One perk of being the only foreigners in an area is seeing things not mentioned in our handy, though limited, Lonely Planet. And, as an added bonus of working in exchange for just room and board, every weekend is a three-day weekend ripe with opportunity to do so. A twenty five-dollar roundtrip taxi ride put us at one of Colombia’s Unique Natural Areas, Los Estoraques. Hello, Friday.
Situated 10 kilometers off the main road, the park is guarded by the tiny town of La Playa de Bélen. A kilometer farther up the road lies the entrance to Los Estoraques, though the massive stone formations surrounding Playa and interrupting nearby farms have been flashing by like the coming attractions.
With only a small building and no real entrance fee, only the ANU (área naturale única) sign and the presence of a volunteer tour guide indicate that this is, in fact, a national park.The park’s massive towers and sprawling network of narrow canyons is the work of erosion. Sandstone looms overhead in peaks and spires, its warm colors contrasting sharply against the day’s crisp azul sky.
Our guide, naturally a Spanish speaker who doesn’t realize or understand that only half our party speaks Spanish, insists on relaying all information to Win and I, in addition to our Colombian companions. We nod and ooh and ahh in all the right places, following pointing fingers as he points out rocks that look like monkeys, lions, and kings. We wait patiently for Camilo’s translations, or simply wander on along the path.
He leads us up a steep flight of stairs cordoned off with bright yellow caution tape, surely just there to discourage those who have opted not to use a guide. Or so one hopes. Up, through, and around we make our way to the top of a hill for a bird’s eye view of the valley. Seen from above it is as though one were looking down on a cityscape carved from clay, etched into stone. Mock skyscrapers cluster together interlaced with patches of trees.
As we make our way back down, the path, simply the work of past rains, weaves between and around the rough sandstone giants. They tower overhead, blocking the harsh sun, as we scamper and explore alleys and caves.
We return to La Playa de Bélen, catching a ride in the back of a pickup (although as the only female I am offered a place in the cab, and therefore partake in some awkward conversation between myself and four Spanish-speaking men).
Winding cobblestone streets lined with blindingly white buildings topped by rust-colored terracotta roofs make up this tiny town, no more than three streets wide and petering out after maybe ten blocks. A dry fountain stands ready in the central park. The shade of nearby trees and shopfronts offer a bit of respite where one can enjoy some horchata and jalea, a surprisingly delicious local candy made from cow hooves and sugar.
As the taxi snakes its way back toward Ocaña, immaculate hills and farms roll past the windows, mountains fading to sky in the background. Amazingly interesting geology, spotless little towns, and incredible scenery: what more could one want for a Friday morning?