Sunday, May 26, 2013

Desierto de la Tatacoa

After San Agustin, Marlynn and I headed to Desierto de la Tatacoa. We left in the morning but like most bus trips over here, this took most of the day because Colombia has such shit roads. Although the government is obviously spending a lot of money on improving them cos roadworks are occurring everywhere, which is good.

Also, I don’t know why, but we passed A LOT many fuel trucks between Pitalito and Neiva (the main city). Like, there must have been 100 or so. And everyone here is such a shit driver it just made it even more dangerous. When trucks have a sign saying "keep a safe distance" I think they mean more than 30cm. I'm also pretty sure 'safety' includes not playing chicken with fuel trucks coming in the other direction and not overtaking them on windy roads with double lines. I have no idea why they are moving so much fuel about by road, but they could definitely do with a pipeline. 

Anyway, after getting to Neiva, we then had to get to the desert. The closest town is Villavieja so at the bus station in Neiva we found a ute going there. As I've discovered in Colombia, most vehicles don’t leave at the advertised time (even though they tell you they do). In fact most of them in an effort to get your money say there’s a bus leaving “right now”. This is usually a lie unless you do actually buy the last remaining seat. So, this ute needed five people to leave. It had two – me and Marlynn. Since we are now wise to this Colombian transport game, we put our bags on the top of the ute and told the guy we were going to get some lunch. We figured if enough people showed up, he would just have to ask where the two Gringas went, and everyone would point him to the juice bar. Interestingly the fruit salad (while good and cheap) came topped with ice cream and cheese. 

Marlynn's "what the???" expression pretty much sums it up.

I asked for mine with just fruit.

After our delicious but slightly strange lunch we headed back to the ute which now also had two guys, about 75 eggs and a sack of potatoes in the back. So off we went. For about five minutes. Then we stopped at the side of a busy road somewhere in the city and waited another 15 minutes. Then as we were about to leave again another four people got into the cab in the front. The trip took about an hour. Along the way, the ute stopped and we dropped off the food. This is an interesting thing that happens over here. You’ll be driving along in a bus (or ute) and suddenly it will stop on the side of the road somewhere and someone will be waiting for their sack of whatever. Or alternatively they will hand something to the driver's helper (there’s usually another dude who collects the money). Then two minutes later you’re on the road again. It’s really strange, and yet an interesting local delivery service. It's also no wonder it takes bloody ages to get anywhere when you're stopping all the time. Express is not a word Colombian transport companies appear to be familiar with.

Anyway, after being in the back of a ute for about 1.5 hours we arrived in the desert at about 4.30pm. The temperature was so nice and warm compared to some of the more variable weather I’ve been experiencing in the mountains recently. Perfect beer weather and 4.30 in the afternoon is definitely an appropriate time. 

Our hotel:

If you wanted to be cheap, you could sleep in a hammock instead of in a room and there were three European guys there doing that already. Marlynn joined them in the hammock area. I took a room. I like cheap but I also like beds. Then, while we were enjoying a cold beer, our friend Taylor (not Swift) from yesterday turned up. Hooray!

In the evening, Marlynn, Taylor, the hot Portuguese guy and I went to the observatory. This is one of the two things to do here, and definitely worth it even if you're not a nerd. You can see constellations from both hemispheres in clear skies with no light pollution. There are three big telescopes and the astronomer professor knows where everything is by looking up, then finding it on the telescopes. The best thing was seeing Saturn. It looked exactly like this but imagine seeing it for real through a telescope.

You could totally see the rings and everything. I can't even describe how cool it was.

He also found Jupiter. You could clearly see the gases around the edges and I think, its moons. There were definitely some things around it, like in this photo:

Again, amazing. Seriously, you could see all the details of both planets. He also pointed the telescopes at a bunch of stars, which obviously look very different up close, but I don’t know what they were.

As I mentioned, you can see stars in both hemispheres. So you see the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper. There is also this arrow constellation which points to the northern hemisphere. I'd never seen that before so I'm not sure it's visible from Oz. He gave a whole lecture the constellations, and pointed things out with some cool super strong laser that could probably bring down planes. The lecture was all in Spanish, so I only understood some of it, but it was definitely one of the best things I’ve done over here.

Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel. Now we were only staying about 200m away so you think this would be a relatively easy task. But there are no lights so this was a bit more challenging than expected. It didn't help that our hotel ran on solar electricity so it was not lit up like a Christmas tree making it difficult to spot. Luckily I had brought my torch with me so this made not tripping over on rocks along the dirt road easier.

When we arrived back at the hotel, the night critters were out. This guy was on the toilet wall:

There was also a big spider in my room, but I tried to convince myself that we are in their home now. Plus having no lights meant I couldn't see where anything was anyway. Ignorance is bliss.

The next morning, Marlynn, Taylor and I did a tour of the desert. The guy was supposed to drive us around in his mototaxi, but it broke down and he had to borrow one and then share the money with this guy.

The scenery was stunning.


It's also very green since it had been raining recently. I have found out that in my attempt to avoid the southern hemisphere winter by heading north, I have been tracking the mini wet season up through Ecuador into Colombia. Explains why I walk around in the mud so much!

Then we got to the grey dirt, which apparently has more water in it, which is why it's grey.

Then we got to a bit that is supposed to look like various animal formations. I can't see any. It just looks like more dirt and desert to me.

Maybe you need some hallucinogenic Guatemalan peppers, like Homer ate before he saw a bunch of shit in the desert:

Also, how good am I at making Simpson's references in my blog?

So, after not seeing the animals, we continued on to the next bit, which was some really soft clay and we had to take our shoes off.

This was really nice to walk in, but cos I never walk barefoot at home, as soon as we off the clay, I found it hurt a lot. Marlynn and Taylor laughed at me so I had to justify my wussiness with all the things that can bite you if you walk around barefoot at home. That did the trick. Everyone knows Australia is one big death trap!

This bit is the valley of ghosts or something, cos they all look like ghosts:


Then we got to a pool. The water was lovely.

Pity I was too stupid to bring my togs. Fail.

Then we headed back to the hostel to get our stuff and tow the guide's mototaxi back to Villavieja.

Here's some photos of the ride back between the desert and Villavieja.

So that was the desert. It was an amazing experience in a truly beautiful place. Although there is not a lot to do there once you've done the observatory and the tour, it is so worth visiting. I absolutely loved it.

Next stop: Bogota - South America's shittest capital city including the worst bus ride so far.