We had seen the snow-covered peaks from our camp spot at the pass between Mogotes and San Joaquin and we were looking forward to going there and do some hiking. It was the end of July and the weather up there this time of year can be cloudy and rainy, but that would not stop us. We have clothing and attitude for almost every kind of weather.
The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy consists of two parallel mountain ranges with several peaks that are over 5000 meters high and covered by glaciers.
But first we needed water, our tank holds around 270 liters and so far we were able to get good drinking water for it, now it was almost empty. Some overlanders just buy bottled water for drinking and fill the tank with non potable water for other uses. In the little town of Capitanejo there is a water purification plant so we headed down into the valley of the Chicamocha River. The water plant is very new and the owner proudly gave us a tour, we topped off the tank and were on our way again soon. Up a side valley we drove on a windy dirt road, a long one, it was slow going and the countryside very arid for a while. For those situations we plug-in our electronic device and listen to NPR podcasts that we usually download when we have wifi.
As we climbed higher it got greener and we passed little farm settlements, people on horses and loaded mules or donkeys. The countryside opened up and there were valleys and plateaus dotted with cows and sheep. The snow-covered peaks were getting closer, the air thinner and the temperatures lower. But oh, it was so beautiful, so much like the Alps (without big hotels and ski lifts everywhere).
We stopped in the town of El Cocuy to get our park permit, show proof of accident insurance (we showed the Blue Cross card) and then drove to Hacienda La Esperanza at 3700 m. The owner greeted us and he and his farm workers were extremely friendly. They have Normande cows (the most popular breed in Colombia) that get milked every morning and we received fresh milk for our coffee. They also have Romney sheep and the owner told me that his grandfather had imported the breed over 100 years ago from Great Britain; the farm has been in the family for over 150 years.
They rent rooms to hikers and climbers that come through on their multi-day treks. If they are busy you have to share your room. The food they cook is delicious and most the ingredients are from the farm. One evening we got pressed curds for dessert, with a splash of caramel sauce, delicious. Back home it is called “Zieger”, I never thought of eating it with caramel sauce. The evening meal is always served with hot sweet mint tea.
We stayed for a few days, spent the first full day hiking around the high valley and enjoying the views, flowers and birds. The endangered Andean Condor and some rare birds endemic to the area live here, as well as deer, the spectacled bear and Tigrillos (Oncilla) a small striped cat. Never saw them, but we were told by the park service ladies. Different kinds of frailejones and the important Colorado tree (that rarely exceeds 5 meters in height and grows at 4000 m) grow up there.
We had to wait to acclimate before we attempted to hike the 10 km up to the Laguna de la Sierra at 4800 m. To climb any of the peaks we would have to camp up there and we were not equipped for that. Still, we hiked up the second day, Günter all the way up, I stayed below the last hill and enjoyed the frailejone plants that covered the whole valley and even grew up on the rocks here and there. It was a beautiful, fairly easy hike, but the thin air slowed me down. It took Günter 2 1/2 hours to hike to the Laguna de la Sierra, then thick fog rolled in and prevented him from hiking all the way over to the glacier. When he came back down we met up and ate our lunch beside a brook under the frailejones.
This is a popular hike in high season (winter) and even when we were there we met a few hikers, French guys (no packs or supplies, with Converse shoes and a guitar), two American girls, and French girl with guide, and the speedy Belgian called Robin from Antwerp. That evening we all sat by the fire and talked about our travels and how amazing Colombia is. In the morning the milk truck (lechero) comes by and collects the milk from the farmers who bring the milk containers down to the road on their backs or with their horses. The truck makes many stops and hikers can catch it to go from A to B, very practical but also very slow. I could have stayed longer and made a mental note to someday come back, stay at the hacienda for a while, hike to the other haciendas and explore the valleys and mountains. Some day!
The drive from El Cocuy (the town) up to Hacienda La Esperanza, as well as the drive from there to Guican and down to Soata in the Chicamocha Valley (via Guacamaya – San Mateo – La Uvita) is spectacular and one should take time to enjoy the views and countryside.