Well, Pasto was a decent enough stopover but it was time to make tracks to the more exciting side of Colombia. The side that I’ve been yearning for. Yes folks, it was jungle time! I’d read up on possible routes and saw that the only real way had to be along El Trampolin de la Muerte, one of the most infamous and deadly roads on the continent. Meh, I wasn’t going to miss a stopoff in Mocoa for the sake of a sketchy road.
There are 2 main ways to travel to Mocoa from Pasto: By Camioneta/Buseta (adapted pickup truck with room for passengers in the back) or by minibus. Anecdotally the former are safer, presumably since they have a bit more traction but let’s be honest, if you go off a 150ft sheer drop (as is much of the road) you’re pretty much fucked whichever way you look at it.
I chose the latter option, simply because the camionetas departed from a different bus station and I just couldn’t be arsed to trudge any further with my still-too-heavy rucksack. The fare was a slightly steep 35,000COP with Cootransmayo, presumably they factor in some danger money.
We rumbled through busy traffic in town, stopping for several minutes beside a well-stocked coffin shop. With the reputation of the road ahead, everyone seemed to have the same thought. Baaad omen!
Out of Pasto, The road began to wind through beautiful, lush countryside, villages and small towns. Sadly the opportunities for bus window photography were limited due to the driver’s immense pace and his somewhat cavalier attitude to other road users, speed limits, slowing down for speedbumps etc. #standard. Indeed, the better the road is the faster they go, so by logical deduction Colombia’s best bet for safer roads is probably just to install MORE potholes, etc.
We stopped for lunch in the small town of Santiago, and I had a set lunch at the company’s restaurant, through the simple expedient of lacking the energy to trudge around other places. It was a fairly reasonable 7000COP in any case for soup, main and drink. Standard Menu Corriente fare here.
And then, we set off. Things got a lot more intense, quickly. The tarmac road stopped abruptly a few kilometres out of Santiago, and the dirt track began. And it began to climb, quickly.
The Google Maps image of the main part of the road gives you a general idea. Add what is, in most parts of the road, a sheer drop of around 100-150ft into dense jungle and you begin to understand that it’s a bit of a hair-raising route.
Ah yeah, the trucks. Loads of them. To be fair though they did seem to drive pretty sensibly, well at least when compared to our friend in the driver’s seat. But it’s not a wide road, so passing became distinctly interesting at points, particularly since I was on the ‘sheer drop to doom’ side. At many points even the crash barriers have given up the will to live and simply wilted into the jungle.
But that’s OK, since the Colombian Government has paid workers to install high-tensile plastic and wood replacements in their stead, which will definitely stop most vehicles in their tracks.
Whilst it wasn’t the least comfortable ride I’ve ever had, six hours of jinking around obstacles and potholes on a dirt track, with the constant spectre of plunging to our deaths did get old after a while. Particularly since a heavy fog then descended over the road.
I’ve stolen a couple of images from the web by people who cycled the road… Hence they must have had a bit more time to actually take photos without the fear of dropping cameras out of a speeding bus window. These better explain how remote and windy/mountainous it actually is. I will say though, I’m glad that I didn’t Google this prior to travelling. Lots of scary pictures of squashed buses.
Yep, I was glad to ‘touch down’ in Mocoa. Now, this isn’t a dangerous town per se, but it’s certainly a bit less ‘tidy’ than other small Colombian towns I’ve passed through so far. The cloud of ticket touts at the windows as you are pulling into the bus station kinda goes to prove this. But hey, without major hassle I managed to escape the place and get a taxi out of town to the Casa Del Rio.
I’d seen this place on a random blog about two lunatics cycling around South Colombia, they seemed to rate it so I decided to give it a go. 2.5km out of town and beside a brilliant swimming hole on the Rio Mocoa, it’s run by a Belgian guy. There are dorms for around 29,000COP per night, or twin/double rooms starting from 85,000. Naturally I went for the cheapo option, although my luck was in since nobody else turned up to share my 4bed dorm during the 2 nights I stayed there.
There are several good hikes in the area… I actually was only planning to stay in Mocoa overnight to change buses to the North but some jungle fun was hard to turn down.
The only drawback of the Casa Del Rio is that it’s a bit out of town, and there is nothing in the way of food to be had. So, time to go back into town to eat. Luckily there are plenty of local buses and camionetas plying the route.
Mocoa is an agricultural, certainly not a tourist town but jeez, it takes some walking to find a meal. And then there’s a slight issue in that the camionetas and local buses seem to finish around 7-8pm. So, I stood and stood by the road out of town but no joy. And then, a pickup taxi came past. I flagged it down, and it duly took me home. When I tried to pay the driver, he said “Nah, don’t worry”. What? Eh? I think possibly he had just come off the clock as his son was in the front seat, but what a nice guy! I repaid his generosity by managing to remove his door seal getting out. Oops.
El fin del mundo
There are a lot of these in South America, some are swings, some waterfalls, some just high cliffs. It’s a popular name. But from the information within the Casa del Rio’s information folder, this one looked worthwhile. A hike through a slice of jungle to some natural pools and a huge waterfall.
After crossing the river, you enter into a private reserve and pay your 2500COP entrance fee. From there it’s a big slog up through the forest. Proper creepy crawly spotting time with leafcutter ants forming chains across the path, butterflies and the odd spider. Eek!
The change in climate entering the forest was really striking, suddenly very humid and hard going up the trail which was part wood steps and part just scrambling up muddy forest floor. My walking boots are definitely due for retirement any time soon! The constant sightings of wildlife were good incentives to keep going.
A while up the trail I met Julia from Germany who was concerned about a very loud dog in an entrance beside the path “nah, it’ll be fine” said I, deploying fine dog whispering skills to guide us safely past. The greater problem then turned out to be somewhat of an intense language barrier, I have completely buried any German skills beneath a mountain of newly learnt Spanish. Hey, we got there.
There are actually 3 main pools on the path to the Fin Del Mundo. A very large and very annoying Czech tour group had colonised the topmost one, so we pressed on and down the valley.
And then you reach it. The end of the world. Well, it certainly feels that way. A sheer drop of 20m and a fantastic view over the expanse of forest towards Mocoa. There are signs warning against running/jumping and also advising one to lie on the ground to photograph the ‘fall’ so I assume plenty of people have flung themselves off in the past. I asked Julie to take a photo to save on it being an ignominious selfie death.
And then a pleasant relaxed walk back, making full use of the numerous swimming holes to cool off en route. Top day! I thankfully timed my visit extremely well, as a tropical monsoon started later that evening, and didn’t stop for literally the next 15 hours, when I left the town.
The yin and yang of lost property
Colombia is still very much ‘up’ on my mental South American friendliness league table. Definitely so. But to be honest Mocoa slightly tipped the balance downwards. On several scales including downright sketchiness. I’ll come on to the exact reason for this once back on UK soil. But for now…
The yin of lost property was my Kindle. I’d come into town to eat and wander and was stupidly carrying it to entertain myself during dinner if the other patrons weren’t sufficiently entertaining. Along the way I also acquired a 5l bag of water (That’s how you buy it here!). This did not make for easy carrying. I sat down on a bench on the town square to watch the Police parade and then went to buy food. At which point I realised…shitshitshitshitshit! I’d left it on the bench. That thing is IMPORTANT. I ran back, and saw the nice lady still sat there along with 2 female cops, who’d seen that I had left it and had come to guard it. Big love, Colombia!
The yang, however, was my gorgeous Montane fleece. My absolute favourite piece of travel clothing. Bus stations are the hubs of all badness. I’d literally left the bus and hooked it under my daypack strap to walk, ooh, 5m to the taxi rank. I didn’t leave it in the bus, nor the taxi. I must have dropped it en route. It would have been literally impossible not to see me dropping it, and to tap me on the shoulder but no, a Mocoan scumbag decided it would suit them better. So, minus points.
Minus points also whilst seeking my bus ticket out. Inflating the price by 25% and then trying to haggle. Er, no. You shouldn’t ever have to haggle over fixed price tickets. I went to another company to punish him. Haha, great success!
Luckily the hostel provided me with a formidable weapon in the fight against ripoffs- Since they didn’t have much change they handed me several large sellotaped rolls of coins, each amounting to COP1000. So, every time I think it’s a ripoff the punishment coins come out. First one deployed on a pricey packet of crisps leaving the bus station. Have that!
Next up: Mocoa to San Augustin, the home of ancient statues and beautiful countryside.