Colombia is an incredibly beautiful country and our first few weeks in South America were filled with colors. First we took in the lovely streets of old town Cartagena with its many terraces spilling over with bougainvilleas, then we spent a great week climbing at a spectacular sandstone cliff with an unbeatable view. Next we visited the picturesque colonial town of Barichara, where we camped overlooking another amazing canyon and walked the quiet streets. As we made our way towards El Cocuy we drove up and down mountainsides, across stream beds, and through rolling farm lands where spotted cows lazily munched away, and fields of purple potato flowers decorated the landscape.
The first challenge we faced on the new continent was extracting Chimera from the grips of the shipping company. We had read the many pages of complicated steps written up by other overlanders and were mentally prepared for a few days of jumping through hoops of frustration, but in the end it wasn’t all that hard. We went through the whole process with Benedicte and Edison, which made everything more fun. One particularly entertaining moment was when Benedicte was denied entrance to the port because she was wearing a dress instead of long pants, so Edison took off his pants right there in the middle of the office and gave them to her (fortunately he happened to have a pair of shorts with him so he didn’t have to put on her dress). We were very relived when we could finally reunite with our sweet little van and found that no damage had been done and nothing was missing. It turns out that the cargo ship that had left before ours had broken down at sea, stranding all of the vehicles onboard for several weeks and subjecting them to the looting and vandalism of the crew. Then the same thing happened a few weeks after we shipped. Once again it seems we just got lucky.
The old colonial part of Cartagena is beautiful. We had both been there before so we knew what to expect, but we were still impressed by the colorful walls and doors, the flowers spilling over the terraces, and the charm of the colonial style.
Once we had reorganized and restocked the van we were ready to escape from the sweltering heat and humidity of the Caribbean coast and head for the mountains. But first we stopped at a small mud volcano, where we challenged our sense of gravity in the ooze, got rubbed down by the men working in the pit, then aggressively scrubbed clean by women in the nearby lake.
We knew Colombia was big and were ready for a long drive, but after cruising through the tiny countries of Central America it was still hard to get used to the scale of Colombia. We drove for two long, hot days before we finally reached the cool, dry air of the Andes.
We were headed for a climbing spot that a few other travelers had described with much enthusiasm, but we were still blown away when we arrived Hostal La Roca and looked out on the cliffs of La Mojarra. Colombian climbers Richie and Alex own and run the awesome hostel, which is perched above the climbing walls. Not only have they built a beautiful, eco-friendly hostel, they are also very strong climbers and spend as much time as they can putting up new routes. We fell in love with the place and spent a great week working the well-bolted sport routes, doing yoga in the amazing studio, walking the dusty roads, and drinking beers with the other climbers and travelers at the hostel.
At a rural market near La Mojarra we ate two delicious Colombian specialties. One was yucca bread, which had a slightly sweet, sticky deliciousness to it. The other was the most amazing arepas, made by the arepa queen. We had eaten arepas on the streets in Cartagena, but the ones at this country market blew those (and the countless others we’ve had since) out of the water.
When we were finally able to tear ourselves away from La Mojarra we headed to the lovely colonial town of Barichara. Protected as a UNESCO site, the colonial village of Barichara has been impeccably restored. With clean white-washed walls, fresh paint, and not a speck of trash in the quiet streets, the town feels like a movie set. We camped right on the edge of Barichara overlooking a huge canyon. One morning the van was surrounded by kites as the children came out to play and enjoy the winds of August, which as we later learned is national kite month.
From Barichara it took two days of slow driving on sinuous mountain roads to reach El Cocuy, but the route was through stunning landscapes. We camped at over 10,000′ next to a babbling brook in a wide valley filled with the unique frailejón plants that are endemic to this region. That was the first of many very cold nights and we were happy to put the blankets back on the bed and snuggle up.