Alta Guajira is a desert peninsula that is the most northerly point of the entire continent of South America. It is known for incredible landscapes, beaches and for being notoriously difficult to get to. It is one of the poorest regions of Colombia, inhabited by an indigenous tribe known as the Wayuu. After escaping Riohacha we spent two nights in Cabo and then made our way north to Punto Gallinas, the headland at the very tip of the peninsula.
As we’ve said in the past it’s the people that make the journey, this time was no different. We picked up our first pal Alba waiting for our car at our first stop on the road in Uribia and we slowly assembled a mighty team of Europeans that would make the founders of the EU shed a tear of joy. With only six people we had representatives from France, Germany, Spain, Italy and of course Ireland. All that was missing was a British person to later chose to leave the group. Honestly we managed to find some really sound people and shared the long weekend with them.
Cabo de la Vela
We spent our first two nights in the small town of Cabo. It’s a village with dirt roads and a constant wind blowing from the desert out to sea. Most of the very basic buildings serve as homes / basic hostels / restaurants and more recently kite surfing schools. The locals were all friendly and between the kiters and the tourists there was plenty of life around. We could chose where to have a few drinks or which restaurant to eat at and hire lads on motorbikes to drive us to stunning remote beaches for the afternoon. Very relaxed, very cool. Our new gang were on the same buzz so it all worked out well.
The region is a desert so every single meal came with the same basics: rice, fried banana (Called patacones) and salad. What they lacked in side dishes they more than made up for in main courses. The sea is full of life so most nights the tough decision was whether to pick the lobster (€7) or the red snapper (€5). We ate like kings, Julie had lobster 3 times in 3 days! Unbelievable!
We slept every night in massive Hammocks called Chinchorros. They have wings that act as blankets. 8/10 would sleep again.
On our tour of Punto Gallinas we spent two hours at Taroa Beach. It was the biggest sand Dune I’ve ever seen the descends into the sea. Sprinting down the hill into the sea was the best way to cool off from the desert sun. We took advantage to take a few more photos with the backdrop as well.
After Cabo we went to see Punto Gallinas. There are two problems with this. One is you have to pay quite a lot of money for an “agency” to take you there. There are no roads in the desert so you need a 4×4 and someone who knows where they are going. The other is at Punto Gallinas itself there are only two places you can stay and there is nothing else there. This means you end up having every minute of your time there organised along with every other fool who’s paid for a tour just like you. You eat all your meals at the hostel as there’s no where else to go. You eat at the same time as every one else at the hostel and afterwards you leave in the matching jeeps all together to see the sights. The effect is you feel like your at a gaeltacht or a summer camp for people from 25 – 35. All freedom of choice is taken away and your trip becomes a package holiday.
Our driver Reinaldo was lovely. Unfortunately his car was a piece of shit. He squeezed six of us into the beast. No seat belts, no suspension, cracked windscreen and two kid sized seats in the back. We bounced around it for about 4 hours to reach Punto Gallinas. Much to our surprise no one died and the car didn’t even break down.
This is one of the poorest parts of Colombia. The native Wayuuu people have very little. They make their living by selling their hand stitched bags and bracelets. In Cabo and all along the road you are constantly approached by both children of all ages and older women. The sheer number on children selling is really shocking.
Like in Chiapas the Wayuuu use ropes and chains to block the road to create a toll booth for the cars. On our trips to and from Punto Gallinas we passed at least 20 each way. The kids try their luck with strings but families use long bike chains to block the road and won’t remove them until they get some money or something useful (like a block of cane sugar) in return. It’s really fucked up to see so many children and infants at every stop.
As if the poverty needed to be emphasised myself and Julie had some our our things stolen from our hammocks. Things of little value, but the kids take whatever they find. We were relieved of my flip flops (new), my belt and Julie’s silk sleeping bag (we’ve both lost one now). What they’ll be able to do with size 10 flip flops I’ll never know. It’s a bit inconvenient for us, and I was pretty annoyed at the time but it shows the reality the kids are facing.
There are a few cowboys in the desert. We met two girls from Louth who booked a tour to Punto Gallinas. They booked with some lads and like us they negotiated a price below the standard asking price. They paid half up front before leaving, and we were told they paid the second half when they arrived. The problem was the next day their driver just didn’t pick them up. Forcing them to pay another driver to take them home from the desert. Cowboys!
- Polar was my drink of choice in Alta Guajira, it’s a Venezuelan beer smuggled over the border and sold at €0.65 per bottle. Solid.
- Fried bananas, aka. Patacones are also the business. I could have eaten a whole plate of them.
- One of our trips to a remote beach was spoiled because a film crew was supposedly filming Narcos there. We did our best blagging but weren’t able to get passed security.
- Alba, our Gracienc pal and first member of the Alta Guajira gang deserves a special mention for taking home a load of our Artesanía from Mexico and Guatemala directly to Barcelona saving us so much hassle and worry that comes with shipping things. What a legend!