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Colombia: Desert, ocean and concrete jungle

Punta Gallina Colombia is an extremely diverse country. Did you know she had a desert? Well me neither! But as soon as I heard about it, I had to go. Our transportation arrives at 4:30 am. We hit the road on a 3 hour bus ride before even arriving at the tour company’s office. We get there and, you know... sometimes, while traveling, our ‘’regularity’’ takes a back seat. And of course, it is always at an inappropriate time that it decides to 'knock at the door'. Obviously, the bathroom is right next to the office and the waiting room, where people from our group for the next few days are sitting. It’s at that moment, that your body decides to perform a trumpet solo (or rather the whole brass section!). Loud enough for the lady from the office to hand you a bag of rehydration salts when you get out while a complete silence reigns in the waiting room. Good morning everyone.

We hit the road in a 4x4 jeep, with 3 French and one Norwegian. The goal is to reach the most northern tip of South America during a three-day journey. The landscape is changing rapidly. The more we drive, the more the poverty intensifies, and the amount of rubbish increases. We stop in the last 'city' of the region; the gas station is just a bunch of giant plastic bins, and they fill up the tank with a funnel.

It is from here that we enter a series of deserts. There are no more proper roads, just dirt roads, rocks or just sand. The road was not planned, but rather ‘made’ by people driving on the same path through cacti and shrubs. There are small houses here and there, made of wood and dried earth. There is so much plastic everywhere, it looks like the cacti have been decorated for Christmas; plastic bags are hanging on branches, fences, shrubs, and other trash scattered everywhere on the ground.

Soon, we start to encounter roadblocks, held mainly by children. People block roads with ropes or chains and ask for water, candy or money. It’s it one after the other; we are stopped every 20 meters, sometimes for several minutes. The region belongs to the Wayuu indigenous communities. They have absolutely nothing, they live in this desert region and don’t benefit from the tourism activity that is starting to develop on their territory.

We arrive at Cabo de la Vela, the small village where we will sleep and have dinner. We eat and drop our stuff before hitting the road again. The scenery is beautiful, but the road is so bumpy that I feel like a wet pair of jeans in the dryer. We explore a rocky area covered with sand right on the edge of the ocean, before climbing a hill that offers an impressive view of the area and then relax on a hidden beach at the bottom of a cliff. The sand is soft, the wind is hot. We admire the sunset from the top of another hill.

Back in Cabo de la Vela, it's an early bedtime. We sleep in hammocks hung in huts right on the beach. Minimal comfort but unique experience.

Our second day starts early. We have a huge desert region to cross. It feels like being on Mars. There are long moments where there is nothing, absolutely nothing around, only sands and mountains of rocks, and some cacti here and there. And the Wayuu children. They have built dead ends with branches, placed in strategic spots that cannot be bypassed so we have to stop. Some are so small, 2-3 years old, with their siblings. They extend their little hands up to the windows, it is windy, they are covered with dust. Little girls with their dresses flying in the wind. Our driver gives them water and sweets. You don’t get used to it. Each time, I hide my teary eyes behind my sunglasses and my throat is squeezed. It's silent in the car. One wonders where they come from, there is nothing, nothing, nothing around, as far as the eye can see. Despite everything they smile, beautiful big white smiles. There are elderlies too. This is a harsh reality, and despite the beauty of what we see, the human side of the expedition is difficult.

The day includes several spectacular beaches and gigantic sand dunes flowing into the ocean. The sun is set to broil. I alternate between the cool water of the sea and moments of reflection sitting in the middle of the sand dunes. It's hard to put into words the effect of this place. We finish the day at Punta Gallina, the northernmost point of South America. Another night in a hammock, before embarking on the long way back to Santa Marta the next day.

We are exhausted. The road was very, but very bumpy, for 3 days. We don’t stop until we reach Santa Marta. It was beautiful to see the transition from the desert to being back near the jungle. Since we ate the same thing for three days, we treat ourselves to a nice dinner tonight.

It's our last day in Santa Marta and on the Caribbean coast. We start our day with a yoga class and spend a quiet afternoon in the city, writing and relaxing. Tonight we take a flight to a city that has quite a history: Medellin.

Medellin Considered in the 90s as the most dangerous city on Earth, the city emerged from the darkness to become a favorite for travelers and Colombians alike. Our flight to get there is chaotic. It was the most stressful takeoff I’ve had, I thought we were going to fall. The pilot found his license in a box of cereals or something! We arrived safely, but Daniel (who was sitting 26 rows in front of me) prayed with the gentleman behind him before landing as they thought we were going down. It is midnight when you get out of the airport. We try to negotiate with the two remaining taxis, but they charge us way too much. Then, nothing. They lock the airport doors. Great. Now what?! Our level of stress? Medium I would say. We walk to the other end of the terminal and finally find other taxis and we take one, nevermind the price. He almost kick us out because we can’t properly explain the address so... just Go! I guide him with google map with my average Spanish, to finally arrive at Darnell’s (one of my good friends from Toronto who has been living here for two months) who is hosting us. The beer will be good!

Medellin makes a good impression quickly. The neighborhood where we stay is amazing; filled with good restaurants, cafes, bars, trees ... the atmosphere is great. Medellin is located in the mountains and the districts stretch on the cliffs. After having lunch with Darnell, we go explore the city. The subway is new, but congested, we must push everyone to enter. We visit the museum about the difficult history of the city (it is here that Pablo Escobar, the drug lord who is largely responsible for the decline of the country, had established the power of the cartel), and it is quite difficult to see everything that happened there. We visit public squares, the magnificent sculptures of Botega and the animated streets. When we return to the apartment, we meet Darnell’s, Nacho. He is Venezuelan but has lived here for a few years. The four of us go for dinner and evening quiet. I start my day early with a private Spanish lesson. My teacher is great, she speaks to me in Spanish all along and I understand 90% of what she tells me. The two hours go by quickly.

I meet back with Daniel, and we join a walking tour of the famous district Comuna 13. It was the most dangerous district in the most dangerous city, and until recently, we couldn’t walk there. Our guide is a resident of the neighborhood and she guides us through the landmarks of the neighborhood's history. The tour focuses largely on the graffiti that emerged in the area. Art has become the exit door for locals, and a way to remember what happened here. The neighborhood is built on the mountainside, with random materials. There is a very special atmosphere here, you feel the weight of the past and the effervescence of the rebirth. Music is everywhere, children run everywhere, break-dancing gives young people an escape door and an alternative to street gangs. Our guide opens a lot and tells how she saw several of her neighbors being murdered, young people, children,;how the traffickers always controlled and controlled certain aspects of the neighborhood life. This is one of the highlights of our trip so far. The atmosphere is so energizing here, now. Most people in the group are very quiet and emotional by the end of the tour.

It's time to take a little tour outside the city: direction Guatapé. Two hours from Medellin, lays this very colorful village. The houses are all different colors and are decorated with unique designs. The landscape is unique; a series of lakes surrounded by mountains and a giant rock. We brave the 700 steps to reach the top of the rock and the view is spectacular. We return to Medellin just in time to go out with Darnell and his friends in one of the lively clubs. People enjoy themselves so much more than at home, they flirt, dance together ... it's beautiful to see.


Needless to say, we take the next day to recover. We also take time separately to write. A long bus ride awaits us to reach our next destination in the Andes mountains: the small village of Salento!

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