We hurried on the bus that would take us from Tayrona National Park to Uribia, a small dusty town known as the cultural hub of the indigenous Wayuu people.
I was already sleepy and it wasn’t even 9am. Sore from the hike back from Tayrona left me motionless in my comfy blue seat. My eyelids heavy, I tried sleeping. But with the blaring of the bus driver’s horn and the bumps along the road, it was useless. So through half-open eyes I watched The Magnificent Seven that was playing at the end of the aisle.
We stepped off the hot bus into an even dustier, hotter atmosphere–Uribia.
A desert adventure
From here to get to Cabo de la Vela meant riding in the back of a pickup truck that sped through the flat desert. So about 16 of us squeezed (I mean really squeezed) into a truck bed with hard board seating and a rickety makeshift wooden roof. We all shared smiles and glances that could only translate as, “How did you end up here?”
Speeding through the desert in an open-air truck bed definitely makes the list for one of those moments where you think, “This is really dangerous, we could all die.” But the adventure’s too strong and life’s too short, so we toss the thought aside. Besides, how else were we going to cross the desert?
More impressive than the driver’s speed was the simple fact that he successfully navigated the wild terrain without even a hint of direction. An hour after wizzing past pure vastness, we began to reach life again. Children covered in dust played outside their dried-mud houses, waving at us as we went past; a look of both curiosity and desperation filled their eyes.
Plastic trash by the thousands drifted with the desert winds, most getting caught in the dry brush and cacti. What a shame, that a place still left untouched by big cities and crowds of people can still be negatively affected by man’s selfish ways. Consume, toss, repeat. That, mixed with the lack of awareness and education about littering further compounds the harsh reality.
A Caribbean-desert paradise
At the meeting point between the dry earth and the turquoise Caribbean sea was a 2-mile stretch of powerlines. That’s when I knew we made it to Cabo de la Vela—a dusty fishing village that’s slowly becoming the tourist’s new escape for adventure. But with reasonable cause. Cabo de la Vela is one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve ever been to.
That evening our local guide drove us to nearby sights, such as Pilón de Azúcar and it’s adjacent montaña sagrada. From up here, expect to hear only your thoughts and see only the beauty and diversity of the Earth.
The wind almost toppled me over as I made my way to the top of the rocky hill where was perched a little Virgen de Fátima statue.
From this viewpoint is where the wildness of the vast desert and orange-colored sands clash with the tranquil blue hues of the Caribbean sea. From here, nothing can obstruct your view of desert, sea, and sky.
Just in time for sundown, we headed to the other popular attraction, El Faro (the lighthouse). It’s not much of a lighthouse to be honest, but the sunset views from here will surely wow you. This is the place to be. All the kitesurfers and locals from Cabo rolled up in 4×4’s and big vans, all eager to see the sky become vivid with shades of purple, red, orange, and pink.
As if Cabo already couldn’t impress more, just wait until the sun disappears and the stars come out to play. It was so clear, even the Milky Way couldn’t hide. The sky was pitch black with a blanket of bright, shiny stars. That night, we burrowed ourselves in our hammocks for a good night’s rest.
Waking up with Cabo de la Vela
Sleeping outdoors means you don’t need to set an alarm. So at an early 6am, I got out of my hammock and slipped on my hummingbird-print maxi dress. I snuck out to the shore with my camera to watch Cabo wake up. Except for the poor, mangy dog that sat alone on the beach, it was only me for a while. With the sea so calm and the sand so pleasant underneath my feet, I could only look around and think this was some sort of Caribbean-desert paradise. As the sun rose higher, the water turned from a deep blue into a bright teal as if morphing from lake, to pool, to lagoon.
A Wayuu woman not far from me began to hang up her handmade mochila bags in her open hut. I went over and politely asked to take photos. She smiled and gave a gentle nod.
In Cabo, accommodation is cheap (15,000 pesos/night for a hammock and a bucket of water for showering). But the food can be more pricey; though 20,000 pesos for a fresh-grilled fish on the beach is still quite the deal compared to European standards.
The sun grew hotter by the minute, but with the sea breeze the temperature remains tolerable. In any case, once you overheat you can just walk in the sea to get some refreshment. It’ll take 50m of walking straight before you get waist-deep though; it’s like swimming in a gigantic swimming pool.
The day was spent exploring the desert town, which was barren except for the local shop owners who smartly stayed in the shade. Only us foreigners were walking, unprotected from the hot sun rays, out in the open. The occasional motorbike or truck would roll by. Everyone knows everyone here, and the locals respect each other.
Our guide bought us refreshments from a woman’s sundries stand, as a way to spread his wealth from our business. Through tourism, Cabo de la Vela has become more developed over the years, with electricity at certain times and flushable toilets.
But the rest of La Guajira department is not so fortunate.
This would become clearer to me tomorrow, when we travel across the desert to the northern most tip of South America to Punta Gallinas.