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Colombia – que chévere es el cocuy

(how cool is el cocuy)

After 2 weeks of voluntary teaching computer skills in the Yurac Yacu community at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, we went out for a couple of its summits. As reported before, the Cordillera isn’t enjoying its best climbing season, but nevertheless we managed to climb three 5000+ peaks. A report on that 10 day onslaught will apear after summer.

Starting the descent from the the summit of Nevado Ishinca (5530m) while Nevado Ranrapalca (6162m) touches cloud in the background. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. North-Peru. A more detailed report from those escapades will follow in a future blog post.

Starting the descent from the the summit of Nevado Ishinca (5530m) while Nevado Ranrapalca (6162m) touches cloud in the background. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. North-Peru. A more detailed report from those escapades will follow in a future blog post.

Flash forward to end of July. Time is ticking. Our gap year is closing in. Back in Colombia. The colonial town of el Cocuy, a former FARC guerrillas bastion, becomes our penultimate hideout on our south american rambles. Suposed to host Colombian’s finest Andean scenery in its nearby, namesake national park, we endure the arduous, tyring busride from Villa de Leyva to El Cocuy, just a stone throw away from the the Venezuelan border. 280km. 11 hours drive. You got the bumpy picture!

Café Bellavista. Locals in their traditional ruana, a poncho-style outer garment made of sheep wool. El Cocuy. Boyaca. Colombia.

Café Bellavista. Locals in their traditional ruana, a poncho-style outer garment made of sheep wool. El Cocuy. Boyaca. Colombia.

If Parque Nacional Natural el Cocuy would be part of the gringo trails in southern Peru or Ecuador, its sattelite town would host an incredible set of hostels, restaurants and the like to cater the hords of tourists. In el Cocuy, authenticity survives. It’s so tranquil we can’t believe this place was a no-go for foreigners up to a couple of years ago. Slowly some gringos arrive, but only in the supposed dry season from december to mid-february. Even now, amid European and American summer holidays, tourists are needles in a haystack.

“Buenas tardes. Que les vaya bien.” Altough everything looks so tranquil in the far away Andean town, heavy armed forces still patrol the streets, betraying Colombia’s recent troubled past. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Once again Colombian locals unfold as extremely friendly, helpful, talkative and hospitable. We immediatly got the hang of the place and choose to stay for more then backpacking its mountains. We introduce ourself in town as teachers and within half a day we organize a 10-day adult course in computer skills at the local library (equiped with some computers) which we will start after our trek. Within an hour, word spreads town and we have to close at 28 inscriptions. The local high school also invites us to help out in computer classes during our stay, so during daytime we’ll provide guest lectures to all grades.

After 48 hours of patiently waiting out horrendously, bad weather in the Sisuma hut, a clear morning finally gave us the oppurtunity to leave for the heart of the park. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

After 48 hours of patiently waiting out horrendously, bad weather in the Sisuma hut, a clear morning finally gave us the oppurtunity to leave for the heart of the park. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Up and over slabs along the banks of Laguna de la Plaza. Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Colombia.

Up and over slabs along the banks of Laguna de la Plaza. Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Colombia.

Can we still be surprised by nature after a year of backpacking extravaganza in the world’s wildest corners? Little did we know Parque Nacional Natural el Cocuy would strike us with some much awe. Mountain forecast didn’t look promising when we left uphill, so after a first attempt to cross the first pass we had to stay put in a hut for 48 hours until the range’s notorious blizzard conditions cleared for a second attempt. We had to convince a party of 2 German-Austrian medics for not bailing and at least try to continue in these conditions, because their mountain guide wanted to bail after crossing 2 passes in way-too-much snow for his liking. Gird your backpack, lace your shoes and go take a hike with us on our our last trek of the gap year, through a remote mountainous area of glaciers, lakes and high altitude grassland lined with dramatic rock walls.

Frailejónes. An intruiging, endemic plant to this part of the Andes.

Frailejónes. An intruiging, endemic plant to this part of the Andes.

Close-up of our favourite Andean plant. Meet miss Fray Le Jónes! PNN EL Cocuy. Colombia.

Close-up of our favourite Andean plant. Meet miss Fray Le Jónes! PNN EL Cocuy. Colombia.

Fog crawls in from the Amazon. Frailejónes shape the fairytale scenery. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Fog crawls in from the Amazon. Frailejónes shape the fairytale scenery. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Laguna de la Plaza drains towards the Amazon through some nice waterfalls. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Laguna de la Plaza drains towards the Amazon through some nice waterfalls. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Pure, granite walls crawl out of the fog. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Pure, granite walls crawl out of the fog. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Lupines on the valley floor. Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Lupines on the valley floor. Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Bivy near Laguna Panuelo. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Bivy near Laguna Panuelo. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the snowy Paso el Castillo (4700m), until 10 years ago, this pass was glaciated. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the snowy Paso el Castillo (4700m), until 10 years ago, this pass was glaciated. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the marshes of Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the marshes of Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Flores de senecio near Paso de la Sierra (4650m) with the towering 1000m east-cliffs of Nevado Ritacuba Blanco (5410m). PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Flores de senecio near Paso de la Sierra (4650m) with the towering 1000m east-cliffs of Nevado Ritacuba Blanco (5410m). PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Descending towards Lago de la Isla. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Descending towards Lago de la Isla. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Local farmer on his way towards the Uwa indigenous reservate which overlaps with the national park. Colombia.

Local farmer on his way towards the Uwa indigenous reservate which overlaps with the national park. Colombia.

There’s an ongoing controversy for the moment between the national park authorities and the indigenous Uwa community which have overlap grounds with the park. The Uwa regard the core of the park as sacred ground and want to close it for foreigners. Let’s hope they find an outcome in this, because this would be a shame if this beautiful part of the world becomes inaccesbible.

Locals greeting us every morning on our way to high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Locals greeting us every morning on our way to high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

El Cocuy's students at the local high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

El Cocuy’s students at the local high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Teaching computer skills to local students. Guturiez high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Teaching computer skills to local students. Guturiez high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Time to shut the door on our gap year and start dreaming of new adventures...

Time to shut the door on our gap year and start dreaming of new adventures…

More picturefun in our online album.

End of the gap year? Waaaaaaaaaaaah! You must be kidding!

End of the gap year? Waaaaaaaaaaaah! You must be kidding!

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10 responses

  1. fantastic photos. Parque El Cocuy is truly amazing. Did you visit any other natural parks in Colombia? Iguaque is quite nice (although nowhere near as challenging as El Cocuy. Thanks for sharing and Happy Travels

    August 3, 2013 at 18:36

  2. Living the dream. Some great climbing there, it seems from the photos, and looking forward to read about your mountaineering adventures soon.

    Habláis Español, vosotros?

    August 4, 2013 at 20:39

    • Por supuesto! Despues de años de viaje en America del Sur, puede decir que si. Tambien trabajamos como voluntarios de enseñar computacion a adultos y niños. Todo en castellano ;-)

      August 5, 2013 at 00:03

  3. Making memories!!!

    August 4, 2013 at 20:49

  4. waaaaaaw, wat een prachtige foto’s van een fantastisch mooi park! wij waren in Colombia in januari 2013. niet in Cocuy, spijtig!
    wel Volcan Puracé beklommen in Parque Nacional de Puracé, toch ook een belevenis!
    hartelijke groet, Hilde

    August 4, 2013 at 22:16

  5. This looks amazing!

    August 5, 2013 at 11:26

  6. You guys inspire me yet again. Stunning.

    August 9, 2013 at 16:44

  7. Steven & Hanne

    Great pics and blogreport again, chicos! The weather as seen in the picture of Ishinca seems like nothing we have seen in the Cordillera Blanca a few years ago… Bad luck! Welcome back in Belgium (at least for a while ;-) ).

    August 13, 2013 at 11:27

  8. Que buen reporte! Cocuy es uno de los mejores lugares para trekking en Colombia, lastima que no aceptaron mi invitacion a caminar en el Parque Naciona Los Nevados, me ubiera gustado hablar mucho con ustedes, y compartir conocimiento. Esperemos que los Uwa no cierren la vuelta al Cocuy para que mas personas lo puedan conocer. Ahora estoy Chile y voy para la Patagonia para mi primer thru-hike!

    August 15, 2013 at 23:16

  9. poksumdo

    Hoi Katrijn en Steve, ‘just thought I’d have a look if you had added any thing on your blog. It’s a TKO ,an uppercut of world class images and new horizons. That opening shot of Katrijn on Nevado Ishinca is like being there. PNN El Cocuy is an example of stunning scenery waiting to be discovered by enterprising people, good to know that there is still much to be explored. You guys literaly put us in the picture, thanks so much

    September 22, 2013 at 13:35

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