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Colombia under a cloud of Zika: Tayrona to Minca

Our departure from Baranquilla was delayed by a few days. John got hit with some strange flu bug. Or what we thought was some strange flu bug. He had body aches, fever, and was really weak. He rode it out in the Sheraton Hotel (our oasis hotel chain on this trip) in the fetal position. Two days later, after we set up camp in the mountains on the Caribbean Coast, I went down too. We think that we both got hit with the Zika virus that's been spreading through Latin America with disastrous affects on pregnant women and their children. However it may have been the chikungunya virus. Who knows. We didn’t hear the news about the Zika outbreak until after we recovered so we didn’t even think to go to a doctor. Dengue fever, Chikungunya virus and the Zika virus are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.They all have pretty much the same symptoms and most of the travelers we met in this area have gone down with some form of it. Our time on the Caribbean Coast existed under a cloud of Zika…and it was miserable.

We did manage a few days in the coastal mountain town of Minca before I got really sick. Minca is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains. Unfortunately, we were here during THE busiest time of the year for vacationing Colombians. On our way up to this tiny mountain community, we came across a few police checkpoints and each time they told us, “The town is full. You have to turn around.” Well, we were too big to turn around on the narrow road, so we asked if we could go up a little more and wait. Slowly, we snaked our way up the mountain road along with hundreds of other cars. Every time one turned around we inched closer. When we got to the town, it did indeed look full. Bumper to bumper traffic in a tiny town of only a few narrow streets. At one point, traffic couldn’t get by us anymore so we backed up onto a guy’s front stoop to let everyone through. Which was fine until a big chiva (a traditional Colombian bus) came down the hill. There was no way that bus would get by us. Horns, cab drivers yelling, neighbors coming out…everyone hollering and directing traffic. We made a couple taxi cabs move, then backed into another lady’s driveway and decide to wait it out. Finally the blockage was clear and we made it up a dirt road to our hostel to camp.

Creating chaos on our way into Minca

Things really went to hell when this chiva tried to get through. Chivas are mostly found on back roads between small towns and villages. They take both passengers and any kind of cargo, animals included. If the interior is already completely packed, the roof is used for everything and everybody that doesn’t fit inside.

We camped in front of the Hostal Colonial with gorgeous views of the mountains all around us. We didn’t do much except relax in hammocks and read. We had met an Australian couple in Barranquilla at Iguana 4x4, Kev and Emma (Kev&EmGo Global) and they were in Minca too. We had a great dinner with them in town and then said goodbye as they were preparing to ship their rig to Belgium and then drive on to Africa.

First meal back in our tiny kitchen

Kev, Em and us. Oh, and their rig that they are driving to Africa. Safe travels, you two!!

Our only activity those days was to hike to a waterfall. On the way back we passed a beautiful lettuce farm. Lettuce isn’t a common crop in Central and South America…the climate is usually too hot. As we stopped to admire the lettuce (yes, we really did), the owner of the farm came out. His name is Carlos Cure, and he lives in Bogota but decided to start his retirement here in the mountains with a lettuce farm and brewery. We chatted for a long time, and then Carlos invited us to his house for dinner when we get to Bogota. Such a nice man! We have definitely been blown away by the friendliness and warmth of the Colombian people. They have been by far the most curious and the most welcoming people of all the countries we have visited.

Carlos and his lettuce farm. He also owns the Nevada Brewery. We miss the lettuce!!

From Minca, we headed down to the beach to visit Tayrona National Park. The park has gorgeous beaches, which are set in deep bays, backed by the mountains and shaded by coconut palms. However, it is also the most popular park in Colombia. We had heard the lines to get into the park in the morning were hours long, so we went in just before closing the night before and camped in the parking lot. The next morning my body was moving into full fledge Zika mode. After only an hour of hiking in the park, in single file lines, we were kind of done. Beauty experienced with hundreds of other people diminishes the experience. Particularly when battling a bone breaking virus.

We spread towels out on a beach to rest for a while. John read a book while I stored up enough energy to hike back to the truck.

Hiking with hoards of people. Not exactly what we thought it would be like...

It was beautiful though.

Last photo before the Zika got me.

Our view while not moving for few hours. The most miserable time on a beach I can remember.

That evening we made our way over to a campground up the coast on the beach called Camping Los Angeles. It was still the holiday season so the campground was crazy busy. When we first got there it looked like a refugee tent city. John spent the first day trying to get projects done on the truck but he kept getting interrupted by curious Colombians. Every half hour it seemed, a group would stop by to admire the truck, take pictures, ask questions and poke their heads in. It felt like we were living in a car show. At one point I had a family of four Colombians in the camper. The dad sat down at our little table, told me all about the beautiful places in his country, then asked for a pen and paper to sketch out an itinerary for us. It was very nice... and kind of painful.

Camping at Los Angeles

Tent city

The military was in full force for the holiday season crowds

John got some play time in...

While I mostly did this. Camping while sick is not so pretty.

We stayed there for the next week where my big activity was shuffling back and forth to the shared bathrooms and trying to stay cool in the camper. We were camped next to a couple, Joop and Adrie, in a big rig from the Netherlands which was nice. We also met a few other Overlanders and some travelers from the States. We settled in to a lazy routine until it I was finally feeling well enough to travel.

Camping with the big boys.

Joop and Adrie - our new neighbors. They've been on the road for 7 years.

Toward the end of our stay in Tayrona, John thought the solar was acting up again. We had new batteries so he decided the problem might be solved by adding another solar panel. He emailed Hernando at Iguana 4x4 for a recommendation, and Hernando hooked us up with a solar installer (a home solar installer but ok...) in Baranquilla. So, we headed back to the Sheraton Hotel. We checked in and got the exact same room that John had rode out his Zika in the week before. Awesome. As soon as we got to the room, I took a hot shower, crawled under the cool, clean sheets and passed out. While John ran all over town to get the solar panel installed, I rested. It was a little challenging with the language barrier but between Hernando serving as interpreter for us, and google translate on the computer, John managed to get it done.

Back to Iguana 4x4. Hernando and his team were so great to us. What a life saver!

Double the solar. We now have 300 watts. I bet we can be seen from space now.

Iguana attached the new panel to the existing roof rack.

Then back to the solar office to run the cables.

After a few days we were ready to hit the road again. Getting back in the rig was a rocky start to say the least, but we are getting our groove back I think. Now we say goodbye to the Caribbean for the rest of the trip. Next we’ll head down the interior of Colombia and into the mountains again. But make no mistake…we’ll be using lots of bug spray, that’s for sure.


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