After all of our high adventure in Salento we decided to hit the road, only this time we had back up. John and Paula have been overlanding from California for the past year in a Toyota pick up with a customized camper. Melanie and Lukas, from Switzerland, shipped their Landcruzer to Canada and are having an overland adventure of their own.
Our newfound quirky companions were a blast to hang out with and a big help along the way. Knowing you have others looking out for you on the road is a relief after having the adventures such as we had all been through solo.
Over the next 11 days and nearly 1200 kms we all traveled through the twists and turns, the highs and lows and the rain and shine as the unlikely family we became. Jessica and I took the lead having shed our bags thanks to Team America. We ripped up the dusty mountain road leading to Ibegue like the bratty teenagers in the family, and shedding that extra weight made all the difference.
Day 1: Salento to Ibagué
Lukas and Melanie suggested we take a route through the Valle de Cocoras that none of us would have attempted solo, but felt confident doing it together. It was a twisty route through valleys and mountain passes on a dirt road – definitely the road less traveled!
Day 2: Ibagué to the Tatacoa Desert
We were exhausted and slept well in our tent despite the heavy rain. The next morning the smell of french-pressed coffee woke us up (one of the perks of riding with the convoy). The first half of the day was nice paved roads and highway driving – a nice contrast to yesterday’s physical ride. By midday, the landscape changed dramatically into a desert. It was a few hours getting off the main road and into the heart of the Tatacoa desert where we found another campsite amongst the sparse and vast area to spend the night.
Day 3-4: Tatacoa Desert to Tierradentro
It was a humid night in the desert and the thought of spending another day in the heat was too much for us. We headed back to the mountains – this time to Tierradentro. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the archeological park is the main attraction. Pre-Colombian cultures created an underground funeral complex in the 6th and 9th centuries where they buried bodies, carved sculptures and painted on the walls with red, white and black paint. Each one has a ‘staircase’ (made from stone) down 5-8 metres where there is a main chamber surrounded by several lesser chambers, each containing a body.
Day 5-9: Tierradentro to Popoyan to Chachagui to Ipiales
We made our way to Ipiales with two pit stops: 1. Popoyan, a quiet colonial town where we stayed in a mediocre (at best) hotel and managed to get some laundry done for the next leg of the trip, and 2. Chachagui, a small town with lots of character where we camped on the lawn of a nice hostel with a pool and a kitchen. It was raining by the time we got to Ipiales and we were cold and wet. We checked into the nearest hotel that advertised hot water and warmed up before going to explore the church over the river.
We crossed into Ecuador together the following day. Crossing with a vehicle is always a little nerve racking. There is a lot of paperwork involved with importing a vehicle and with us on an Ecuadorian bike with only the ownership and no licence we had to hold our breath and just play it cool. We didn’t mention the bike and made it through with out much hassle. It took quite a while for the others to process their paperwork so we just hung around nervously drinking café and exchanging the rest of our Colombian pesos. Everyone got through just fine and we were off for more adventures getting ever closer to the equator.