While backpacking in Colombia, I spent four days in Barranquilla, a city on the Northern coast, at a huge annual party known as Carnival. By the end of the fourth day, I was exhausted and needed a vacation from my vacation. I had heard about a hostel located farther up the coast in the middle of the jungle. I wanted to get away from metropolitan cities for a while. I thought it’d be a nice place to spend a few days regenerating before continuing on my journey.
The hostel was located in a small coastal town called Buritaca. Getting there by bus proved to be a little challenging. I had to ask several different people where to find a bus headed in the direction of Buritaca. Finally, I ended up at the “bus station” which was just a street lined with buses. I got on a bus I was 75 percent sure would take me where I wanted to go, hoping for the best. After about two hours, the bus dropped me off on the side of the road in front of a sign that read, “Rancho Relaxo”. The name threw me for a loop. I couldn’t tell if the name was a joke or not.
Barranquilla, a city on the Northern coast of Colombia, has the second largest celebration of Carnival in the world, after Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. Carnival is a celebration that began in the 1700s in European Roman Catholic countries as a way for people to get all the devious deeds and vices out of their systems before the start of Lent. Today, it is a worldwide celebration that consists of three days of parades, intense partying, costumes, and lots and lots of alcohol. We have our own version of it in the United States, called Mardi Gras. I have always wanted to go to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro but I wouldn’t be traveling to Brazil on this trip. I decided to go with the next best destination of Barranquilla, Colombia.
While traveling in Mexico, prior to Colombia, I met a woman from Austria named Hedi. She was interested in joining me for Carnival in Colombia. Also, I had recently reconnected with a friend from high school, Evan. We hadn’t seen each other in over 10 years. We met up at our 10-year high school reunion. I told him my plan to head to Carnival in Barranquilla and he decided he would join me, along with his friend Ben, who had already been to Colombia many times. So, now as a group of four, we joyously coordinated our plans to meet in Barranquilla for Carnival.
Visiting the Amazon had been highly recommended to me, although I wasn’t exactly a fan of the idea. Having grown up in a city, I much prefer cities to the countryside, or in this case, the jungle. When I pictured the Amazon, I thought of crazy heat and humidity, mosquitoes, giant spiders, and sleeping under mosquito nets in dirty beds or hammocks. I was in Thailand two years earlier and I had a less than fortunate experience on a jungle trekking tour. We rode bamboo rafts in a snake infested river that I fell into not once but twice. Soaking wet, we trekked up into the humid jungle for the next 4 hours. When we finally reached our camp for the night, we were starving but we were only fed rice. In addition, the group had to sleep outside on wooden boards with moldy blankets. Since that traumatizing experience, I haven’t wanted to do anything remotely similar. This time, one of my goals was to really push myself, face my fears, and experience the unfamiliar.
After spending two weeks in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, I flew to a small city called Leticia located between the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. There isn’t much to Leticia and its main industry is tourism. The city is small with a downtown consisting of a few streets lined with tour agencies and stores selling cheap plastic items made in China. Having come all the way to the Amazon, I didn’t want to spend my time in Leticia. I wanted to get into the real jungle. After spending a few days in Leticia, I booked a two-day Amazon jungle tour.
Desert de la Tatacoa, located about 6 hours South of Bogotá, had been recommended to me by someone I met while traveling in Mexico. It is a place that is often overlooked by tourists and rarely visited by locals. It’s not actually a desert at all but a dry tropical forest that has dried up over centuries. The “desert” is surrounded by beautiful mountains and has been nicknamed the red desert for the unique red earth that makes up the terrain. It is easy to get to Tatacoa, it just takes a little time. To get there from Bogotá or Cali you can either fly into Neiva on a small plane which costs about $135 USD roundtrip from Bogotá, or $209 roundtrip from Cali. You can also get there by bus, which is what I did. I took a bus from Bogotá to Neiva, which I caught at the Terminal de Transporte de Bogotá Station. It’s about a five to six hour bus ride from Bogota, depending on the bus line and the time of day. When you arrive at the Neiva bus station, catch a taxi collectivo (a taxi collectivo is a taxi or small bus of sorts that takes many different people going in the same direction) to Villavieja which takes about an hour, then eventually to Tatacoa which will take you out to the actual “desert” and is another 30 minutes.
I didn’t know anything about where we were going. I didn’t even know the name of the town. My Austrian traveling companion, Hedi and I hopped on the Transmilenio (Colombia’s bus system) and headed to Portal Norte where we met a friend from Bogotá, Alejandra and Ästa, another friend from Norway whom we had met in Mexico. From Portal Norte, the four of us then took a taxi collectivo to Sutatusa. All in all, the trip took about 2 hours from our hostel in La Macarena, Bogotá.
When we arrived at the “town,” we had a quick lunch and then headed to our hostel. I quickly learned that it wasn’t really a “hostel” but a place people could pay to stay if they wanted to come out into the mountains to highline. I had seen people slackline before but had no idea what slacklining or highlining was or what it was called. Slacklining uses a flat rope about 2 inches thick that is stretched taut between two objects. The goal is to walk across it, kind of like a tightrope. It’s much harder than it looks and takes an enormous amount of leg and core strength.
Leaving Seattle again was hard. I wanted to spend two months in Colombia but I was also starting to get very comfortable back at home. The thought of leaving my comfortable bed, beautiful clean shower with hot water, and all my friends was making the decision all the more difficult.
After participating in the worldwide Women’s March on January 21st, I just had this sense that it was time to go and I needed to go soon. I decided that day that I’d leave four days later on the 25th of January.
The plan for the unplanned trip was to buy a one way ticket to Mexico City – wing it, go wherever the wind takes me, find myself. I checked out travel guides from the library on every country in South America and began researching. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, but I knew almost nothing about South America. I assumed it was similar to Central America in the sense that it was tropical and cheap. I’m glad I had enough sense to do a little research before. Read More