Tatacoa desert, Colombias unexpected.

17-18/11/2013

Colombia is a geographical diversity on itself. It has tropical forests, rocky coastlines and tropical beaches, highlands with snow covered peaks, extended green plains perfectly fitting agricultural needs and now we are one step away to meet the Colombian desert. Microbuses go from Salento to Armenia for 3600Cop each.  In the bus station we come across with Christian and Fabrizio, the two comrades we met hiking in Salento, who are also waiting a transport to Neiva which we paid 32000Cop a person.  So from Neiva we all take a transport to our new destination.

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It is a bumpy 6000Cop ride to Villavieja but with a striking view observing the ever-changing landscape. Lively green colours fade away at the same speed as dust starts to fill the air. Brown, red, yellow and grey are the tints that paint Villavieja and the surroundings. The four of us take a mototaxi to Villavieja and for 5oooCop each we disappear in between the dusty hills. We agree to go camping as each of us has a tent and we hope to have a unique experience in this so strange scenery. At Noches de Saturno, for 5000Cop a person a night we pitch a tent; have a kitchen to use if the owners are not cooking, a pool for desired refreshment and a camping place with local trees which conveniently provide shade areas. The owners tell us that it is the season of the caterpillars eating the trees, a natural phenomenon, giving the canopies of their annual trim at the same time as it is a natural yearly fertilization of this sandy, poor in mineral, grounds. After putting the tents we change into swim-mode and devote a day to the pool enjoying the views.

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The sun passes by as we chat and laugh and rest during the day. We prepare ourselves for a sunset not to miss. The Tatacoa desert, once we penetrate its territory, is like Zion Canyon or even the Grand Canyon… but in miniature. Cactus and other desert shrubberies growing in between are giving the only sign of life. Colours change and shades play with the by erosion shaped landscape as the sun gradually hides at the horizon. Slightly stars are appearing at the, from blue to black, fluctuating sky.  It’s marvellous to see and impossible to describe.

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In the full moon night we find our way back to the campsite where our tent waits for us to accommodate our sweet night rest.  But, as many things do by night, this place was changed in the campsite of horror.  Literally millions of caterpillars are on the move and the whole ground just turned into a disgusting moving mass of hairy creatures.  It is terrifying to light the path and the four of us are just petrified by the sight.  We run to our tent and get in as fast as possible and zip ourselves safe, in quarantine, far away from any alarming mass movements.  Once in our tent we get silent and start to hear a constant ticking on the outside of the sail.  It takes a short time to realize that tiny things are hitting our impenetrable shelter and even a moment later we realize that we are under attack by these caterpillars, dropping small bits of leafs on our tent.  It is an unbearable, low but insisting, continuous tapping.  Shades of caterpillars moving on the outside makes it even more horror movie-like.  Suddenly I notice a caterpillar running over my leg.   A terrifying feeling gets into us as we realize that the fortress has given in.  The quarantine had failed, the barricade did not stand and the assault had begun.  We look around and suddenly realize that there are many of them, small, big, long or short… we are getting invaded.  We jump out of the tent, turn on the torch and take a good look at the scene: an ever advancing soil, an unstoppable air raid of leaf-bits and special squadrons of caterpillars rappelling suspended at an almost invisible string out of the whole canopy area.  “They are serious about it,” we realize, “They’re sending the SWAT-team!  What the f*ck, it’s the bloody navy-caterpillar-delta-force!!!”  We lost the battle and hide far away from the trees and still waiving a white handkerchief look with sadness how bit by bit our tents get conquered.  As four refugees we wake up the owner, explain the situation (he clearly knows), ask for asylum and get a room for the four of us for free.  The rest of what is left of the night is quite and peaceful and neither psychologist nor trauma therapy is required.

(To much in shock to take pictures 😦 )

In the morning we get a tremendous rain drench as breakfast.  Heavy rains and winds run over the desert and it’s not until later on the day that we are able to make a walk through the impressive landscape and enjoy this particular kind of nature.  We enjoy every moment and every corner Tatacoa has to offer.

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Our recommendations:

* Tatacoa is incredible but check weather forecasts of the area

*Camping is THE way to enjoy this marvel but there are plenty options for renting rooms, bring food and drinks with you to have the minimum expences

* DON’T go at caterpillars plague period!!!

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