May 2002 - big trip - diary - colombia - may 2002


Rescuing an overheated Colombian

Dead trees in the Cienega nature reserve

Use roof lights in this area?

Monday 29 April - Friday 3 May

The drive to Santa Marta was uneventful, save for a few police check points. They occasionaly ask us where our compulsary insurance is but we just claim ignorance and they let us go. We passed the big nature reserve, which has been partly destroyed by the road which stops the mixing of sea and fresh water. Dead trees are everywhere. Passing through Cienega, supposedly a guerilla and paramilitary town, we saw tumbledown shacks and huge piles of rubbish everywhere. Here, like in the big cities, people still use donkeys and carts to transport stuff about, poverty is rife in Colombia.

We found a campsite at Rodedero beach and met a guy who was clearly a lot of sandwiches short of a picnic. He told us through the fog of his fat joint that an ounce of weed costs $1 and a gram of cocaine about $2, and this is the best stuff in the world. He also told us that it was possible to trek to the Ciudad Perdida, lost city which is supposed to be almost as cool as the Inca Trail, but obviously a lot less trodden. We'd been told that it was too dangerous as the guerillas had control over this area. While that is true, some foreigners are doing it with the help of guides who are probably in with the guerillas.


Rodadero, Santa Marta


Impromptu beach party

Beach camp near Riohacha

Leaving the campsite after a couple of nights, including time to replace the landy steering damper, we set off at 8.30 to travel through the mountains to Riohacha. Part of this run would be through a guerilla area and, as we climbed into the misty, narrow roads our heads were filled with images from the TV news of mountain roads with burned out, bullet riddled buses blocking the way. However, maybe we were lucky, maybe its not as dangerous as it seems, but we made it through, same as anywhere else on the trip so far. A quick stop at a heavily armed military check point for a few laughs and the usual discussion about Michael Owen and the world cup, we were soon in Riohacha.

Cheapo petrol station

Last stop at Colombian customs

Welcome to Venezuela

On the way we'd read in the guidebook that it was essential to have a visa to enter Venezuela overland. We arrived at the consulate 10 minutes before it closed and rushed around getting photos, photocopies and filling in forms but we were too late. After camping out of town by the sea we returned early to find the whole town had a power cut and no visas would be issued until Monday. With almost no money (cash machines weren't working) and no desire to be stuck there for the weekend, we headed for the border to try our luck without a visa. Things couldn't have been smoother. No visa was needed at all and we got tourist cards with 90 days written in them. The landy paperwork was equally easy, the customs guy just tore off the slip on the carnet and that was it, no check of chassis number, not even a search in the back! This was the fastest and easiest border so far, about 15 minutes for both sides and we'd been dreading a full landy strip down search too.

It was a relief to finally get out of Colombia. The threat of being kidnapped and losing both the landy and our freedom was overshadowing our normal happy go lucky stylee. We had wanted to experience Colombia first hand but were ultimately disappointed, although we met some great people there were lots more who weren't so trustworthy. Hopefully, by the time we get around south america Colombia will be more tranquil and we can visit the parts we missed.

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