Colombia: Drugs Barons and Banditos?

Drugs barons and banditos are what Colombia is famous for, but we don’t spot any obviously suspicious candidates in the immediate vicinity of the border. Maybe they’re all further up-country? We’ll keep our eyes open for them as we head north. On our way, our Colombia travel blog takes-in the odd mysterious monument, cactus desert, crater lake, death-road and a jaw-droppingly beautiful religious sanctuary.

San Agustin

The Final Frontier

Entering Colombia from Ecuador is our thirtieth and final border crossing in South America. We enter Colombia with mixed feelings: it’s a new country for both of us. We’ve heard such great things about it and we’re excited to see it all for ourselves. But at the same time, this marks the beginning of the end of South America for us. When we leave Colombia, Cuthbert will go on a ship and we’ll fly to Panama: the whole new sector of Central America. Sure, that’ll be exciting in itself, but we’ve rather enjoyed South America. It seems strange that it’s now, after nearly two years on the road here, almost coming to an end.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… we still have a whole, massive country to explore and the nice border-chap has allowed us 90 days within which to do this. The crossing into Colombia did require considerable patience on our part but not, as many south-bound travellers remind us, as much patience as we’ll need to muster when we come to Central American borders. Hmmm we have these to look forward to.

A Sanctuary and a Crater

Colombia travel blog - Las Lajas

Las Lajas

Sitting immediately over the border from Ecuador is the religious sanctuary of Las Lajas. Now… we’re not particularly religious people (in fact we’re not at all), but this place is nevertheless really worth a visit. Yes, it’s a rather beautiful building, but the killer attraction (so to speak) is the setting… it’s sunk deep in the bottom of a very scenic ravine, bridging the gap across the bottom. A marvellous introduction to Colombia, and not a drug baron in sight 😊 

Next day we head north a bit and fancy a bit of hiking. Laguna Verde is gentle 12km route with the starting point at 3,500m. It’s a weekend, so we set out amongst a light trickle of locals heading the same way. Conditions are chilly, with low mist and cloud that would make the English Lake District jealous. We hope optimistically that by the time we reach the crater rim we will have climbed above the cloud and have a stunning panoramic view over the emerald green lagoon below. Nope… not so.

The bad news is that at the crater rim, we’re still in dense cloud. The good news is that a nice local couple has ascended very early on horseback and set-up a tiny fabric tent-shack to sell hot-drinks to hikers. Agua de Panela is a solution of sugar-cane candy dissolved in hot water with a little cinnamon for flavour. It’s sickly sweet, so we sip half of it slowly and enjoy the shelter out of the wind in their warm little tent-thing. We can’t face drinking the other half of the syrup, so find an excuse to wander out to investigate the ‘view’ (of which there was of course none) and pour it discretely away behind some rocks. Don’t think he notices :-I

Laguna Verde Colombia

We saw the Lagooooon!!

Drinks done… still no stunning lagoon view. The chap assures us that if we descend into the crater, said view will materialise below the cloud. Hmmm… it’s a steep climb down there… hope he’s right.  Off we drop, into the crater in the dense cloud… not a great deal of visibility. Suddenly as we’re half-way down… wow… a momentary gap in the cloud… the green lagoon! The first cloud-gap is so fleeting that we don’t even have time to get the camera out, but a few minutes later we get a longer gap and a few photo-opportunities. Sure, this would be a much more awesome view on a nice sunny day, but then we’d only complain that it was too hot! As we climb back up to the rim we’re happy bunnies. Laguna Verde hike: mission accomplished!

Another ‘death’ road?

From Laguna Verde we could head due north, but there’s a curious road to the east: ‘Trampolin de la Muerte’ (the Trampoline of Death). It’s said to be 60+km of one of South America’s most dangerous roads. Hmmm.  After seeing Bolivia’s equivalent ‘Death Road’ last year, we have a healthy scepticism about such ‘death’ claims with roads.  Over months driving around Bolivia and Peru, we found several routes to be far more ‘deathly’ than the ‘death’ roads.  In case you care or have any fascination for these things, we found Bolivia’s Ruta 25 (heading south from Irupana down to Cochabamba); Peru’s PE-3N/AN-100 (from Santiago de Chuco via Pallasca, south to Canyon del Pato); and Peru’s PE-08B (from Leymebamba west to Celendin) to be the scariest on the continent. I’m sure there are others we’ve missed.    

Trampolin de la Muerte

Trampolin de la Muerte – Love a bit of land-slide action

Anyway… with such a ‘claim-to-fame’ name, we had to give the Trampoline of Death a fair crack-of-the-whip. It’s a very, very, bendy road. Relentless tight-turn after tight-turn. And it’s a busy road. The many turns and many trucks really slowed us down. 61km took us over 5 hrs. But did it really live-up to its dramatic ‘death’ designation? Stand-by for the drum-roll please……… Errr… No .

Yes, it has some narrow, single-width sections where vehicles can’t pass and wait in turn to use the narrow section. And yes, the whole area is prone to mud-slides which occasionally bury or wash-away the road (might be best to give it a miss in heavy rains). But at no point was it scarily narrow for Cuthbert, and there are trucks far bigger than Cuthbert regularly plying the route. The many white crosses etched into the rocks periodically along the route show that many have plunged to their deaths along this road, but this must surely be a result of careless driving rather than any ‘death’ element of the route itself.  Just watch the road, steer at the appropriate time and keep your speed down… Voila! 😊        

Strange stones

After risking life and limb, we arrive in San Agustín to visit an archaeological site of more than 500 curious carved stone tablets and statues. These date from over 5,000 years ago and little is known about the San Agustín culture which disappeared thousands of years before the Europeans turned up and plundered the heritage. The civilisation seems to have had no scripts, but they do seem to have developed some civil engineering with decorative water and irrigation channels cut into the bed-rock. Pretty cool sight really.

South Colombian Desert –  Who knew?

One of the great things about travel is you never stop learning. Just when you think you know a bit about geography and ‘what’s where’, you learn something new. Colombia is known for its jungle, mountains and coffee plantations (in addition to its drugs-barons and banditos obviously) but in the south, just to the north of San Agustín, it has a desert too! Who knew???

The Tatacoa Desert is not vast but it’s very scenic and, as deserts tend to be, it’s hot. Full of interesting rock formations and lots of cacti. Driving off down a side-track into the wilds, it’s a beautiful and peaceful place to celebrate a birthday (and yes, I did eat most of my chocolate/almond nougat ‘cake’ myself 😊). Still no sign of the drugs barons and banditos though. Maybe we’ll find them further north…

 

South Colombia Gallery

 

 

 

Ecuador Equator: Hummingbirds and Fiestas

Quito’s not a bad place as far as capital cities go. We wouldn’t ordinarily choose to spend ten days there, but we’re on an admin-mission here. Missions accomplished, we head north towards Colombia, with a few detours hovering around the Ecuador Equator: a misplaced monument, some little and large birdies, a great-fiesta-escape, some hats, and (another) volcano.
Volcan Cayambe Continue reading

Ecuador Volcanos: Just a Puff of Smoke?

Ecuador has its fair share of volcanos and an even greater share of active ones. In our last blog, we saw Chimborazo and Tungurahua. Now we’re moving on to the hyperactive Volcán Reventador. On the way, we see some jungle critters, spot a rare bird, walk to some pretty cool waterfalls (yes… more waterfalls) and end up with Uncle Sam’s ‘Man in Quito’.
Ecuador volcanos Continue reading

Closest to the Moon

Physically speaking, we’re doing some ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in Ecuador. We enter from Peru across miles and miles of banana low-land. Then we climb up-high. We get lots of cheese and chocolate, and spend a night closest to the moon. After that, we do a quick swing off a cliff (as you do) then it’s back down-low on the other side of the Andes, to the Amazon (again!).

Swing at the end of the world Continue reading

Far-west with Whales

The coastal route doesn’t showcase the best of north Peru for the tourist; much more excitement on the Andean route. Loads to see there. But we got that tick last year and boy, is it a sloooow way to go! So this time, after arriving in south Peru from Brazil, crossing all the way over the central highlands from the Amazon to Lima, we’re winding-up Peru with a long run up the coast to Ecuador. We’ve done this leg before, but this time we see some history, watch some whales, hit the far-west and have a ‘ponder on Peru’ as we leave it for the last time. Continue reading

Story Boxes… the big update!

So we’ve been a bit slack on the blog updates recently…. not our fault… we blame the location really! You see, it’s all down to this fab beach-camp.  We’ve been doing a bit of pottering about, cleaning and maintenance on Cuthbert, generally ‘chilling out’ (as we believe the kids say these days)  and… Oh yes…. doing a bit of whale watching – more on this in the next blog coming soon (promise!).  Anyway… we’ve managed to fit in a bit of fancy-pants web-site stuff. Check out these travel blog stories…

Click on the link for our new ‘Story Boxes’ Page. This pulls together lots of our favourite and the most ‘Liked’ stories and posts of our three and a half years on the road so far, across Africa and South America. There might be a slight formatting/display issue on some mobile devices… we’ll see if we can work on that. Let us know if you have any problems with it and what you think.

travel blog stories

 

 

 

Peru: Battles and Mines

So is it all Incas and llamas in Peru? Well, okay… there are quite a lot of Inca sites and there are quite a few wandering llamas. But there’s other stuff too…. Honest! For our third entry to Peru, we crossed the Brazilian Amazon into the (rather similar looking) south Peruvian Amazon. Now we head up to the Andes, Peru’s central highlands, for a long-awaited dose of cool, crisp mountain air. On the way we see battlefields, industrial heritage, some lakey-scenery and just the odd llama by an Inca ruin!
Peru travel blog: Santa Barbara Mine Huancavelica Continue reading

Amazon-ing Overlanding

The Amazon: awesome, exciting, wildlife, adventure, river eco-zone? Or hot, humid, over-bearing, mud-ridden, insect-infested swamp? The Amazon jungle has been all of these things to us (and more) over the last few months. With highs and lows. Most recently we cut diagonally across the Amazon overland driving the BR-319 mud road. As we now leave Brazil and the Amazon for the last time on this trip, heading west again into the Peruvian Andes, we’ve taken a quick scan back over this sometimes challenging but rewarding overlanding route.Amazon overland Continue reading

Driving the BR-319 (with free pants and a soup tin)

The BR-319 is one of Brazil’s most notorious routes, a mud-road cutting diagonally across the centre of the Amazon rainforest. After our dolphin swim and tourist-time in the city of Manaus, it’s time for a bit of ‘proper’ overlanding. On one of the most remote tracks in South America, we get some free pants and find a novel use for a Campbell’s soup tin!
BR-319 Continue reading

Manaus and the Venezuela Option

We’re back in Brazil. Friendliest country in South America, maybe even on the planet! French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana have been a fascinating, enjoyable de-tour and one that relatively few travellers make when overlanding South America. But Brazil puts them all in the shade when it comes to enthusiastic welcomes. Even when we can’t understand a word they say, Brazilians say it with a big smile and a thumbs-up! Now we’re in far north Brazil wondering what to do next…

Manaus Opera Houses

Manaus Opera House – challenging those fancy Europeans!

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Guyana: Rupununi

Every now and then, overlanding travel throws up not just a gem, but a surprising gem. A kind of “Well! Who knew???” moment. In south Guyana we have such a moment. After the minor disaster that was our short-lived attempt to reach Kaieteur, in the Guyana Rupununi we’re surprised to find compensation in spades: the beauty of the savannahs and the little visited Amerindian petroglyphs.

Rupununi blog Continue reading

Guyana: Tolls and TV Stardom

Driving into a new country you inevitably find yourself comparing it to the one you have just left. What’s different? What’s the same? Is the food (or more importantly, the beer) any better or worse? We really enjoyed our time in Suriname with the drone and the jungle kids, now in our north Guyana blog we find: (i) TV stardom, and (ii) a very expensive car ferry.
Guyana blog Continue reading

So… Suriname!

Suriname, Suriname… where exactly is that? Near Vietnam? Nope. Next door to Ghana? Errr, no. It’s on the north coast of South America, above Brazil, snuggled comfortably between French Guiana and Guyana. It’s in the northern Amazon basin, so it’s hot, humid and – at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious – jungly!  We’ve been here a month now and one of our highlights has been entertaining jungle kids with their first ever drone sighting (click here). But Suriname has some history, great wildlife and other stuff to see too, including some interesting ‘bird-cage culture’. Here’s the Suriname travel blog…

So... Suriname Paramaribo Continue reading

Suriname: 21st Century Jungle

Suriname has rather a lot of jungle. In fact, it’s pretty much all they’ve got here. Best we take a peek then. Last blog we had the thrill of a live rocket launch in French Guiana, now we see the jungle kids’ thrill of seeing their first drone! We’re heading far in-land, well beyond where Cuthbert our camp-truck can take us. Here’s the story in our Suriname jungle blog …
Suriname jungle blog - critters you find on the ground Continue reading

Suriname time-out

Suriname RiverTeeeny update… After the excitement of French Guiana with turtles and rockets, we’ve been parked up for a while, doing not a lot, chilling-out by the river in Suriname with a different type of traveller! These guys are taking some time out from sailing around the world. Yup… across the high seas in those little boats. Makes overlanding look a bit tame by comparison! If you want to see some awesome video diaries of their life on the ocean waves, see www.seachangelog.com.

Arduino Due projectMarcus has been doing a bit of geekery… building and programming a computer system to replace the Iveco computer controlling  Cuthbert’s diff-locks (Afam computer  replacement). Any brain-boxes out there who can work out the square-root of a jar of pickles might find the write-up interesting 🙂

Click on the picture for link to page.

Heading off for a week of jungle-exploring. If we don’t get eaten by a caiman, there might be an  interesting update soon 🙂

Link to next blog: Suriname: 21st Century Jungle    Link to full South America Blog

 

Monster Turtles and Rockets

There are turtles and there are giant leather-back turtles. And then there are space rockets. An odd combination, but in French Guiana we’re lucky enough see both in the same week. The end of our last blog featured a cliff-hanger, waiting to see whether our application for tickets to the next French Guiana rocket launch will be successful. Well… we got them! And whilst we contain our excitement before the big launch day, we head off to see the giant leather-back turtles on the beaches of the far north corner.

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Protests and Papillon

Damn tedious all this protesting and road-blockade malarkey, but hey… ‘C’est la vie’, as they say here in French Guiana. In our last blog we arrived in a charming but blockade-ridden, far-flung part of the EU. Now, after a month of disruption, the protesters toddle home and things gradually get back to normal. For us this means freedom to move around the country. It means, the re-start of the Space Race (officially exciting!). And it means some first-hand proof of Hollywood’s tish, tosh and piffle on Papillon Island!

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French Guiana… bonjour!

Just over the bridge from Brazil Amazon and… politics! Overlanders are always best advised to avoid national politics as they travel, but sometimes things just jump in your face. French Guiana is an overseas department of mainland France. It’s officially part of the EU, it has the Euro currency and, we find out to our cost, the people have the same French propensity for road blockades and labour strikes when they feel hard done-by! Continue reading

Amazon Delta

You can’t just drive across the Amazon Delta you know… you’d get a bit wet. Cuthbert earned his ‘Water-fording Proficiency’ badge reaching the Lençóis Maranhenses but this time we need to put him on a barge which zig-zags over 38 hours between the mangroves and islands, crossing the Amazon Delta. Compared to the much travelled western side of the continent, this north-eastern route of South America is, even in the dry season, relatively little trodden by the ‘overlanding community’. In the currently prevailing rainy season, even fewer travellers venture up here. Hmmm… maybe there’s a good reason for that!! crossing the amazon delta Continue reading