February 24th, 2018
I was going to skip writing a journal entry today, but then the experiences add up to at least some worthwhile mention.
I should have had lots of time to prepare for the trip to Tunja this morning but somehow the bone-chilling cold and heavily overcast sky puts a damper on my efforts. Normally the cold is mitigated by the appearance of the sun, but the sun does not appear today until late in the afternoon, and then only momentarily.
Another delicious breakfast courtesy of the very charming host of the Colibri hotel, the rest of my things packed, and the rush to get to the Paz del Rio office to avoid missing the bus. Except the bus driver is late himself, his wife and young daughter in tow. These drivers certainly earn their keep, given the distances they drive through relatively difficult terrain every day.
An older gentleman in the classic attire boards in Güicán, quick to talk about the land he comes from and the changes he has seen. The snows of the glaciers have retreated substantially since he was young, now a mere shadow of what they used to be. He is yet another voice that speaks in cautionary terms about the environment.
The causes for global warming are far removed from the control of local people, although they certainly do enough to toxify the environment and at the same time remain slaves to agribusiness companies. All that is left here is dairy farming, as all other activities have becoming unprofitable. A member of the old guard, he is a paragon of charm, getting off at the encruce between El Cocuy and Güicán.
The biggest impression of the day’s trip is that the environment appears significantly different on today’s journey back to Tunja as it did on the journey from Tunja to El Cocuy. The initial portion is familiar, from Güicán to El Cocuy, Panqueba and then Guacamayas, weaving up and down the slopes of the huge mountains, and then a considerable distance beyond, San Mateo, and then again, a considerable distance spent weaving along the winding narrow road weaving its way along the sides of the mountains.
But the drama I remember of high mountains with endless dramatic vistas the entire journey is not quite accurate. Towards the PNN Cocuy, it is, but beyond, less so, the further to the south of Soatá, the more along the lines of the rolling countryside found throughout southern Boyacá.
Boavita and La Uvita are small straggling communities set on the flanks of the receding hills, almost adjacent to each other, following the lengthy journey from San Mateo. As bedraggled as the architecture on the periphery of the small towns may be, they all feature impressive churches with tall towers facing large plazas replete with sculpted hedges and flowering bushes.
The decreasing profile of the mountains also metamorphoses into a rugged canyon system akin to a more modest version of the Chicamocha canyon. But even in the muted light, the stark cliff sides stand in sharp contrast with the canyon rim and bottom that we descend along serpentine turns towards, the verdant landscape becoming starker, the vegetation primarily cactii, and around the edge of the river gushing at the bottom of the canyon, straggling hospedajes and spacious eateries catering to individuals and groups wishing to relax and enjoy the scenery in this unexpected desert setting. But from where would guests come, given how desolate the environment is?
Perhaps Soatá, marking the boundary of the more conventional rolling countryside of Boyacá to the south and the rugged canyon and high mountains further to the north. And while Soatá may not be particularly memorable, it has more of a sensibility of a historical Spanish town with its rambling narrow alleys that cascade away from the spacious plaza overflowing with verdant abundance. And the rushed meal at the eatery next to the bus stop is a huge treat, the quality in stark contrast to the fodder we were provided at the Cocuy base camps.
We pass through a narrow precipice and then emerge onto a winding shallow valley system carpeted with freilejones, which I remember from before. Having been told that they are typically found above 3,800 metres, I can’t believe that we are that high, even if it is chilly. And from the stretches of the exotic flora that marks the Colombian Andes, we emerge upon a rolling landscape coated with agricultural plots and grazing land, a far cry from the wild lands to the north.
The road again wends across the hilly landscape, up and down over the slopes, the tenements dotting the landscape interestingly no more indicative of wealth than would be found in the harsher terrain to the north, and in fact here, all the more triste.
Further to the south, the bedraggled, unfinished and uninspiring facades of Belén and Santa Rosa de Viterbo do everything to discourage me to never visit again, given that I had wanted to do precisely that in the next few days. Sluicing through the last occurrence of what could be construed as forest, and already the straggling residential and commercial structures of Duitama appear, the relative chaos of this modest town a welcome change from the drab settlements immediately to the north.
Dusk sets in, the traffic becomes thicker, our progress finally slowing to a crawl, before we emerge once again onto the highway between Sagamoso and Tunja, the lights of the urban and commercial sprawl and the traffic around us a far cry from the remote landscapes and solitude of the Cocuy mountains.
I am not taking any photos of the journey today, especially not given the overcast sky. And yet the mists sliding over the towering peaks, the tendrils wafting through the trees are utterly magical.
It seems amazing to me that even an older bus on such a minor route should have a washroom, and a clean one at that.
Amazingly, a young woman gets on at one point with a cat wrapped in a blanket. That must be quite the singular cat to remain passively wrapped in the blanket on the moving bus.
I had been thinking that perhaps I should pursue some other accommodation option in Tunja, but I can’t seem to find the more luxurious hotel that was in the neighborhood of the Hotel Casa Real, and so I somewhat belatedly return to the Casa Real. And yet when I unpack the things in my room at the back of the courtyard, I take in the old carved wood frame bed, the wooden implements and cupboards, the hardwood floor, the high ceilings, the wall sconces, the tiled bathroom and wrought iron implements, the room facing the courtyard full of flowering plants. So no, this is not a shabby choice. And the night porter also chose a room right next to the router, so the wifi connection is excellent.
I have had the latest change of heart regarding my travel plans. Rather than spending more time in the area prior to returning to Bogotá, I will go further south into the llanura, and do a circuit of Yopal to Villavicencio prior to returning to Bogotá. Assuming that danger does not prevent my efforts …
I finally wash my hair after a week or ten days of not having done so. There is no disincentive for doing so like emerging from a trickle of at best warm water into the freezing cold …
February 24th, 2018