Today we set out to cross the river to the town of Villavieja and then on to the Tatacoa Desert. The lady in our hotel gave us general directions and told us that motorcycles use the boat to get across the river. We figured it would be a quick trip through town, down to a dock and then a short ferry ride across the river.
We’ve gotten better about asking for directions from multiple people (ask, ride, ask, repeat) when we are unsure of the location of something we are looking for. Today we stopped to confirm the directions as we passed through town. Multiple people kept assuring us that we were going in the right direction. This became increasingly curious as the paved street turned into a dirt road, which narrowed to a single track motorcycle path down a steep decline. We were encouraged by a newly built bridge over the river at the bottom of the hill.
The undergrowth pulled at our bags as the path narrowed and led to a field of unperturbed grazing bovines where the single track split in multiple directions. We followed what seemed like the most direct path to the sound of the distant river. The ground became increasingly swampy and we found ourselves at what can only be loosely described as a bridge. When originally built it was probably a sturdy bridge. Since then the wood rotted, the steel banding rusted along with what remained of the cabling. As a stop-gap measure it had been propped up with barrels which probably held toxic waste before rusting through.
The bridge teetered and tottered as well as seesawed when I did a test walk across. We decided to walk the bikes, one at a time, with one of us on each end to help move them across the gaps in the bridge.
Finally we arrived at the fast, muddy river with no apparent way across. We saw a small farm upriver a distance away and headed in that direction. We arrived and explained we were lost and looking for the boat across the river. Three pre-pubescent boys shrugged, unfazed that a pair of gringos, pushing laden bikes had emerged from the tall grass and weeds. Apparently lost people emerging from the swamp is a common occurrence.
They walked to the river’s edge and started high-pitched yelling across the river. This was punctuated by wrestling matches followed by more yelling to the opposite bank.
About ten minutes later we first heard and then saw a small boat motoring around a bend downriver. The wooden lancha, piloted by an old man, arrived and was held to the bank by one boy while the remaining two helped us load our gear and bicycles onto the listing craft.
Sarah hates being on small boats in fast moving rivers. As we pushed off I saw she had a white-knuckled death grip on the gunwales and her bottom lip quivered as if she was going to cry. At that point I had to remind her of one of the cardinal rules of bike touring — There is no crying in bicycle touring.
After a fast ride downstream, we unloaded, packed the bikes, had a quick lunch and promptly headed out of town in the direction of the Tatacoa astronomical observatory indicated by google maps. About two miles outside of town we stopped to ask about the desert only to be told it was back in the direction from which we came.
Eventually, two lost gringos found their way into the desert. While it was beautiful, getting there was more than half the fun.