My first day in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia

September 8, 2022 My Solo Trip, Nature Photography, The most beautiful places in Colombia

My first day in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia

While flying from Medellin to Santa Marta in Colombia, I looked out the plane’s window at the beautiful Andes mountains. The day was clear despite the heavy rainy season that had been plaguing Colombia throughout the year 2022. So I could follow the route despite the clouds that dotted the landscape. We crossed the mountain range until we reached the Magdalena River Valley, whose course was hard to see because the rising river flooded significant areas.

Every year, the rivers destroy the crops, and there are significant losses to the people’s properties due to the overflowing waters. But this was not always the case. The indigenous Zenúes inhabited this vast territory. For more than 2000 years created an amphibious culture that allowed them to control the waters of the rivers through an extensive system of canals. The scars on the earth remain where they dug deep ditches and built high mounds. This system allowed them to make their houses, protecting their crops from floods, and allowing them to irrigate their land during the dry seasons.

I was lost in my thoughts when I saw a wall of white clouds over the plains. I imagined that it must be the Sierra Nevada that attracted and trapped the clouds creating an enormous fortress around it.

From afar, I was surprised at the size and especially the silhouette of those clouds. They were gathered in a defined, gigantic shape, with vertical walls ending on flat and horizontal surfaces. Their appearance reminded me of the legendary tepuis in the dense jungle of the Amazon. But this was not made of solid rock. It was a white and ethereal form of delicate cotton clouds that let me see the beautiful snow-capped peaks shining against the infinite blue sky. Beneath them, the paramos, forests, and jungles were hidden. That enchanted world in which I would soon be immersed.

The plane plunged into the clouds, and that white veil suddenly parted as I reached the bright blue bay of Santa Marta, where my adventure would begin. After leaving the airport, my driver, Robinson, who knew exactly where to take me, stopped at the traditional market where I bought fresh fish and shellfish. Then we parked at a street stall to buy my favorite fruits. Papaya, zapotes (Pouteria sapota), lulos (Solanum quitoense), passion fruit, granadillas (Passiflora ligularis), mangoes, pitayas, and avocados.

We finally took the path up the mountain, and the landscape slowly changed. At first, we find the arid and dry hills near the sea covered with thorny bushes and cacti. Then the vegetation grew thicker and greener as we climbed the narrow road that wound up the steep hillside between forced curves.

After half an hour, we cross Minca, the only town on the way to Cerro Kennedy, the highest place that can be reached by car. When I visited Minca ten years ago, it had only a tiny church, a handful of houses, and a shop selling empanadas.

It is a vibrant place where hostels, restaurants, and businesses crowd the narrow vertical streets. It is difficult to find a more heterogeneous place. I heard countless languages ​​ and saw visitors with large travel backpacks and colorful outfits walking the streets saturated with music and motorcycles. The aroma of spices and foods from different countries invited me to take a break.

We continue ascending between large and leafy trees and the impenetrable forests of guadua, a local variety of bamboo. Later came the coffee plantations that grew in the shade of different fruit trees and towering yarumo trees (Cecropia peltata). I could hear the parrots’ cacophony, the howler monkeys’ roar, and the sound of the water coming down from the mountains forming falls between the dark rocks.

These little streams cross over the road. There are so many of them that they don’t even have a name. The trees support the walls of the mountain with their roots and cross over the water, forming dark tunnels where sunlight barely reaches the ground. Plants and bushes with gigantic leaves entangle themselves among its cliffs, and the humidity allows fungi and mosses to grow among the fallen logs and dry leaves.

The landscape is impressive. The chains of hills are encircled in the evening mist, and the humidity of the ocean condenses, forming tenuous and light curtains crossed by small white clouds, which rise pushed by the breeze. It is a world in motion, in an endless dance. It rains, the sun shines, the rainbow appears, dark clouds and lightning shake the mountain, a storm breaks out, and the water runs uncontrollably. Then, the sun shines again, and the red, orange, and pink blushes stain the sky before losing the battle against the shadows.

I smell the damp earth, the song of the birds, and the deafening sound of the frogs and the cicadas. The water murmur continued to rain from the leaves of the trees, embracing me on that first night in the Sierra Nevada.


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