Have you read Cabo de la Vela – Where the sea meets the sky, part 1 of our journey to Punta Gallinas, yet? Check it out before you read on. It also has full travel directions for your making own journey.
An early start
As we were directed the day before, we woke from our hammocks at 4.30am, ready to leave Cabo de la Vela at 5am. We would be travelling to Punta Gallinas, the most northern point of the South American continent.
Looking around at the other hammocks, which contained a small number of other tourists, and several members of the family that we were staying with, we were confused. No one else was stirring, and the dirt road outside Kai y Kashi, our extremely basic ‘hostel’, was quiet.
We took our time to enjoy the sunrise on the sea, and waited for the others to wake. We found out later that at some point during the evening before, the departure time was moved from 5am to 6am. Everyone seemed to be aware of this, except us.
Travelling to Punta Gallinas
At 6am, with the sun in the sky, we were ready to leave. The peace and quiet that had enveloped Cabo de la Vela just one hour before was gone, and the small town had been turned into a hub of activity. There were several four wheel drives on the street and tourists were being organised into them. It doesn’t seem to matter who you book your tour through, the locals all work together to make sure that there are drivers and vehicles for the tourists. It’s a mystery how payment is distributed, but somehow it seems to work.
For the first hour of the journey we pushed our way through the desert, until we arrived at a tiny little port (‘port’ being quite a grand term to use here). We had a fair amount of waiting around here. The boats were returning with tourists who had stayed at Punta Gallinas the night before.
There was a small gathering of Wayuu people who were selling empanadas, arepas and, most importantly for us, hot coffee out of a big flask. While we waited, we tucked into a greasy cheesy arepa and got our caffeine fix. Not exactly our first choice of breakfast, but the only one on offer.
When the boats came in, it was quite clear that the journey ahead was going to be an interesting one. They were basically tin cans with a motor strapped to the back. We were warned by the returning group to ensure that our things were wrapped up well. One of the girls had lost her camera on the boat the day before, as the water had lashed the tiny vehicle and seeped into her unprotected electronics. We hastily dug out our waterproof bags and wrapped everything up that we could think of that might be potentially damaged. They also warned us not to put our bags on the boat first, as they would be laid on the bottom and be more prone to flooding.
We were on the boat by 7.30am, along with eight other tourists. The group’s bags were at the front, piled up under plastic sheeting (we’d made good use of the advice, and our things were right on top!). There were no seats in the boat. To make our journey a little more comfortable our two captains had laid mattresses on the metal bottom of the boat. Unfortunately, after repeated use, they were old and soggy.
Off we went, moving far out to sea, but keeping the coast on our right-hand side. As we journeyed further into the unknown, the water whipped us harder and harder. It became impossible to see where we were going and we were all hunched down for what little protection we could get. We were at the mercy of our captain, the motor roaring loud in our ears.
It took us a very long two and half hours to get to our destination, Hostel Alexandra, the only place to stay at the end of the continent. Our welcome to Punta Gallinas was an organised one, the boats converged at the same point and we were all taken into the large dining area – a thatched-roofed space with two walls and no windows. Here we were registered, ordered breakfast and gave our dinner options (fish for Phil, lentils for me – yes they had a veggie option!).
Breakfast was cool scrambled eggs and arepa, the standard Colombian fayre. After we’d all had chance to eat, we were shown to our hammocks. The accomodation was basic and just like the dining room, the hammocks were strung up under a thatched room with no walls.
As we sorted out our things, making sure nothing had been damaged by the high waters, it became apparent that my small rucksack wasn’t quite as it should be. As I took out my clothes small shiny pieces of foil fell to the ground, and we were confused at first by what it could be. We’d been unsure of how the food would be this far away from any town or city, and we’d brought several bags of snacks with us – crisps and biscuits – just incase we needed a quick bite to eat. My bag was full of bits of wrapper and crumbs… turns out someone else really wanted a snack too! We checked through my bag and we couldn’t find the culprit – there were no bite marks through my bag, no visible entry points that we could see. The mystery snacker had left as quietly as they had arrived! We threw all the food and wrappers away, and our best guest was that ants were to blame, but we will never know for sure!
Just as we finished clearing up, the hostel organisers called us all together. It was time for the tour to begin – it was included in the price after all, we hadn’t been entirely sure when we booked! Again, we all clambered into several four wheel drives and set off for an adventure at the end of the world (at least that’s how it felt!).
It was so much fun, racing through the desert to our first stop, the offical most northern point of South America. At the end of the continent, where the desert meets the rough seas, the air is heavy with sand, salt and water. The ocean and the wind roar with ferocity, each determined to be the loudest. It’s an impressive place to stand.
Stop number two was called The Mirador (viewpoint) and it really was stunning. Looking out into the bay, the view was otherworldly; the mix of blues and oranges added an unreal feel, and it was like a scene from a movie.
Our third and final stop was at the sand dunes. Here the soft sand meets the ocean and it’s possible to roll or run down into the waves. You need to be careful, the current is strong and can easily sweep you under. We were given 90 minutes to enjoy this beautiful place before heading back to camp.
The light show
When we returned to the hostel, we had lunch and were given the rest of the day to ourselves. At 4pm an additional tour left to go see the flamingos at a nearby lake, but we had been told they were hard to see and it wasn’t worth the extra money, so we stayed at the hostel. As nighttime drew in, we were treated to spectacular views. Looking out to sea the sky was lit with faraway storms. Bolts of lightning streaked across the sky to make strange and unearthly patterns. We sat mesmerised for a long time, just watching this display of nature’s might.
Faced with another 4am start, we dragged our eyes away, and retired to our hammocks. It had been a long day, but completely worth it. I don’t think we will ever forget the views in this strange place, the way the sands and the waters merged together, or the intensity of the colours that surrounded us.
The next day the waters were calmer, and we were able to enjoy more of the boat ride back to the meeting point. From here were were taken by car to the crossroads outside of Uribia, and made our own way back to civilisation.
If you’d like to make your own way to Puntas Gallinas you can find detailed travel instructions in the first part of our journey, Cabo de la Vela – where the sea meets the sky.
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