Departed Taganga with the intention of visiting Minca, a small mountain village overlooking Santa Marta and the Caribbean sea. My intention was re directed to a town midway between Santa Marta and Riohacha. The cab driver I had asked to take me to the corner where I could get transport to Minca told me about Palomino. He said that Palomino had spectacular beaches and surfing and that it was possible to visit adjacent towns with similar altitudes as Minca. I was on a bus to Palomino a half hour later.
When the bus dropped me and two other folks off along the side of the road, there was not much hint of being in a tourist area. There were two gas stations, a hardware store, a few restaurants and one place renting inner tubes. There are only a few sand/dirt tracks leading toward the sea. Motorcycle taxis usually fit the bill for most travelers but I carry two fairly heavy cases and a long walking stick. A few minutes passed by before a very small taxi offered to take me to my desired location. I had no reservations. About five minutes later I was dropped off at Quinta del Marlene, a small hostel/restaurant which is about halfway between the coast road and the sea.
Palomino has a very nice beach and there were a couple of surf shops on the beach. Saw a bunch of police who were fixing a large transport truck within sight of the beach. One was cleaning his AR-15 style rifle. I inquired. It was a Rock River arms model. He, and the other 10 or 12 of them were also packing side arms. His was a Beretta 9mm. Make no mistake… there are LOTS of police and military in Colombia. Random stops are ordinary events.
One of the things I had had in the back of my mind for a while was to visit the Sierra Nevada de San Marta area. I was first inspired by looking at a relief map in some hostel in either Panama or Medellin, I can’t remember which. What struck me as very interesting was the shape of the mountain which sits so close to the sea. It was a nearly perfect tetrahedron on the relief map.
Subsequently, I consulted Saint Google and learned that this mountain is unique. It is separate from the Andes. I also learned that it contains snow covered peaks with altitudes of over 5000 meters which are the highest peaks nearest an ocean. Odd enough, that snow covered peaks exist near the equator. Throw in the additional spice of them being on the Caribbean coastline and you have my attention. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_de_Santa_Marta)
I have continually inquired if it is possible to see the snow from some location on the coast. Various responses. I have determined that to do so would require unusual weather and you would have to be in the exact proper location. Was told in Palomino that if you got up very early in the morning… 6AM and looked in the right direction you might be able to see snow. My experience proved otherwise. A heavy haze was always present even in the closer lower elevations. The mountains were always occluded.
Spent two nights in Palomino. While there, I studied a map of the area. I reasoned that if I went all the way around the mountain that I would increase my chances of seeing the snow covered peaks.
Also, I learned that in Valledupar, there is an annual Vallenato festival held in late April. Vallenato enthusiasts from all over Colombia converge in Valledupar to watch as bands compete and one accordion player is crowned ‘Rey de Vallenato’. (http://www.colombia.travel/en/international-tourist/sightseeing-what-to-do/history-and-tradition/fairs-and-festivals/april/festival-of-the-vallenato-legend-in-valledupar)
Was very lucky to have gotten a ride in Palomino within fifteen minutes of standing on the road with my cases. As it happened, an older gent (such as myself) was going to Riohacha, where I knew I’d have to find other transport South to Valledupar. Our vehicle was a one ton cargo truck with a tarp over it and open in the back. The gate folded down like any pick up truck. I tossed in my cases and walking stick and hopped in the back. The man driving the truck was simply increasing his payload. We each paid a nominal fee. We picked up two others along the way. One lady was traveling with a 70 pound sack of potatoes.
This is not a popular (international) tourist area or route. The man who was also going to Riohacha gave me his phone number and asked me to look him up in San Salvador, a mountain village where he has a small farm. He was a huge help when we got to Riohacha. He knew the best way to get Valledupar. He stayed with me until the station wagon I shared with two other passengers left Riohacha.
Please note how hospitable some people can be to a complete stranger. Please think about that when you might have opportunity to help someone from another country who maybe doesn’t have perfect language skills who is visiting your country. Remember, what goes around, comes around. The GOOD as well as the negative.
Arrived Valledupar late in the afternoon on Thursday, May 1st. Had only looked online for a place to stay. Neglected to write down the address. Inquired for lodgings at a few small hoteles where I was informed that the city was booked full because of the festival and rates were increased as a matter of course. Again; one of the hoteliers did me a kindness and looked up the address of the hostel, whose name I remembered. It is the ONLY ‘hostel/hostal’ in Valledupar. Valledupar is a mostly agricultural area. The economy is doing very well.
Checked into La Provincia Hostel about 6PM. Big surprise! My hostel is literally one block away from the main plaza where the Vallenato championships take place. I am treated to the sounds of live traditional Colombian music all night long. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vallenato)
Secured my gear in my dorm room and went out to see the sights.The plaza was packed with people. Families and friends sit in plastic chairs that cover the quarter acre plaza. A hundred vendors, or more sell everything: beer, skewered meat and potatoes, hats, shirts, temporary tatoos. Plastic covered booths of all description are scattered in the square amid the plastic chairs. There is a permanent bandstand in the plaza. There is also a very striking monumental metal scupture of a Caquique man and woman. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cacique)
This morning I walked about two miles to a place where locals bathe in the river. It is called Balneario de Hurtado. There is also an adjacent Vallenato museum/park. One gets the distinct impression that Valledupar gained it’s national spotlight specifically because of the Vallenato festival… now in it’s 47th year. Along the river side as far as the eye could see were more stands and vendors and tarps and families and friends. Everyone was drinking and eating and bathing in the cool water. Vallenato music everywhere… Saw many, many amateur Vallenato groups drinking and playing while friends and family listened at the rivers edge.
Photos to follow