33 Venezuela, Colombia
VENEZUELA/COLOMBIA Jan. /Mar. 2007
VENEZUELA (2nd time)
In the cool Gran Sabana we stopped at Jasper falls where water cascades over a rock bed of solid red jasper. We crossed the mighty Orinoco River, by ferry, at Ciudad Guyana and replenished supplies in Maturin at one of the many large shopping malls of Venezuela. (The cheapest country in the region, if one changes unofficially).
We arrived at Guácharo Caves at sunset as the “guácharos” (oil birds) were flapping their wings exiting the cave; shrieking and making click-sounds. They have an in-built radar location system (similar to bats). They fly huge distances to feed on oily fruits of palm trees, returning before dawn. The next day we walked 1,2 km into the cave. Up to 18000 noisy “steatornis caripensis” inhabit the first chamber of the cave. The total length of the cave is 10,5 km.
On the Caribbean coast we found Playa Colorada, the palm-fringed beach where we had stayed 25 years ago. We remembered how Liesl and Ingrid had collected coconuts from the golden sand and how the two little fair-haired girls had been the belles of the beach. Sometimes we had seaside places all to ourselves. Other times people would park right next to us with doors open and music blasting, even at all hours of the night.
Maracaibo is the capital of the oil-rich area next to the huge Lake Maracaibo. A 9km-long bridge over the lake led into the morning traffic. We had to obtain a new visa for Colombia. At the consulate, we were referred to the vice-consul – The young man was friendly and spoke English and later gave us maps and printed additional information for us from his computer. We filled out forms at his desk, which had to be submitted together with two photocopies of all 32 pages of our (4th) passports, which were now completely full.
We would not have known where to overnight but then the Colombian diplomat introduced us to his Venezuelan/American friend who offered us secure guarded parking next to his home. (The 24h guards carried short shotguns). We had a moonlit view of the lake from the cool 3rd floor patio roof when having meals with our kind new friends and their families. We enjoyed the companionship and our host’s incredible knowledge of Venezuela. He took us shopping and to see central Maracaibo with the well-laid out parks, plazas and buildings. After midnight we were still copying maps from the Internet.
North of Maracaibo we saw scarlet ibis among the white egrets. We stopped on a long white beach next to the Gulf of Venezuela to write and reorganise everything, which had been shaken up by the roads of the Guianas.
The fishermen brought us fresh fish and an off duty ‘Guardia National’ stopped to share his Polar Ice beer with us. Being fully self-contained in Dipli, we stayed a few days, watching pick-ups loaded with drums of petrol being smuggled to Colombia along the seashore, and the fishermen, who according to the GN, could be picking up Colombian drugs dropped from planes.
COLOMBIA (2nd time)
Where is Punta Gallinas?
Off-road to Guajira Peninsula. (For detailed description of how to get there, see end of chapter)
Furthest North point on the continent of South America.
South of Puerto Bolivar we had to turn of the gravel road next to the railway line, which is guarded all the way from the coal mine to the port. A patrolling soldier on a motor bike asked us for water and indicated the turn off into the remote region. (At km134).
The main track split and soon it became obvious that we were going in the wrong direction. We had no detailed map. The Google Earth photo and maps from the internet showed a maze of lines. Two women in long coloured robes, herding goats, came by to point us North-East towards Taroa. They are the Guajiro Indians who have lived in this semi desert for millennia.
We had to cross dry pans and on the other side guess which track to follow through clumps of cactus and scrubby thorn trees.
It was a relief to come upon an army post. Ironically the soldiers were protecting a ghost town. The entire village of Portete had been massacred three years before. They assured us that the area was safe now.
It was nearly dark and we stopped on a flat windswept salt pan. On the nearby ridge white tombstones seemed luminous in the moonlight.
The next day it soon was very hot. At Wayuu Indian settlements men were lolling in hammocks under thatched roofs next to mud houses and goat pens made of branches. Occasionally a donkeycade of nomadic Guajirans passed us.
There seemed to be no obvious source of water anywhere.
Distant views of bays or sand dunes and the GPS finally led us to a few dwellings and abandoned buildings marked on the map as Taroa. We were now close to our goal. We had to presume which deep sandy track would lead us over the dune.
And there we were at Punta Gallinas; the point furthest North on the continent of South America! N12°27.498’; W71°40.125’. (We had been to the continent’s furthest South in Chile; and the point furthest South on earth, by wheels, in Argentina). We parked just above high tide next to the light house, the shadow of which we had seen on Google Earth, and watched the sun set over the ocean.
Before we could leave, Dipli had to get a little TLC: a broken shackle bolt on the rear spring had to be replaced.
Returning was not all that simple. We had not noted all the GPS readings at junctions and could not always recognize the main track. A huge dust storm in the sweltering heat did not make it any easier. We realized that we were on the wrong trail but decided to navigate back the next day. The scant information in our guide book included the phrase: “NB. The Guajira Peninsula is not a place to travel alone. Also remember it is very hot. It is easy to get lost …”.
However, on the second day, averaging 17 km/h, we reached the railway line again, turning north to Puerto Bolivar and then West next to the ocean.
The coastal track, from Cabo de la Vela, was next to a pale turquoise Caribbean Sea where Indians were busy hauling in nets or collecting salt from dry lagoons. Occasionally we lost the trail and had to drive through thick cactus forests or dense thorn trees scratching at Dipli from all sides. Jan had to saw off branches when Dipli could not pass. We had to ask the way at remote communities of Wayuu Indians. The children ran away as if they had never seen a gringo’s vehicle. At Manaure we were back in ‘civilization’ again.
A tar road led past the congested port cities of Santa Marta and the sprawling conurbation of Barranquilla to Cartagena, where we planned to search for a ship to Panama.
The camp sites, indicated in the guide books, had made way for more high-rise development. Behind the Cartagena Hilton, we found a quiet spot to park next to a lagoon, where we were visited regularly by friendly patrolling police.
Cartagena; what a gorgeous place to wait. In the old city a series of forts and almost impregnable walls surround the old houses with flowering vines tumbling from the wooden balconies. A trendy seaside resort has developed on peninsulas with narrow beaches amid towers of holiday apartments.
Although Colombia and Panama are joined on land, the Darien gap (150km), an area of marshy forests and rivers, (also with guerrilla and smuggling activities) has no through road.
We found that Seaboard and WW have a regular shipping service to Panama; however, we could not reserve space on a vessel because we were waiting for a visa for Panama. Carnival in Panama and inefficiency caused a delay of nearly 3 weeks!
As part of the shipping preparations we secured the steel grid behind the cab and hid the most valuable stuff away. (Even the very thorough anti-narcotics police search did not find it). After we eventually received our visas, the paper work took 2 days, the sailing 1 day, and the flight to Panama City one hour.
The Northernmost point of South America, located at the tip of the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia.
From the main road between Maicao and Riohacha turn off next to the railway line in the direction of Uribe and Puerto Bolivar.
After about 95km turn east off the gravel road, 150m past the km134 marker post at
00,0km: N12° 10,645’ W72° 02,614’
06,5km: N12 09,787 W71 59,813 Fork, go right
07,1km: N12 09,470 W71 59,727 Fork, go left
08,1km: N12 08,949 W71 59,618 Junction from right, go straight.
10,1km: N12 08,582 W71 58,728 Fork, go left on pan
19,6km: N12 10,202 W71 54,714 Police checkpoint at Portete
19,8km: N12 10,235 W71 54,693 Fork, go left, then across large pan
31,5km: N12 13,791 W71 50,630 Shop ‘La Gran Via’
32,7km: N12 14,290 W71 50,256 Fork, go left
42,8km: N12 17,672 W71 46,678 Fork (1km after cemetery), go left
44,5km: N12 17,843 W71 45,807 Fork, go left (across pan after thorn bush)
53,2km: N12 19,535 W71 42,515 ‘Restaurante Marlene’
54,0km: N12 19,507 W71 42,109 San Jose de Bahia Honda
56,7km: N12 19,097 W71 40,814 Shop ‘Pasadena’
58,0km: N12 19,368 W71 40,186 Junction from right, go straight
58,5km: N12 19,585 W71 40,142 School & Clinic ‘Paraiso’
59,2km: N12 19,723 W71 39,769 Junction from right, go straight
62,2km: N12 20,945 W71 38,891 Chapel (no walls) right; cemetery left
66,0km: N12 21,832 W71 37,238 Fork, go left
66,6km: N12 21,844 W71 36,991 Junction from right, go straight
74,5km: N12 24,703 W71 35,339 Fork, go left
75,2km: N12 25,017 W71 35,229 Fork, go left to Pta Gallinas (R goes to Taroa)
76,7km: N12 25,347 W71 35,863 Junction from right (Taroa), go straight
79,5km: N12 25,494 W71 37,212 Fork, go left (after cemeteries on L & R)
81,5km: N12 25,826 W71 38,178 Fork, go right through 100m deep sand
82,1km: N12 26,080 W71 38,370 Fork, go left
85,5km: N12 26,727 W71 39,767 Fork, go right
85,7km: N12 26,854 W71 39,782 Near 2 houses, lighthouse visible, go to it
87,3km: N12 27,498 W71 40,125 Punta Gallinas
A beautiful, quiet isolated spot with an occasional Wayuu Indian wandering past.
People using this information do so entirely at their own risk.
No responsibility will be accepted if you get lost!
Take enough water & fuel; there is nothing to be had on the way.
A high ground clearance vehicle is essential, but 4wd is not (although you may get stuck in the deep sand spot). Actual driving time is about 6h one way, but allow about 3 days to enjoy it. If you care for your vehicle, 17km/h is what the rough terrain dictates. We did it in the dry season; deep ruts in the pans indicate that the going would be very difficult after rain, which is rare in this semi desert region.