After the fun of the Central American Games in Barranquilla we took some time to explore the area known as Norte Santander. This region is a blend of high deserts and mountains filled with many small villages. The region extends all the way to the Venezuelan border and we explored to within three miles of the border!
But if you are aware of South American politics, you know that we can’t safely enter that country. And they are leaving their own country by the thousands each day. We saw many groups of refugees walking along the highway.
It is an interesting dilemma, as they come to Colombia to work. In their own country the inflation rate has climbed so high that a weekly paycheck will not buy enough food to feed even one person. It is said to be ONE MILLION percent inflation, meaning that many people are literally starving! So fleeing to Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil has become the norm for Venezuelans. These refugees line the highways and crowd into the small towns when the weather is bad. According to a local we spoke to, the police do not bother with them, as they consider it a “human rights issue” as long as they do not commit a crime. But they wave to cars and trucks that pass, asking for food, money or a ride. And as they walk past stores and restaurants along the highway, they ask for handouts of food, water or an opportunity to work.
We did observe a few places where locals had put out a sign offering water to the refugees. We also passed two different aid stations sponsored by the Red Cross. Both of them looked like this photo, with crowds of people standing and sitting around the parking area.
This is a rough and rugged area of the country. These people will be walking for hundreds of miles before hitting a major city. The mountain roads here include narrow highways with no shoulders, steep grades and muddy roadsides. Their desire to earn money and find a different life is filled with hardship from the outset. Many of the people who live in the mountains of this region are poor and working the land for their livelihood. It is an area that is already rife with hardship, and the arrival of more humans in need certainly complicates matters. Here is a photo of a typical mud and stick house from this region of Colombia.
As we passed out of the mountains to a lower elevation we left the main highway. Along the roadside we began to notice dirt mounds in the fields. So we investigated……… ant hills! Curious, but don’t touch!
Well off the main highway, we were now winding through farms, fields and high desert farms as we worked our way towards the estoraques/hoodoos. It was a rare day of Geneva driving and Mike navigating!
Fortunately when this image appeared on the map, we were not too worried. But we knew we were well off the typical tourist trail! Even Google couldn’t find us! As we drew near the destination, we passed through a sleepy little village named Playa Belen. The name was a bit confusing, because there is no playa (beach) and we are not anywhere near a water source. But the area is very sandy, so perhaps that is the reason for the name. It was clearly a historical village with traditional buildings and narrow streets! Following the main street through town led us to the National Park we were seeking. We had arrived at the estoraques/hoodoos. We surprised to see another vehicle there, and spent the first night in the parking area with some Swiss overlanders in a van that had been on the road for over 3 years! But they were headed for Cartagena to ship their vehicle back to Switzerland, so the next night we were camped alone! The area surrounding the campsite location was peaceful and beautiful. But we were eager to explore the area. So we put on good shoes and packed up for some hiking. Here are a few of our highlights from hikes in the “Unique Natural Area Los Estoraques”
Nica really enjoyed the hiking with us each morning. We searched hard for a geocache that is supposed to be hidden there, but no find! But we loved the views, the quietness and the wide open skies of this area.
But after a few wonderful days and nights at this unique location, we were ready to drive to our next curiosity. (You are going to want to see the next stop….. its crazy!!)
As we passed through the nearby village of Santiago we found a costurera (seamstress) shop to fix our torn folding chair. We stopped in with the chair and met a wonderful family! The mother of the house is from Venezuela and each of the young women in the house were amazing! We had a wonderful, but brief visit with these people and then went on towards our next destination.
Colombia continues to show us surprises and beauty as we explore further.
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