Guatavita and Nemicon Salt Mine

There’s nothing like some peace and quiet in the woods after spending two days in the capital city and we headed for what looked like a tranquil spot just above the pretty little town of Guatavita.
As we reached the woods, it began to rain and that made it a bit harder to find the spot to camp we were looking for. It wasn’t really a proper spot as such, there was no proper track just a small path through the trees leading to a little clearing. After we managed to find the route in and move some branches out of the way, Ruby slid her way up the slick clay slope but made it to the top. So much for 4×4 required as the previous person had said.

This was a complete contrast. Here, we were hidden away in our little clearing. You could hear the occasional car on the nearby dirt road but it was lovely to be completely out of sight. No one knew we were here, no one could see us, no one would bother us. As much as we don’t mind chatting to people, Ruby is somewhat of a magnet. We wont go a day without someone wanting to talk to us and while normally its fine, sometimes all the small talk does get a little draining and I long for a bit of peace and quiet were no one will ask where I’m from, or how old the van is.

As much as I could have happily stay another night out here, the one downside was the lack of phone signal. So after a gloriously quiet night, we pack up the van and packed the reluctant cats in before heading out. Aimee in particular had enjoyed hiking around the empty foresty tracks with us.

It hadn’t rained since we arrived so getting out was a little easier, aside from moving the tree at the end.

We decided to head over to Sopo as apparently there was a shop there that specialised in camper conversions. Our internal water pump was dangerously close to giving up on us and we hoped that maybe we could get one there or at least get some advice on where to buy a 12v pump locally.

True to form, good old Google sent us down a shortcut that ended in someone’s field, before insisting that we take another shortcut over the mountains.

According to Google, keep going straight.

This was at least a road, but steep, muddy and potholed. While it did meant we avoided paying the toll road, I’m not sure it was worth it. As we climbed up and over the mountain it began to rain again. By the time we reached the top it was torrential. While in a way it was good that it waited so we weren’t trying to climb a wet muddy road, we now had to negotiate the river it had turned into coming down. That’s one of the times when driving the dirt roads is much harder, when the potholes are full of muddy rain water you have absolutely no idea how deep they are.

Eventually, we made it back to tarmac and arrived in Sopo to see that the shop no longer existed, apparently they had moved into the city we had just left. After wasting an hour driving for nothing, we decided to return and spend another night near Guatavita, this time taking the regular road to get there. We pulled up at the boat launch on the shore of the reservoir and thought this looked as good a spot as any for the night. In the continued drizzle the wasn’t much else to do anyway.

I awoke a little smug, as I always am when we’ve found a new free camping spot. While the police had come to check on us from a distance in the night, they had clearly had no problems with us being there and we’d had another quiet night. With the failure of finding a water pump yesterday, I ordered one online to be sent to Bogota and we decided to continue on northwards towards Villa de Leyva. This was supposed to be one of the prettiest towns in Colombia, but the route that we had taken previously meant we hadn’t made it there yet. It was a few hours north and seemed like the perfect little diversion to take while we waited for the inverter to be repaired. On the way we decided we would first stop at famous salt mine in Nemicon, to break up the drive a little.

The little town was only a hour away and it didn’t take long before we were parked up outside behind a French family and their huge plastic motorhome. Overlanders were everywhere these days! We paid for our tickets to the mine, which is only accessible with a guided tour and then went and got a hot drink from the little cafe while we waited for it to begin. A few little shops sold salt mine related merchandise. Salt for cooking, salt crystals for jewellery and perhaps the most out there, from my perspective anyway, various styles of carved salt Jesus.

The tour then began with a look around the museum, despite the guides rapid Spanish it was still enjoyable as we picked out some of the key explanations and some of the boards were also in English. It was actually quite amazing the fossils that they had on displays that were found in the mine. Huge bones from a mammoth and massive ammonites amongst other things, included a huge petrified fish. It was actually very interesting.

From the museum we walked a short way to the mine entrance and began to slowly walk down into the darkness. Huge wooden stack support the ceiling as our guide explained that they wood wasn’t fixed together and just relied on the eight of the earth above to hold the structure in place.

Already in places it was possible to see the salt patterns creating a haw frost effect over the rocks.

We walked on to a large chamber which is probably the most photogenic part of the tour. The complete stillness of the water, coupled with the multi-coloured lights was actually quite beautiful.

As we took some nice photos, the peace was rather shattered by an enormous group of school kinds all armed with various instruments. They passed us and began setting up to play a concert at an area that had been set out for them, I suppose playing in a mine must give quite good acoustics if being a little surreal at the same time.

We continued on to the piece of the mine that had been used as the set for the movie The 33, which is based on the true life events of a mining disaster that occurred in Chile in 2010.
Our guide then showed us around some other exhibits, supposed to depict some of the local history as well as a pool that was so salty it would kill you apparently. We threw a lucky coin in their version of a wishing well before coming full circle back to the entrance.

It had been more interesting than I had thought and I was glad we had come after hearing some mixed reviews about the experience.

While we could have camped for the night on the village square here, we still had a few hours of daylight left and so we decided to try and reach a campsite on lakeside of Embalse de Neusa. What had so far been a good ay was about to go downhill quite quickly.

The first part of the drive was a good road, one of the major route connecting Bogota to the north. We debated as to which route to use to access the Laguna as some previous posters had warned about it being muddy, but when both and Google agreed on the same route, we turned off the main road as suggested. Now the road was incredibly steep, the kind of steep that we had got stuck on previously. Not wanting a repeat of that situation, Lee floored it. This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem until we hit a drainage ditch in the road a lot faster than we should have. There was an almighty bang, but Ruby continued onwards and upwards. As soon as the road had levelled out sufficiently, we pulled over to let the engine cool and see if we could see what had made that horrible noise. The rear left wheel sat so low that the exhaust was less than an inch from the floor now, it appeared we had snapped a rear torsion bar.

Now the van was still drivable, but we now had no suspension on the one side, she sat on the suspension stops with the exhaust and sump far closer to the floor than was comfortable, especially for a dirt road of increasingly poor condition.

We were in the middle of nowhere and the sun was beginning to set. At least we could still move, if very slowly and carefully. We were only 3km from the camp spot and it seemed like it would be better if we could make it there for the night and figure out what to do the next day. We limped cautiously onward, the road becoming more and more covered in holes, even the small of which were now a big issue. Then we reached the turning, confidently told us to turn left down something which cannot really be called a road. A rutted sodden dirt track left the actual dirt road and went across a field. Absolutely no way I would have attempted that even with an unbroken camper. We continued a little way before realising that this was pretty futile.

At this point, I would have taken a lay by beside the road for the night, but there was nothing. We decided that we would turn around and head out. I would be happier knowing that we had made it off this dirt road and onto smooth tarmac where we stood less chance of damaging something else further. We crawled, very slowly, back towards the main road.

We arrived back at the main junction, happy that we were still rolling and now we knew it was a good road, apart from the speed bumps. Unfortunately to get on the main road, a very deep drainage ditch ran down the side. While we could cross this earlier at normal ride height, now we were this low it presented more of an issue. We tried to go slowly but nearly got stuck, so Lee attacked it with a bit more speed but this unfortunately ripped off the left hand exhaust. As we couldn’t drive down the road with it dragging on the floor, we pulled over and sawed through the remaining strands of the flexible section that held it in place before setting off again towards the nearest town, Chia. Little did we know that we had not only ripped off the exhaust but also neatly severed the rear brake line at the same time.

Lee messaged ahead to a guy with a garage who said he accepted overlanders and we were told we could camp there for the night. After negotiating the ridiculous rush hour, speeds bumps and temporary one way systems of Chia, we pulled into The 40s Garage, owned by Mauro. The entire private access with its several houses, turned out to be all his family, living together in their own little cul-de-sac and that night we were invited to stay outside his parents house. We had caught them in the middle of preparations for a trip to Cano Cristales and the drive was full of Land Cruisers. His dad also welcomed us to his house, showing us where the bathroom was and generally being very friendly. After a pretty tough afternoon, we were glad to have finally made it to a safe spot where we could plan what to do next…

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