Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Los Santos to Jordán

On Sunday morning we got up early, but not early enough, as it turned out, to walk one of the Lengerke paths. It takes about an hour & a half to drive from Bucaramanga to Los Santos on the Mesa de los Santos and though the road is good, it has many curves. The mesa is a lush green plateau at about 1500m which gives it a fresh and pleasant feel. It's a favourite place for weekend trips from Bucaramanga and there are many holiday homes and cabins. Los Santos is a small town perched on the edge of the mesa overlooking the Chicamocha river way below.

We parked in the town square, which was very noisy & busy. Several shops were playing really loud music onto the street. A short walk through the town took us to the start of the Camino Real track which we'd planned to walk. Light clouds were covering parts of the town when we started out, but they quickly cleared allowing us to see our destination of the tiny town of Jordán Sube only 5km away but 850m below.

We started walking about 9.30 on what turned out to be a hot and, for much of it, still day. We had the worst of the heat and the sun especially on the way back. We passed a few walkers, and an old man with a mule carrying tobacco coming up who probably thought we were crazy to walk in the middle of the day and I was thinking at the time it might not be sensible, but didn't want to miss the walk. The first section was a little messy with lots of litter, and some mess from the mules that do use the track. It snakes down the steep canyon side all the way, with plenty of hairpins. There are no flat sections and some stretches are fairly steep, but not too bad. Most of the track is paved with small flat rocks & in good condition so the footing is good. At this time everything was very dry with no flowing water except for a small stone channel about half way down which was great to get water to cool off. There is some shade in places all along the route, but mostly it is fairly open scrub with lots of cactus. On the way we passed a couple of small fields of tobacco, a few cows and several mamoncillo trees which are a speciality of Jordán. After peeling the skin from the small green fruit you suck off the juicy flesh from the large stone.

We took our time, which allowed me to do some birding and we reached Jordán just before mid-day. The sun was fierce, we were drenched with sweat and the heat sapped our strength. It was probably well over 30C in Jordán with no breeze. You enter the town by crossing a small suspension bridge (with a few holes) over the sediment packed Chicamocha river below. Sadly, the flow is pretty strong and a swim in the river might well be your last. Supposedly the bridge was built by some Irish engineers in 1870, but I've no idea what they were doing there in those days.

Jordán has the honour of being the smallest municipality in Santander and the town was almost deserted. Perhaps a baking-hot Sunday lunchtime is not the best time to visit but it is, no doubt, one of the quietest towns around because of its isolated location in the canyon. Many of the houses are abandoned, almost with the feel of a ghost-town and I heard it now has only around 70 inhabitants. However, the main square is picturesque and not unpleasant. The posada de caminantes (walker's hostel) was locked and there was no sign of life. So was the small church but the police station was open and manned. The local authorities are trying to revive the town and hoping for some developments from the Chicamocha National Park to bring in more tourists, but let's hope they can preserve the peaceful atmosphere.

Fortunately, we managed to find a couple of basic shops to stock up on water & drinks for the climb back up, as well as buy a few snacks for lunch. There wasn't much choice, but it was good enough. We used about 3 litres of water each, and the walk took us about 7 hours in total but we stopped frequently because of the heat. You do need to be reasonably fit, bring plenty of water, sun-cream, a hat and insect repellent for this walk. No need for a map though as there is only one trail! You can find the profile on the wikiloc link in my last post.

As well as the great views, there was plenty of wildlife to see; colourful butterflies galore, lots of lizards both large and small and many species of birds. Quite a number of these were new to me, but I'm struggling to identify them on first sight even when I've taken good field notes. There are just so many similar species you need to know the subtle differences to look for. Still, I'm learning more every day. Fairly easy to see and to identify was a magnificent Highland Motmot (Momotus aequatorialis), a megatick for me, looking something like a giant kingfisher with a fantastic tail. Sadly I didn't get a picture of it (google it!)..... maybe next time.

Overall a very enjoyable and interesting day despite the heat.

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