Category Archives: Colombia

Popayan – Ipiales

Here we are, this is the last stretch of our journey in Colombia. We leave the white city of Popayán behind and begin our walk on the noisy Panamerica. It wasn’t our choice to take that busy road, we’d much rather have walked in the mountains but the region is quite dangerous… Panamerica it is. 

        Among buses and trucks, we make our way south. Some 120k later, we leave the main road for a smaller national one; hoping to also leave the traffic. The flat valley where the Panamerica stretches is below us as we climb higher and higher to yet another valley. The surroundings are stunning. 

        The stars stay hidden most nights, storms sometimes bring rainbows along. And in the evenings and mornings, we usually are walking above the clouds. The river runs deep down in the canyon, a magnificent waterfall stretches from the top of mountain to the slithering river. Pasto, massive city, is almost dwarfed by the gigantic Galeras volcano. 

        Luckily this time it doesn’t rain at midday but later in the afternoon or evening, when we usually are already sheltered in our tent. Then again, we had to deal with a lack of camping worthy fields and ended up sleeping in unfinished building which are way comfier on a rainy day than a humid tent. 

        Colombians were very welcoming as soon as we arrived in the Nariño region, even more than before. Clearly used to seeing tourists, they weren’t expecting us to just walk. It’s always fun to tell them we’ve been walking for 4 months since Cabo de la Vela. 

         We must then walk on the Panamerica again for the last 100k, and then we arrive in Ipiales. That’s it, we’ve done it. It’s a weird feeling to realize what we’ve accomplished. In a couple of days, we will be in Ecuador. The border is only 4k away now.  

Ibague – Popayan

 After a quick rest, we are back on the road. And this time, it’s a long stretch ! Some 550k separate us from Popayán. The road is barely used, and turns to gravel for our pleasure. The views are stunning. As usual, we wander in multiple green valleys. 

         However, it ain’t always fun. It started well though, late afternoon a couple stop by us and offer us crackers and a Colombian soda. Why ? Because they had seen us the day before, walking, and apparently it’s a hot day. We keep walking in search of a place to camp and finally settle down for a less than okay location for lack of something better. That’s when it all turns to hell. Literally. Hell. 

           Blood thirsty flies surround us. We pitch the tent in a haste and jump inside, leaving the bags outisde for now. But if course we have the crackers and soda to make it better while we try to decimate every living freaking flies. We fail. We will spend the following day scratching like madmen. That’s what happens when you descend from the chilly altitude to a mere 600m. 

          But, besides that unlucky encounter, everything is fine. We are offered our groceries by a nice shop owner the following day; damn, they probably don’t see foreigners everyday ! Still under the 1000m, we follow the river that dug through the rocky mountains. And soon we climb out of that valley, to reach another higher one in the National park del Huila. 

            Near San Sebastian de la Plata (most commonly known as Plata), the road becomes busy. Luckily, we don’t stay in it for long. Nope. We are going to cross yet another national park and find ourselves back on a gravel road. It’s been few days is that rain shows up at midday, it’s always a race between us and the clouds as we look for a shelter. 

           The national park Purace is beautiful, the scenery is a nice reminder of Los Nevados. And the main city is remote, smaller than planned, but has this mountainous feeling that is enchanting. Through the clouds, the Purace volcano appears suddenly. Yes ! We got lucky because the clouds cover it few minutes later. 

         As we leave the park, Popayán grows in the distance, well below us. One more day and we’ll be resting in nice hammocks while rain plays drums on the roofs.  

Manizales – Ibague : el PNN de los Nevados

Fun times. Luckily we had my phone and therefore a GPS so we couldn’t get lost. What ? Just kidding, we were pretty much lost the entire time. It was a great bonding exercise. 

          Day 1, let’s find the entrance to said national nature park. That’s the easy part because there still is a road (named ruta del Condor). Except that with the rain the last few days, the path is very muddy and sometimes disappears under murky water. But we are walking at a good pace, going uphill towards the park. And then we turn right instead of left. 

            For hours we wander around tall grass trying to the path. How tall is the grass ? For a Hobbit like me, waist high most of the time. We have to be careful not to fall into the streams hidden it all, our progression is slow. But before sundown, we finally get back to the path. Tomorrow, we shall enter the park proper.

           Day 2, the surroundings have frozen over. The tent is covered in a crispy layer of ice, so is the ground, so are our shoes. Damn that’s hard to wake up to frozen shoes after our coldest night so far. But, the sun is shinning and we start walking towards the first lake. We first have to go through a forest of Cactus/palm tree looking trees. In the distance, the many volcanos are covered in snow.

            So far so good. But we soon discover that a Colombian park ain’t your average European park… There is not a single sign, not one. And the path ? Oh boy. Half hidden in the less tall grass, half not even there at all. Sometimes it also just stops. We keep moving in the general direction of where the path should be, all the way to the side of a hill, holding on to the grass to not fall down deep into the canyon. Bad idea, let’s go back to the top the hill shall we ? 

         Lunch time ? Nope, it’s raining. And when it’s not raining ? Hail. Because we are over 4000m. Hail is fun, and then it turns into rain and becomes annoying. Drenched, we keep moving. Struggling to find a path (because of sometimes there’s none, sometimes there’s tons). 

          But, again, before sundown we reach the lake we were aiming for. The ground is pretty much a massive swamp but we stumble upon a rocky place that is dry enough for us. And then it starts to again. We hurry to pitch the tent, our clothes still wet and dripping. And then the sun sets and the temperatures drop again. Three storms are surrounding us, the flashes lighting the valley and the lake from all directions. 

         Day 3, so many valleys. Again, frozen shoes (but extremely wet as well this morning, yay). First we have to get up the the pass, and to do that we have to find the path. Which, for once, we do manage to find quite easily after a rough start. And up we go ! Not time to waste at the top, time to get down. We follow our path, wandering in the.clouds. Up until a very bad decision which takes us down the valley. 

          Our data is wrong, misleading us to believe the path is supposed to be flat when we should have actually gone all the way back up the hill. Oh well, general direction is followed. 

           But we still want to find the path. Up the hill, follow the path on the edge, down. Up, edge, down,… Again and again. Until we finally see the path ! Way down below, across a river and up a 20m cliff. At least we’ve found it, right ? Managing to go down the safest way, we stumbled upon another path. The one we had been following after the pass, the one we left to go down to the valley floor looking for a non-existent flat one. 

          And now we have to cross the river, which is very cold. Long hard day. Tomorrow should be better, right ? 

         Day 4, because things can always get worse. The sun shimmers on the top of the hill we had to get down from the day before, and then disappears in the thick clouds. Up we go to the therms. Ducks are floating about in the smoky water. Damn, I wish I were a duck right now. On a positive note though, we won’t get lost today ! However, we will get drenched like never before. 

          Just after lunchtime, our final ascent begins. And it’s awful. The track is beaten, destroyed and even dangerous. As many encountered so far, this track is a river bed. The steep incline is worsened by the many log stairs. Many they looked like stairs to start with, but few hundreds horses later, it’s a mess. Logs are detached and they been roughed up so many times that stairs have turned into a wall. And the entire thing is laying in mud. 

         Going down afterwards is just as fun, but way longer. We are glad when the muddy staircases disappear and we find ourselves going down the actual very rocky river bed. Before the lid shows up again. And then the rain. And then the stream we were supposed to cross turns out to now be a river. I don’t care, I ain’t taking my shoes off. What’s the point ? They’re drenched already. 

           Turns out to be a very (lazy but) smart decision since not even 2 minutes later we have to yet again cross that same river. The rain hasn’t stopped. The path is now a river. And I now am acting like a 4 year old on a rainy day, I’m jumping in the water, feet close together, smiling and making the best of it. 

           One last river and we take refuge on the porch of a small wooden Hutt whose owner is nowhere to be seen. At least, tonight we will be dryish. 

           Day 5, Ibague ! Down we go. It stopped raining. The river we’ve crossed yesterday is unrecognizable and the path has reappeared. Soon we’re leaving the park behind us. We finally see other people after few days spent utterly alone. The road is smooth, and it’s hard to not look down to avoid possible ankle twists. It takes us few minutes to readjust and not let our haze drop to the ground. 20k on a slow declining road, and we will be back in Ibague.  

Guatape – Manizales

What a journey ! We left Guatape under the sun, all was good. However, after a few days, Anthony began to complain about some pain. Little did we know it was actually shin splints !

We managed to walk all the way to Mesopotamia, stopping few times because of the pouring rain and hellish pain. And then we decided to take the bus to Ibague to seek medical attention. 

The journey to Ibague was unexpectedly fun and we had to take 4 different buses. The best one was a reconverted dodge truck, only the front was still of the original design, the rest was made of very colorfully painted wood. The road was more potholes and rivers than dirt, music blasting. 

In Ibague itself, we rushed to the hospital. No one told us what Anthony had; luckily, my dad who’s a lifelong runner came up with a seemingly right diagnosis, shin splints. We therefore had to wait few days for Anthony to feel better. Plenty of time then to extend our visas and wait for a parcel carrying new shoes to arrive. 10 long days later, we’re ready to walk again. Back on the road, exactly where we left off. 

The road, however, isn’t nice on our knees. One has to go all the way down to a river, and all the way back up to a city neatly on top of a hill before walking back down to get another river. We lost 1500m in altitude on day 2 before gaining it back again the following day … 

Needless to say my left knee didn’t appreciate the effort. Also, I now have new shoes and my feet are having a bloody hard time getting used to them. 

But, we keep walking. Coffee and banana plantations all around us, which makes it hard to find a place to pitch out tent but still is a nice sight. The climate is getting a bit better, less rain everyday and soon enough we can start to see Manizales in the distance. It will be the last city before Ibague, on the other side of the PNN Los Nevados.  

Planeta Rica – Guatape

11days, 379k. 

On the main road for the first day, onto a dirt road the second. No problem whatsoever, Colombians are nice and friendly as usual. Two girls sped on their bike to give us a liter of homemade lemonade, a well received treat after a 38k long day. 

Back on the main road, which we were only supposed to be on whilst crossing the town of Taraza, locals inform us that 3 armed groups are in the region and that we shouldn’t leave the road we were currently on. They almost freaked out when we told them the way we took to actually get here, fun times. On the road yet again, all the way to Yarumal to attempt a eastern route away from the circulation of this primary road. On our way, we follow a massive river. Water is now an easy find, and we can enjoy the shade of the many mango and avocado trees.  

And then we go up. Really up. This is where the Andean range truly begins for us, around the 1000k mark. 

We think that it’d be difficult, but the road ain’t that steep and the lack of Sun replaced by the fog keeps us moving. Sometimes a ray of sunshine warms us up. Going at 34k a day, we reach Yarumal days before our initial plan and straightaway leave the road to venture in the mountains onto dirt roads. 

We’re definitely up the mountain, with its advantages and inconveniences. Dusk and dawn in the fog, storms overnight. But, temperature is in the 20s, it’s easy to find water, we’re surrounded by green trees and fields, it’s sunny during the day but never too hot. All in all, it’s a peaceful walk in the Andes. 

And after an empty road where berries grow (yummy!), we are now in the small touristic town of Guatape by the lake El Peñol. 

Tomorrow, we are leaving for Ibague. Another 350k, our initial path has been changed already due to the volcanic activity of Nevada del Ruiz but we’ll still cross the park (safely of course) and enjoy the beautiful Colombian country

Fundacion – El Carmen de Bolivar – Planeta Rica

400ish kilometres and few changes of plan later, we are now Planeta Rica. We did stop in El Carmen De Bolivar on the way, instead of stoping in Sincelejo. 

We started off well, leaving Fundacion and the main road behind until a couple stopped their spotless looking car (a very common Renault Duster) to warn us about the dangers of being in the region. Apparently, the less traveled roads are dangerous because less traveled, aka no one would be there in case something happens to us. Ignoring their advise, we are looking for empty roads to start with and the few locals we saw so far were very friendly, we keep walking. All goes well for the first 3 days besides the every day challenge to find water, dry season is here and water when present is muddy. Also the mosquito armies are also getting thirsty, usually around the 6:30 pm mark. All good, up until the cops caught up with us. 

4 cops carrying assault riffles asked us to jump in their SUV, following their captains order who introduced himself quickly and ignored our plea (we had been walking for 25 days, no way we were going to get in a car that easily). But we clearly didn’t have a choice. “It’s dangerous here. People have guns. They will steal your money.” Not what we’ve experienced for the past 3 days here, but one cannot argue with men of law. We are dropped off back on the main road, 23k away. 
Boring main road all the way to Carmen, besides the last few kilometers. However, Anthony’s lower back is now infected. It used to be a tiny sand-fly bite… that got infected. And now it became so painful that his backpack has turned into a belly-pack for the remaining couple of days to Carmen where we therefore decide to stop until all is sorted. 

Of course we then try to leave the main road again on our way to Planeta Rica. Except that we walk into an indigenous reserve without even knowing it. Around lunchtime, 6 cops and 2 indigenous chiefs arrive, alerted by locals who called the police about two foreigners walking around. Colombians are clearly not used to hikers. As usual the area is supposedly dangerous. The chiefs allow us to cross their land. We then decide to cross it in one day and return on the main road. Either that or we would have to ask permission to sleep or even use our gas cooker in the villages. Back on the road it is. 

Easy peasy until Planeta Rica. Of course, we’re staying on the main road. The scenery is the same every day, nothing special. Almost flat land, it’s hot and we’re sweaty. We now have a new technique to retrieve water, we use the now multiple gas stations. 

Riohacha – Guachaca – Fundacion

Main road all the way. We were supposed to walk along the coast after Dibulla, but it was impossible to make it alongside the water. Fences are now rising from both side of the road, forcing us to stay on it and to slither underneath the wires fences to go pitch out tent away from the trucks. 

But at least we’re faster and we can’t get lost anymore! Our daily average is now up to 25k in a brand new scenery. Right after Riohacha, grass and rivers appear and in the distance rises the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. 

Once in Guachaca, we rested for a couple of nights before hiking through the mountain. Well, we tried to. But after 15k going up and downhill in a very lush forest, the indigenous people asked us to go back the way we came. Literally. We walked to their village, and the chief decided than we wouldn’t be granted right of passage across. Fair enough, the Sierra Nevada is sacred to them, it’s the heart of the Earth. Back on the road it is then. 

All the way to Fundacion among the noisy trucks and their fumes. At least we crossed many rivers meaning we didn’t have to carry loads of water at all time like we did before, also meant we could easily pitch our tent by the water and bath before lighting a fire. Freedom. 

Physically, we only had issues with sand-flies (mostly Anthony) and tiny tics in the mountains (mostly Marie). Biggest problems right now are the numerous blisters covering our toes. However, we can manage. 

After a day in Fundacion, we’re leaving tomorrow for Sincelejo, 250k away. Talk to you in 10 days if all goes well ! 

Cabo de la Vela – Riohacha

About 150 km of arid desert separate the two cities, even if the former is more a street than an actual city.

First of all, the last leg of the journey to Cabo was an enjoyable one. At the back of a pick up truck, standing on the back door, grabbing the makeshift roof for support whilst looking up to the bright stars before a jeep ride onto a bumby dirt track in pitch black.

On the morning of the 17th, it seems impossible to negotiate the price to go up to the lighthouse of Punta Galinas without having to pay the full tour price. Their loss, we’ll start walking from Cabo then.

Our daily routine is established after a couple of days. The alarms rings at 5:30 am, by sunrise we’re already walking. Small breaks of 5-10 min to drink few sips of water every hour or so. Midday, we stop for about 2 hours, sheltering ourselves from the Sun. It’s around 40 degrees in the shade. Another 30 min break at 4 pm before an almost leisurely walk as the sun goes down. Then, it’s time to relax.

During the day, the priority is water. It’s a desert. And a very hot, dry and dusty one. We sometimes have to stray away from our path to find water, following prints left by cattle. Usually water is found enclosed in a forest of cactuses. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to come by ! Water is scarce, and when found it still needs to be filtered. Our filter is good, but not good enough for the water we’re eager to drink. It takes an excruciating time to fill up our bottles. Loaded with extra weight, we take off again.

We got lost a few times. Too many paths, ever similar landscapes. We pushed our luck a few times, not being successful each try though; and having then to go the long way around bodies of water or muddy leftovers.

We witnessed hundreds of pink flamingos, cormorants, pelicans, and other birds; bright and big lizards.

The few locals we met didn’t speak Spanish. Then again, neither do we. And everytime, they can’t believe we’re just walking. We’re not telling them we’re going all the way to Patagonia, but simply the next big town.

Mentally, all is good. Physically, a few blisters. Anthony’s skin is peeling off, Marie’s got a cold. Both of us are coughing a bit from all the dust. But tomorrow we’re hitting the road again, direction Guachaca.