Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sierra Nevada del Cocuy

Guicán was an interesting little town to check out for a day, pretty chill. Except for the holiday that we happened to hit, which filled the plaza with school children.

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(we still didn't have a good map for the area, so this filled in for some of our planning)

(on the way out of Guican towards the dirt road that connects it to El Cocuy)

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(the ride itself was beautiful, hiking even better)

(our view from our room at hacienda la Esperanza)

We stayed at Hacienda la Esperanza for a couple of nights and absolutely loved it! Highly recommended. Guille, who is now running the place, which has been in his family for generations, is one of the world's greatest hosts. He invited us to join him and friends for some drinks around a fire the first night, cooked incredibly tasty meals (10000 pesos for dinner, but well worth it. In fact, please don't expect this if you visit the place, but after our long day of hiking (which happened to be after the long night of drinking) he even brought us - in bed- home made bruschetta/pizzas made of lamb and eggplant along with some hot agua de panela ( a traditional sweet tea). Words can't describe how amazing that was.), and takes excellent care of all of his guests. We also enjoyed meeting some other travelers there from Germany and England.

Our hike up to the Lagunas de la Sierra Nevada was timed perfectly. Somehow, we managed to be there on a sunny day, the first in a few weeks. While the hike was only reported to take 7 hours, we ended up taking 9 hours. Some of that had to do with the hospitality from the night before, some of that had to do with our lack of physcial activity over the past few months, and some had to do with the noticable effect that the altitude had on Jill - we ended up walking up to 4600 meters (over 15,000 ft). Jill ended up saying some pretty silly things near the top. And was definitely shuffling her feet more than at the bottom. So we fed her lots of chocolate and water and got back down to warmth and more oxygen.

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(Jill before she got loopy)

(there was some steep walking to approach the lakes, and catch sight of the glaciers)

(we saw some specific evidence of pumas on the way back down)

Most travelers to the area are dependent on the milk truck for transportation to la Esperanza and other trailheads. It makes its rounds everyday.

(alternative transportation)

(our transportation)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Finding Guicán

Traveling south from Bucaramanga took us directly though the Chicamocha Canyon.

Although we heard a lot of good things about Barichara, we had lunch in San Gil, then turned east to Onzaga, passing through Mogotes.

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(in Mogotes)

(the road is not paved, but it's a highway, complete with kilometer posts and buses)

(in Onzaga)

(we found a nice little hotel for 20000 pesos, and drew lots of attention around town)

In the morning we got gas and asked the attendants how to get to El Cocuy/Guican. Instead of the main road out of town, they said that this smaller road leading out would be faster. They also offered the suggestion that we get a better map, which we agreed with, but couldn't do much about. After that turn, we pretty much didn't know where the hell we were but just kept trying to keep the general direction. And ask everybody we saw which way to go.

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(we asked people driving cattle...)

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(...we asked people in random houses...)

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(...we tried to ask these kids which way to go, but they were less than helpful. Well, they were more helpful than the lady that we tried to ask who was utterly afraid of us and ran away. But the only answer that we got from these kids above us was to the basics, like it was the start of class...)

(...we even asked 2 crazy old guys at this little fork in the road. Thankfully, they were fun crazy, not sketchy crazy.)

We eventually made it to Capitanejo, where we expected to get on track to get to Guicán. Somehow, leaving Capitanejo, we turned onto a side track which turned out to be a good mistake. We didn't know that the main road had been completely wiped out in a landslide (until we heard that rumor later in la Esperanza, and then managed to run into the deadend ourselves...ooops).

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(the area provided plenty of scenic vistas during our meanderings)

After stopping numerous other times to ask adults, children, and animals (sometimes it was hard to tell which combination of those categories produced the people we asked, but everyone was super nice, and really most of them were normal, there were just a few that were especially uhhh...backwoods types...) which way to go, we eventually made it off the Capitanejo-Boavita sidetrack (to be picked up again soon...) and back onto the main road that took us through el Espino and then into Guicán.  After some shopping for a place to stay, we found a nice one, Guacani, for 40000 pesos with good parking.  We then planned our attack for the national park.

Colombia redux

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The border crossing at Cúcuta is madness. After going through that crossing, we decided we should have followed the advice from another moto traveler to cross at Arauca, but some violence in that area in the 4-5 days before we were to cross was enough to steer us into the main route. We luckily got checked out of VZ with some ease, all right there at the border. Trying to get into Colombia was another matter. While the customs office is right there at the border, they close at 5pm and require proof of SOAT insurance. So we didn't get the bike officially checked into Colombia until the next day, after spending almost an hour at the insurance office, only due to the office staff being super nice and wanting to talk so much about what Colombia has to offer.

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(our hotel was across from this little outdoor movie theater/taxi stand)

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(a small piece of the madness at the border. Luckily we had all the papers we needed, so once we cut into the DIAN parking lot, we had our permit within 40 minutes)

The riding outside of Cúcuta to Bucaramanga was beautiful and easy going:

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We had a couch lined up in Bucaramanga, which was a sweet spot to stay, in the middle of suburban, super swanky Floridablanca. Sierra was a great host who knew the area well and led us on a nice hike above the city.

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(us with Sierra and Jorge Luis above Bucaramanga)

(near the main market in town)

(the state of Santender is proud of the rebellious women that led them to freedom)

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(Mike was sad that we missed the Demolition Derby - I mean what a great export from the states, right? (it even says "desde los estados unidos" as a selling point.)  Jill didn't quite agree with his sentiments)

While we had a nice, chill time in Bucaramanga, we were excited to ride on towards El Cocuy National Park, based on strong recommendations from an ADVrider in Venezuela, seconded by John (aka Throttlemeister, story linked above).