Chasing Lobsters to Punta Gallinas
Lonely Planet describes Punta Gallinas as
…the kind of mystical place you read about in books or see in movies, but rarely stumble upon in real life. Reaching this stunning wildscape, South America’s northernmost tip, isn’t exactly a skip down to the corner store, either. But those that make the effort will be rewarded with one of the most dazzling landscapes in South America, a sanctuary of solitude that equals travel Nirvana.
Mystical? Possibly. Tough to get to? Definitely. Travel Nirvana?! Might be a slight exaggeration. While Punta Gallinas may not have been quite as amazing as described in the Lonely Planet, it’s still pretty high up there on my list.
After Ciudad Perdida, I realized I had a few days to kill because I zipped through the south and Caribbean coast much faster than anticipated. After doing a bit more research, I realized Punta Gallinas would be a perfect opportunity to get off the beaten path, see something unusual, and most importantly, get some GODDAMN lobsters.
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I can pinpoint the start of my obsession with cheap lobster to one incident. I was in Vietnam (Nha Trang to be exact) when I encountered a street vendor selling fresh lobster on a street side grill. I don’t think I had ever eaten lobster up until that point so I decided, “Oh, what the hell, might as well give it a try.” For about $6, I got an entire lobster which I then ate while sitting in a flimsy little plastic stool on the side of the road.
It was quite possibly one of the greatest meals I have ever had. Because of that meal, I now look for lobster everywhere I go. I looked for lobster in Honduras but didn’t find any. I looked in Belize and found it on Caye Caulker. Now I was determined to get my hands on some in Colombia.
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The way to Punta Gallinas took me through the towns of Riohacha and Cabo de la Vela. In Riohacha, I ordered some langostina which I thought were miniature lobsters but were in fact large prawns. As large as they were, my disappoint was even bigger. In Cabo, the fishermen didn’t catch while I was there even though Cabo has a reputation for cheap, plentiful lobster. My patience was wearing thin. I wanted my goddamn lobster.
I didn’t have to look far in Punta Gallinas. The northern tip of South America is an arid desert that meets the ocean. There are only a few hundred people living on the entire Guajira peninsula and as such, the houses are spread incredibly far from each other. As a tourist, you have no where to go but to stay with one of these families. There are no shops, no paved roads, nothing. Outside of these “compounds”, all you see is nature.
However, the area is teeming with lobsters. Fishermen bring in fresh catches every morning and it’s dirt cheap: about $10 for two. And so, after surviving the harrowing boat ride over, the first thing I did was order up a couple of them.
My lobster search was finally over.
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Over the next couple of days, I hung out, read, and explored the surrounding wilderness. There was a wild, untamed and desolate beauty to the peninsula. All around, thorny shrubs, bushes and cacti grew in brownish-red dirt that was littered with jagged rocks. In most places, rough dirt paths were about the only sign of human life.
Two of the more interesting sights on the peninsula happened to be a good distance from where I was staying. At the very northern point of South America sat Punta Gallinas’ lighthouse. It was about a 45 minute ride by bicycle and I was guided there by one of the sons of the family I was staying with. An older version used to sit on a concrete structure but fell over time. A steel version took its place in 1989 and stands there today. It was an interesting juxtaposition of man made red and white steel against a backdrop of earth, plant, and sky; a reminder of civilization in an otherwise desolate landscape.
But the most striking feature of the peninsula is the untouched Taroa beach. After enduring a half hour ride sandwiched between two other people on a motorcycle ride through bumpy terrain, we arrived to a sea of sand. Taroa beach was unlike anything I had ever seen: huge sand dunes, up to 50-60 feet high, falling directly into the waves below. There wasn’t a single person in sight save the six of us who came on the tour.
I left Punta Gallinas after three days. I decided to end my vacation within a vacation and return to society.
Punta Gallinas was a poignant reminder that even in the 21st century, there are still places virtually untouched by humans. It’s also one of those places that I’ll probably never go back to. Although there is some sadness in knowing that, there’s also a sense of amazement because no experience is likely to ever compare to those three days.