After reading several reviews and speaking to Sim and Kartik who had just driven the road, we knew that the route into Florain was not good. They had said it had taken them 6 hours to drive the 60km in from Barbosa. Armed with this information, we decided to split up the drive. Especially as when we started, we were still two hours north of Barbosa. We decided we would head to a point marked just outside the town of Jesus Maria, apparently this is where it gets bad. We would then hit the bad stretch of road, refreshed and early in the morning. Rather than try and drive the last bit tired and probably in the dark.
The roads now were good highways and soon we were heading out of Jesus Maria, so far so good, apart from the odd landslide.
Then the going started getting rough. The tarmac was gone and the dirt road consisted of a sequence of potholes in two lines where the majority of tyres drove. This requires some slow navigating, unless you want to smack the radiator on the raised central section of the road. Still it was nothing we couldn’t manage, and knowing that we’d be stopping soon we slowly made our way to the entrance of the Las Golondrinas Waterfall. We drove a short way down a muddy and grassy track, before reaching a gate. A lady came running out and we asked if we could stay here and visit the waterfall too. She ran off to get another man, who then opened the gate for us. It was pretty muddy, and the ground which was chewed up by the passage of what looked like a number of cows. Still after scouting it out, we figured we could make it. We parked up on a level section not far from the house.
Again, this was not a tourist spot. Soon we were showed photos of the only other campers who had stayed there about 6 months ago, and who had added the spot. We were offered water and the use of their facilities though, with no expectation for anything in return. The guy told us that when we wanted to visit the waterfall, the lady Sonia, would be our guide.
After setting ourselves up, we made to head to the waterfall. We were planning to just walk down ourselves, but Sonia spotted us and came running over to lead the way. We attempted some conversation, but it was a little difficult as she was deaf and also couldn’t speak. We muddled through with some sign language as she led us down a track. At the bottom were the buildings where the processed the coffee beans as well as her cows, which she proudly showed us.
It was lucky in fact that we had a guide, as we would never have found the path alone and it was worth the short walk to reach this lovely private waterfall.
While it was easy enough going down, we slogged our way back up the hill stopping for a few breathers in which Sonia showed us pictures of her family and told us, as best she could, a bit about her life.
Back at the van, we gave her a small tip for showing us the way and she returned grinning with a bag of baked biscuits for us. Other people stopped by to say hello, including one of the other teens who lived at the house further down the valley. My brain was slightly fried already from trying to communicate, but I did my best to chat to him as well. Being a teacher, picking up the signs of autism is pretty clear in any language and I tried my best to explain to him about about our lives. That concept was pretty hard to grasp for him, some strange people living in their car must seem incredibly alien to a kid who had never left his town, his horizons limited to only what was directly visible from that very hill. By the end of that, I completely brain dead, and we turned in for the night.
I didn’t think too much of the rain shower that night, it was heavy, but last only around ten minutes. I didn’t think it would have too much effect being so short, but I was wrong.
The previous campers had mentioned that this would be a 4×4 spot in rainy season and it turns out than ten minutes of rain was enough to get us stuck several times on the short access road out. Wet muddy grass with clay underneath it was Ruby’s kryptonite. It took us many many attempts to climb the short hill out, with the help of the other two pushing us and laying ferns down in the mud tyre tracks, we eventually made it. Now, we had the difficult part to do.
The road in last night had been rough and lumpy, but pretty dry. Now we had heard from Kartik and Sim, who were currently in Florain that it had rained harder there. We hoped we would make it. It was 26km to Florain and 5km in I wanted to turn around. The road was slurry with deep water troughs carved into it. It was impossible to see what was underneath or how deep these were and one wrong move would leave us stuck in a mud bath. We kept on, somehow not getting stuck and only hitting the underneath once or twice. Every muddy patch seemed to get longer and deeper and we still had the majority of the way to go. It was pretty stressful.
Luckily, not all the road is this bad. The town at the midway point marks a turning point in the road conditions and for the last ten kilometres or so it was just a standard dirt road. I was glad it had improved as while the road may have been better, the weather had worsened into steady rain. I dread to think what the previous section would have been like if we had hit it a few hours later. The sat nav steadily counted down the distance and soon we were on the home straight.
As we hit a concrete road a short distance outside the town, we knew we were victorious. We triumphantly rounded a bend to see Kartik and Sim trying to reverse out onto the road. Not only did Ruby make it one piece, she now rescued the other camper by giving them a tow. The two of us now headed into town for a well earned beer, followed by Emerson, the guide they had hired to hike to the waterfall.
In terms of camping for that evening, we could stay for free in the town centre or Emerson said he had a campsite up in the top part of town. There was also supposedly wild camping by the river. We went to assess our options. The road to the river was blocked off, and we didn’t really like staying in town centres. We walked up to check out Emerson’s campsite. It was a decent location, but the field stood under several inches of water and there was no way we’d make it in there. Aside from the fact I don’t want to camp in a puddle anyway. While we were in the area though, we noticed a small flat area by some disused stables. It seemed like a public space and it was paved too, we figured we’d give that a go for the night.
Lee got chatting to some of the local teenagers and a few other people passed by. No one seemed bothered. Kartik and Sim joined us later and we sat on the concrete steps behind our vans drinking hot Chai tea, finally able to relax after a stressful few hours journey.
I’d like to say we had a peaceful night, but there appeared to be a wedding in the town and the music went on into the early hours. The following morning, our friends packed up and left, while we decided we would hike down to Charco Azul. Emerson had said it was not possible to go without a guide, but we decided we’d try it anyway as we didn’t believe him. It was a close hike that started on the main road we had driven in on.
We did go the wrong way at one point, but really that was a stupid error on our part. The trail is pretty clear. You have to pay a very small entrance fee to get in, but no one minded that we had no guide.
We continued on down the path and through a forest towards the falls. Judging by the amount of cobwebs across the path, we were the first ones down here today, not bad for the weekend.
It’s a slippery scramble from the point where you first view the falls, across to the pool at the base, but what an amazing view.
We did indeed have the place to ourselves and Lee decided it was time for a swim, au natural. Just as he got in, more hikers appeared in the distance. He probably wouldn’t have stayed in that chilly mountain waters for much longer anyway, but a speedy exit ensued.
As we walked back up we met some other people coming back down. Apparently the puppy from the owners at the entrance had followed them down and got it’s little legs tired. Lee was designated dog rescue.
Back at the van, we were invited for beers with Emerson and friend in the little restaurant just above where we were camped. We tactically avoided talk of the fact we’d gone without a guide and had quite a few beers instead which resulted in various people trying to teach me salsa. What can you do?
While we may have been dancing and drinking, the rest of the town was having a quiet night and so when we made it to bed we were’t kept up again.
Having now spent two nights here, we were scheduled to move on. I had made a timescale that covered our remaining time in Colombia, up to the final day of our visa, the 7th of August. In didn’t leave all that much room for error, but after a long drive into Florian, we just weren’t quite ready to leave yet. We decided we would spend one more night, not only so that we could visit the rest of the sights but also because we needed to check a few bits on Ruby after having smashed her into the floor.
In the light of day, it was clear that the anti roll bar had yet again taken a beating and was the cause of the banging noise we could hear. I also swapped some bolts our of the rear suspension that constantly worked themselves loose and tightened up the drive shafts which had the same habit.
With work out the way, we decided to hike up the road to the cave. This is the same cave through which the river flows, pouring out of the mouth to form that amazing three tiered waterfall. It’s not far to hike back up the road we came in on to find the path.
It’s even shorter if yo go down the right path, as we discovered after needless plodding up the wrong hill for 15 minutes. We got on the right track, crossed the river and ended up in the mouth of a huge cave.
Walking through the cave and following another river, you come to the edge where the river pours out and down into the pools below, while you stand on the edge of the most beautiful view.
This wouldn’t be our only good view. The local lads had recommended that we hike up the hill behind the town. Here’s the view across to it from the road to the cave.
They said it was an incredibly 360 degree view and best enjoyed at sunset. We had made it back from the cave in time, but we weren’t entirely sure of the route. We wandered back out of the village on one of the two possible roads. Luckily for us, we bumped into the two boys again who kindly told us we were going the wrong way. Having wasted a bit of time, it turned into a race against the dark to make it up.
Lee was struggling a bit at this point, but I was determined to make it in time. We didn’t have long left as we reach the last very short, but very steep ascent.
We both made it though, with only a few minutes to spare, to see the town of Florain with a rainbow as a backdrop in the orange glow of sunset. It was an incredible view and the perfect way to round off our time in this place. Tomorrow we would brave the road yet again, for now, we enjoyed the view on our own little private mountain.