The Trampoline of Death

With Tatacoa behind us, we continued on. Ruby’s suspension had held up just fine in the desert but I am ever cautious of cutting deadlines fine. We had only a few days left and a lot of ground still to cover before we hit Ipiales, the border town. There wasn’t too many places of interest between here and there and so we broke up the drive by heading for a viewpoint near Gigante. We stopped in Nieba to replenish our supplies after three days in the desert and by the time we were near to our final destination, the sun was setting. We climbed back up a short, but steep, way into the mountains and despite the fact it was only 6pm, we arrived to shut gates. I pulled over to the side of the road and waited with the van, while Lee went in to ask. This didn’t turn out to be a straightforward request and it must have been at least 20 minutes until he reappeared at the gate and waved me in. After much debating, the owner had reluctantly let us stay. Despite them not to being to keen at first, the staff here were friendly enough and we were glad of the space to stop. It was pretty cheap and there weren’t too many choices on the main road down, unless you liked camping in petrol stations that is.
As it was already dark, we didn’t get to appreciate what was probably a lovely spot to watch the sunset.

Camping for £2 a night

While Lee didn’t sleep to badly, I did not enjoy myself. Firstly, we kept the cats in as when the owners went to bed, they released the guard dogs which were not friendly. The two cats were not actually too bad, perhaps they could hear the growling around the van and didn’t want to go out anyway. Eventually, the dogs quietened down, only to be replaced by a cacophony of roosters that started about 3am and continued on and off all night. I missed the silence of the desert.

When we awoke in the morning, we decided to go and check out the view before we headed off on a 4 hour drive to the reach San Augustin. The place was predominantly a restaurant, but they had two large ponds out the back with some fish and boats. Around the ponds they had built basically a series of things for you to take selfies with. It seems to be a South American thing, given a nice view they’ll build something like this in it, a giant flat foot platform.

Still, it was an incredible view.

The name of the place, Brisas de Mirthayu is after a local legend. I presume the huge statue is a representation of the goddess Mirthayu.

After leaving behind the mountain view, we headed for San Augustin. Supposedly a highlight of Colombia for its ancient statues and tombs. We got there a reasonable time, which was good. While we might have wanted to spend our Sunday afternoon visiting the park or the archaeological site, what we really needed to do was sort the washing. We had been carrying around our dirty garage clothes, which were also wet for the last 4 nights. It was no surprise that they were starting to go a bit mouldy and we hadn’t had a chance to wash them. We spent several hours at the campsite, dealing with that and while it wasn’t the most fun afternoon, it was good to finally shake off the last bit of garage feeling.

Despite there being a lot of tourism surround San Augustin, I wasn’t particularly bothered about visiting it. After seeing so many amazing ruins throughout the south of Mexico and also in Central America, it takes a lot to impress me now. It was pretty expensive too. I suppose that was lucky really, because we didn’t have time to see it anyway. We headed onwards the next morning.

Now we were very close to the border on the east of the country, as we hit the town of Mocoa. This marked the last of the long driving on good roads as from Mocoa, to the border we wanted to use on the west, was Colombia’s death road. We would start that the next day though and for now we parked up for free in a little restaurant just a few minutes walk from Cascada Fin del Mundo.

That evening we ate a pizza in the restaurant and debated the next day. Really it would be good to make a start on the long and slow death road early, there were varying reports of how long it would take. But, I wanted to hike to the waterfall, it would our first time in the Amazon. We decided that we would do the hike early and then drive as much of the death road as possible in daylight. If necessary there were a few points to stop if we ran out of time.

In order to try and fit everything in the next day, we got to waterfall entrance at 8.15am, just as it opened. We paid the entrance fee, $10 for both of us and to our dismay were allocated a guide. I think it was because we were the first people to walk the trail that day and they waited until there were people before sending someone down with them to sort the safety harnesses at the waterfall for the start of the day. So we set off with Hector. We powered up the trail. I was keen to get there in good time, Lee wasn’t impressed by my speedy walking and soon we stopped to take a break anyway when it really started to rain. The path was already slippery, either smooth rocks or trees and we were lucky that when it really started raining we happened to be near a small shelter. We waited out the worst of it for around fifteen minute before continuing on. Now the ‘real’ jungle started.

We climbed through the lush greenery, emerging by a river and the first of the pools. Our guide told us we could swim if we wanted, but we decided to keep going as we were nearly at the final point.

Before too long, we emerged at a bigger pool. There was a little waterfall at the back and to the other side a small restaurant. Again, he said we could swim if we wanted. Despite the fact it was a little odd to have the audience as we were the only people, we couldn’t resist. The refreshing clear water was the perfect antidote to the humidity of the jungle and despite the fact we had no towels or swim wear, we jumped in anyway. It was so warm that we would just dry off as we walked.

After our refreshing little swim, we headed to the final waterfall.

As we were the first people, we waited for Victor to set up the ropes and safety harnesses so that we could safely peek over the near 80 metre drop. Our guide set up the ropes, brushed all the water off the floor despite the fact that we were still dripping from our swim and put on our safety harnesses.

We wiggled to the edge and looked down.

Once we were done with the view, we returned our harnesses and Victor told us that he would stay here while we could now return at our leisure. We wandered back through the beautiful jungle, trying very hard not to fall down the now incredibly slippey stone path. In just over an hour, we completed the walk. Despite the fact we had taken our time, especially with that lovely little swim, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Now it was time to face Trampolin del Muerte. I’m still not entirely sure why it was called a trampoline, but despite the fact it was nearly 1pm, we paid our bill, fuelled up, and headed out. The first section was a good tarmac road but then, inevitably it gave way to rough gravel and we started to climb. We didn’t make it far before we had to stop and give the engine a break. The air temperature and the steep incline, along with a rough road are killers for us.

We made another couple of stops as we zigzagged upwards before we were back at an altitude where the air was cool enough for the engine to handle the ascent. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a very dangerous road, it was nothing too bad so far. We climbed onwards, enjoying beautiful views back to Mocoa.

As we continued to climb the gradient levelled out a little and we passed through several small river crossings. We had barely met another car and the road while lumpy, especially on the corners, was nothing too bad.

We had made it a few hours in before we stopped behind a queue of traffic, road works apparently. We were told by some people from the car in front it would be another hour. We chatted and wandered about outside while we waited, every now and again reiterating to one very persistent guy that we didn’t want any weed. It seemed that the traffic in front had already been waiting an hour or so and we were relieved when after about 40 minutes there was a load of movement at the head of the line as people rushed back to there cars. We were moving.

Now it was a little more challenging as instead of driving at our own speed, we were stuck behind trucks. Trucks that went slowly. Trucks that over took on blind bends. We kept our distance and kept on climbing. After a while, the traffic spread back out again. The fast cars ploughed ahead. The slow trucks stayed back and there we were, somewhere in the middle. On thing that makes the drive more challenging is the duration. It is a steady 4 hours of uphill climb on mountain dirt roads with not many options to stop.

Ruby kept on going though and we reckoned we would make it off the bad section in daylight. As we came of the highest point and started our descent the warm glow of evening was spreading over the little town of San Francisco ahead, and we knew we had all but made it.

After a celebratory stop in D1, we kept on, now on good tarmac.

We knew we would drive the last hour in the dark but now on a better road we should be ok. Despite the fact we had hit a beautiful highway, we still had to pull over and give the engine a break. As is always the way in Colombia, it was one relentless hill, whether that was up or down. We climbed up again to around 10k feet, before dropping back down on the other side. In the darkness I swear I saw the reflection of lights across water that marked the laguna we were headed for.

Eventually, now with overheating brakes as supposed to an overheating engine, we bumped along the last of the dirt road. We had hoped to camp at a restaurant car park, but knowing how it is here the restaurant was going to be shut by the time we arrived. We weren’t wrong. The restaurant was shut and it looked like shut was a permanent state of things. It was draped in a whole load of tarpaulins and looking generally out of use. We idled outside for a bit, not sure who to talk to. Then the door ahead opened, Ruby is not subtle after all. I went out and spoke to someone who confirmed that this was his property and yes we could stay. After what had been a very long eventful day, I cooked us some very lazy food and we fell into bed with the sound of the rain.

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