Discovering Guaipunare's Remote Wilderness

Colombia, the country of García Márquez's magical realism, is known worldwide for many things: its coffee, music, culture, gastronomy, but among adventure motorcycling enthusiasts it is also known for being a paradise to be travelled on a motorbike. The territory has routes for all tastes and levels, but we wanted a real adventure route, a physical and mental challenge for our Ducati Desert X bikes. That's why we ventured into one of the most remote areas of the country: the departments of Vichada and Guainía, with the aim of reaching one of the most incredible places not only in Colombia, but in the whole world, the Mavacure Hills. It would not be an easy road, .300 kilometres of asphalt and almost 2.000 kilometres of off- road awaited us to complete a journey that has undoubtedly marked our lives. A journey through legendary lands where time seems to have stopped, where reality is even more fantastic than fiction itself. This is where the Guaipunare adventure would begin, in honour of the indigenous people who bore that name, also known as Puinave. 

CHAPTER 1: In the lands of Indians

Andrés Felipe Arroyave, who would lead this expedition, together with Mateo Medina, professional photographer, and Julián Trujillo, motorcycling enthusiast, had a very clear objective: to document a journey rarely made on a motorbike.  The first day we woke up at 4:30 a.m. and more than 200 km of off-road riding awaited us until we reached Puerto Oriente, on the banks of the Vichada River, a place that was once a prosperous town and that today is inhabited by only two families, one of them is in charge of selling food to the indigenous populations on the other side of the river.

We spent the night there, sleeping between electric generators, the only source of energy in the area. We slept until the llanero dawn, with its intense colours and sounds of the jungle, made the first call before five in the morning. It was the day to enter indigenous territory, where foreigners can be both welcomed by some and shunned by others. We passed through an area that doesn't even appear by name on Google Maps: Chupabe, an area dominated by indigenous people, where the laws we are used to have no validity.

Anxiety took hold of us, we had to cross this natural border by any means possible, but we were in for a surprise: there was no bridge to cross. To our surprise, we saw in the distance a rudimentary boat with a passenger lorry sailing upstream, on the border that separates the plain from the jungle. It was our transport to the unknown for many, to the indigenous reservation Alto Unama, land inhabited by the Sikuani and Paipoco Indians, who still live like their ancestors and use the bow and arrow as their main hunting and defence mechanism. Once we touched this ancestral territory, curiosity and fear invaded us: we saw first hand indigenous people with bow and arrow, who looked at our motorbikes as the first natives saw the colonisers on their horses. At that moment we realised that we were a long way from home. We were in the other Colombia, the deep Colombia, which very few people know.

We began to move forward, and in the distance on a mountain we could see men with their bows. What we didn't think was that we were going to be stopped. The first of three times, we were asked to turn off motorbikes and cameras as they spoke their dialect among themselves. The leader of the group raised his voice and began to talk to us about his ancestral land and ended with a warning: that later on the indigenous people would not be as friendly as they were. But there was no turning back, the journey had to continue. And so it happened until we were stopped for the second time, where we were allowed to take a few photographs with their rudimentary weapons, and then we continued on our way. It was a combination of fear, ecstasy, euphoria and the anxiety of knowing that we were experiencing what few have ever experienced. Sensations and feelings that from one moment to the next turn into fear. Further on, we met the tribe that we had been warned would not be so friendly. Again we were asked to turn off motorbikes, stay away from them and not to use cameras, until after about forty minutes we were told to continue on our way without looking back. We never understood what happened at that point and why they let us go.

We would continue on our way past more indigenous communities that in the distance watched those strange men riding their metal steeds, until we reached the border: again the Vichada river, obviously without a bridge, but this time with an even more rudimentary system than the first one: a simple canoe where there was only room for three motorbikes, and where a sudden movement made it feel like we were going to be shipwrecked. We finished passing the bikes and the light began to fade. A sunset so majestic that it was worth stopping to contemplate until the dark night fell, and there was still a long way to go, specifically to Cumaribo Vichada, the largest municipality in Colombia. There we spent the second night after almost 250 km of off-road riding. The day was over, but it will remain in our memories for the rest of our lives.

CHAPTER 2: Looking for the Orinoco

In 1498 Christopher Columbus documented the mouth of the Orinoco in the Atlantic, and Alexander Von Humboldt explored the basin in 1800 reporting on pink river dolphins. It is the third largest river in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and it was one of our objectives to reach its banks. These banks were located in the town of Puerto Nariño Vichada, right on the border with Venezuela, and almost 300 kilometres of off-road were waiting for us: sand, plain, stone and roads used by the locals, only suitable for motorbikes. Those were difficult days, temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, and tangles of roads that seem to be the same, where it is very easy to get lost. After a few hours (we no longer remember how many) we arrived at Santa Rita, on the banks of the Vichada River, a strategic place for trade and supplies in the area, where in winter supplies are shipped and sailed for several days down the river to Puerto Inirida Guainia. From vehicles to gasoline pass through this place, but on this occasion, because it was summer, it was impossible to navigate through it, and the vehicles must venture to Puerto Nariño on the banks of the Orinoco. So that was our goal the next day. In Santa Rita again the llanero sunset bewitched us with its charm, but this time in a different way. We would observe it from the Piedra de Santa Rita, a magical place, a stone monolith that is hidden in the vegetation, but that extends as far as the eye can see.

Then came the fourth day of this journey into the unknown, the Santa Rita - Puerto Nariño route, a pure plain from where, in the distance, we could see the natural barrier that separates the Colombian plains from the Amazon. A day with a lot of very fine, intense white sand awaited us, a real challenge for motorbikes and riders. We made it without a problem, but the hard part was yet to come. A famous pass among the locals, known as the pool, which in winter is a pool of water, but in summer it is a pool of mud, the kind that swallows motorbikes easily. And there we spent a long time trying to get Mateo's motorbike out, which was - literally - trapped by the thick mud. The plains began to disappear to give way to the stone mountains, forest and again to the indigenous communities that in the distance were watching and waving. This was a sign that we were close to our destination: the imposing Orinoco River in Puerto Nariño, on the border with Venezuela, a strategic place for marketing and a port of great importance for the transport of food and passengers to the department of Guainia, a department that is cut off from the rest of the country by land. We were overcome with emotion, smiles and tears. Only those who face these challenges will understand what it feels like to reach your destination.

CHAPTER: Towards the sacred abode of the gods

One of my goals on this trip was to visit the Mavecure Hills, considered by the indigenous people to be the home of the gods. They are three monoliths that form part of the Guiana shield and are nestled in the jungle, on the banks of the Inírida River, a river named after an indigenous goddess. Seven hours by boat awaited us, first we would sail down the Orinoco River to the city of Puerto Inírida, passing through the river star with the same name, where the Atabapo, Inírida and Guaviare rivers converge, which in turn pour their waters into the immense Orinoco. In this city we would take a break to continue our journey into the unknown. We went deeper and deeper into the jungle, into the unknown, until we saw the Mono Pajarito and Mavecure hills in the distance, a sign that we were close to our destination. A mirror of water formed by the last rays of sunlight of the day on the waters of the Inírida River welcomed us. Amazement, happiness, euphoria took hold of me, I was in one of the most magical, impressive and hallucinating places my eyes had ever seen. We would sail along the hills, observing them there, witnesses of thousands of stories through the years, immobile, inert, but with an energy that made us feel more alive than ever. We would continue our way to Caño San Joaquín, our home for the next two nights, a small river of reddish water and white sand, a paradise.

There is no other way to describe it. The wake up call was at 3:30 a.m. Our destination was to climb one of the hills and watch the sunrise from its summit. We would be accompanied by two indigenous guides who during the hard climb would tell us about the importance of this place for their community. We would arrive just before dawn, breathless not only because of the hard climb, but also because of the majestic landscape we were witnessing from the top of this place. Again, smiles and tears mingled in a symphony of sensations that overcame us. We had arrived at one of the most remote and majestic places in this beautiful country, we were in the hills of Mavecure. We would descend from the Mavecure hill with the landscape of the Mono and Pajarito hills in the background. Our mind was not able to assimilate so many emotions together, so much beauty, so much grandeur, so much magnificence in a place where it was just us, with the jungle as a backdrop. It was time to sail back to our camp.

CHAPTER 4: Tuparro & Venezuela.

Back in Puerto Nariño to pick up our motorbikes, we followed the route to the beaches of the Tuparro River, right next to the impressive Maipures stream on the Orinoco. The appointment was at 11:00 a.m. where a common boat would pick us up in this area destined for the transport of goods. There we were to embark our motorbikes and sail back into the immense Orinoco to reach a place that looks like something out of a horror movie. This place is known by the locals as "Tambora", an abandoned facility that in the nineties was used as a rehabilitation centre for children with drug addiction problems.

The most surprising thing is that they are in the middle of nowhere, with the Orinoco on one side and the forest and the vast plains on the other. A kind of Alcatraz from which it was almost impossible to escape by one's own means. We spent the night there.

It was a short day, but full of incredible landscapes, among them the raudal de Atures, another place that few motorcyclists have visited, with no road and obviously no signposts. Our guide Andres knew from the map and his memories of 2021, when he first visited, that we were close. So we started to move away from the road and into a forest on a huge rock. And there it was, in the distance, an immense stream with huge stones and currents so strong that they prevent navigation through this place. Again we were right in front of Venezuela, this time in front of the capital of the Amazonas state of Venezuela, Puerto Ayacucho.

A beach of golden sand welcomed us, and local fishermen in makeshift huts sheltered from the hot sun. There we stayed, once again contemplating the imposing landscape that more than 200 years ago captivated the explorer Alexander Von Humboldt to the brink of madness. We continued on our way to our destination: the town of Casuarito Vichada, right on the Venezuelan border, separated by the Orinoco River from the Amazonas state of the neighbouring country. The longest and most exhausting stage of the whole trip awaited us that day, 453 kilometres of off-road riding on a route that was as tiring for the Ducati as it was for us.

CHAPTER 5: The 450

It was time to return home, but we still had 1,400 kilometres to go, half of which would be off-road on difficult roads. The most demanding stage of the trip was from Casuarito to La Primavera, with 450 kilometres on a route that, in addition to being mentally demanding, punished both us and the machines. As always, we started the day early, before 6:00 a.m., and we were already preparing the motorbikes and the equipment. The Ducati Desert Xs were still going strong after so many days. We were living a real adventure, a real feat. We don't know about other places in the world, but at least in Colombia, this route is the biggest test these bikes have ever had. Many machines break down along the way, and others don't even make it to the start. The llanero sunrise welcomed us once again with wonderful colours and sounds. Many hours of riding on the vast plains awaited us, where our bodies and minds, after so many days, were already feeling the exhaustion. Even so, we wanted to arrive and share this unique experience, which would undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime. The return journey would be along the famous Ruta 40, which from its name seemed to be a highway full of asphalt, flyovers, bridges and so on, but nothing is more contrary to reality than this. It is a national route that connects the city of Puerto Carreño with the rest of the country, but it is in such a terrible state that in winter it is almost impossible to drive on it and in summer it is a real challenge.

This would be our farewell to the immense plain, endless straight stretches of red dust, clouds of sand that looked like talcum powder, passages in such a bad state that we saw two motorbikes with broken chassis. We would thus complete 14 hours on the road until we reached La Primavera, where, despite being almost 1,000 kilometres away from home, we already felt at home. A last stage of 247 kilometres, also in terrible condition, to Puerto Gaitán, would be that moment of introspection. That moment to see ourselves having crossed one of the most remote and extensive departments of Colombia, a place where years ago, due to the armed conflict, it was not possible to visit and that today, being possible to do so, is not in anyone's plans because of the remoteness, difficulty and challenge of the trip. And that is why we decided to do it. Very few can say that, on a motorbike, they have crossed Indian lands, reached the immense Orinoco, visited the home of the gods in the Mavecure Hills and navigated the Tuparro to Venezuela. Now we are back in the comfort of our home, telling again and again this story of an epic journey, with our body in the concrete jungle, but our mind and soul in the immense plain.

Chronicle by Arroyabe
Content by Juan Canizales & Mateo Medina