To The Top. Punta Gallinas
It’s impossible to sleep in when camping. Especially when you’re camping in a field where a herd of goats graze. An early morning start was just what we needed as we still had a long way to go to reach Punta Gallinas, the most northern point of South America. We woke up with the sunrise and the owner of the land we camped on came over to greet us. Greg was making coffee with the instant coffee he bought the day before at the store. He kindly offered our hosts a cup of joe. I tried a sip of it and it was the worst cup of coffee ever mad in the history of coffee. No offense to Greg, I’m sure it was just the brand. I don’t think our hosts finished their cups. From the coffee I’ve had around here they like their sugar with some hot watery coffee mixed in. So our Wayuu hosts would probably agree, Greg’s camp brew was the worst coffee ever.
We were back on the trail early and I didn’t even need coffee to wake up. The road turned to nothing more than a deep sandy goat path through the bush. The tire tracks from other motos ended telling me that other motorcyclists clearly know better than to try and ride through here. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes into the ride and I already dropped the bike. 1,2,3, lift. I do the count in my head even though I’m just lifting by myself. Back on the trail we continue past a few other small family farms and homes. The sun was barely up but I was sweating. Trying to ride through this took every ounce of energy and concentration I had. The trail made a sharp left turn which sent me and the bike down to the ground. Always a soft landing but this time my foot was stuck under my saddlebag. If I had hard luggage I’d probably have a broken ankle. Greg was right behind me and picked the bike up. The whole family from the nearby home came over to see what these weird people in funny outfits and massive motorcycles were doing. I asked about the road. The woman said the trail was like this the whole way. The whole way was 15-20 miles. Sigh. This was not fun. Matt was way ahead of us and he came riding back to check. I knew we had at least 60 miles off unknown terrain to get to Punta Gallinas and this trail wasn’t included in that total. We were only a few miles from a paved road that we crossed yesterday. Matt was really wanting to stick to the trail but was nice enough to just go along with us and ride on pavement for 15-20 miles.
We turned around and headed back to the paved road. Greg was leading. Still riding through more sand I dropped the bike a third time. The sand had gotten to my head. I was not happy. We’d only gone a few miles and I was already exhausted. Matt was right behind me when I dropped the bike and as I was getting up from the ground he said watch out. I was inches away from the largest cactus thorns I’ve seen. Thanks, Matt! There were so many trails weaving in and out of the bush so Matt and I took the least sandy looking ones. We came to a clearing where we thought we’d find Greg waiting. Did he turn back around to look for us and took a different trail? Matt rode back to see. He wasn’t there. We rode on to the town where we’d pick up the pavement. We stopped and waited for Greg. He would definitely stop here right? We asked someone from town if they’d seen another motorcyclist. They hadn’t. Matt rode back to where we started the day and back. (He’s fast on his 225 XT) We split up and drove around to the other side of town where there was anther trail. It’d been almost and hour. We hoped he hadn’t dropped his bike on a different trail. The next town where we’d connect with the gravel road heading north was only a few minutes away so we rode on. Sure enough at an old gas station just before Uribia I saw Greg’s bike. He was hanging out with locals waiting for us. He waited in the first town for us but then he heard two motorcycles ride by in the distance. He thought it was us so he rode on.
Uribia is the last “town” we’d see until we returned from Punta Gallinas so we stocked up on water, some food, and of course the cheap smuggled gas. I’ve been running with this gas since we got to Daniel’s farm. Compared to Colombian gasoline, this gas is actually good and for a little over $2 a gallon you can’t beat it.
The road leading north is a wide gravel dirt road. The wind seemed to get worse. When a truck or bus would pass it was like being in the middle of a sand storm in the Sahara. I guess we’re in the middle of the La Guajira.
We turned right where our GPS was saying we need to go. There was a small military post there. There were military posts at every road crossing the railway line that runs parallel to the road. A few miles earlier we passed a massive train wreck. Except it looked way worse than a normal derailment, like it was blown up. We didn’t ask the military about it but we assumed the rail line was blown up recently. (Afterward I looked it up and sure enough, FARC blew up the railway two months ago) The military came over to us and when we told them we were riding to Punta Gallinas, they said we couldn’t get through this way. I wasn’t going to question the military guys with a tank and all carrying weapons, so we rode further north to where there was another road. A small dirt road led us north east but wasn’t on our GPS. It’s hard to tell if the roads out here will loop around and go back in the direction you need. Sure enough we realized we were on the wrong road when we came to a large port. It was still early in the morning but it was roasting outside. There was a small tienda where we bought bananas and cold cokes. A man there spoke english and asked about us and the trip. He worked on one of the boats that exports stuff from the port. He seemed really nice and we chatted for a few minutes. When we went to leave, he told Greg that we needed to give him money because it’s dangerous here and something about he helped with our safety. Nice meeting you too. See ya. We didn’t give him any money.
We spent the next few hours riding through what could be easily described as the middle of nowhere. Long straight trails through dry salty flats, over hills, down trails with massive ruts. Simply put it was any off road motorcyclists dream.
After riding for a couple hours we stopped at the only place we’d seen that looked like people were there. We rode by a few very primitive little groups of homes. Occasionally there would be something that looked like a school but really there’s nothing out here. This small place had a tienda where we could buy drinks. When we asked if they had cold drinks they gave us a block of ice in a small bag and cups. I was feeling good and loving this ride now. Glad we bailed on that sandy path idea.
While we were sitting on the ground drinking soda, eating a watermellon and spitting the seeds out, an SUV pulled up. The people who got out of it wore long flowing colorful dresses, the traditional clothing for Wayuu women. We asked how far until Punta Gallinas. Each of the three people who responded gave a different time. 2, 3, and 4 hours. Back on the trail we went. The riding was amazing. Hard packed dirt trails. Still so many trails going in all different directions.
Matt was born to go fast. On his 225XT he was pushing it as hard as it could go. He was usually ahead of Greg and I and would stop to wait for us cause we had the maps. I came around a corner and Matt was off his bike; a broken mirror on the ground. He was using an adjustable strap to hold his bag on the rear rack. It came loose and the strap with a large metal hook got caught in his rear wheel, sending him to the ground. Luckily a broken mirror and strap was the only damage.
We were running out of time to reach Punta Gallinas before sunset and we didn’t want to be out on this road at night. Just when we were the most tired, the days most difficult section was in between us and our destination. The rocky trail turned to deep sand, Greg and I’s nightmare. By this point I was either lucky or I’ve gotten better, I made it through the long deep sandy stretches without any problem. Greg wasn’t so lucky. He went down and didn’t get up. Matt and I went over to help and saw his foot was stuck under his bike. We lifted his F800 and he slowly freed his foot. I heard that sigh that only means one thing. Pain. He sprained his ankle on the fall. He was insistent he was fine and we should keep going. I checked the GPS. 4 miles to go. That saying “so close, yet so far” rang in my head. Did we have 4 miles of deep sand ahead of us? With the sun getting lower we had to keep moving and find out.
We only hit one more sandy section and the rest of the trail was a mine field of jagged rocks. After 4 miles we saw a sign for Punta Gallinas. It was just 1km ahead. Off to our left we rode by a large bay surrounded by high bluffs. With the light of the setting sun, the brown dirt, and the blue water, I just stood there for a minute taking it in. We’ve had quite the adventure to get here and it was worth it.
We rode a minute down the road and arrived at basically the only building out here. Hospedaje Luz Milla is a hotel, restaurant and home to a few families. When we arrived there were about a dozen kids having a Christmas party. We stood on the side of the bluff looking over the bay when a friendly Colombian brought us cold beers. We thought he worked there as he answered all our questions about the place but it turns out he had just arrived on a motorcycle as well. Except Freddy rode with his wife on his new 250cc Chinese street bike. I had to buy Freddy a beer for doing that road on that bike, with his wife. Freddy’s proof you can have an adventure on whatever bike you have.
Before the sky turned to darkness we set up our tents for the night under one of the shelters. With the strong winds never calming down it took team work to get the tents up. Except for Matt, he was already finished putting up his hammock.
With only one option of where to eat we headed to the restaurant and had dinner with our new Colombian friends. Being so close to the water we had fresh fish for dinner. Tomorrow is Greg’s birthday so we made sure to have a round of beers to celebrate. Freddy was so excited to meet traveling motorcyclists that he kept buying round and round. When he found out it was Greg’s birthday he bought a bottle of of the local liquor, which came in use Coke bottle. Poor Greg, Freddy made him practically finish the whole thing by the end of the night.
We still hadn’t technically reached the most northern point so we’ll do that tomorrow! More stories, photos to come, along with a video.
Read about our first day in La Guajira here.