One of the disadvantages of sleeping on the beach is that once the sun is up you can’t really sleep anymore. Which wasn’t all that bad because we had a long day ahead of us. After a tasty breakfast, we waited for the other groups to get ready (since we were all moving together in a sort of convoy) and headed towards the first stop of the day: the Parque Eólico de Jepirachi. A wind farm, basically. It was fun to get close to the towering wind turbines although they’re not much of an attraction per se.
Next up was our first taste of the off-roading that was going to take place over the next day or so. After Cabo de la Vela the paved road pretty much ends and the adventure begins. We drove across some extremely bumpy sections of track that made any chance of a nap very much impossible. Still, it was a lot of fun. We made a couple of stops along the way to stretch the legs and check out the stunning views of the desert, which were fantastic.
The lunch stop was at Punta Soldado, a literal middle-of-nowhere place with a beach and a restaurant. The restaurant was busy due to the high number of tours that stopped there, but we managed to get food rather quickly. I walked around for a bit after eating while most travellers either finished their meals or took a well-earned rest in the hammocks. I have to say you could definitely feel the remoteness of the place, it was starting to feel like we were headed to the northernmost point in South America!
The way to Dunas de Taroa, our next stop, was equally challenging. Very bumpy and unpleasant. Made worse by the fact we had finally come across the Wayuu. Now, I’d heard about them blocking the track with ropes and charging a nominal fee (usually packets of biscuits or chocolate bars) to let you through but… in some sections we were being stopped every 500 metres, it was crazy. So much so we started to run out of packets of biscuits and had to start giving individual biscuits to be let through!
The way I understand it, La Guajira – one of the poorest parts of Colombia – is severely neglected by the government, which means locals take matters into their own hands to make ends meet. They are territorial and these are their sacred lands. I find it annoying that the money paid to the agency will almost certainly not make its way to their pockets so I can’t really blame them. Worth mentioning the Wayuu were heavy into the trafficking of marijuana in the 1980s before the cocaine craze took over the country (check out the Colombian movie Birds of Passage if you’d like to learn more about this). The fact they do this now shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
But what are these blockades like? At first it was just the odd couple of kids with a rope made of tied plastic bags. Then actual ropes. Then bike chains and steel cables. Then as you got closer to Punta Gallinas you weren’t dealing with kids anymore but full grown adults. Some older men and women (who wanted rum or coffee instead of biscuits), drunk men demanding a cash payment, and even a guy with a machete you’d be wise not to mess with. We must have stopped well over 50 times that day, and by the end of it were absolutely drained.
The sand dunes at Taroa were actually quite fun. We got a bit time there to go to the beach but I couldn’t be bothered with it so just went around exploring the surrounding area and spectacular views. It is a very tall sand dune that ends very close to the sea. Entrepreneurial Wayuu kids offer sandboard rides down the dune straight into the water for the equivalent of a couple of euros. It’s a lot of fun to watch people sprinting down the dune at high speed, that’s for sure!
On the way to the last stop of the day – Punta Gallinas! – our car managed to get stuck in the sand and there was a big effort by a number of other drivers to help us get out of there. Thankfully we’d got there with plenty of time since the rescue efforts (if we can call them that) took a good part of an hour. First we had to get the car out of the sand, and then we had to get hold of a battery because ours had suddenly died in the process. A big mess! This is why we always travelled in a convoy.
After we eventually got back on track it was a short but very dusty ride to Punta Gallinas, which has little more than a small house with a mural depicting a map of La Guajira and yet another underwhelming lighthouse. The painting is cool and I made sure to take plenty of photos of it before the sunset. I have now been to the westernmost and southwesternmost points in mainland Europe (both in Portugal), the westernmost point in Africa (in Senegal), and the northernmost point in South America. It’s one of those things nobody really cares about but I’ll still claim bragging rights!
That night we slept in camp that had dozens of chinchorros similar to the ones from the night before, but instead of about 8 chinchorros per group here it was close to 45 in rows of 15. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad. The next day we left after breakfast and made one short stop to look at the incredible view of the bay before driving back to Riohacha. Apart from a stop in Manaure for lunch the ride was rather uneventful, and I was glad that had been the case. All in all the trip was fun and even enlightening, but more than anything I really just wanted to be able to take a long shower and sleep on a bed!