From 95F to 25F – Our first taste of the Andes Mountains

Spending the week sweating our butts off in Cartagena we were excited to finally have the truck back and we hit the road the next morning. Camping was #1 on our priority list. We considered cruising along the Colombian coastline but fearing the mercury would stick near 100F we decided to head for the hills instead.

We busted out the maps and started searching for the absolute highest point we could drive and camp in northern Colombia. Lucky for us Colombia contains the first section of the longest continental mountain range in the world, the legendary Andes. The Andes are massive, with 50+ peaks over 20,000Ft high. Consider that the highest mountain peaks in the continental U.S. are just over 14K and you have an idea of what we are working with.

We battled traffic out of Cartagena and eventually popped out into the flatlands of Colombia that divide the coast from the mountains. It was still incredibly hot here but at least it was beautiful and free from the insane traffic of the city.

The road snaked along through farms and fields until finally climbing up into the mountains. The temperature and humidity faded away and was soon replaced by cool breezes working their way up the forested canyons. Ahhhh it’s good to be back in the mountains, my friends.

We decided to take the scenic route and ended up in Cucuta, a frontier city on the border of Venezuela. Our guidebook warned us this was a sketchy place and we didn’t bother to hang around much. We did however take advantage of the contraband gas that is illegally brought over from Venezuela and sold up and down the city streets.

$1/gallon! I considered having them just strap a few barrels to the roof.

Fueled up we were soon climbing once again higher and higher into the Andes. We were way out here now and did not see much traffic, just the occasional hacienda nestled in hills.

Eventually the pavement itself ran out as we found ourselves bouncing along abandoned dirt roads of the AltoPlano (High plains).

We bounced along for hours without seeing a soul. Eventually we decided to just pull over and setup camp for the night.

Not a bad spot.

Preppin’ camp that night was a challenge, even getting out to take a pee was a chore as our lungs and bodies acclimated. We felt like 2 fat kids in dodgeball huffin’ and puffin’ doing the most basic tasks. We were sitting at 13,000FT. A new altitude record for both us and the truck! Our poor altimeter was freakin’ out and stopped working around 12K. The temperatures dropped below freezing that night. Wild to think that just a 2 days ago we were dying of heat exhaustion and now I need to tuck my water bottle into my undies to keep it from freezing up.

I had hoped it would roll over!

We got up the next morning and continued bumping down the trail, eventually dropping into a beautiful little hamlet.

As the story always goes out here, every time we think we are Billy Badasses in our rugged 4×4 way off the beaten path, some old claptrapped Taxi crammed with 8 people comes roarin’ past us making us look like chumps! These guys are hardcore.

Our final destination was “El Cocuy National Park”. Nestled high in the Andes, this remote and rarely visited park has been described as the “lost secret above the Colombian clouds”. Thoughts of camping in cold temperatures and unlimited hiking opportunities had us drooling over the pages of our Lonely Planet guidebook. While El Cocuy appeared fairly close on the map we were now entering our third day of driving and still were not even close! The scale of South America started to settle in as we inched along day by day on our map.

We finally found ourselves trudging up a small mountain road to the quaint colonial town of El Cocuy located just outside the national park itself.

A lonely soul was slowly making his way up the mountain road, he stuck out his thumb and we offered him a ride on the sliders of the truck. He thanked us for the ride as he hung on for dear life twisting through the wild mountain roads.

While El Cocuy is just a sleepy mountain town nowadays, our research showed that as little as 10 years ago the town was at the front lines of the Colombian F.A.R.C and E.L.N. rebel movement. Nowadays farmers and town folk go about their business trying to forget the hectic past. We found the town to be friendly, the people very warm and welcoming.

We posted up in a cheap hostel for a few days as we waited for our friends Brad and Sheena from DriveNachoDrive to catch up. Our plans were to head into the park and do some much-needed backpacking/camping together.

Eventually they arrived, we loaded up with supplies, acquired some permits for the park, and hit the dirt road to head deep inside El Cocuy Parque Nacional.

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