Travellers say don’t go to Uribia (Colombia). I say do.

On the way to the most northern point of South America, way up in La Guajira, the desert region of Colombia, lies a dusty town called Uribia. The travelling community generally view it as a dirty, dull necessity on the way to Cabo de la Vela from Riohacha. It’s where you must change transport on your way to the the fabled Punta Gallinas. More of that in the next post. We got stuck there so had time to see it properly. I wrote the below during a five hour wait in a mini cattle truck…

This point is the north most tip of South America. The green part is Colombia, the white at the bottom right is Venezuela. Look for the yellow dot in the middle bottom of the map. That’s Uribia.

Deposited on the dusty street, we gazed around disorientated. Bronson chatted to a mobile phone seller to figure out our next leg to Cabo. I disturbed a game of dominoes to enquire the whereabouts of a toilet (story of my life btw). The town was dead quiet as I slipped around the back of a house, through the indoor/outdoor kitchen with a “Buenos dias” to the dwarf lady cooking there and entered the shed behind. It was quiet for a reason, we’d picked strike day to arrive in Uribia. No transport north. Unlucky? It’s a rare thing to be unlucky as a traveller, it just means you must explore another path. Wandering past colourful shutters and through a beautiful peace on the pavements we reached the main plaza. Hoping to hunt down a hotel we found a helpful westerner who pointed us in the right direction. Tomorrow would be a new day.

What a contrast! We stumbled through the early morning to the pick-up road and found a truck bound for Cabo de la Vela. From the interior’s makeshift benches, under a canvas roof we had a ringside seat of Uribia’s market district not on strike day. For five hours.

The people of Uribia look far removed from those in Colombia’s capital city. “The Indigenous Capital of Colombia” holds faces as wide as they are long, cheekbones slicing across, skin weather wrinkled among the older generation, delightfully taut on the younger. Men are mostly attired in bright T shirts, many stretched over disproportionately rotund bellies with denim shorts or jeans. Most women are robed in the long loose dresses so well suited to desert conditions. Falling from shoulder to ankle, they glamorously hint at figures underneath. Some have adopted Western styles, skin tight jeans and fitted Ts. Their expressions are austere and impassive until they smile. Then their faces crack open like a super juicy guava – dry on the outside, but sweet, delicious sunshine when suddenly split open.

Trussed up goats transferred from truck to rickshaw screeching and plaintively bleating away. Men from the Wayuu tribe in wide brimmed hats, formal white shirts and colourful knickers with external hanging pocket-pouches. Boys perching on pick-up tailgates, crates of beer hoisted onto the roof of our truck, two hours waiting, giving stickers to kids from my exercise book, women with black hair piled up, women with hair iron straight and centre-parted, sliding around the ears, flowing over those jutting cheekbones, fringing the eyes.

Around us Uribia bustles and whirls. Cars with destination signs shoved on their dashboards toot their horns to fill their seats. Soft tomatoes are chucked onto the street from shop fronts, snack carts steam, dogs eat the rubbish strewn everywhere, and people, people people. Right now a boy watches me write, his sticker like a bindhi positioned between the eyes. Small boys are drawn into our truck by Bronson’s charango, bewitched like the children of Hamelin. He strums the tiny uke-like Bolivian instrument and I meet Elesco (7) and his brother Jesus (13). Both are filthy with patches on their clothes and when it’s time to go, they swing down with alacrity.

11am arrives and suddenly so do three English travellers who jump into our truck. We take off on the next leg of our adventure – to the desert!
See next post for practical details of Uribia – how we got there and where we stayed.

Totally normal to carry a live chicken upside down by its legs.

The view behind me.

The steaming cart.

Our driver takes a rest in a neighbouring truck as we wait for more passengers.