Cabo de la Vela, Colombia -
Since my watch broke a few days ago and I’ve been sleeping in hammocks near beaches without electricity and have been operating purely on a solar schedule I can’t tell you the time, day of the week or date without thinking really hard about it. Actually, I couldn’t tell you the date no matter how hard I thought but the time I can guesstimate pretty well based on my shadow. I probably should have ditched the watch a long, long time ago.
From what I guesstimate I was out of my hammock, packed up and trodding down the road back to town by around 10:30 this morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the day ahead but my goal was to get to a town called Cabo de la Vela. Cabo, for short, isn’t located in any location people would call easy-to-reach. First off, if you try looking up the town on Google maps you won’t even find it. The name ‘El Cabo’ in Google is the closest thing that you’ll find which seems to mark a general location than an actual place three quarters of the way out on the La Guajira Peninsula. This immediately makes the place out of the way for most travelers. As far east as most venture is an hour outside of Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park. Palomino, where I was now leaving was already an hour further east than Tayrona. Further off the generally trodden path was where I was headed.
The paved road for Cabo stretches on for another three and a half hours before ending in the small town of Uribia. An outpost with some semblance of civilization from which dirt roads stretch out into the dry heat, flood plains and shrubby bushes of the peninsula’s nothingness. For me it was just a connection point and the last stop with an ATM.
I was ready for this. I looked at the mud covered F-150 in front of me with anticipatory joy. I was ready to hop on board and go but the drivers had absolutely no rush to leave. Wanting more passengers and seemingly not interested in leaving we waited. One hour passed and we were still waiting. Another half hour passed and we started rolling down the street. Then we stopped. Waited another fifteen minutes and changed one of the off-road tires. The driver drank a beer, we took on two new passengers and once again began rolling down the street. The street turned into a pitted, mud road and I was off to see what was out there.
We stopped again. Some supposedly important bolt fell off the truck. Another ten minutes and we were rolling again.
For another fifteen minutes anyway. Then we stopped. I can’t remember why. I think the driver wanted to check that bolt again. Then we started moving but no more than ten minutes later we had pulled off to some side path. I was certain this wasn’t the way to Cabo. I was right, it wasn’t. We had just pulled off to deliver a two liter bottle of gasoline to a house surrounded by a fence of cacti.
Back on the main dirt trail we drove for another thirty minutes but the driver must have been thirsty and the woman standing beneath a straw hut selling beer was too much to resist. Another beer break and we were back on the road. An hour later I thought we should have been getting close. The sun was setting but, more importantly, my butt and back hurting from the simultaneous joy of a hard wooden bench and a metal bar for a backrest. Off the main trail again we dropped off a few crates of beer strapped to the roof and any wishful thinking that I had about almost being there was just that; wishful. The cargo laden truck was dropping off supplies for every random house out in the middle of nowhere between Uribia and Cabo. We kept driving and the stops became fewer as the road became rougher. The last twenty five minutes we were off-roading. I wasn’t quite sure why a 4×4 was necessary until we drove through a flood plain where the road was supposed to exist. A couple more lakes of water and crags of earth were passed and we had arrived.
Why I Came
Have you ever put your finger on a random place of the globe or pointed at a place on the map and wondered what was there? Yep, that’s pretty much the only reason I came. When I looked at a map of South America I saw a small point of land that stretched out into the Caribbean. It was the furthers north a person could go and still be in South America. I had no idea what the terrain was like or who lived there. Lonely Planet later told me this piece of land is the Guajira Peninsula and it’s inhabitants are the Wayuu Indians and it’s a desolate landscape that isn’t much visited. It seemed remote which means it provided something different which meant it sounded good to me.
The only place that is visited to any degree by tourists is Cabo de la Vela. Without much more than that I told myself I would go. I had no real reason but I told myself that there would at least be some beaches around and most likely any beach out here would have no one on it. Deserted desert beaches. Perfect.
To put it quite simply – hardly anything. When others said there was nothing here they didn’t mean ‘nothing’ as in ‘nothing to do’ or ‘nothing to see’ they really meant nothing. The nothing that means not a thing here. The town is as bare bones as it gets. Houses are made of some kind of twigs that ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ in The Three Little Pigs could blow down with a half breath. Him or the next tropical storm that decides to drop by for a visit. These twig houses double as restaurants and when they’re not in use as a restaurant hammocks are strung up and they become hospedaje’s. If you’re looking for a real hospedaje be prepared to pay. Having electricity 24 hours a day in a private room with solid walls and a bed along with a shower is a luxury in this part of the world. Not a luxury as in buying all the premium channels your cable company provides. It’s more like buying yourself a Mercedes on a lower middle-class income.
For the rest of us it’s showering by bucket and electricity each day from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. For this four hour period a day it costs a person $75.00 per month. That’s a large amount of money to spend when your only income is renting out a room or hammock and cooking for any traveler who passes through. What I don’t understand is why all the electricity is made by gasoline generators when there are electric lines running straight through town. There is something about this I’m clearly not understanding because I would thinking hooking yourself up to the already established power grid would be cheaper than buy gasoline for a generator at $5.00 a gallon.
For those not renting out rooms or living in town life becomes much more basic. Off the one street that is Cabo de la Vela the stick houses become more like stick shanties. Those inside have no way to afford a generator or the gasoline to run it. If they live within 50 ft of the sea they’re fisherman. If they’re further inland then they look after a heard of goats that are currently roaming somewhere nearby. That’s life and the your possible occupations – Own or work in a restaurant/hospedaje or become a Fisherman or goat herder.
Don’t expect much to do either. You can climb a few hilltops or visit two beaches – Ojo de Agua or Pilon de Azucar. Nothing more. And that’s why people come here. This town serves as a hub for tourists who come to visit it’s nearby beaches but it does it in its own way. This is the first time I’ve been to a town that lives on tourism but have not seen a tour agency. No one tries to get you to buy anything here. They make some artisan craft bags and hammocks but no one is shoving them in my face. They don’t even mention them. Maybe it’s because I’m here out of season but these people are chill and want nothing from me. They seem to care less if I’m here or not and I like it. Tranquilo is the only word that comes to mind that explains this place. Muuuuy tranquilo.
Is It Worth It
That partly depends on your tolerance for multi hour crappy rides in the back of pick-up trucks. For me it’s definitely worth it. When you see a view like this…
…how can it not be? When you want to get away from everything and not be bothered this is the place to be. If you want to talk to someone then you better bring a friend. Luckily I ran into three people that I had first met in Cartagena for one of the day’s I was there. Otherwise I would have been talking to the innumerable lizards running all over the place and the sand crabs on the beach. One day, if a real road is ever built, there could be some kind of tourist boom. I’m hoping that day never comes because this place does tourism right and to see it turn into another version of Taganga would be a shame.
The World is Trashed
If I didn’t know it already and I haven’t made it clear then I’ll say it one more time; There is no one here. But somehow the trash from all those people who aren’t here is. Trash from people over there or wherever they are has floated over or has been left behind and ruined the perfect deserted desert beaches that people come to see. Plastic bottles, pieces of Styrofoam and glass always seem to find their way onto a beach. The beaches here are still nice to look at good to lay on after you spend fifteen minutes clearing the branches and garbage out of your way to the ocean. Still, I expected a little better for a beach located near a town whose closest intersection looks like this.
Every beach I’ve ever been to has had trash on it. I don’t think there is a beach left on this planet where man has not yet laid it’s dirty finger. Just remember, when man is dead and gone those plastic bottles will remain and will continue floating around the world. They start by making their way into our rivers which make their way through our lakes out into our seas and lastly into our oceans to then wash up onto our sandy beaches that we all like to sit on.
Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela
Santa Marta – Rioacha: 15,000 – 18,000, bus, 2 – 3 hours
Rioacha – Uribia: 12,000, shuttle car, 1 hour
Uribia – Cabo de la Vela: 12,000, pick-up truck, 3 hours
Why a bus on a paved road that travels for an hour costs the same as a 4×4 that travels for 3 hours down a dirt road I’ll never understand. Just one of those Colombian bus price mysteries that I’m confronted with all the time.
Photos of Cabo de la Vela
Photos of Cartagena – I forgot to upload these photos and didn’t feel like writing anything about my week in Cartagena. I liked the place though.