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!

Colombia – dias flojas en el Caribe

(slack days on the Carribean)

It took quite some time to overcome the Patagonian blues during an almost-week-long bus strike which held us hostage at Bariloche. It gave us some space to prepare some ideas for things to do on the last 3 months of our gap year. Enters Colombia in the story line.

An early morning ramble on the jungle-clad beaches of the Tayrona National Park, Carribean Colombia.

An early morning ramble on the jungle-clad beaches of the Tayrona National Park, Carribean Colombia.

Impressive boulders ramble the wild Carribean coastline. Tayrona National Park. Colombia.

Impressive boulders ramble the wild Carribean coastline. Tayrona National Park. Colombia.

The mystique country at the northwestern tip of the continent, has had its share of good-news-shows to keep even the most determined tourist out of the country. Narcotic urban legend Pablo, revolutionary jungle terrorists and an enduring armed conflict, predominating the last decade’s headlines, didn’t help much on the image of the country. During the last decade, however, the government has done extreme investement to stabilize the country and improve security (the display of heavy, armed soldiers along the major roads is remarkable), hence widening the gates for tourism.

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Boulder-strewn, overgrown jungle coast of Carribean Colombia. That Indiana Jones kinda feeling was never far away when sweating our way towards the pre-Colombian hidden ruines of el Pueblito. Tayrona National Park. Colombia.

A parade of hard working ants. Tayrona National Park. Carribean Colombia.

A parade of hard working ants. Tayrona National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Despite the bad news, Colombia has always been a secret pearl among backpackin’ gringos in South America. Extremely helpful and friendly locals. A country of superlatives. With any possible ecosystem imaginable, it could keep you occupied for well, quite some time. Colombia is one of those megadiverse countries in biodiversity. Does it have our attention? A yes it is.

Cooling off near the village of Minca. Sierra Nevada National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Cooling off near the village of Minca. Sierra Nevada National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Cloud forrest. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Cloud forrest. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. Carribean Colombia.

After studying the different climate zones and our first 2 week timeframe in Colombia we left for the Carribean. Beach people as we are (ahum), we were suprised by the opportunities for alternatives to beach-chillin’ up here. Once we got a bit used to the year-round humid heat, we were off exploring some of the surprising national parks and hidden villages this northern part of Colombia is rich. So we’ve been overwhelmed by such wonderfull places like the San Bernardo archipelago, the jungle beaches of Tayrona and the world’s highest coastal range of Santa Marta.

Biking through the sleepy, fishing hamlet of La Boquila near Cartagena, Carribean Colombia.

Biking through the sleepy, fishing hamlet of La Boquila near Cartagena, Carribean Colombia.

Need some avocado? Santiago de Tolú. Sucre. Colombia.

Need some avocado? Santiago de Tolú. Sucre. Colombia.

The posh Boca Grande district contrasts with the fortified, medieval walls around the historic centre of Cartagena. A Unesco World Heritage site. Carribean Colombia.

The posh Boca Grande district contrasts with the fortified, medieval walls around the historic centre of Cartagena. A Unesco World Heritage site. Carribean Colombia.

Preparing for some paddling around the mangroves of Tintipán island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Preparing for some paddling around the mangroves of Tintipán island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Creolen kids on the Tintipan island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo. Carribean Colombia.

Creolen kids on the Tintipan island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo. Carribean Colombia.

Fishermen's canoes. Tintipán island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo National Park. Carribean Colombia.

Fishermen’s canoes. Tintipán island. Archipiélago de San Bernardo National Park. Carribean Colombia.

End of May. Goodbye Colombia, see you in July. Enters the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca in our schedule. We’re here for mountaineering and thru-hiking the upcoming 6-7 weeks. Huaraz. Peruvian Andean’s answer to Chamonix. Acclimatisation days before the high altitude weeks coming.

Sun sets over the southern summits of the Cordillera Blanca. Ancash, Peru.

Sun sets over the southern summits of the Cordillera Blanca. Ancash, Peru.

And then we meet Diana, who introduces us to her community development project high up in the Andes at the foot of the mezmerizing Cordillera Blanca. Before we even realize it, our planned schedule changes with the snap of a finger. We’re volunteering. It doesn’t have to be hauling a backpack up the moutains all the time. Exciting weeks coming up. There’s also hiking and mountaineering coming up. You know us…

Happy students leave the Yurac Yacu community center, where we will teach students and teachers some computing skills during the next coming weeks.

Happy students leave the Yurac Yacu community center, where we will teach students and teachers some computing skills during the next coming weeks.

Sunday afternoon gathering in the Yurac Yacu community center, where you can find us enhancing local people skills the upcoming weeks.

Sunday afternoon gathering in the Yurac Yacu community center, where you can find us enhancing local people skills the upcoming weeks.

Andean Alliance is focused on supporting “grass roots” community development planning capabilities and implementing programs that strengthen the educational and economic base of Andean communities while enhancing their social and environmental conditions.

Andean Alliance

For more pictures from our couple of weeks, please click:

Carribean Colombia
Huaraz. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

With love from the Mud Volcano de Lodo. San Antero. Carribean Colombia.

With love from the Mud Volcano de Lodo. San Antero. Carribean Colombia.