En route to Punta Gallinas, I wasnt sure wed make it. After leaving the pavement outside Riohacha, the capital of Guajira province in northern Colombia, we wove through mud pits and cacti in a Toyota 4x4, bouncing along back roads cut through the desert. Four hours later, we arrived at a surreal, secluded beach where a dozen tiny wind turbines spun on the horizon below a mass of greenish clouds and orange sunrays. There we boarded a tiny fishing boat for the last leg of our journey.
As we raced across the coastal water toward our destination, a blaring outboard motor made any conversation impossible during the first two hours of sea travel. The waves were rough, and after each one our fiberglass boat would slam down with a bang. I kept trying to imagine, if the boat should split in half, if I could swim to the distant strip of land on my starboard side.
Soon, the water turned steel blue with the setting sun and our crew of five three tourists and two guides were on our own, blazing at breakneck speed toward seemingly nothing. The strip of land had disappeared and we were heading northeast toward what appeared to be open ocean.
It wasnt until the sky was completely dark and a vast array of stars began to twinkle above that I saw a tiny lighthouse flash ahead of us. As we passed by numerous small islands in Honda Bay, I began to see and feel the wonder of this place: the green glow of bioluminescent microorganisms alongside our boat, thousands of stars amid that fuzzy cloudiness of the Milky Way galaxy that you can see only when you are this far from civilization.
After almost three hours on the water, we passed through the smaller Hondita Bay and pulled up to a tiny mud and rock dock some 50 feet below a windswept plateau. We scrambled up the embankment with our bulky suitcases, and my wife and I were led with a flashlight down a pathway bordered by painted white rocks. We passed a lean-to where hammocks swung in the wind, toward mud-brick houses that would serve as our sleeping quarters. Just as before, the Wayúu Indian guides quietly transported us, on schedule, as fast as possible.
EDGE OF THE WORLD
The next morning I realized where I had arrived. I was on the edge of the South American continent, miles from civilization, in a nearly uninhabited bay free of telephone lines, the bustle of shops or shouting street merchants usually found along Colombias Caribbean coast. The only sounds were those of the waves slapping against the rocky shores, the wind whipping through the cactus and the occasional bleating of a goat kept by the dozen or so locals who live near Luz Milas lodge. We felt as though wed reached the edge of the earth.
From our perch on the plateau, we oversaw aquamarine waters and mangroves teeming with pelicans and other birds. White ripples on the water revealed it to be the home of dolphins and sharks. From May to August, a flamingo community dwells in Hondita Bay, while sea turtles nest from May to November. Each can be seen on outboard motorboat excursions included in a two-day stay.
Ten years ago such a trip was unthinkable. The FARC guerrillas controlled much of the northeastern department along the Venezuelan border, an area better known for contraband smuggling than sightseeing. Many Wayúu villages had no telecommunications, and a network of guides who knew the back roads and could ferry a traveler to the distant location had yet to be assembled. No longer.