After the heat of Mompos, we were in search of cooler weather. We'd been promised a cooler climate further south and closer to the equator, but we didn't believe it. That was until we entered a town where everyone was wearing wooly hats and coats! Welcome to the Area Natural Unica Los Estoraques, where thousands of years of erosion have formed the pedestals and columns in the rocks.
We stopped in Floridablanca at a paragliding site overlooking Bucaramanga before embarking on the two day drive (245km) east across the Cordillera Oriental to the Parque Nacional El Cocuy. It was a bumpy, dusty, beautiful drive past a few rock falls, not to mention the broken down lorry whose wheels, literally, came off. Not to be delayed by a lorry blocking a remote mountain route, the locals dismantled the crash barriers and used them to extend the road a little out to the side so all the traffic, including coaches could squeeze by the immovable obstruction.
The Parque Nacional El Cocuy was amazing. We arrived in Guican on a Sunday. All the locals were keeping warm under their ponchos and, despite the early hour, enjoying the local brew - market day in the mountains. Once we'd arranged a guide, bought the insurance and purchased our park entrance tickets, we continued up to our campsite, Cabanas Kanwara at the foot of the Ritacuba. We were by now at about 4,000 and with our guide Fidel, set out early the following morning, with a hard frost on the ground to climb the Sendero Ritacuba, an 8km hike rising 1,000m to the glacier and the top of the mountain range.
The hike was beautiful and the views spectacular, but the altitude made it hard on the lungs as we climbed and it took us about 4 hours to reach the top, The walk down was quicker but harder on the feet and knees. Getting old!
El Cocuy was our final stop and as we circled around the mountains we picked up two, very young, hitch-hiking sacerdotes. Quite amused as they sat in the back with Declan explaining to them in Spanish that his mother would be very happy to know that he had two catholic priests in the van - a first. They promised to pray for us!