Colombia 🇨🇴: Dessert & kites in Cabo de la Vela (La Guajira)

La Guajira is a department of Colombia of which i have only seen a tiny bit when visiting the beaches of Palomino with its crazy waves. This time round we found the time to see the real La Guajira – a peninsula made up of mostly wastelands and desserts not far from the border to Venezuela and (by air) not far from Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life).

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Northernmost tip of Colombia & South America

Long journey: If you ask me, the best way to travel the 300km to Cabo de la Vela is by motorbike (ideally an Enduro, but roadbike works fine too as long as its dry) and probably with a stop. We opted for public transport instead though it is cumbersome and takes 10 hours (!) spread over 4 vehicles (Santa Marta, Riohacha, Quattrovillas, Uribia, Cabo de la Vela). The most interesting part of the journey is the 4×4 from / to Uribia where you share precious little space with lots of people and tons of boxes with ice cubes!

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Hot & dry!

Tough life: Life in this part of Colombia is far from easy. Basic things like water, electricity and road infrastructure are missing or in poor condition. The proximity to Venezuela doesn’t help either other than with cheap petrol contraband that crosses the border in Coca Cola bottles (EUR0,35 / liter vs. EUR0,70 officially).

The people: In Guajira you will find the tribe of the Wayuu with markedly different looks – darker hair, dark skin. They also have their own language and not all speak Spanish including many young people.

Kite tourism: While the village of Cabo de la Vela was pretty empty when we visited (season is June & Nov-Jan when you will struggle to find accomodation), there were quite a few kite surfers around. And quite skillful ones at that. Impressive to say the least.

Overall a great time especially with our two travel companions (Xiomara & Astrid) from Bogota. Generally I am not a huge fan of very hot and dry places, but La Guajira is a place worth seeing. Next time we come for a little longer and get kitesurfing ourselves!

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Making coffee from A to Z in Filandia

No, we haven´t suddenly hopped from Colombia to Scandinavia! Rather we took two busses from Salento to get us to another colonial beauty in the coffee zone that is maybe a little less well known to foreigners – the town of Filandia.

Some footage of our day out in Filandia

After a night out in town with some really good Colombian cuisine, we visited a local hostel that rents out bikes and also does tours. For the tour we were late (start like 7.30am to avoid the heat), but for COP40.000 per bike we were soon in the saddle to explore Filandia´s surroundings. First up was Filandia´s mirador – a roman times looking watchtower that offers splendid views of the surrounding hills. Must see!

From there we cycled about 15km to a coffee plantation called Finca El Carriel. We took the off-road path, which is fine given it is all downhill (quite literally). Admittedly, we stopped frequently to marvel at the stunning scenery. Just perfect!

Once at the plantation, two German travellers joined us and we all enjoyed a fantastic tour (COP35.000 each) that explained (and let us do ourselves) the process of coffee making from the seed all the way to freshly grounded coffee from the french press. Impressive (and tasty). Ahh … the fresh oranges were also super juicy.

Probably a little to too self confident we continued to the town of Quimbaya (more downhill) for some food and refreshments. On the way back we paid the price and now the way was ALWAYS uphill for 16km. The sun burning relentlessly. Quite gruesome 2.5h to get back to FIlandia and catch a bus to Perreira … but scenic nonetheless. I guess we both can do with a little more exercise on the legs ;o)

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Exploring Salento & Valle de Cocora

Its already been a few weeks over here in Colombia after I finished my paddle trip early to spend time with Laura instead. I do miss the outdoors at times (and the not so humid weather) and am happy when I receive the occasional update or photo from Harry who continues his tour in Canada. Harry is now is his last month before duty calls back home in Cologne. My rocket-canoe is still being shipped to London and now probably somewhere on the atlantic – maybe it crosses path with Greta Thunberg on her way to the climate conference in New York? Safe journey both!

 

However, its not that adventure has come to a complete standstill over here – quite to the contrary. And while i am hopelessly behind to write up all the things that have been happening in Santa Marta and around, at least I found time now to report on a fabulous trip to the region of coffee and the worlds´ tallest palm trees – first up was Salento.

Salento: Colonial beauty, my type of climate & amazing Valle de Cocora

We didn´t opt for the easy way to reach Salento, a flight to Pereira followed by a short bus ride, but took the first flight into Medellin and a 7h bus from there (not helped by roadworks). However, with comfi seats, good views throughout, on-board toilet and a 30min lunch stop (beans & chicharron for me, chicken soup for Laura) it was not unpleasant at all (and I had plenty of time to improve my quiz talent on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”). Not a cent richer we made it to Salento late afternoon and checked in to Vila Isabel – a great guesthouse with amazing views & lovely staff. Here some drone footage.

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The Salento viewpoint is nearby the hotel and, nestled into the hills close to Los Nevados National Park, it offers spectacular views which we enjoyed alongside an aguapanela (sugar cane drink). The atmosphere in town is a bit touristy, but it is organised, clean and there is a good vibe amidst amazing colonial and well preserved architecture. If you are into shopping, there are lots of shops with handmade stuff (as well as the usual rubbish). Just bring a jacket … temperatures drop below 20 degrees at night (which my little samaria struggled with). I, for my part, loved the moderate temperature and lack of humidity. What a good night sleep I had (well, both of us actually).

Valle de Cocora: Meet the tallest palm tree in the world

The trip already starts well when you book your “Willy” – a jeep that was formerly used to transport coffee around here (now you can take pictures with a few Willy´s dressed up … for a fee of course). They run from 6.30am and an early departure is advisable to avoid hiking in the heat. If you don´t get a seat inside, you stand outside for the 20mins journey to the valley. Hold on tight!

Once arrived you have several options. The most common route is a 4-6 hour round trip including a visit to a hut with mockingbirds. The routes cost COP3&4,000, seeing the mockingbirds another COP5,000. All worthwhile doing. Altitudes reach up to 3,000m – so take your time and drink plenty of water.

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The path is typically pretty and easy to walk. Animals like horses and cattle are commonplace and in the valle de cocora itself you can admire Colombia´s national tree – the wax palm. The trees grow 45m to sometimes 60m tall and were close to extinction (due to the overuse of the palm leaves for palm Sunday proceedings would you believe it) before this sanctuary was created. The scenery is outstanding.

Next stop … Filandia. Vamos!

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Off to Dawson City!

🛶 this section: 410km | 🛶 total: 880km

Map showing the Whitehorse-Dawson run

Five finger & Rink rapids

While team saxony was waiting for a spray cover for their canoe (in hindsight, not really necessary on the Yukon), we headed downriver. Given the rather “feuchtfroehliche”  (boozy) previous night, we had to resupply beer again (30 cans of lager had gone missing … mmhh). While in Carmacks, we also fixed the drone app using the publicly available wifi … and we finally got it to fly! Hurrah! New perspectives ahead …

About 40km after Carmacks are the only rapids on the river – first the five finger rapids and 30mins later the rink rapids. Stay right for both though this is rather obvious. We passed both without problems though a few buckets worth of water splashed into the canoe as we passed the five finger rapids. Harrys socks got wet. Sorry mate. Otherwise very unproblematic especially with current low river levels. Best views of the rapids are acutally not in water, but from a viewpoint above (Harry kindly provided a picture from his return journey).

That night we found an amazing campsite about 10m elevated from the river, cooked up an overly large dinner and took the drone for a spin. Totally amazing views … (and too many “supplies” still to get through … cheers!). Noteworthy: We finally used our fish grilling equipment … to grill tons of pork belly!

We also got to play a little with the drone. Here a short flight around camp.

Yukon River Quest catches up with us in Minto

Back on the river we had a slow day with maybe a bit too much leaning back enjoying the wonderful scenery around. We lunched at a small yet super idyllic side arm of the river and let the drone fly again. To our surprise, the drone couldnt be charged off USB-C as the shop keeper had promised (our solar panel and battery pack only supply 5V power and not the required 12V). So either we fly very little or find another energy source.

On our hunt for a power socket, we spotted some cabins on the right side of the river and hiked up to see if anyone was around. Eventually we encountered a man (and his enormous Labrador dog) in his huge campervan. He is a student and works for the parks during summer. He looked a little surprised to have someone knocking on his door right in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, he pointed us to a campsite 5min further downriver called Minto.

Indeed, we could charge everything there and got an unlimited-hot-water-shower as well. Amazing stuff! That evening we spotted the leading canoes of the Yukon river quest people and their support teams. Amazing how fast they had made their journey to this point, but surely we had more fun. 

The Yukon River Quest Race

Every year some 200 paddlers from all over the world come to Whitehorse to participate in one of the toughest races globally – the Yukon River Quest. The race takes the paddlers the 715km from Whitehorse to Dawson with only a few mandatory resting stops (6h in Carmacks & 3h in Coffee creek). The record is just under 40h for the entire journey.

This years fastest were the mens teams with the winer coming in at 44h (there was also a winner from Dresden, saxony in the mens doble kayak at 50h). Our quest – which coincided with the 2019 race – lasted 12 days instead. However, we looked a lot more alive than some of the participants we met on the way (well, they overtook us mostly).

Exploring historical Fort Selkirk

Next morning we paddled towards a historic First Nation village on the left river bank. Fort Selkirk used to be an important trading post, but is now abandoned yet its buildings (including two churches) maintained. German traces again everywhere with a German bible laid out on the altar – interesting to read that also the bible requests women to subordinate themselves to men. So it is not just islam that is against equal rights for women. One learns stuff in the strangest places sometimes. By the way, take a walk to the first nation cementary about 10mins from the boat landing spot. It is pretty well preserved.

We also used the time to talk to some of the voluntary workers helping with the river quest as well as some of the pretty exhausted crew members. Some had come from as far as Australia just to do the race and one womoen reported of haluciantions on the river due to exhaustion (apparently that commonly occurs). Good luck guys!

That night we stayed on a river island with not so great camping and finished off the last liquid supplies – a fair amount of red wine alongside a once more rich dinner and plenty of boys´conversations. We I think neither of us slept well that night and I had to nurse a hangover in the morning sun and was pretty useless paddling until after lunch. Well, well … no more drinks until Dawson!

When a pike outsmarts you & a Moose pops by at night

How time flies! It was already end of June today and the sun was blazing hot. We made camp on a river island and I enjoyed several swims in the river. Down here the water is refreshing and no longer dead cold as it was in the upper lakes.

While following some bear tracks, we spotted a pike in a side arm in its typical habitat e.g. grassy, shallow water. We tried to catch it, but drew a blank as the fish didnt want to bite even though we put food almost into his mouth. Pity.

At night, i struggled to sleep. If it doesn’t rain, the sun keeps temperatures in the high twenties until late and it just never gets dark that time in the year. I mean we had 30 degress atg 10pm. Anyway, as I was dosing away a noise of splashing water got me interested and as i looked outside the tent. I spotted a moose coming over to our island near where I had a swim earlier. I got out for a few pictures and caught him/her standing in the muddy water. After a few looks it decided to swim on towards the other shore. Amazing swimmers they are as we already witnessed on one of the lakes before Whitehorse.

The Saxons are back!

After a decent day of paddling, passing by an active gold mine at coffee creek, we spent the night on a campsite by Kirkman creek as we feared onsetting bad weather (an unwise decision with hindsight).

No shower. No electricity. You can also get some basic meals (burgers, egg breakfast etc), but buckle up for the steep prices. The really annoying bit were the flies. More flies than there is sand on Caribbean beaches! But heh, so far we were really lucky with insects and flies at least dont bite. So overall, its not worth staying there.

While I was busy cooking garlic and onion bread, team Saxony caught up with us. They had put in a long day and opted as usual to stay at a campsite. We didnt have too much time to talk, but agreed to meet in Dawson.

Last camp before the gold rush capital

The last full day on the river ahead of Dawson was pretty enjoyable and we almost made 100km (99km exactly). We spent most of the day listening to audiobooks – in this case I think it was Winnetou Two after we finished Jack London in the days before. We also spotted some white sheep on the way, which we had not seen so far. Nice. We had more time to play around with the drone and once more a moose stopped by to show off its amazing swimming skills.

Made it to Dawson!

After 1,5 days further down the Yukon we arrived in Dawson a day behind my original schedule. It was now the 2nd of July and thus we missed the Canada Day celebrations (1 July). We also missed the German family which we met at lake Bennett. They had arrived in Dawson a few days earlier and had left the morning of our arrival.

We opted to stay on the campsite on the left riverbank (Dawson City River Hostel) in what is called West Dawson. It is a quirky place run by Dieter from Germany and a good place to re-energise. The government run ferry nearby operates 24h and is free of charge. So you can alwasy get across into town. Only downside is that you have to carry your gear up to the campsite though Dieter provides little trolleys to make life easier.

So we had made it! Lake Bennett to Dawson and thus followed the same route on lakes and river as the gold prospectors did back in the days. Now it is time to relax and enjoy the last few days with Harry who will continue by bike from here.

Hanging out in Dawson & an unexpected turn of events

We ended up spending four days in Dawson enjoying the wild west style old town, gold rush themed museums and the amazing nightlife. Well, to call it nightlife is pushing it really for it never gets dark.

Anyway, you got to visit the casino and its can-can themed show (beer prices in the casino are the most competitive in town between 10pm and midnight) or any of the 10 ten bars available. Its really buzzing! Our favorite was the westminster hotel, which operates a pub daytime and a lounge / dance bar at night.

Having enjoyed the first night on our own, team saxony joined us for the other three resulting in more than one hangover that needed curing. We also got up to a bit of sightseeing, namely up the Klondike to see the place where gold was first found in 1896 (Bonanza creek), the see a dredge (after initial gold rush, commercial gold mining took over) and to try our luck gold panning as well. We all got lucky and found the 4-5 gold flakes the folks at claim 33 had put into the pile of dirt they gave us to wash.

Technically, time had long come to continue the jouney to Emmonak. However, on one of those nights in the casino I had a change of mind. The long journey and time before/after meant being almost 4 month separated from Laura. Neither of us liked that, least of all her. So I took a decision to cut the journey here and head over to Santa Marta, Colombia, for a surprise visit. One day I will complete the journey … maybe together with Laura.

Thank you Yukon people!

Leaves me to thank all the people we met – be it Sara in Whitehorse, the couple near the windy arm, the people on the White Pass train that helped with the bike, the Swiss couple that gave us spare supplies, the gold panning championship contender in Dawson, the canoe people in Whitehorse for storing our gear … well, the list could go on and on. Special thanks go to team saxony. The nights with Jochen, Michael and at times their mum will remain legendary. Team Dawson is born – need to catch up sometime … Cologne anyone?

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Well, what to say to Harry. It is a remarkable story to meet in Laos and then end up in a canoe on the river. We also got on really well, which is not always a given. Thanks for helping paddling Mr Motor and for all the conversations. It was a real pleasure and you are now definately my favorite WEST German :o)))))

The Yukon was an amazing experience be it only 1/3rd complete. To be fair, I think we caught a fair share of the best scenery and both Harry and I believe that the section with the lakes before Whitehorse was the most spectacular. Being so close to nature for such a long time will rest in our memories for a lifetime. I will be back!

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Across Lake Laberge to Carmacks

🛶 this section: 300km | 🛶 total: 470km

This section on the Yukon river offered spectacular campsites especialy on lake Laberge though we saw a lot less wildlife than on the upper lakes (Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Battling across the lakes) and no luck witth fishing either. All very enjoyable especially on sections where the river flows faster and does a lot of the work for you (that is, until winds blow in your face interrupting your rest). Skills gained: Bakling Black Bread.

Map showing the Whitehorse-Dawson run

Whitehorse – Lake Laberge – Carmacks

Lake Labarge: Last lake on the tour

We sorted all the things in Whitehorse that were needed, most importantly supplies and transport for Harry´s bike to Dawson. After about 40km of fast flowing river we reached Lake Laberge in the afternoon after leaving Whitehorse with all our newly acquired food & drinks (including free food & drinks from a Swiss couple at the end of their journey). To our suprise, the canoe took the extra load very well and almost didn´t fel different than without its load. It was a sunny and hot day. We enjoyed the fast current of close to 10kmh and covered distance faster than at any point before. It felt good and so we enjoyed a few beers on the way.

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Once on the lake – a treacherous almost 60km part of the journey begins where winds come and go, change direction and can cause 2m high waves in seconds (stay on the right side of the lake, NEVER cross in the middle even on calm days). I later learned that two Dutch paddlers wewre the last to fal victim to the lake. We were lucky and had mostly calm water until the very end where a storm moved in and we set up camp in a heartbeat. Generally, the weather can change very quickly here. Best be prepared to stop. We took two days to cross the lake.

Notable events: We enjoyed an amazing, super-red sunset and baked the first bread. The latter turnerd out black and the yeast didnt work … so flat, very dark bread about 90% baked through was the ultimate outcome. The positive news are twofold – first Hary´s effort with the potatoes was equally bad and secondly we tried the bread again later on and it worked! Not all is lost …

Heading to Carmacks

Once we left the Lake, our pace quickened again and we made it to Carmacks in 2.5 days including two days of 85km. Scenery remained awesome. On the way, we stopped at a First Nation village (Little Salmon), which surprised with an ancient grave yard in poor condition and a (recent) huge poster of the stock market seemling part of a village foundation investment planning meeting.

We also got a taste of the nasty side of the Yukon – thunder and lightning en masse. Initially it was quite scenic, but once the lightnings drew closer we pulled out of the water. Safety first.

We arrived in Carmacks at the same time as another German team that had passed us in the morning. More on that later.

Carmacks: Little Saxony for a night

The camp ground is about 2km upriver from Carmacks village (named after one of the thre guys involved in finding the first Yukon gold in 1896) and offers great campsites and hot showers. What a feeling! After a quick lunch that included a presentation by management to a group of mainly elderly travellers, we headed to town.

As so often in the countryside, hitchhiking is a really good option and Harry managed to flag down the first car that drove past us. The driver was a older man of the First Nations and quizzed us as to where we came from and where we are headed. He dropped us of at the general village store. Thank you very much!

We didn´t need that much. Few vegetables (onion, carrots), fruit (banana, apple), some pasta, meat and snacks. We also resupplied drinks (wine, beer). After dinner in one of the restaurants, we walked home. Ahh … when shopping, dont leave through the basement door with the big label “ALARM will SOUND if you open the door” …. because an ALARM WILL SOUND.

On the way back we werent as lucky and covered most of the distance on foot until the camp owner picked us up. He pointed out that we could have bought beer at his camp site… well, CAD6.25 for a 35ml can wasn’t all that appealing.

Back at the campsite we spent the evening emptying our new supplies with the help of three fellow saxons (well, not originally but they grew up or still live in Leipzig) – a mum with her two sons. They are paddling the Teslin river and then on the Yukon to Dawson. It was her 60th birthday present and adds to a fine record of 14 years paddling all sorts of places including the Elbe several times.

It turned into a long night as each of us shared interesting stories. Be it Michael´s time in Mexico, Jochen´s time in vietnam or her paddling trips. Naturally we shared info on the remaining Yukon paddle, catching fish etc. Everyone was rather eager to share stories. Next morning was slow for all of us (bar mum).

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Jochen is the gazelle like figure in the background