The blue line of our route hung a sharp left by a bus stop where the highway went straight without turning. Pulling off to take our bearings, a family living alongside the bus stop pointed to the unpaved path that disappeared into the brown and arid hills of the Valley of Sorrows and said, yes, that is the road to the Tatacoa.
Placing our trust in the locals, our two-car convoy followed a rough dirt path through dry scrub brush, two mostly finished tunnels and one questionable bridge high over the Rio Magdalena. The uneven track deposited us at a campsite overlooking the red clay miniature valleys of the Tatacoa Desert, an anomalously dry region of southwestern Colombia, nestled between two branches of the high and rainy Cordillera de los Andes.
The Tatacoa Desert is a small affair, and may or may not be technically termed a “desert”. Dry and desert-like regardless of any proper designation, the Tatacoa…A sign near the entrance advertised that the Tatacoa only receives an average of 3mm of rain per year. As we sat under our makeshift shade fighting the heat with ice-cold beers, a guide leading a group of pale tourists in sensibly wide-brimmed hats commented on this statistic, while looking warily at the encroaching storms clouds. It rained hard three days ago, he said, so probably this storm passes us by. But…
Minutes later, we scrambled to disassemble our tarp in gale winds, as sheets of rain pummeled the sand into thick mud. Decades worth of an average annual rainfall fell in fifteen minutes’ time. Afterwards, the mud clung to the soles of our shoes and sandals like heavy clay adhesive, as though inviting us to take root in the infertile soil.
Across the street from the campsite sat an astronomical observatory. After the clouds pass, maybe we can go over and see the stars, we said to each other. The storm passed, but the clouds never did and we traded stargazing for good company and a bottle of wine.