La Guajira, The Carribean Desert

The first question that arose was how I was going to get there. And above all, how the hell I was going to get back. La Guajira is the northernmost province in the country and sparsely populated. After a period of turbulence under the control of the paramilitaries, going to the region has not posed any security problem for several years, but transportation outside the provincial capital Riohacha has become an adventure. "Individually, you will certainly travel for less. But it sometimes takes three or four hours to find someone who wants to take you, ”said the friendly employee of the travel agency in Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. “La Guajira is really isolated. And with a guided tour, spontaneous route changes are also possible ”. This argument convinces me. The tour lasts three to five days, with a 4x4 Offroader, our small travel group heads north. Shortly after, a first stop at the local supermarket: in addition to the water, the driver and guide Manuel recommend that we buy enough sweets, we would need them later. Somewhat puzzled, we follow his advice.

Entering Warrulapalein

Through the Cactus Forests

The asphalt road ends shortly after Riohacha and in front of us is a seemingly endless plain of pebbles on which we draw a trail of dust. Manuel is a rather taciturn companion, he speaks softly and with weight - unlike the radio, which continuously tones up the vallenato, a kind of Colombian folk music.

The steppe landscape becomes progressively more arid: at the beginning, the many trees and bushes at the edge of the road are less and less numerous and are reduced to shrubs at knee height, we bump on hills and cross salt marshes and crater lakes. With the exception of a few cars crossing our road and rare earthen houses on the side of the road, there are no signs of civilization. My laptop has had no network for hours. Fortunately, the driver knows his way very well: sometimes he follows tracks that are barely recognizable on the ground, sometimes he sneaks with determination through cactus forests and skillfully maneuvers the jeep along banks of perilous sand.

Cactus Forest

From Rescuers to Addicts

Other drivers are less skilful and we therefore encounter a deeply buried pickup truck whose help we offer to its owner. Apparently it has been blocked for quite some time. "No te preocupes", do not worry, Manuel calms his somewhat nervous compatriot and manipulates a rope while he fixes it to the all-terrain. But unfortunately, the rope breaks in a few fractions of a second. And unfortunately, Manuel's iron chain resists the second attempt, but the pickup does not move and our jeep is also stupidly buried. What to do ? Our guide remains relaxed: "Let's wait for the next car". Our travel group is no longer as relaxed and I too am beginning to accept the idea that we will have to face a painful action of digging up. And yet, we should copy Manuel's composure: indeed, a huge 4x4 does not take long to pass and we witness the striking spectacle of the two other cars released from the sand under the howling of engines and clouds of dust. With a full smile on his face, Manuel asked us to get back into the car.

In the land of the Wayuu

La Guajira is mainly inhabited by the proud indigenous Wayuu people, which is made up of around 30 large families and lives on agriculture and handicrafts - the famous colorful and crocheted Wayuu bags are omnipresent here. The traditional clothes of women are amazing; they look like wide-cut nightshirts and thus help to better withstand the heat. Outside the urban centers of Riohacha and Uribia, the Wayuu clans live in small villages, largely independent of the Colombian state. By the way, we suddenly understand the purpose of the candies we bought: at regular intervals, ropes are stretched on both sides of the road and the children who run out of the houses demand tolls. Without payment in the form of candy or a little money, it is impossible to progress. It's a little strange. And a sign that tourism is still in its infancy here. There's also the lack of gas stations - because of Venezuela's proximity, everyone here seems to have their private contact to get cheap gas. In many places, it is also sold by canister by the roadside.

Guajira's Beach

The Spartan Idyll by the Sea

A must on every tour of Guajira is Cabo de la Vela: a small fishing village that offers ideal conditions for kitesurfing thanks to the constant wind. By a jump in the crystal clear water, we escape for a short time from the omnipresent and dry heat. Cabo de la Vela is a Spartan idyll by the sea, far from modern sensory overload. The atmosphere fascinates with its simplicity. Like everywhere else in the region, the airy inns are built with cactus, clay and wood hearts and you sleep in oversized and colorful chinchorros, hammocks. The generator stops at 11 p.m. and the gigantic starry sky becomes the only source of light. At the mesmerizing sound of the waves, the chinchorro cradles me gently towards sleep.

Chill out Area!

Golden Dunes and Turquoise Sea

It is the isolation combined with the strong scenic contrasts that make La Guajira so exceptional. Nature is rough and calm. You rarely hear animal voices. The terrain alternates between stony and sandy. Golden yellow dunes rise to the sky and then fall abruptly into the turquoise blue sea. Who would have thought, a desert in the Caribbean!

We stop in hidden oases with dozens of flamingos and swim on deserted beaches with crystal clear waters. Hungry for all these impressions, we stop at an inn, the only one in the middle of nowhere. The menu includes grilled fish, rice and some vegetables. Simple, but fresh and delicious. Fortified, we continue our journey of exploration at the upper end of the continent. In places, the continent ends in ocher cliffs, then again in green bays bordered by mangrove forests. The sea at Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point in South America, is wild and hectic. The waves whip and smash against the rocks of the beach. Here, only a dilapidated lighthouse bears witness to human civilization.

The Golden Dunes

The Shaman's Dream

On another night, I chat with Lorenis, who runs the Rancheria with his family. “Tourists have been coming here regularly for about five years. For us, it is a welcome source of income, there is not much else, ”she explains, indicating the hinterland with a wave of the hand. Food and water are also limited when the already scarce rains are lacking, as has been the case in the past two years. And where does the water come from? “We owe it to our shaman. For a long time, we had to transport water from afar, but a few years ago, she dreamed that a source was nearby. The next day, digging in the place in question, the source of water appeared. With Manuel we want to visit this source: and indeed, about ten minutes by car from the Rancheria, a fountain is in the middle of nowhere around which several women fill their jugs. Fascinating. A living example of the spiritual life of the Wayuu, in harmony with the wilderness. On the return journey of several hours to Riohacha, that still lingers in my mind.