Barichara, Colombia to El Cocuy, Colombia
July 6 to July 9, 2014
Debating the detour
El Cocuy was on our radar thanks to our friends at Moto Pasaran but this tiny town, perched high up in the mountains of Eastern Colombia, was well out of our way. It took quite a bit of debating between the Zebra, Marcos and I before we all agreed to the 500km detour from our planned route from Barichara to Guatape. It ended up being our best detour to date, even if, as we will see, it was not all rosy.
A bit of Geography might help set the stage. Colombia is divided by 3 mountain ranges or Cordilleras. The most eastern one includes Bogota and the Sierra Nevada, culminating in over 5000 meters. The many rivers have carved deep canyons into the mountains making for spectacular landscapes. Logically enough, most roads run along those rivers and seldom attempt to ascend the steep cliffs surrounding them. For us this meant that connecting two villages located on different mountains would take several hours and a lot of leaning through a dizzying number of switchbacks.
Charging the Chicamocha
Naturally, we decided to not go with the flow. We defiantly disregarded the relief, cutting through cliffs, rivers and canyons to connect Barichara with Cocuy. As a result it took us over 9 hours to cover less than 250 kms, relentlessly climbing and descending mountains and witnessing the little villages grow in front of us and shrink in our rearview mirrors as we covered ground. Little did we know at the time that those villages used to be Guerilla strongholds and had seen, just a few years ago, more than their share of violence. But we saw none of it as we were having lunch in San Joaquin and taking a break in Onzaga. Two friendly policemen in Covarachia suggested that the road to Capitanejo was “Peligroso” but mostly for its relief.
We reached Soata and made our way through the Rio Chicamocha. The eponym Canyon easily rivals the Grand Canyon and the views inspired our weary muscles with the energy needed for our last ascent along the Rio Nevado, through Guacamaya, up to Cocuy.
A pricey propositionThere, surprised locals, conserving heat under their ruanas (thick sheeps wool ponchos) stared at our thumping little convoy. Soon, we knew, they would ask us how much our bikes cost. We crashed on the comfortable beds at Casa Munoz for the night after digging out the warm clothes we’d been stashing for Patagonia. In the morning we bought oatmeal and pasta, packed everything into two backpacks and called ourselves ready to face the 3 hour climb to the Laguna Grande de la Sierra.
Our morning enthusiasm was quickly tempered by the impressive list of formalities and expenses to go through before even entering the park, here is a quick listing:
– 7$ per person per day for a rescue insurance = $28
– Park entrance $25 per person (locals pay half) = $50
– $5 to park our bikes at the Hacienda while we hiked = $5
Sleet, snow and waterfallsThis was more enough to put me in a grumpy mood, but to the Zebra’s relief, it was short lived. After a short 20km ride, El Cocuy PNN (Parque Natural Nacional) welcomed us with snow caped mountains and raging waterfalls. The altitude made Marcos, the Zebra and I (mostly I) stop regularly to try and catch our breath as we ascended toward the even thinner air around La Cueva de Los Hombres, our refuge for the night. Soon the fickle weather turned on us and the gentle drizzle gave way to aggressive sleet and finally snow. In an attempt to fight the numbness that was enthusiastically attacking our fingers and toes, we slipped into our fleeces, knit hats and winter riding gloves. The challenging terrain continued as the trail carved it way up the mountain. The delicate, fluffy Frailejones were slowly replaced by sharp boulders that seemed to float among the hundreds of streams rushing down from the nearby summits. Our shoes did not resist the puddles for long and soon our socks and feet were soaked. Shivering and feeling rather ragged, we viewed each distant crest with eager hope, fantasizing about the shelter we very much hoped we would find at the campground. We finally stomped the final soggy steps up to the natural cliff roof of La Cueva de Los Hombres campsite and were ridiculously relieved to find a dry patch to pitch our tent. We praised our stove for it’s promptness in boiling some hot water to bring a bit of life back to our freezing bodies and then slipped into our sleeping bags with non-trivial headaches. We were camping at 4300m.
Coming down the mountain
A 12 hour night was not enough to help us feel rested. Wind and sleet were still sweeping across the rocks and the temperature felt sub-zero. Valiant Marcos cooked up a fantastic oatmeal breakfast, the Zebra boiled tea to put some heat in our bones, and we were eager to return to the warmth of the Valley. The descent was much easier than going up and with each degree gained, our spirits rose. After a snack break in the sun we made it back to our bikes and were delighted to once again be under engine power, giving our getaway sticks a break. We returned to the comfort of the Casa Munoz for one more night and awoke ready for the next leg of our trip.