Living the high life

Now we were staying at around 12,000ft, it was pretty cold. The heating was on and it was raining. We got our woolly jumpers out and made a hot chocolate. By the time we had finished drinking that we decided that we’d stay another night. After the rather stressful events of the day before, we needed a day to relax. The friendly owners had invited us up to the house last night, but we had politely declined. Today was not only a better day to be sociable, but to actually see the area. We dug out our boots, and set off for a hike.

We were camped right next to Laguna Comagueta, a few minutes walk away. Continuing on past this, it’s possible to pick up an overgrown farm track and walk down towards the village through the fields. The landscape here feels very English. Livestock grazed green fields and those without cows or sheep were sown with rows of potatoes.

The weather was also pretty English, it was an overcast day with the constant threat of drizzle. After being in the heat for so long though, it was nice to be able to walk around and go on a hike without being incredibly hot. We reached the village and turned left up the dirt track towards another laguna.
Apparently at one point this had once been a campsite too, but now it was fenced off and private property. We walked further up, with some rather nice views down the valley behind us, despite it being a little grey.
We reached the gate, and follow the well established path that ignored the sign and walked around the edge. A little further on the road levels and opens out to an abandoned building at the edge of a beautiful little lake. It was a lovely tranquil spot, with a definite Scottish highland vibe, and we sat watching the waterfall in the distance and day dreamed of maybe owning something like this one day.

Back at the campsite our hosts dropped by the check on us again and invite us up the hill once more. We said we’d join them soon, after we’d had a bit of a break from the mornings walk. The walk to the waterfall behind the farmhouse also looked quite picturesque and we decided to head up there that afternoon.
The sun threatened to break through the clouds as we walked up the little track to the farm and picked up the footpath behind to the waterfall. We puffed our way up the hill behind, aware of the altitude. From here is a fantastic view out of the valley, as you stand behind this rather off-putting sculpture.

Now with the climb up done, we followed a level footpath that wound along the side of the valley to the waterfall.

As ever, with huge cascades, once you stood next to it and saw the top, it was easy to forget that this was just a section and that many, many metres of waterfall continued on above. It would have certainly made for a refreshing dip if the weather had been warmer.

As we ended up back at the farmhouse, it was time to try Agua Panela, the local drink. Panela is unrefined whole can sugar; made from boiling down the juice from sugarcanes. It is sold everywhere in blocks and is then dissolved in boiling water to make effectively sugar tea. Have that with a bit of lime, and it’s pretty much like the honey and lemon we might make ourselves to help a sore throat. It’s quite nice, but as you can imagine incredibly sweet. We were served a big mug alongside some local bread. Our host was keen for us to have the taste of traditional Colombia. She even gave us some diesel for our heater, which was running a bit low, they were lovely hospitable people.

Back at the van, we turned the heating on and shut out the drizzle. Despite the weather not being the best we were enjoying it here. It was peaceful. We contemplated another night. We still needed to look at our brakes and gears, which was something we had put off that day. Another day would give us time to sort out other necessary jobs, like the toilet. If we stayed however, we were going to need a few supplies.

In the morning, we walked back to town. We needed some more diesel. We managed to find some, and after a while of explaining we needed to borrow the containers too, we had two gallons. Plenty. We grabbed a few other groceries and headed back. It was raining steadily and the heating was definitely going to be required.

The rest of the day we were more useful. Lee lay under the van on the sodden floor (no mat anymore) and adjusted the clutch cable. I picked moss from the lakeside to put in the compost toilet. It’s never easy to find something to fill that with. We filtered some river water to fill up our drinking water and got ready to continue on the next day. It was going pretty well until we decided to run the heating. The wallas was not impressed with its new fuel and refused to start. After a few attempts and some nasty banging noises, we resigned ourselves to a cold and damp night. At least we had a cosy blanket, although we had to share it with both cats as well.

It was a chilly morning, and time to head on. We drained out the heater tank and gave the fuel to our host. It was clearly no good to us, but maybe it would be useful to her. It was at around that point that we suspected they had given us petrol and not diesel. We hoped we hadn’t done any damage to the cooker. That would be unfortunate and only time would tell.

The next stop would be the small town of Malaga as we started to make our way towards El Cocuy National Park and onto higher elevations. We waved goodbye and set off.

It didn’t take long to realise that we had not improved the brake or gear situation. We wound further upwards into the mountain fog on a road the gradually deteriorated. Days of rain had turn the dirt road into a quagmire. About 6 inches of slurry sat on top of the gravel, piled into a heap in the centre by the countless wheels of passing trucks. Ruby was going to need a wash and I didn’t even want to think about the state of the radiator. Eventually, we reached the top of the mountain pass and began our slow descent down towards Malaga. I could already see the engine temperature was running on the hot side, no doubt our entire scoop was full of liquid mud.

And so, we reached Malaga. It appeared to be yet another holiday. As I found out later, nearly 50% of Mondays in the year are bank holidays here. With not many shops open and the van driving badly, we made an unusual decision. We stayed in a hotel. It had a secure parking lot next door, and was pet friendly. The parking lot also had a metal workshop, and a concrete ramp, now that could be convenient. And so we checked into this small tidy hotel. It was a box room, but had a private hot shower and a surprisingly good mattress. They also had a laundry service and we didn’t have to check out until 2pm the next day, perfect for us to spend the morning sorting out the van. While we were not technically broken down, we got ‘breakdown pizza’ anyway and had a proper good shower.

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