We left San Agustin, backpacking onto the plans of Fi – she was heading out to the desert. Novelty factor, massive skies, and no real plan of our own meant that we were keen to tag along.
It’s easy enough to get to Deiserto de Tatacoa. From San Agustin, we took a bus from town to Neiva, with Taxi Verde, leaving at 8 a.m. There are limited departures from San Agustin itself to anywhere, really, but many more options if you go a few kilometres out of town to Pitalito, there are frequent buses in pretty much every direction. From Neiva, it’s a minivan or pickup truck to the desert. The town on the edge of the desert is called Villavieja, and any number of buses will take you there, where it is easy enough to get a moto-taxi or a tuk tuk to your accommodation. If you tell your bus driver from Neiva where you want to go, chances are he’ll take you all of the way for a little extra, with some unsolicited recommendations for accommodation along the way.
We stayed at Noches de Saturno, a hotel/campground not to far from the observatory. The staff were friendly enough, despite attempting to charge us inflated prices, and we enjoyed the shelter of our massive, semi-permanent tent (despite the mosquitos), particularly when several other tents got flooded during a freak rainstorm.
Oh yes, it rained. Some desert this is. There was a remarkable amount of green around, for a so-called desert, and it rained each night we were there. Unfortunately this resulted in poor star-gazing, as the sky was generally obscured by a thick layer of clouds.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the couple of days away from it all – meals were basic, sleeping quarters even more so, and there was precious little to do other than explore the miles of cracking red earth.
What was remarkable about Tatacoa was the relative diversity of landscapes that were packed into a reasonably small space. Especially for a desert – you picture an endless expanse of dusty, deserted land, but in a few hours’ walk we saw cracking red earth formations, boundless cacti, dried up grey riverbeds, and layered formations akin to the badlands of Alberta. We walked, for so long in the pounding heat, to quite a unique destination we had heard about from fellow travellers.
There is a swimming pool, located about ten kilometres past the observatory, down a set of makeshift stairs made of car tires, that is truly an oasis. Fed from an underground spring, and requiring a whopping 4000 COP entry fee, the pool is really quite amazing. The water is fresh and cool and it makes for an amazing break in the middle of a sweaty, adventure-filled day.
After the pool, we wandered down to what is generally a dry river bed but, after the recent rain, had turned into more of a mud path, to explore. The formations were mildly interesting but the best part was when we decided to take a shortcut back to the pool. We followed a section of pipe to the top of a ridge, and the views from height were much more rewarding than those down amongst the mud. We scampered along ridge lines and up hills back the pool, where we had one last quick dip before catching a tuk tuk home.
After one more night listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent roof, we were picked up by the same tuk tuk driver who deposited us in Villavieja. Here, we jumped into a collective pick-up: a medium-sized truck with wooden benches fitted into the box. We also answered the question of how many people you could fit into such a vehicle. It’s 19. And four chickens.