Hello The Ungraceful Guide reader!
This is MysteryBaby sharing one of his traveling stories with you. MysteryBaby is a notorious sticker of a baby which is spread all over the world scaring and confusing people any day of the week.
MysteryBaby was recently conquering new territories in Colombia, like you know, ya boy! Here he met two Irish people in a narco like mansion where something very special was happening in the stunning mountains close to Medellin that weekend.
It didn’t even end in a fist fight so in the beginning I wasn’t quite sure if they were really Irish people. It was a place where ice didn’t have to be broken and that’s where MysteryBaby met The Ungraceful Guide. They told me about the desert in the most north east side of Colombia and I was immediately sold.
It wasn’t easy to reach this most remote and poorest area of this magnificent country so all information was welcome. I received a long and and detailed description on how to get to the most northern part of South America.
Even though it was quite useful I ended up following none of their advice. This was because a few days before my journey would start I was attending a rave at El Río hostel in Tayrona Park which is held every Saturday and man this was a party like I’ve never seen!
I asked the German girl behind the bar if she ever visited the desert, not because I needed more info, but because she was as pretty as a Colombian Colibrí. She said: “No, but why don’t you do it on a motorcycle?”, while she pointed towards Sam. The idea didn’t had to sink in for a second and when it did, it just had to be done.
I rented a 150cc Honda motocross bike in Santa Marta at Adrenaline Addicts, a company owned by Sam from the United States, who turned 26 at the same rave on Saturday.
With our noses stuffed up with the national delicacy we discussed the idea with a lot of enthusiastic screaming. No one was keeping me from this idea any longer and even if Sam had his doubts the next day on a more sober mind I would just steal one of his bikes, because this is not what his typical client does he told me.
In the heat of the moment two Dutchmen (Jan and Oscar) on the party were caught in my flames very easily, like any man with a proper set of balls, probably.
Even though I would’ve gone alone, the idea of having company in this big dry place wasn’t a bad one. In this department I am as technically skilled as a professional tennis player in an mma match, this desert would outbox me any day.
Did I mention I haven’t got a motorcycle license? Not a problem at all in Colombia. Exactly the reason why this country is so cool. Apparently they even rent motorcycles to babies.
Anyway, back to Santa Marta, where I managed to drive off after figuring out how this machine is supposed to be operated. Not so difficult actually if you know how gear switching in a car works.
On the first day, we spent the night in Riohacha because we suffered a lot of delay in the morning. It was a very cool ride because it goes right through the jungle of the long stretched Tyrona Park with huge mountains on your right side and the Caribbean Sea on your left. After having dinner in Riohacha I wasn’t feeling too good so I decided to sleep early that evening. 06:30 breakfast the next morning was the deal.
I couldn’t sleep at all. I was feeling worse and worse and the muscles in my arms and legs felt like they always feel right before I get struck by a fever. I thought fucking hell tomorrow I definitely can’t ride. Between 4 and 5 am I finally fell asleep and felt a bit better when the alarm woke me up again at 6.
Showing up at breakfast I told dem boys “whats up!” I had little hope of riding today. Some people in the hostel, who were intrigued by our journey, gave me whatever medicine they had and I took it all like it was Saturday night at that El Río Rave again.
The feeling of sickness came back unfortunately and after the fourth bout of diarrhea, within the time I would normally spend on that usually so holy place on a lazy and hungover Sunday in just one sitting, I just had to give up. I definitely didn’t want the others to wait for me so they headed on and I headed back to bed. I had a wonderful sleep from 08:00 till 12:00 and felt surprisingly good. Good enough to go on anyway.
In huge contrast to the day before the landscape was already getting really dry. I had to follow one long road till a crossroads called Cuatro Vías and turn left here.
After this crossing there weren’t so many people on the road anymore. The cows who were standing next to the road were getting skinnier the further north I went until the ribs were sticking out far. The thought came to my mind that I could be pretty fucked, now I was alone, if something happened to the bike.
I countered this thought with “the bike feels good and I feel good”. The amount of thoughts you have is all there is, besides the stunning views, the focus on the road and the 6 liters of water in my backpack while riding a bike I discovered. Quite a meditating feeling. Especially on a straight lonely road like this going into the wild.
At the end of the road I’ve reached Urubia, the last place to get gasoline. Riding into this town I quickly discovered everything was about oil in this desert town. The sketchy looks of the inhabitants and surroundings gave me a proper Mad Max feeling sitting on my dirt bike. I rode around a bit because I liked the feeling and the sights before loading my tank up and two plastic bottle as spares.
I asked for the road to Cabo de la Vela, where I planned to sleep that night, and off I went again. No more asphalt from now on just a lot of dust. The road was laying next to a train track and a freight train that was over a kilometer long was coming towards me. It was just like in the motocross madness games I always played when I was young. I think after 30 kilometers I stopped to ask some muchachos who were working on the train tracks for more directions to Cabo de la Vela.
After a long and nice conversation in Spanish, like you have so many times with random Colombians, I started my bike again and one screamed quickly where I was from. HOLANDA! I screamed back over the sound of the motor. He replied VAN NISTELROOY! while he pumped his fist in the air. I rode off while honking and in my mind I did a wheely as well.
Further down the road I saw an asphalted turn to the left, which the train worker had told I had to take. This piece of fresh asphalt seemed a bit out of place in the middle of nowhere, but was highly appreciated because my butt had started to feel like wood in the meantime.
After a few kilometers the asphalt stopped again and soon after there wasn’t a road at all anymore. Google maps gave my location on the huge peninsula so I knew in which direction I had to go over the sand. This was what I came for. I was passing cactuses, very dry desert trees, goats, donkeys, kids playing with bicycle tyres and sticks and people just standing in front of their self built wooden ‘houses’ watching me pass by.
I reached Cabo de la Vela a little after 5pm. This was a town, like I’ve never seen before in my life, where the desert meets the sea. The town was quite stretched along the sea and I decided to ride though it all first before I picked a ‘hostel’ to sleep in. I figured out quite quickly that I was sleeping in a hammock outside anyhow.
While I was rolling through town and surprised to see so many kite surfers in action in this place I suddenly heard someone screaming my name. It was one of the two fellow Dutchmen and the other quickly ran behind him. Both obviously had some questions judging by the looks on their faces. Apparently they were just checking in at the hostel and had also just arrived.
They told me they missed the turn left at Cuatro Vías and almost ended up in Venezuela. When they discovered their mistake they tried to make a shortcut to Cabo de la Vela instead of going back and got lost in an area controlled by the armed group ELN. The same group and territory responsible for the kidnap of two Dutch journalists a few weeks before.
We slept in a kite surf school where the two Dutchmen were taking lessons in kitesurfing. However tempting it looked, I decided against it since I was still sick and my body needed some rest. Instead I rode over a mountain northwest close to Cabo to see the sunset over the see.
A huge Pelican party was going on here and they were all diving in the sea trying to catch some fish. Quite a day ended with quite a sight.
Now the original plan was to go from Cabo de la Vela to Punto Gallinas (pure desert without a single road) on our own. Too many people told us this is too dangerous because the way is really hard to find and this is a place where you don’t want to get lost.
The usual way to do the tour, starting from Riohacha or Cuatro Vías, is to go with a 4×4 jeep with a driver who knows what’s up. The owner of the kite school told us they all leave at 5 in the morning from Cabo and perhaps we could follow one for a small payment. After a while he came up with that he knew someone who was willing to guide us on a motorcycle to Punto Gallinas and the next day back to Uribia for in total only 150.000 pesos. Perfect right?
We decided to wake early because a challenging day was coming up. Two flat front tires had to be fixed in the morning as well and this became a typical South American drama costing us four hours instead of the promised one.
When this was done, the strap to fix a backpack to the back of the bike was nowhere to be found and some more time was wasted until we figured out it wasn’t at the kite school anymore for whatever reason.
It really felt like some higher power was trying to make us not leave. The guide was waiting for us all the time so we decided to just go and someone had to wear my backpack (because it was the lightest of the three) on his back.
With tree bikes running we looked at our guide and asked where his bike was. He hand gestured, with whoever he could ride on the back… We started laughing very hard about this miscommunication and Oscar ended up with him on the back of his bike for two days, him wearing my backpack and only a scarf around and on his head and huge sunglasses to protect himself from the sand instead of a helmet, all the time screaming IZQUIERDA! and DERECHA! he was supposed to guide us through the desert. Alright, lets go.
Now we entered a lonely world filled with sand and not much else. Immediately the way got pretty loco when we entered a forest of cactuses of over five meters high. The path through it was too small for cars. Like all the time these days we didn’t pass it slowly because we’re riding fucking dirt bikes through the desert (what do you think).
I can’t describe it like anything other than ultimate pleasure and pure adrenaline. The road, and things on the road appear quickly and your mind focuses on one task only and that’s dealing with whatever comes at you.
Hours passed and the landscape changed all the time. From quite hilly to totally flat for as far as you can see. From very rocky to very sandy. From many cactuses to few cactuses and trees. I noticed that people who came back from the desert couldn’t clearly describe what the desert was like and seemed a bit speechless about it. Now I find it difficult to put words to it as well.
However ‘everywhere’ were kids who put up barricades which force you to stop. You have to pay them to pass, with food, candies, water or whatever satisfies them enough to open up their barricade.
Before going here people tell you about this so you come prepared. Our guide had a small backpack which he wore on his belly filled with our cookies and candies so we could pay our taxes quickly and go on without getting off the bike all the time. This was quite a good technique because you get stopped quite often by these smart niños.
In the end of the afternoon we reached a very high sand dune which we rode up. On the other side the huge deep blue sea was hitting it with big waves. We took a dive which was quite a relief after all that heat and sand.
A little further and we reached Punto Gallinas which is the most northern part of South America. Many rocks are piled up on each other like I’ve seen on several locations around the globe in special places like these. On the end of the peninsula there were some buildings where meals were prepared for the visitors and they even had beers, which tasted pretty damn good, which was the sign for me that I had recovered from my illness sufficiently.
We got two each and stepped on the bikes again to drive towards the point for a proper sunset. A cheers to how epic this day was had to be made and a lot of moments had to be discussed since you can’t really talk with each other if you travel with a loud sound of a bike under your ass.
After waking up really early for the second day in a row in a huge hammock, it was time to go and this time for real. The plan was to drive all the way back to Santa Marta in one day, which took us three days the other way around. So the day started off before 7am with four hours of desert again with our luckily only 1,50 meters high guide. This time another route and no sightseeing stops. We were driving faster than the day before and experiencing ultimate fun doing this. Going faster also meant more falls than the day before, but luckily nothing too serious. When we were getting close to Cabo again we went through the cactus forest again.
At some point riding in the middle position of the three bikes I noticed Jan was not following me anymore. With Oscar and me both just being able to dodge a cactus with some extreme body movements I already had a feeling about what happened behind me. Indeed when we rode back we saw Jan with some huge needless in his leg.
Where he could laugh really hard the day before about an entire piece of another kind of cactus hanging on his leg, this seemed less fun. When he stood up he told us that he thinks this cactus is poisonous because he could only see colors while he reached out with his hands around him to orientate. The fact that his skin turned completely white was something I thought I would tell him later on to not create a bigger panic reaction.
The cactus wasn’t poisonous our guide told us. This probably had to do with that we didn’t eat, drink or sleep so much. Off we went again and not much later Oscar got another flat tire. There was no other option to drive on with it to Uribia. After having it fixed there we were 15 kilometers on our way again, when the chain of one of the motors broke.
I headed back to Uribia to the same mechanic who helped us half an hour before. I managed to get him with me on the back of my motor and he replaced the chain on the spot. The day was saved, we thought.
100 kilometers further Jan’s bike completely stopped working. We had to push it with a foot on a peck 15 kilometers further into Riohacha and it was HOT we realized now we weren’t operating at full speed anymore.
In town struggles went on going from mechanic to mechanic who couldn’t help us. The bike was declared unfixable by the last mechanic. I’m still not really sure what the exact problem was. Even though my Spanish is alright, I couldn’t understand these technical phrases. I probably wouldn’t even understand in my mother tongue instead of this Caribbean Spanish mix.
We dropped the bike off at a hostel we knew the bike company was affiliated with. On we went with two bikes, tree people and three backpacks.
Coming closer to Tyrona Park big black thunderclouds we’re covering the horizon. We weren’t home yet apparently, meanwhile the clock hit 6pm. It didn’t take long before we were riding in this shit which hurt like hell only wearing a thin layer of clothes.
We were unable to see anything in the pouring rain and blinded by the big lights of oncoming trucks. At some point we stopped and went to a house next to the road where a family was having dinner under a huge open shelter. We asked if we could stay here until the weather conditions improved a bit, which was not a problem at all.
Chairs were immediately given. I noticed the smell of weed and saw the entire family was smoking it together it was also shared with us. Everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot except the mother who screamed ‘LA PUTA MARIHUANA!’ from the kitchen which she had apparently re-entered.
Watching the big waves being lit up by the thunder all around us hitting the cliffs at 30 meters below us in this new mindset was quite amazing, while we talked the day through.
Quite unbelievable the amount of setbacks today, was the quick and logical conclusion. Those are the days which you’ll never forget was a positive twist I always like to give at setbacks. As a matter of fact I was having a lot of fun. This was the moment the mother came out of her kitchen with three meals for us. This family was obviously living very poor so our gratefulness was high and warm.
Situations like these happen to me quite often now and I’m already longer than half a year in this continent. It’s been a real eye opener that people without real economical welfare are willing to share everything with you and seem to be really happy with what they have. I guess back home in Europe we can be blinded to some life qualities because of our focus on possessions.
60 more kilometers to go to Santa Marta, which looked like the most stormy side of the thunderstorm we were in. Three hours already passed under the shelter of the family and the rain didn’t decrease. We realized we’re 12 kilometers from El Rancho hostel where the bike company has a workstation as well. We made a run for it and had couple of rums with the people who worked for the bike rental company before we called it a day.
Now if you’re also considering visiting La Guajira desert on a bike instead of the usual 4×4 tours, be prepared for some shit to happen. I really believe we had proper material, but just bad luck. The service of Adrenaline Addicts was actually really good and we got our money back for the bike that broke down on the last day and a lot of gratitude about how we handled the situation.
If you take a bike this deep into the wild things will simply happen. However, I really would like to recommend doing it because what an adventure it was. I didn’t experience the desert from a 4×4, but I can tell that the feeling doing it on a bike is intense. You feel the wind and you feel the sand under you slipping and you will get the sensation of ultimate freedom crusading it on a machine you operate. How far you come in times of trouble is a matter of how positive and creative you’re able to think at that moment I guess.