The Ruins of Gramalote

After two rather peaceful nights but busy days, we moved on from Los Estoraques towards Gramalote. Having already used a month out of our three month visa, we had to keep moving, Colombia is a big country! We were also learning quickly that whatever time giving by any mapping app was always completely wrong. We reckoned we were about 10-20% slower than google, and any time given by, well you could at least double that. Google reckoned it would take us four hours, to drive this incredibly windy mountain road to our next destination. We set off mid-morning to find out.

The first part was a paved road that took us to the small town of Sardinata. While the road wasn’t bad, it was so bendy that we rarely got out of 2nd gear. Fortunately the cooler air temperatures helped us out with this steady mountain climb and we didn’t have to pull over. The only time we had to stop in fact was because we nearly ran out of fuel. We had thought there was a petrol station coming up, but it turned out there actually wasn’t. As we drove around some of the sharper hairpins, the engine hesitated, died and restarted as little remaining fuel slopped away from the fuel line and back again. Luckily, while there are no petrol stations out here, nearly every place small roadside shop sells fuel in plastic bottles. We pulled over and managed to buy some, rather expensive, petrol as well as brunch before continuing on.

The last section of road before the town is coming down from the mountain pass. We had climbed up to around 8,000 ft and now we would be dropping back down again around 6,000. The engine had handled it well, I hoped we would be able to say the same of the brakes. Naturally it didn’t take long before we got stuck behind a very slow lorry and a huge tailback of cars. The Colombians have no reservations about overtaking on blind bends, but despite this the queue trailed slowly down the mountain. I was thankful that we had just swapped our brake pads. The bends are so sharp that the lorries coming up often come around the corner on the other side of the road, only to meet another lorry doing the same in the opposite direction. At one point our entire line of traffic all had to reverse back up the hill when two lorries met, exactly mid hairpin. It was slightly chaotic and a long way off google’s journey time. By the time we reached Sardinata, it had already been four hours and we had another two to go.

After stopping for supplies, passing out handfuls of stickers and taking a whole load of photos with the locals, we were ready for the final section. The locals told us that the road was ‘average’ and we knew it certainly wasn’t surfaced. We headed on out of the village to see if we could make it through. Shortcuts are always a gamble. Even when asking for the road conditions it’s all down to a matter of opinion. This turned out to be a slow, narrow road with some rough and washed out sections, but it had an incredible view. 

As long as it kept going like this, we’d have no problems.

Once we had left the town behind us, we barely met a single car coming the other way and we wound slowly back upwards through a lush green valley. It was actually an enjoyable drive. Despite the fact that it was a small road, it wasn’t so bad. It was nice not to be stuck behind a large lorry too. 

Due to our slow progress, it was towards the end of the afternoon when we found tarmac again for the last section of the drive. Large sections of the road had subsided, making this slow as well. It didn’t seem surprising that this area was at risk from landslides, looking at the state of it. 

Gramalote Nuevo can be seen in the background

At long last, we drove through Nuevo Gramalote. The relocated new town, further up the hill from its predecessor. It was a little odd to see something so new. While you might encounter new building or new parts of a town, you rarely see an entire new town built in one go. 

Nuevo Gramalote

In the valley below, sits the original Gramalote, our destination for the night. We drove in through the ruins and parked up outside the remains of the church and the village square with only a little daylight to spare.

We decided to give ourselves a break from the long drives and spend an extra night here. So the following day, we took our time walking around. Yet again, everyone who passed by came to chat and for a picture. We got given a lot of free food and met a lot of new people. In between, I tried adjust the brakes. Parking on the abandoned village square gave us  a clean, level hard surface. For once it was an easy job to jack up the van and do a bit of routine maintenance. 

In the afternoon, we headed up through the ruins to the remains of the town behind. There are still some people living here, with a good portion of the houses ruined in between, it makes for a stark contrast.

It’s also possible to take a small road round the valley, which we thought was supposed to go to the cemetery. Apparently we had got the wrong road, but we were still rewarded with the view. 

We settled in for another peaceful night, when someone came knocking on the door. They spoke so fast it was hard to tell what they said, but something about were we leaving? The police were coming and had we seen him? That sounded rather ominous and with the daily rain approaching we shut and locked our doors for the night. Despite this sightly odd occurrence, nothing actually happened and we had another night of silence. 

In the morning, we explored the insides of the ruined church. The only building still standing, it’s tower still mainly intact, I’m sure would have bee taken as a ‘sign’ by many a local. To my mind it was more likely that it was a better built building, but whatever the reason for it’s survival, it’s possible to venture inside. 

The four walls are mainly there and we trod through the rubble of the ceiling long gone, beneath our feet. The crypts are somewhat intact, but their broken doors exposed the bleached white bones of their occupants. 

Right at the end, the only part of the roof still visible, shows this rather beautifully painted mural. 

While it is a little sad to see the remnants of the town, you can at least be happy that despite this being a huge natural disaster, no one actually died. The landslide moved slowly through the village, meaning that all the residents had plenty of time to escape. According to someone we spoke to who was living there at the time, the residents didn’t realise the destruction that was about to occur, due to the slow moving earth. It’s not the only town ruined by landslide in Colombia either, but we’ll visit that later. For now, it was time to hit the road once more. 

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