La Guajira: Cactus, Goats and Lots of Sand


The morning after our farewell night out together in Santa Marta, the remaining group of Kirsty, Jay, Alex, Heather and I were up bright and early to set off on our desert adventure in La Guajira. Our morning bus to Riohacha was uneventful and we mainly dozed, only to wake up in a biosphere completely different from the one we set out from. In hot and sandy Riohacha we found a man to take us to Uribia in his car. Great- way better than a stinky crowded bus. It was nice to get in among the air conditioning… Until we noticed the headline on the newspaper on the back seat. Emblazoned on the front page was a picture of a crashed car, under a title about two dead. It was the same model of car we were in. Travelling along the same road. Fun times.

Once in Uribia we were shuffled over to another car and our driver Maikel (Michael… Don’t ask; Colombians have weird spelling rules) took us along the windy path to Cabo de la Vela. Once there we were mesmerised. Shanty huts, some small brick buildings and little tiendas lined the single road of this small coastal town. Maikel found us a place to stay, with his wife- and they offered us the small brick room they had constructed to accommodate for tourists. It had light until 9pm, 2 beds and 2 extra mattresses- and we were welcome to use the toilet out the back too (using a bucket of water to flush of course). Maria even offered to get us a pail of agua dulce (fresh water) so we could have a wash. Delightful! It wasn’t exactly luxury, but we were here for the adventure and this was a part of it.


We went and got some lunch. Fish and rice, with salad and patacon. Standard Colombian food really. Afterwards, Maikel drove us up to El Faro (the lighthouse) to watch sunset. Kirsty and I lagged behind a bit as Jay, Alex and Heather sprinted to the top of the hill to watch the sun say goodbye. Kirsty and I got their kind of just on time. We maybe missed it a wee bit, but we still had fun and got some nice photos.

That night we snacked on fruit salad and natural fruit juices, and got back to our bedroom to hit the hay.
The next morning we went off to the beach, and to see La Virgen with all the kids in the family and a lovely couple (a German man and his beautiful Colombian girlfriend). La Virgen was nice- a large rocky hill that was an important wayuu (indigenous peoples) site, with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. There were great views of the coast; the rugged rocks and sandy beaches and we could see across most of the sandy and cactusy landscape of Cabo de la Vela. Down at the beach the three boys got straight in the ocean… Well two of the boys got straight in as I slowly meandered deeper into the water. These waves were bloody massive. Dozens of Colombians were laughing and screaming as they crashed through the waves, ducking and diving over and under the water. Anytime I tried it, I got a firm smash of my face into the sand, and was then dragged across the sandy bottom of the ocean. A few of the times I actually thought I might drown. Exciting stuff.

We had a little lunch. The options available were fish, fish or fish. We all plumped for fish, most of us getting the fried option but Kirsty and Jay went for something else. “It tastes like tuna doesn’t it? What type of fish is it?”. Maria had delight in telling us it was tiburon, or shark as we might call it. Wow. (Everyone knows I am bloody afraid of sharks…)

All together that afternoon we packed our stuff up onto the jeep, as our group along with the couple… And the entire family headed off to see Punta Gallina, the most northern part of Colombia and South America. Initially a bit annoyed by the whole family cramming into the jeep, we were quickly in good spirits as reggae started blasting from the radio and a mini choir (Alex and me) was formed. Colombians love listening to me sing for some reason. They even played a few Shaggy songs too- at which point Heather had her hands in the air, rapping along to every word. “I wanna show da nation my appreciation.”


The desert was different from what I had imagined. The road was windy and long… And calling it a road is a bit of a stretch- it was a dirt trail. Most of it was heavily covered in cactus and other arid trees, until we reached large flat sandy plains, which were partly covered in salt. Apparently these plains were used by drug traffickers to land their planes and load up on all sorts of illegal stuff. We had no idea how Maikel knew the way… Everywhere looked the same. There were goats everywhere- hundreds just running about among the cactus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many.
Across the path there were many children and even some families with ropes stretched across the road, blocking our way. They were looking money or sweets, some were trying to sell things. We must have passed about a hundred or so. That evening we arrived in pitch darkness. In the hostel we all grabbed a hammock, had a bite to eat and set off to sleep.

In the morning we set off to see the sights. First was Punta Gallina, the most northern part of Colombia and South America. There was a small brick building to mark the point, and we all got our pictures taken at the top of this crazy country and continent. We then went along to some nice beaches. I helped Maikel and Maria’s daughter collect shells. Little did I know that she was going to bury some in a grave, and release others out to sea. Interesting. We even had time to take another pyramid photo- this is becoming the staple pose of the British Council assistants group.

20130131-151356.jpgOur next stop was spectacular- the spot where the ocean meets the desert and all vegetation stops. It was like scenery from Aladdin. Pure golden sand, with pure blue sky. Not a cloud or cactus in sight. We ran about, rolled in the sand- ran in the water and took awesome jumping photographs. This was probably the most stunning part of the desert yet. A piece of earth so different to anything I’d ever been on before, and exactly like the desert I had imagined.

We made the long journey back, stopping for lunch. To our surprise the menu had changed- and we all tucked into goat instead of fish. To my surprise it was delicious. I will certainly be eating it again. That night we once again stayed in Maria’s room. We played with the kids a bit before getting some shut eye. In the morning we made the journey backwards and in Riohacha killed some time at the beach and getting food. We failed in our quest to haggle with street vendors of souvenirs, and said our final goodbyes as we all went our separate ways at the end of a wonderful trip.


Our guide, Maikel, told us many stories about the indigenous people of La Guajira. I have written about this here


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