After two weeks enjoying the fast pace of the big city life in Bogota, we decided that it was time to get away from the hustle and bustle and head to the mountains for hiking and relaxation. Our destination would be El Cocuy, a Colombian national park located northeast of Bogota near the Venezuelan border. An area without internet, that is why you have not heard from us for a few days. Until recently, the area was a stronghold for the Colombian guerrillas (F.A.R.C.) engaged in a war with the Colombian government. The area was not safe for tourists and the park was closed for many years.
But, the Andes mountain range and glaciers near the equator are incredible to see and is something that we wanted to experience. The natural beauty of the area is supposed to be on par with some of the more well known hiking destinations around the world. However, because of the conflict, this is one of the lesser populated hiking destinations for recreational hikers. So, plans were made. The problem was that we did not want to make the twelve hour bus ride from Bogota to El Cocuy.
Friends told us about the beautiful little town of Villa de Leyva located four hours outside of Bogota. Perfect! We could split up the long drive by staying a few days in Villa de Leyva. We enjoyed a relaxing two day stay and all was going according to plan until we tried to purchase a bus ticket from Villa de Leyva to El Cocuy.
The day before our departure we went to the small bus station to inquire about a ticket to El Cocuy. No one in the ticketing office spoke English and we tried our best to communicate in our broken Spanish with the help of Google Translate. After about a thirty minute conversation, my understanding of what the agent said was, “You can’t get there from here.”
Saying that the transportation system in Colombia takes some getting used to is an understatement. I wanted to buy a bus ticket from Villa de Leyva to El Cocuy, and the agent was telling me that I could not do that. This did not make sense. I arrived in Villa de Leyva by bus, so I knew that I could leave by bus. But, the agent was telling me that I could only buy a ticket to the nearby town of Tunja, and from there I could purchase a ticket to El Cocuy. The ticket from Tunja to El Cocuy would cost about 70,000 pesos, or about $25.
Okay! Now we are getting somewhere. All I would have to do is purchase a ticket to Tunja and from there I could buy the ticket to El Cocuy!
“What time will I have to leave here in order to catch the bus to El Cocuy?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” The agent responded.
“Well, what time does the bus from Tunja to El Cocuy leave the station?” I asked.
“I don’t know” the agent responded.
“Can you call someone or check your computer and find out?” I asked.
“I don’t have that information” the agent responded.
Thoroughly frustrated we walked out of the bus station trying to figure out what to do. As we walked out of the bus station, in the office next door, we noticed a sign that said “Private transportation directly to El Cocuy.” Why didn’t the bus station agent tell us about this? Well its understandable that he didn’t want to send business to his competition.
We entered the shop and was greeted by a friendly young woman. She explained that she could arrange transportation with a driver in a new SUV directly to El Cocuy. The price was about double the cost of the bus, but it was a private vehicle with no other passengers and the trip would be about two hours shorter because the vehicle does not have to make stops. The driver would pick us up at a time of our choosing from our hotel and drop us off at the hotel in El Cocuy and we would be free to stop and take photos.
We decided to splurge and opt for the private vehicle over the unreliable and crowded bus. Perfect!
Well….. perfect until about 9:00 that evening when there was a knock on the door of our hotel room. It was the young woman from the private transportation business. She was attempting to explain to me that the actual cost of the private vehicle was more than double the price that she had quoted to me in the office.
I really don’t understand the mixup other than she thought that she might be able to charge us more. I mean her business is to provide transportation to El Cocuy. How could she have gotten the price wrong for the main thing that she is is business to provide?
So, I politely thanked her for stopping by but said that I would not pay that price for transportation. We went to bed not knowing how or when or how we would leave for our trip to El Cocuy the next day. The only thing that I was sure of at that point was that “You can’t get there from here.”