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Colombia's Tatacoa Desert: a weekend trekking, cycling and sleeping

Von: Marcela Colombia Travel Blog (colombia.travel.marcela@gmail.com) [Profil]
Datum: 11.03.2010 02:36
Message-ID: <e53d32e5-06e3-41a5-a13e-f102dbdf1468@g7g2000yqe.googlegroups.com>
Newsgroup: alt.travel
This is a short version of the entry, for a full one visit
http://colombia-travel-marcela.blogspot.com/

I have to admit  I'm  a (very) heavy sleeper, so honestly I didn't
feel the "bumpiness" of  the overnight bus ride from Bogota to Neiva,
a small city (pop. 350, 000) well known here in Colombia for its
yearly San Pedro festival  and even more popular due to its closeness
to a certain Colombia destination I was dying to travel to for a long
time: el Desierto de la Tatacoa (The Tatacoa Desert). There I was at
Neiva's main square at 7 AM breathing pure unpolluted morning air,
enjoying the morning silence while all local stores were closed on
that sunny Saturday (its always sunny over there) and even at that
early time, the temperature was quiet high.

After a nice local breakfast with scrumbled eggs, fresh bread and a
hot chocolate at the same place were all truck drivers stop for an
arepa and a hot cofee, we got on the bus and started a short drive
towards Tello, the first stop on my journey to Tatacoa.

Now, before I start with my story for real,  you have to know Tatacoa
isn't really a desert (althought it really feels like one if you ask
me)  because it  does rain from time to time - so its considered a
semi arid zone (and for more details,  is also located in the
municipality of Villavieja just north of Huila, about 38 km from Neiva
and  between the eastern andean mountain range and the Magdalena
river).

At Tello, which is basically a crossroad, we got off the bus , got our
bikes ready and started a 35k bike ride through a beautifully wavy
road towards Villavieja .... 4 hours  later we were  there, ad portas
of starting the "immersion"  to the legendary Tatacoa Desert.....

OK...time to stop ... yes, I know, I'm getting ahead again ... I
missed to tell you how exactly did I ended up on the verge of entering
this paleontologist's dream land in Colombia. Its all my friend
Claudia's fault, Claudia is one of those people that like me got
bitten by the travelling bug a few years ago and has never stoped
travelling. She sent an email inviting me and some other friends to
join her on a trip to Tatacoa, I dont have to tell you that I clicked
on the "reply" button as fast as I could after typing "Count me in!".

We booked the trip with a small company called Travesias Tierra Luna ,
which is almost single handed by a Colombian guy that decided to leave
everything behind and dedicate his life to show his fellow country-
people - and some foreigners that slowly start to pop in - the beauty
of the Colombian sceneries in an extreme sports kind of way. A couple
of days later after I replied that email, we met with the whole group
in  place a called Cafe y Crepes in Bogota (Highly recommended eatery
by the way!), where our guide Carlos briefed us on what to expect,
what to take, payments and all relevant details.  Three days later my
friend Claudia and I where loading our bikes on a huge bus and leaving
Bogota towards Neiva.... and that's how I ended up sleeping in that
bus, having breakfast in Neiva, riding another bus to Tello, and
riding my bike through Villavieja towards el Desierto de la Tatacoa.

Phew! enough catching up with my story, so lets continue: Villavieja
is a tiny town in the middle of no where with colonial houses and a
beautiful scuare with a church and police station and the alcaldia
(the mayors office). We stoped there for about 40 min to catch our
breath and  to visit the arqueological museum, buy some local wine and
sweets.  It was a great feeling to know that the town is so safe and
tranquilo that you can just leave your bikes outside the front door.

After the break, we decided it was time to start heading towards the
desert so we took the only road that leaves Villavieja and croses the
desert. With 330 square km,  the Tatacoa desert has two very special
types of scenery, the first is a dry and very red soil with cool
erosion formations  full of cactus that has been named El Cuzco. The
second, is known as Los Hoyos, consisting on dry greyish soil canions
that have been tilth by strong currents formed during the rainy
season.

After about an hour we entered the Cuzco area and headed to the
observatory. From there and after a light lunch and loads of water we
did a short walk through the arid red soil formations.

I have no words to describe the scenery, you can get the most amazing
contrast between the blue sky and the redish rock formations. There
are enourmous arches and small paths is something like being a
bug..... ah! is exactly like being a character of Disney's movie Bug's
Life. Anyhow, after taking the most Amazing photos it was time to head
to our next destination and campsite, Los Hoyos. We had two options,
we could get on our bikes and ride an extra 6k or we could get on our
aircon confortable bus and take photos of our hardcore fellow
travellers... guess which one I took.... yeap, after all the effort a
bus ride was just what we needed.

So we got to Los Hoyos set camp had a shower and eat the most
wonderfull sancocho (local chiken soup) with rice and a cold beer.
After a nice chat with everybody and a brief about next day's
activities we retired to our tents and turn our lanterns off. I have
never seen so many stars in my life, since there is no electricity in
300 kms around us  you can really see the stars. Its just a beautiful
feeling being able to see the inmensity of the world and to listen to
the night and fall asleep in such a magic an unpoluted place.

Next day, our second day of the trip, we got up at 7 am had breakfast
and got together with the group. Our guide diveded the group in two,
those that wanted to ride 17k to the river Cabrera or those who wanted
a nice 9k trek to the same river and back. My friend and I decided we
wanted to walk. So after filling our bottles with as much water as we
can carry we started to walk. We crossed the desert throug an area
called los Hoyos.

It has such a diferent atmosphere, as opossed to Cuzco where the soil
is red, this area is made of greyish and black stones. It was just
like walking on the moon and then, after a 6 hour walk we kind of
bumped into paradise, the whole scenery changed dramatically into a
beautiful green garden. That can only mean that there was water around
and that meant that we were close to the river... yeeeeepeeee. We
walked a further half an hour and finally reached our destination, the
River Cabrera. We sat by the river bank had a couple of sandwiches and
then jumped into the water where we cool down and  we even had a spa
mud treatment for free!

When we got back to camp our guide had a well deserved treat for us.
He invited us to see the sunset in the pool - we thought... "a pool??
in the middle of the desert?" Well, the answer is yes. We couldn't
belive that there actually was a pool in the middle of no where and
the best part is that it was complitely natural, fresh water with no
chemicals. So, we watched the sunset, had a beer and relaxed in the
pool for a couple of hours.

Next and final day of our travel in the Tatacoa desert, we packed and
load everything onto the bus and headed to Pacande on our way back to
Bogota. Pacande is a 3450 masl mountain which became very famous after
Jorge Villamil - a local singer - wrote a song about it. We did a 5
hour walk to the top of the mountain and back. An optical ilusion made
us think that we weren't far from the top but with every step the top
seamed to move with us. We stoped to cath our breath and to enjoy the
beautiful scenery, to the left we could see the magnificent and shiny
Magdalena river and the always green rice plantations at the foot of
two small mountain ranges. To the south we could see the Huila
department, and further away we just managed to see Neiva where a
couple of days ago and God nows how many KMs away we started this
extreme, beautiful and enriching weekend.

So that's how I left Tatacoa ...for the first time , as I'm planning
to go back soon, as the experience is truly amazing and at this point
of my life I want experience it again with my special one... Tatacoa
is an amazing place full of 12 million year old bird, fish and reptile
fossils, some are as big as elephants. The experts say that originally
Tatacoa must have been a very green area with lush vegetation and a
huge diversity of species, today is refuge of owls, bats, foxes,
snails and spiders. It gets its name from the Tatacoa, a local snake.
During the day it gets so hot and dry that you can almost fry and egg
on a rock but when the night falls you can feel the cool breeze that
comes down from the mountains whilst looking at the infinty of the
milky way, drinking a local beer and counting shooting stars.

The Tatacoa desert is a magic place, you could probably just stay in a
hotel en Neiva and visit the desert during the day or - my favorite as
you can imagine after this entry - camp under millions of stars and
enjoy a cold natural pool after having trekked or cicled all day. You
can only camp in Tatacoa,there are no hotels or hostels anywhere. What
most people do is to camp near some of the little local houses. If you
don't have any food to cook or just get bored of soggy sandwiches,
most locals would be very happy to prepare some traditional food for
you at a very reasonable price.

And that's it! I hope you enjoyed seeing Tatacoa through my eyes, and
as always, if you have any question on how to get there, etc...just e-
mail me!

Abrazos!

Marcela - Colombia Travel

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