Monday, June 29, 2015

Into Wayuu Territory

After spending the better part of two weeks between hotels and hostels, largely surrounded by other Europeans and Americans, we were ready to get into the wild. Nothing against our country men, we have enjoyed meeting and becoming friends with many of them, but we travel the way we do, staying away from populous areas, so that we are more likely to have meaningful experiences with locals, rather than people we just as easily could have encountered within a few miles of our childhood homes.

Riding by a Wayuu home

To say I was craving interaction with the locals is an understatement. I needed it. Somewhere between being robbed in Costa Rica and waking to the retching of a pommy in what should have been a magical jungle retreat above Minca, I had lost touch with the joy of travel. And having heard that my Mom was sick while we were in Cartagena, didn’t help. My heart wasn’t in it. My heart was split between wanting to continue the journey and wanting to go home for a break. But we hadn’t yet found a safe place to leave the bikes and so we had to continue. And if we were to continue, I was adamant that we were not going to stay in another hostel.

We were keen to see the flamingos south of Riohacha, so we headed to Camarones, where a few Wayuu and Afro Colombian villages are located in which you can eat, camp and visit the flamingos with the locals.

The Wayuu are a fiercely independent and proud people, never having succumbed to Spanish rule and to this day they remain largely autonomous from the Colombian government.

It seemed we had arrived past the season for flamingos, as the settlement we arrived at seemed to be deserted but for a few people. We were welcomed anyhow, told we could camp there and directed to a closed restaurant that would open just to serve us. A table and set of plastic chairs were dragged out of storage and placed in the middle of the sandy road for us. While we waited for our camarones (shrimp) and ensalada (salad), two local kiddos entertained us by climbing up palm trees and dribbling a homemade soccer ball in circles around Roel. Eventually, another pair of tourists appeared out of nowhere and enjoyed the same treatment a little farther down the “street.”

Chatting and playing with these kids was like food for my soul. It was exactly the experience I needed.

While we were waiting for our dinner (the ingredients for which had to be purchased somewhere else as our hostess took off on the back of a motorbike for about 20 minutes), there were a few power outages. The weather was fine, and judging from the way the children were counting, this was a common occurrence. We lent our hostess our flashlights while she was preparing our meal and suddenly, it seemed people began coming out of the woodwork. 5 more children, including a toddler, arrived. The mother of our hostess came out and kept an eye on the situation. And more locals began to pass by.

Shrimp and patacones. I enjoyed the shrimp, but I have to say I'm a little over friedeverythingelse.

I’m not sure if it was just because we had been so used to being in a cocoon of Westerners and Western-catering business, but we began to feel uneasy at some point during dinner. The kids had found another plastic chair and pulled it up to our table. When the lights went out for the third time, I felt the need to place a protective arm around the camera I had set on the table. A feeling I loathed but couldn’t ignore.

The kids spoke perfect Spanish as did our hostess, who it turned out, was their aunt. The grandmother spoke a few words of Spanish, but mostly tried to communicate with us in wayuunaiki, the language of the Wayuu people. At some point, she seemed to be trying to warn us about something, and was alternately asking us to buy her a soda. We concluded that maybe she wasn’t 100%, but then had our doubts about that when we asked if we could set up our tent in a spot we felt would be more private and shielded from the bright street light that had turned on again: Our hostess warned us that it would be better to camp where she directed as she could better protect us there. WHAT?

The older woman followed us and a crowd of children and more adults gathered to watch us set up our tent. We briefly considered leaving, but by now, it was well after dark and not knowing how far we were from Riohacha and what we would find there, we decided to take our chances where we were.

As she shooed away the group that had gathered, our hostess warned us to keep our belongings close to us and that if anything “happened” to yell really loudly and she would come to our rescue.

Her mother remained, staring at us for several minutes.

Not exactly a goodnight that made us feel comfortable.

At about 1am, we heard noises coming from the beach just next to the ocean. And a few minutes later, we heard a loud bang on the tin roof of the structure we were camped under. Roel got up to investigate and determined that it must be some local kids trying to scare us as there was a chunk of wood from a nearby pile on the roof.

Needless to say, getting up to pack up the tent at first light was a relief. And we were surprised that by the time Roel was out of the tent, we already had an audience of small children watching me pack up our home.

Packing up the tent with a little audience... she was fascinated as I deflated our beds.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One of those times the journey was SO MUCH better than the destination.

We heard about a nice spot up in the mountains above Santa Marta and decided to head up there to check it out (and enjoy a respite from the heat). There was a hostel high in the mountains set above the touristy town of Minca which rumor had it could only be reached by motorcycle or 4x4. We passed Minca, and continued up a road that got worse and worse the higher we climbed. I suppose it didn’t help that this was the first day of sun after 5 days of torrential rain.

There were a few places where evidence of the recent rains made navigating the road a little more interesting. Fortunately, nearly everything had dried out for us.

There were no signs for the hostel or anything, for that matter, and there was no one around to ask. We contemplated turning around but decided to see where this interesting road led and eventually we arrived at the gringo-run Casa Elemento.

There are a few positive attributes of the place:

1. The view, especially from their huge hammock, was spectacular.

Music stylings by Elvis himself.

There was another hammock in the jungle which was a much more relaxing place to hang out.

2. The chef was excellent and meals were affordable.
3. When terribly loud music didn’t drown out everything else, the sounds of the jungle below, including the wide array of bird songs, were majestic.

Furthermore, it was poorly run, loud and the grounds were riddled with debris. For someone as passionate about hospitality as Roel is, it took every ounce of self-control he had not to make a scene. Especially when 1 of the 4 young Brits in the tent next to ours woke us up by vomiting a few feet away from our heads. Lovely. 

Photo framed to cut out the pile of vomit courtesy of our fellow camper. 

We really are too old for this shi+.

Early the next morning we said goodbye to the Dutch friend we’d made who would be bringing a part back to Holland for Roel and took off down the mountain. Tommy had also decided to leave and rented a mountain bike so he could enjoy the ride down with us. I can only imagine how excited he must have been for his bike to arrive in Chile.

Racing Tommy

So much traffic!!!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Time to see what's beyond the city walls of Cartagena

We finally rode away from Cartagena late in the afternoon, with our destination being somewhere between the city and the palm fringed paradise we’d heard could be found east of Parque Nacional Tayrona. Roel’s friend Tommy was already there and said it was a place one could happily spend a few days playing in the surf and swinging in a hammock strung between two palms.

It was a pretty depressing ride as we passed a lot of garbage strewn about the roadside, throughout communities and in several of the salt pools near Barranquilla. Nonetheless, it was good to be on the road again and in some respect, to get away from the very "dressed up" downtown of Cartagena.

We’d begun to use the iOverlander app a bit in Central America and there were several spots along our route that had been marked on the map by other overlanders. We made it to one of these spots, a public beach lined with palapas that were deserted mid-week… perfect for us 

With the ocean at my back, it was nice to be sheltered under these palapas.

We made a quick dinner and even bought a couple of beers from a guy who owned a restaurant/house behind the palapas. iOverlander has been great but every once in a while you get to a spot and realize that the person who posted it was definitely not traveling by motorcycle. We were in the tent happily watching a movie on my laptop when we realized this was the case here. There had been very little traffic on the road adjacent to the lot behind the palapas, and so we were a little surprised when a small motorbike with two riders made it’s way into the parking lot and rode within a few feet of our tent, slowing to check out the bikes and us. It was a police bike with two police riders on patrol. This continued for the next four hours, and whether it was a different patrol each time, just checking out the crazy westerners camped on the beach with their big bikes, OR the same patrol just being annoying, who knows. On one hand, we felt pretty well-protected and looked after, but on the other hand, it was a bit disconcerting as we could only tell they were police when they got within 10 feet of our tent. Needless to say, we did not enjoy a good nights rest.

This little guy seemed to like my new Metzler as much as I do... Not wanting to run him over, I spent five minutes trying to chase him away.

After a hot morning of riding Northeast, we finally made it to CosteƱo Beach Surf Camp Ecolodge. We set up our tent in the sand and dug our toes in for three days of yoga on the beach, volleyball, delicious family-style meals and all of the fresh coconut we could eat.

I love my new Metzlers. But I still don't love loose sand.

Danger #4...

Bad form. But good fun.