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Colombia: Rural, Rugged and Real

Another landslide in front of us and we were ordered out of our Toyota Land Cruiser as it had to navigate its way across a very dicey terrain, with a huge drop down the mountain’s edge on one side.  The last thing this lead-lined, bullet-proof 4WD vehicle needed was the added weight of six passengers and one dog inside.

It had already safely negotiated several dicey tracks, but as we walked ahead of the vehicle, it became apparent that the footpath we were on had succumbed to the previous month’s rains and now there was no way forward.  It was late afternoon; we were way off the beaten track and had just one hour before the sun set to get off the mountain.  It was turning out to be one of the most extraordinary days we’ve ever had.

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The final landslide which made us turn around


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You seriously don’t want to go off-road here!


10 of us (and two dogs) from the Suzy Too Rally had organised a small private trip with Magic Tour Colombia to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world. After a 6am start, our route up to the mountains took us via the Los Linderos Estate where we had the most delicious local breakfast and also met one of the residents who took a shine to Skipper!

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Skipper makes friends with Pedro the Parrot


From there it was a steep climb into the interior of rural Colombia, stopping to observe the snow-capped mountain peaks and to learn more about the amazing history of this country. A country, that until 2016, had been at civil war for more than 50 years and one that is synonymous with drugs cartels. It’s only in the last decade that it has opened its doors to tourism and now is most definitely the time to visit to enjoy everything that Colombia has to offer before it gets too popular.

Snow caps and glaciers on top of this part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range


After hearing just a smidgen of cartel stories and learning that their transport of choice was the Toyota Land Cruiser, it didn’t surprise us to learn that the 4×4 we were in was armoured-plated, with bullet-proof tinted glass. We wondered who its former owner might have been…

Taking a step back in time and history, we were privileged to visit some tribespeople and to hear about their cultures, many of which haven’t changed much since the pre-Hispanic times.  There are currently about 30,000 indigenous people of the ethnic groups Arhuacos, Kankuamos, Koguis and Wiwas living in the area. Their traditions, culture and way they live are fascinating and some were happy to share with us their stories and swap food treats for photos, while others did not want to be bothered by tourists.

Huge smiles from the family who swapped food for photos


The keeper of the gate…who preferred to keep his identity secret


The religion describes the tribespeople as the sensible big brother, and all others as the naughty little brothers who are destroying the earth. Very thought-provoking.

We went to a great extent to see these tribes in their environment, even crossing the raging Don Diego River, where the current was so strong it sent us 50 metres down-stream, which made for a very exhilarating challenge.  And, in the spirit of I’m A Celebrity, swimming across it was rather reminiscent of a ‘Bushtucker Trial!’

Meanwhile, in crossing the river between the tribespeople and exploring the mountain terrain, we were split across two 4×4 vehicles, with the most articulate of drivers who did an amazing job navigating us around mud runs, steep assents, enormous pot holes and gravity-defying drops.  To call it a bone-shaker was an under-statement as the Land Cruiser – and passengers – were thrown around like rag dolls while traversing the footpaths and bridal ways. A smooth ride it was not!

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And, having found ourselves in a tight corner, with one route completely cut off by a landslide, it was like something out of Mission Impossible, as the sheer expertise of the tour drivers and guide turned the cars around and got us safely down off the mountain and back to terra firma. The sun had set, and it was a whole lot later than planned, but it had been an exhilarating trip.

For entertainment, history, privilege and for seeing the interior of such a beautiful and undiscovered country, this goes down as being one of the best experiences of a lifetime we have ever had.

*****

For anyone visiting Colombia, and wishing to enjoy a similar experience, contact Manuel at Magic Tour Colombia www.magictourcolombia.com.

© Two Drifters Travel

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