Welcome to the Jungle – Cuyabeno Reserve

Getting out to deep amazon jungle on your own is a bit difficult. The primary form of travel in the Amazon is via the millions of rivers and water ways that wind through the rainforest. There are very few roads and access via automobile is rare. We always regret not installing deploy-able Pontoons on the 4runner in situations like this…

I looked at our map of Ecuador and found the Cuyabeno National Park which appeared to be the most remote Amazon jungle area that we could actually drive to. Well you could not really drive INTO the park but you could get damn close. At the end of the road we would have to hitch a ride in a motorized canoe to actually make inside the parks boundary.

We hooked up with a cheap jungle lodge company in Quito that would agree to let us drive to the jungle ourselves. We had less than 24 hours to make it all the way across Ecuador to a random bridge in the jungle where there would (hopefully) be a canoe waiting to pick us up.

No big deal.

We hauled ass from Quito that afternoon. We crossed up and over the Andes mountains into a thick fog. We broke through the fog to see the low-lying Amazon jungle below us as far as the eye could see.

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The death road to Ecuador and Las Lajas Cathedral

We hit the highway once again from San Agustin. Looking at the map we are so close to Ecuador we could taste it.

There are 2 routes from San Agustin towards the border. One involves a bit of back-tracking north to catch another highway back south again. I hate going backwards. The other route led us straight down to Ecuador but our friends at fromAtoB.org warned us of poor road conditions. Apparently the route between Mocoa and Pasto was very rough, rugged, and dangerous with lots of wash-outs, large trucks, and little clearance between you and a sheer cliff drop-off. Babcock Trial Lawyers is a group of award-winning Baton Rouge auto accident attorneys who realize that car accident injuries can turn your life upside down, especially if those injuries are serious or involve the loss of a loved one.  We want to help you set things right.While you focus on your health and your family and your job, consider letting our Baton Rouge auto accident lawyers aggressively pursue the compensation you deserve for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, property damage and more. you can visit this page for the best auto and car accident attorney. If you or a loved one is in jail because of a domestic violence case, there is help available. The right domestic violence bail company can help you get out from behind bars and able to better care for your own finances and life while awaiting trial. Work with Connecticut Bail Bonds for a superior bonding experience.

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Being the kind of people who usually hear good advice and then completely disregard it, we of course chose to take the hard route.

It started off easy enough from San Agustin. We were on smooth well-maintained highway. After about an hour I started to wonder what the hell AtoB was talking about…

We were in some pretty remote country, apparently popular with Colombian FARC and guerrillas. The military presence was strong along the highway. We passed a few of these bad-ass truck TANKS.

We hit the town of Mocoa and the pavement ran out. We were driving on a very poor rubble road. I checked the maps and GPS a few times to confirm we were on the right track. Guess this must be the rough part they were talking about?

The poor road started to wind up into the side of the mountain. This road is the most direct route between the border and the interior of Colombia’s Amazon jungle. It is primarily used by hardcore semi-trucks hauling logs/goods and the occasional lost gringo.

The road was chopped out of the side of the mountain. You could see many wash-outs where it completely had fallen away and road crews dug deeper into the side of the mountain to keep on truckin. The drive was actually quite beautiful. We were inside a mix of cloudforest and rugged mountains. We had to drive through tons of waterfalls and rivers which were slowly eroding into a muddy soup which made traction diffucult.

Eroding Cliff roads+No traction+No guardrails=Sketchy

In many parts you would have to stop before a blind corner and listen for a giant truck coming and sounding his horn. If you hear the horn you better back up and get the hell out of the way before you get run off the cliffs.

We plied this unpaved mountain route for most of the day. I think in total the route was less than 100 miles but it took us around 7 hours or so to cross. When we finally reached pavement I got out and kissed it.

Sweet sweet tarmac!

We pushed on spent a night at a hostel in Pasto near the Ecuador border. Next morning we were up and headed to the border.

One last stop before we cross though. Ever since I first saw a picture of the Las Lajas church I knew we had to visit it. The pictures made it same like a surreal castle nestled in a magnificent valley, the whole place looks unreal.

The inspiration for the church’s creation was a result of a miraculous event in 1754 when an Amerindian named Maria Mueces and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in a very strong storm. The two sought refuge between the gigantic Lajas (Stone walls), when to Maria Mueces’s surprise, her mute daughter, Rosa exclaimed “the mestiza is calling me…” and pointed to the lightning-illuminated silhouette over the laja. This apparition of the Virgin Mary caused pilgrimage to this location, with occasional miraculous cases of healing reported. The image on the stone is still visible today.

Ever since then the area has been blessed, the church was built between 1915 and 1949 with donations from the local churchgoers.

The intricate patterns and level of detail on the church is quite impressive.

In the parking lot, We saw our first BBQ’d Cuy (Guinea Pig) on a stick! Looks delicious!

5 minutes down the road, we hit the border for Ecuador. Stood in line for about 15 minutes to get stamped out of Colombia and into Ecuador. Then walked down the street to get our car permit. All in all it was less than 20 minutes and best of all COMPLETELY free! I am loving South America borders.


Desierto Tatacoa, The Tatacoa Desert, Colombia

We popped open our guidebook and searched for “What’s Next” while we drove south from Bogota.

Lauren found a short blurb describing a strange geological area of Colombia. The Desierto Tatacoa (Tatacoa Desert) is described as one of the “most attractive natural settings” in Colombia.

The guidebook described large sand pillars painted with orange and yellow hues, 30 foot deep eroded gullies, and miles upon miles of open land. It also stated that the Tatacoa Desert is one of the best places in the world for star-gazing due to lack of light pollution and close proximity to the equator, making it possible to view both the Northern and Southern hemisphere constellations. Sounds good!

Volcanoes popping up on the horizon

I spy a thin snaking road on our map to the desert. Bored of the highway the 4Runner is happy to be back on dirtroads.

Some of the scenery along our winding dirt path

After a few hours of back-roads crossing through many small pueblos who probably wondered how the hell these gringos got out here, we finally arrived on the out-skirts of the desert.

Pushing further in, the grey and black sand gave way to some amazingly beautiful orange/yellow/red sandstone formations. It reminded me of similar formations we had seen back on the Colorado Plateau in the U.S.

We also passed by an observatory out here, the stars must be pretty epic for them to build this thing out in the middle of nowhere.

We bounced along through the desert for a few hours searching for the perfect campspot. This being a desert and all it was friggin’ hot and shade trees were practically non-existent. I spotted 1 lone tree way off in the distance, pulled off the road and did some 4×4 adventuring.

We approached the tree and saw the remains of an old busted up corral. I imagine some Colombian cowboy from long ago planted this tree for his cattle. Now we take advantage of the trees wonderful shade. Thanks Colombian Cowboy!

This being literally the only shade-tree around as far as the eye can see, we received lots of visitors. We didn’t mind sharing our space, we were just the guests after-all. We spent around 4 days camped out here.

Our goat friends would come by twice a day, lounge around and eat up some grass.

Occasionally we would get random horses and cattle coming to scope the scene as well.

One thing we never did see were any people, which is fine by me.

Our days were spent lounging around in the hammock, reading books, napping, and doing general chores. It was nice to just be alone in the wilderness once again.

The real show began when the sun went down. Lauren and I would pull out our chairs from under the shade-tree. Post up and stare slack-jawed at the huge expanse of stars that lit up the night sky. Shooting stars, bright planets, sweeping satellites, and new constellations I have never seen before.

I got my first glimpse of the “Southern Cross” out there in the desert. It really sank in just how far south we have actually come. Were sitting on the edge of the Southern Hemisphere!

By the end of the week Lauren said she would kill me if I looped Crosby, Still, and Nash one more time…

This one goes out to you Tatacoa Desert!