01main photo

The end of the road in Letras. 3800 meters above sea level.

Adrian Traquair and Dustin Corkery are two normal dudes going big on an epic adventure. The goal? To travel the length of South America in a rickshaw. But first they have to get “the worst vehicle ever invented” to the very northern tip of South America. Easy right?

Trip Report 2: Columbia—The North Coast

The rain poured down around the shop, the streets had turned to rivers. Luckily our tent was set up under the shelter of an overhang. We were warned about this. Barranquilla is a city with a population of around 2 million people but lacks the storm drains necessary to deal with the regular downpours. The Calle’s take the brunt of the water as they flow downhill towards the ocean. This phenomenon is so normal that the owner of our guesthouse had told us which streets where safe to be on in the event of rain. Luckily the water subsided as quickly as it rose and at 5 a.m., we were driving north out of the city. 02barranquilla

The driving was hectic from the start. Let us be clear. We had absolutely no experience driving a rickshaw. Dustin had only ridden a motorcycle three times before he set foot in Colombia. The sum of our driving skills came from a makeshift obstacle course we erected while waiting for our paperwork in a small beach town.

Once we were on the road, we had to learn fast. Bad map reading doomed us to enter the same major roundabout outside Santa Marta a total of three separate times in 20 minutes. Each time we navigated it with slightly more grace. By the afternoon we were getting comfortable riding the shoulder as semi’s relentlessly passed within inches of us. Their tires spinning at eye level, their exhaust hitting us in hot bursts.

We were eager to put the rickshaw through its paces so we turned off the highway onto an unpaved road that led to Minca, a small town in Colombia’s cloud forest. The road quickly got steep and muddy, but the rickshaw pushed on. We were actually quite impressed. Three-hundred pounds over weight driving up 30 degree slopes staying on the good side of 12km per hour. We couldn’t have asked for much more. Half way up we ran into some construction workers who told us it would be impossible to make it to Minca, as the road got much worse further ahead. Already quite used to the naysayers, we pressed on with smiles and waves. How much worse could it get?

03tippedIt did get worse, and on the final turn, literally the driveway to our camping spot, we rolled it. It was actually more of a slow motion tip, so slow in fact that Adrian had time to plant his feet on the ground and let the machine fall around him. There was a brief moment of panic. Was this the end of our trip? Did we destroy the rickshaw on day one? Is Adrian dead?

After Adrian reassured me that he was, in fact not dead, we got to work and tipped the rickshaw back onto its wheels. The damage was minimal—a bent mirror and a crack in the windshield. With a turn of the key, she roared to life as if nothing had happened. At that moment our doubts about both the trip and the quality of the silly machine went out the window. She is a solid beast and we made it to the top. This thing is possible.

04minca rain

We were happy that we had a roof over our heads as the rain poured down. This hammock was quickly replaced with a Therma-Rest Slacker to keep the bugs at bay.

The effort it took to get up to Minca was well worth it. We camped out in a small eco-farm above the village and woke up to the sounds of the jungle.

05minca

The next morning we headed down the mountain and continued on our way north, to our “real” starting point at the northern most tip of the continent. From rich jungle hills we drove to the sea where the landscape slowly morphed into a desert. We were amazed at how quickly the terrain changed. Every hour we were surrounded by a new unique landscape.

06uribia

Two days later we pulled out of Uribia, the capital of Guajira Province and drove northeast. At the end of the road we turned north and continued on dirt tracks that meandered through the desert brush. We needed to make it to a small village called Cabo de la Vela, where we were told we could hire a guide to get us up to Punta Gallinas, the northern most tip of South America.

07wind turbines

The track was relentless, pocked and rutted, this was no place for our 10 horsepower rickshaw. Halfway to Cabo the path got the best of us. Our rear right rim sheared into pieces, the tire literally rolling down the trail beside us. Amazed at the complete failure of the metal rim, we put on our final spare. (We had blown a tire a few days earlier but hadn’t had a chance to get it fixed.) The remainder of the drive was unnerving—any more problems and we would be spending the night in the desert.

08broken wheel

The track became harder to follow, scattered and less distinct. We pressed on and by some miracle we rolled into the sleepy town as the sun set. Our plan to hire a guide and a truck to get the rickshaw to the tip came to an abrupt end. We found out that no 4×4’s were making the trip because it was too wet, the route was now impassable as the salt flats had turned to lakes. The only way up was a 3 hour ride in a small boat. Both defeated and relieved, we came to terms that this would be as far north as the machine would get. We ceremonially dipped the tires into the Caribbean ocean and looked south. It’s a long way down. 09silouette cabo

We had no clue how people would react to us. As a rule, when we travel we go into every new experience with an open mind, with no preconceived notions. For me and Adrian, Colombia was difficult. No matter how hard I tried, the stories from the Internet and the bad rap Colombia seemed to have kept creeping in.

The second we got on the road and out of the tourist bubble the anxiety disappeared. The smiles and waves started immediately. Children were laughing and playing on the streets, and everyone seemed to go out of their way to help us. We felt the love surround us. This was the real Colombia: a land of music, laughter and family. 10children play

Adrian Traquair and Dustin Corkery are two normal dudes going big on an epic adventure. The goal? To travel the length of South America in a rickshaw. But first they have to get “the worst vehicle ever invented” to the very northern tip.