The Village, or “Pueblito”, had been abandoned for decades.
With a rapidly decreasing supply of water, and no food since the previous day, our plan to hike three hours into the dense jungle covered hills and stop here for provisions, was seemingly a foolish one. The heat was intense, our strength was waning under the weight of 20 kilo packs, we were at least a three hour trek up and down steep steaming jungle clad hillsides from any civilization, and we had yet to see another soul all morning. Finding a clear running stream at the end of the village we dropped our packs and soaked our feet, weighing the options ahead.
We'd started early, at around 6.30am from El Cabo San Juan. The previous night we had spent being repeatedly tossed from our hammocks as a Caribbean gale buffeted our cliff-top perch. As the sun rose my brother, sister-in-law and I made a bleary eyed decision to load up and head to a more secluded beach in Tayrona National Park, away from the backpacking crowds of El Cabo. We knew it was a good five to six hour march up and down steep and humid jungle trails, but we counted on being able to breakfast and stock up on water at a place marked on the map as “Pueblito”, meaning village, roughly three hours hike away.
Arriving at these remains of a civilization we were crestfallen. Unlike most other visitors to Tayrona National Park, who arrive by boat from nearby Santa Marta, party for a night, and ferry back with a hangover, we had hiked in fully loaded from the Eastern end of the park.
We were only two days in, but were feeling the effects of penetrating moist heat, heavy packs, and very steep, muddy trails, which were as arduous clumping down, as they were climbing up. After a sleepless night, no food and little water, we faced a real dilemma.
Option one was to continue on to a potentially deserted beach, a gamble on there being someone there who could perhaps offer food and shelter for the night. We had heard from fellow travellers that there was a family in residence, but we couldn’t be sure. If they were not, we would be too exhausted to climb back out of the jungle and would be stuck there for at least one night without sustenance. Option two was to relinquish the dream of hiking through the jungle to our own paradise beach and head for the road, a three hour trek away to certain safety.
Four hours later, legs shaking with exhaustion, clothes soaked through with sweat and jungle moisture, and all trace of smiles wiped humourlessly from our faces, we stumbled out of the trees into the secluded cove of Playa Brava.
Seeing two wooden cabanas and a paradise beach we collapsed on the mule-cropped grass and awaited salvation from the promised family residents. It was not immediately forthcoming. Looking around it was clear that Playa Brava had seen better days. Faded rainbow murals adorned the dilapidated toilet building and only one of the cabins appeared to be safely standing. Our hearts sank at the thought that this former hippy hang-out was now deserted. We were thrown further into despair when a weathered Colombian matriarch finally appeared from behind a tree, and in two seconds flat offered the proverbial olive branch of welcome, only to abruptly withdraw it again. She informed us we would be welcome to stay the night (the proffering of the proverbial branch) and then informed us of her price, and said “no food” (the withdrawal of said branch).
Mortified and unable to communicate effectively in our broken Spanish we agreed to wait for her son-in-law, the “owner”, who would be returning from his weekly trip to town later that day. In the meantime we gratefully took cold showers, drank warm cola, and took in the beauty of our surroundings.
As dusk beckoned we began to hear noises from the jungle behind the family accommodation. Our saviour had arrived. Three dogs ran out from the trees, closely followed by two mules, each carrying a parent and child. The compound area turned into whistles, cheers and greetings as they arrived, and a couple more relatives appeared from a part of the building as yet unseen by us.
Spotting us immediately the man of the family loosed his mule, patted his son on the head, and aimed an open pack of smokes our way. After a short conversation he informed us that very few people make it to their beach anymore, but that he was hoping to one day get it back to its glory days by investing in advertising (and dismissing his wife’s Mother no doubt!). Clearly understanding our need, he offered us the only waterproof cabin for an extremely good price, and instructed his now smiling mother-in-law to get dinner on the go for their guests. And so, our determination to get to this place had paid off, and we were reaping the rewards.
That evening we ate great food around the “al fresco” dining table. We relaxed in hammocks with the three young children, chatted with the parents, and listened to the sound of the Caribbean Sea crashing on our own private beach.
When it came to turn in, after a truly privileged evening, we were ushered to our cabin on stilts by the light of candles. After all our physical exertion we had blown them out and were contentedly fast asleep within minutes.
We rose to the sun peeping up from behind the jungle hills behind us. We ate breakfast with the family again and enjoyed solitude on their secluded and deserted beach. It really was a private paradise. It was difficult to stop congratulating ourselves on the success of our calculated risk based decision. Our physical and mental efforts had delivered a truly unique experience.
At lunch time the man of the house loaded his mules with our packs and set off up the steep trail, guiding us back towards the road. After a couple of hours trekking, blissfully unburdened by our packs, we arrived back on the tarmac trail. Comically, as our amazing host unloaded our bags, he informed us that if we walked downhill for just five minutes, the bus would stop at the “Pueblito” and we could ride back to town from there. Luckily this promised village turned out to be of the inhabited variety.
Thanking our good fortunes we boarded the bus and headed away from Tayrona National Park, bound for Santa Marta.