thought he was really hungry. I’d had enough with my chorizo, until I saw the pineapple, so I wanted pineapple for desert – With more than enough food and juicy fruit, we crossed the street again – honestly, we were outside the city, everything just happened in the same big street. Anywhere else was rainforest anyway – and sat on the benches, not realizing we were about to witness the local football – and yes, I mean soccer, the real foot-ball – team playing. Well…they were training and getting ready, but the other team didn’t show up. On top, it started to rain. Bummer. I was really excited to see the local team play…even more because I wanted to know how they would avoid the chickens running around on the field. Anyhow, Ale and me continued to update each other on what happened the past three days and couldn’t stop talking, happy to be together again. The Mexican always seemed excited to see me, everytime he arrived and he saw me. Needless to say, catching up on each other – three days seemed very long, time is always different on the road – was the only thing we did that day. Besides making another slow trip to one of the small shops along the side of the road – the other direction this time – to buy some groceries. On our way we passed a young woman on a bike who asked us if we needed a restaurant. Just after our lunch we didn’t really need any more food, but she offered to make us dinner instead, in her little restaurant across the street, in front of the hostel. After an obligatory rest for me – foot hurt A LOT – and a little tour of the hostel, our stomachs started growling again and we hurried to the restaurant across the street. Which wasn’t really a restaurant, more the house of this woman who had a patio. When we arrived, she put up a table and that was that. A menu was nonexistent, we had to eat what she had in the fridge. The food, however, was de-li-cious. A simple soup, with as a main dish rice and chicken with platanos and some fresh juice. Nothing more than that, just a very good home-cooked meal. And we both loved it, the small little place, the woman – who was actually 5 years younger than me and had two kids running around, yikes! – was very friendly and interested in where we came from and why we were visiting Mocoa. She thought we were married – I think it’s quite clear that we aren’t, but we didn’t deny it. Sometimes it’s better to leave people be in order to avoid misunderstandings, and because she was living in a small village in the middle of nowhere, her customs and culture might be different than our own – and asked about my foot, what happened and that I had to take care of myself. The nicest people are found in unexpected places.

Same hostel, different hammock.

Especially when you know that, about an hour later, Ale and me were watching a Mexican comedy show on Netflix. I wasn’t wearing any clothes anymore – only underwear – because of the heat and well, we weren’t planning to get out of our room anymore. Suddenly there’s a small knock on the door and – after hastingly putting on a dress – Juan from the hostel came inside to inform us that there’s a lady at the hostel to see me. It had something to do with my foot and he wanted to know if she could come inside. We both were stunned, but let the lady in, and, apparently, she was the mother of the woman cooking for us. They both came to help me with my foot. This lady asked me if she could give me a massage and explained that my muscles were probably too contracted after my fall and needed to relax, so I could use my full foot again and would stop limping. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after considering that the medical help in Mocoa itself would be minimal anyway, – and I wanted to go to this El Fin del Mundo waterfall – I decided I would give it a try. I knew it was going to hurt. My foot already hurt by looking at it, touching was barely manageable. It was EXTREMELY painful. She definitely didn’t spare my poor foot and I really needed to clench my teeth together in order not to scream out loud. Ale couldn’t even look at me, fidgeting with his phone while avoiding my stares. The bastard. – Afterwards he told me he couldn’t bare watching me in pain – After a gazillion years of torturing my foot, I was able to place my heel on the ground again. I could walk and even though I was still in pain, my knees didn’t threaten to fall on the floor when I pushed my heel onto the ground. This lady explained that I now would still feel pain, but that I had to start walking normally and everything would be fine within a couple of days. I thanked her and we promised to see each other the next day, for lunch.

Walking to the pool.
Swimming pool in the jungle. Not that bad, I would say.

The next day. Without my painful foot, we would’ve visited the ‘El fin del Mundo’ waterfall, but since it was still sore, we decided to do nothing instead and let my foot rest. Starting with staying in bed together for a long, long time. Around midday we finally made it to the house/restaurant and discovered it had a name: El Puente. The only indication that it was indeed a restaurant. I proudly showed off how I was walking with both heels touching the ground again and even though my foot still hurt, I already felt the difference with the day before. Both women, mother and daughter, were as friendly as ever and we enjoyed another delicious meal. In for a desert, we bought some ice cream and other groceries to survive the rest of the day and stayed the rest of the afternoon in the hostel, relaxing in the hammocks or playing with Linda, the little dog. A bit later that day we also decided to check out the hostel’s swimming pool, which needed a small walk in the jungle – not even full jungle – to the pool. According to Juan, you could even see monkeys from time to time. Ale was smart enough to lend me his baton – the stick he uses to support his bicycle and keep it standing up – which I used as a crutch to lean on going down to the pool. If you’re ever in Samay Hostel, don’t forget to use the swimming pool. It’s this peaceful oasis in the middle of nowhere, a very refreshing one in the almost-Amazonian-heat. The Mexican and me definitely enjoyed to explore the pool, the area around it and to check out the giant ants walking on the same paths as our feet.

One of my favorites.

The evening meal was eaten in El Puente again – I owed them one for my foot. And the food was simple, but delicious. As I already said a couple of times – But the rest of the night was spent socializing around the kitchen table with the rest of the hostel: Juan, Elias and his mom – a German 30-something mother travelling with her 5 year old son – and the Spanish-Argentinian couple living there already for a good two months. Over the rest of the days, I like to remember how this hostel made me feel a part of a big travelling family, gathering together in the evenings over some home made food with conversations ranging from travels to music to traveling with a 5-year old. Two days of being there and just being in the moment made me feel very very comfortable in Mocoa.

Even though I had to do something for work the next day. Remember that I had to take a German test in La Plata, but I didn’t seem to find a spot with international phone calls? Well, I’d told them I would try again that specific day, so Ale and me were up early – which the Mexican didn’t like that much, as usual – and we took the collectivo-truck to Mocoa in order to find some shop selling international phone calls. Which we found within the same street where the collectivo dropped us off, quite handy. The shop was tiny, completely open to the sounds of passing traffic and the lady selling empanadas in front, yelling loudly to make her presence known. Inside were shelves full with jeans and childrens books, plus a tiny desk with a computer and some phones. I thought it was hilarious, to make a call from this place and when I finally could do my German test, I didn’t hesitate to mention where I was at that exact moment. After about 10 minutes calling, I finished the call and when Ale asked me if I passed the test, I had to tell him I didn’t know. Because of all the noise, I barely understood what they were asking me, but I did answer all the questions in German. Wether or not it was the right answer, I didn’t know, only that he wished me a nice holiday, so I assumed I passed. Honestly, I couldn’t care less, I was very happy that all the obligations towards work were finished and I could enjoy the rest of my trip without thinking about work. We went for breakfast and bought food for our meal, but still managed to squeeze a quick trip to El Puente for lunch inbetween our busy schedule of doing nothing and relaxing in the hammock. We talked, made some plans for the next day – Yes, we were going to visit something! -, played with Linda, the cat and Elias. Ale – of course – cooked diner and we enjoyed chatting a bit with the others before going to bed.

Caterpillar. Felt a bit strange, but at least it doesn’t like human flesh.
I found a leaf almost as big as me. Also realized this is the only picture of me in Mocoa. I need to stop saying no when people want to take pictures of me.

A VISIT TO THE MARIPOSARIO

My foot felt better, I wasn’t limping so badly anymore and we decided that this day was a good day to visit the end of the world, the ‘El fin del mundo’ waterfall. The entrance was right in front of the little shop were we’d been buying some food, about 5 minutes walking from the hostel, in the exact same street. We woke up early, were excited and ready to see some waterfalls after a couple of days relaxing in a hammock or by the pool. Once we arrived, we already grabbed our money to throw it at the ticket desk and run all the way up to El Fin del Mundo…except for the fact it was Tuesday. The waterfalls were closed on Tuesday. I mean, the water is still running and all that, they just take one day in the week as a precaution and let the environment rest a little bit. Exactly on the day we decided to finally do something. Hmpf.

Well…I had wanted to visit the Mariposario – ‘mariposa’ is butterfly in english, so yes, it’s a butterfly garden -, about 15 minutes further down the street when you pass the shop. While Ale wasn’t jumping to visit it when we were making our plans for Mocoa, it was a good alternative that day. At least we didn’t leave our beloved hammocks for nothing. Once at the entrance before the river, you can walk up through a small path in the jungle, not more than half an hour, before arriving to the entrance. You ring a bell – not an electric one, the old fashioned metal bells with a cord, which is pretty fun – and somebody comes to let you in. Only…nobody came. Hmpf. Luckily, on our way up we met a man carrying some heavy bags on his back on the way up and he went for the lady owning the place, telling her she had some visitors. We paid a small fee and in return, this friendly lady guided us around the mariposario, starting with a walk to the Treehouse, which was magnificent. You could rent it and sleep there a couple of nights, if you had the equivalent of about a 100 euros a night. Which is not so much in the end, but on a backpacker’s budget you can spend at least 10 nights for the same price. – I already started calculating if I had any posibility to rent it for one night for Ale’s birthday, until the lady told me she had visitors coming the next day who would stay the rest of the week…not really a bummer, I probably wouldn’t have had the money to splurge anyway – She spoke more about the trees, the significance of those trees for the indigenous in the area and leaded us to the mariposario part of her domain. She explained everything about the circle from larvae to butterfly and we even got to hold one huge caterpillar, before we went to check out the turtles and aras. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any monkeys, but if you expected to see only butterflies and you get to know a whole zoo in the end, then the visit was worth it. After drinking some water and relaxing a bit, we made our way down through the jungle again. This time over a different path, one covered with ferns, leaves and doubling as a highway for giant ants crossing down, carrying double their weight in leaves when passing us. It was a tricky path, slippery from the rain of the night before and I was very carefull not to fall down in the middle of the troop of giant ants. – Secretely hoping they don’t like human flesh – The Mexican and I descended very carefully, but I saw the river again, I got a bit too excited reaching the end and forgot I’m prone to slipping and falling down on wet surfaces. Especially if those wet surfaces are also muddy, uneven and mainly rocks. Yep, suddenly my ass touched the floor in a huge swing backwards. Which was quite hilarious, according to Ale’s laughter when he was trying to help me up. – At least I know now those giant ants don’t eat human flesh…

First waterfall on our way to El Fin del Mundo
Second waterfall on our way to El Fin del Mundo.

We still had a big chunk of the day ahead of us and Ale had the genious idea to visit another waterfall, Salto de Indio, close by the village next to Mocoa. It would’ve been a bit too far to walk, so we decided to hitch a ride on one of the jeep-collectivo’s passing the main street. Jeep-collectivo’s who had no intention to take us with them to Villagarzon. After walking a while with growling stomachs, we knew we were headed to Mocoa, buy some food and would relax another afternoon in the hammocks. Ale surprised me with another delicious diner and we chatted the evening away with our Mocoa-family, before finishing the day.

Start of the Fin del Mundo walk.

EL FIN DEL MUNDO

Wednesday. The El Fin del Mundo ticket office would be opened. Finally we would visit the reason we were in Mocoa in the first place. My idea would be waking up early in the morning, very excited, ready to seize the day and go see that damn waterfall. Ale’s idea was grabbing me firmly in the bed, making sure he could sleep the maximum out of the day until I could wriggle loose and bully him awake in the meantime. We compromised and left around 11 in the morning, still before noon, but late enough for Ale not to become a grumpy monster.

The sun was there, we were ready and on our way to the waterfall. To reach it, you had to climb a little bit. I have no clue how many stairs I did that day, but definitely a lot. The first part in the sun and along some grasslands, later on you’ll head into the jungle and follow the wooden stairs up. And up. And up. They seemed endless. Until you hear the laughter of people and the rushing sound of water that tells you that you’re very close. Right before reaching the famous ‘El fin del Mundo’ waterfall, you’ll pass another three waterfalls which are perfect spots to take a little break and refresh yourself by diving into the ice cold water. The first one is a bit more difficult to reach, but the second one is perfect: the water is undeep, though deep enough where the water falls into the lake, ideal to do some cliff diving. – Which I’m too scared to do…but hey, I had a Mexican who’s crazy enough to cycle from Colombia to Argentina, so I guessed he would like to jump into the water. Turned out I was right – Before diving in, we headed further, first passing through the water onto the other side of the lake and over a very very slippery stone table, serving as a bridge next to waterfall number 3. Yes, Ale had to help me multiple times, as I have a great talent for slipping over wet, rocky surfaces and falling on my ass. – Does it sound familiar? – We took some pictures and finally reached the end of our journey in the jungle, with El Fin del Mundo in front of us. It hadn’t been raining that much the last couple of days and the stream was still small, but you could see the potential of a huge river falling 69 meters down into the jungle. Sadly, you could only admire the waterfall from the bottom when you’d rappeled down with a guide, which we didn’t do – And nobody was rappeling at that moment, you have to arrange it in advance -, but we had some great views from the top of the waterfall, lying on our stomachs looking down in the depths below. Pretty great.

Again the second waterfall. Guess who jumped off? Yep, the Mexican.
Warerfall number 3.
Almost at number 4!

Taking our time to make some little videos and pictures, we admired the waterfall and headed back to waterfall number 2 to swim and relax a bit. It started raining a bit, but well, we were about to get wet anyway. I watched Ale performing his big jump in the water and suprised him by taking a swim myself in the ice cold water, which he couldn’t wait to leave afterwards. We got ourselves dressed and started descending the stairs. At that point, the rain started to get heavier and heavier and we praised ourselves with the decision to walk down the stairs already, because the path was about to become a mud stream. Needless to say, we were soaking wet. I remember the moment the water broke through my eyebrows and my eyes barely saw anything anymore while trying not to slide down the moment. Luckily, we reached the end in one piece and right about that time, the sun surprised us with its presence. Hmpf.

We definitely needed a shower and were quite hungry, it being past 4 o’clock and we didn’t even had lunch yet. Peeling of our wet clothes and shoes we headed in the shower, refreshed ourselves and feasted further on pasta of the day before. We were proud, happy and ready to stay a bit longer. Normally, if I hadn’t had the little accident with my foot, we would’ve already been on our way to Pasto. The relaxing, the hostel, the people and being close to the jungle made us want to stay a tiny bit longer. Plus, celebrating your birthday alone on a bicycle isn’t fun, so we were ready for two more days in Mocoa. And one Mexican birthday boy turning 29 the very next day. – Yes, I kind of stayed awake until 12 o’clock to say happy birthday

View from the top of El Fin del Mundo
Daredevils.

ALE’S BIRTHDAY

Our time in Mocoa was mainly spent relaxing, talking, enjoying each other’s company and a tiny bit of action when visiting the Mariposario and El Fin del Mundo. I asked Ale what he wanted to do for his birthday and he replied: nothing. Relaxing. Eating. Enjoying the time being. So that’s exactly what we did. I tried to let him sleep in a bit – even though this time he was wide awake – and treated him on breakfast in the Chorizo restaurant. We weren’t drinking much during our trip – Especially me, I don’t like beer and wine is really expensive – but Ale wanted to start his day with a beer, so we did. I kind of documented his beers during the day, until we switched to rum and I forgot about it because I joined in on the birthday-drinking. We actually had a lovely day, besides the fact we wanted to eat pizza and couldn’t find a pizza place open in Mocoa around 2 in the afternoon. We ended up eating hamburgers instead, not too bad either. We did a bit more grocery shopping, hung around in the hostel a bit until we were surprised by our Mocoa hostel family: Juan had bought Ale a birthday cake. Jup, that evening we all feasted on the cake and rum. When traveling, I live for these moments, they’re just the best: everybody happy, aroun the kitchen table, talking, drinking and enjoying being in the moment. I already felt it would be difficult to leave.

Birthday boy after breakfast.
In his favorite spot.
Very happy with his Club Colombia.
Cutting the birthday cake. Juan made sure he cut even pieces…

HOW NOT TO FIND EL SALTO DE INDIO

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that didn’t want to leave just yet. On his birthday Ale told me he didn’t want cycle the whole day after his birthday, we could stay one more day before heading to Pasto. The whole area around Mocoa is basically a playground for everyone who loves hiking, nature and waterfalls. Time to get out of our hammocks again to explore at least one more waterfall before leaving for the city again. Ale’s mind was set on visiting Salto de Indio and while having breakfast, Stephen – backpacker from the US keen on speaking Spanish the whole time, which was highly appreciated in the hostel – asked us for our plans and was wondering if he could join us. Ale had been talking to him the night before as well and since we’ve always been traveling and visiting with just the two of us, why not having company this time?

Off we went, catching a collectivo – they did stop for us this time – to Villagarzon. In the city centre, we asked around a bit to were the starting point of the walk should be and a mom send her two little girls out with us to help us find the start of the trail. We got some mixed explanations, but thought we would manage to find it. We walked out of the village, passed the public swimming pool and crossed the bridge to some grasslands in front of the mountain. In the distance, we could see some waterfalls, high up and surrounded by lush vegetation. We were definitely not there yet and needed to find the path. That’s were we started our search, on a grassland with the faintest trail of a path running through to another one, bordered by the river and fenced by barbed wire. Unsure what to do, we started walking around, going up and down, not finding any path until a farmer leading his horses away waved us in the right direction. I was getting a bit frustrated – I’m not good in not finding my way…normally I always know which direction to head, but being clueless brought me into a bad mood – and what didn’t help, were Ale and Stephen looking for mushrooms to eat. I had been walking ahead, trying to look for the right way, while the two of them were talking and trying wild mushrooms. Now, I haven’t got any experience with foraging and have no clue about which ones are edible and which ones end yourself being ill, or worse, poisoned. Stephen told Ale he recognized which ones were good to eat and some of them even had hallucinogetic side effects, which made both of them eager to try. I didn’t say a word, since I was pissed off. I know, I should’ve just trusted Stephen, since he was eating them himself anyway, but I got so scared they would pick the wrong ones and I would end up with two badly poisoned or even dead men in the middle of nowhere, without being able to call for help. – I know, I’m an overthinker – Anyway, I was pissed on Ale for not taking that into consideration, how well did we know Stephen anyway? So I started ignoring Ale, didn’t contributed anything to the conversation anymore and furiously continued to look for the right path. It seemed to me we needed to cross the barbed wire, as the farmer indicated, and follow the trail further on. I guess the Mexican figured out something was wrong with me, because he caught up with me and asked if everything was alright – normally I’m smiling and very talkative, laughing with all his jokes when I’m with him – and I told him exactly what I was thinking about, clearly pointing out the image of me being alone in the middle of nowhere with two dead bodies. – Okay, maybe a bit dramatic, but I really didn’t trust eating unknown, wild mushrooms in a random field in Colombia – He had no clue and clearly hadn’t thought about it, started to comfort me and told me I shouldn’t worry, he would get me back safely to the hostel. I was relieved he understood my point of view and even though he can do whatever he wants, he politely refused other mushrooms after that.

Without Stephen and Ale stopping all the time to stuff themselves, we could continue our search for the right path and ended up at the river, where we could find a small trail following a part of a smaller river going up towards the mountains. According to the directions we got in Villagarzon, we were going the right way. A bit further, we encountered a pool with two concrete beams running over it as a bridge and the river rushing down from bigger rocks dotted around it. We had to cross the river over those big boulders, which had me a bit scared – remember, the talent to fall down and slide away very easily – while both guys were just jumping over like they were invincible. – I think to much about everything that could happen, I know – We heared the rushing of water falling down, we knew we couldn’t be there just yet but the path seemed to have disappeared. Stephen tried to get ahead a bit to see if we could find the path further up, which made me warm up a bit to him. It seems silly, but having Ale’s infinite attention all the time, it did feel strange having a third person with us. Especially when that person clearly is impressed by Ale’s trip – the cycling thing, remember? – and manages to ignore me the rest of the time. At least, that’s how I felt it. The Mexican gave me as much attention as ever, because well, we were travelling as a couple after all and enjoyed spending time together, but I had the impression Stephen didn’t really like me. Ale probably didn’t realize it – never told him -, but I was glad none of us could find the path, which gave us the time to relax a bit. We found a nice part in the river where we could swim and feed the fish with some leftover Doritos from my backpack. Even though we were a little bit disappointed not finding Salto del Indio, none of us regretted trying. Until the sun disappeared, wind started blowing and some very dark clouds – obviously filled with rain – headed towards our pool. Not hesitating, we dressed ourselves and made our way back to the village. Somewhere past the river – yep, on the mushroom infested meadow – we crossed a group of young Colombians, clearly headed to the Salto del Indio. We told them the path just disappeared and asked if any of them knew the way, because it would be difficult to find. – We realized a local guide would’ve been a good idea, only to be confirmed by Juan from the hostel – One of the girls kind of had been there before, but we didn’t trust it enough to follow them. Besides, those rain clouds didn’t promise any good. About 15 minutes later, just after crossing the bridge, the locks burst open and water started pouring upon us. Luckily, we were a sprint away of the local pool, which had a covered terrace were we could shelter until the downpour stopped. The three of us huddled together on some plastic chairs, we waited about an hour for the rain to stop, whilst making plans. Since we were all starving and I told them I saw a pizza place right were the collectivo dropped us off, maybe Ale could have his birthday pizza one day later?

Once the sun started shining again, we rushed to the pizza place. One word: delicious. After a range of emotions, looking for a waterfall and not finding it and a sudden downpour, we deserved a pizza. And we toroughly enjoyed it. Our stomachs were filled again, but Ale and me were already thinking our next meal and did some shopping before heading to the first collectivo. At the last moment, Stephen realized he needed some bread and while we were waiting inside the collectivo, the driver decided it was time to leave. We yelled at him, but he couldn’t make it in time before our jeep took off, direction Mocoa. At the hostel, the Mexican and me showered, prepared our backpacks / bike and enjoyed some time for ourselves. That evening the whole hostel came together in the kitchen – also Stephen, who hitchhiked and was back way earlier than we even expected –, drinking rum and listening to both Juan and Ale playing their guitars. I already dreaded leaving Mocoa.

Read more on what happened next during my trip with the Mexican in my next blogpost: Pasto and Ipiales: what to visit before crossing the border?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

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

Transport

Bus Tierradentro – Mocoa: one way – 50.000 COP / 15,00€

Collectivo Hostel Samaya – Mocoa: one way – 2.500 COP / 0,75€

Collectivo Hostel Samaya – Villagarzon: return – 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Accommodation

7 nights in Hostel Samaya, Mocoa: private room with bathroom – +/- 46.800 COP per night / 14,00€

Activities

Entrance Mariposario: 8.000 COP / 2,40€

Entrance El Fin Del Mundo: 15.000 COP / 4,50€

International phone call: 10 minutes calling to Europe – 2000 COP / 0,60€

Food

Lunch in restaurant ‘El Puente’: rice with chicken, platanos, etc. and a drink – 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Breakfast in Mocoa: croque monsieur – 5.000 COP / 1,50€

Breakfast in Casa del Chorizo: 7.000 COP / 2,10€

Hamburger lunch in Mocoa: 17.000 COP / 5,10€

Pizza Villagarzon: 12.000 COP / 3,60€

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

Mas de Mexico. 

After having a short night of sleep in the jungle between howlermonkeys and tons of mosquitos, I find myself in a bus, on my way to Guatemala, for the next ten hours. Which means I finally had the time to write this blogpost. Which also means I’m leaving a country behind that scores high on my ‘to visit again’ bucketlist – honestly, I need another life to visit all these places again, but I will, eventually -. 

Mexico is beautiful. Actually, that sentence covers it all. Nature, culture, history, colour, all is mixed up perfectly in every single place you visit. Between Mexico City and now, I travelled to and through Oaxaca City, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Palenque and surroundings. The surroundings outdo the cities, let’s face it, what could be better than swimming in natural pools and waterfalls, climbing pyramids in the jungle or hear howlermonkeys in the middle of the night? Continue reading Mas de Mexico.