Tatacoa Desert, 24 hours in Tatooine

35, 36, 37 degrees Celsius, we were going to the Tatacoa desert looking for a night full of stars. The heat was lulling us, and our eyes were narrowing, when suddenly a police checkpoint stopped us (…). They asked for everybody’s documents, Stefano gave a copy of his passport, and a police officer took it with the others. After about 5 minutes, one of them started to give our papers back calling people in alphabetical order by last name, and I thought neither my last name, nor Stefano’s are going to be properly pronounced, years of academy accustomed me to have my last name badly pronounced and I was curious about how they would say Stefano’s. As I imagined: “loooo, lonj…”, so I anticipated them saying: “Longas”. I have never found it difficult to pronounce, but almost all the time they change the g for a j. He barely raised his eyes, went away and came back saying:

“Hey, you don’t have your original passport,” referring to Stefano.

“I prefer not to take it with me. If I lose or damage it, it could be a problem.”

“Well, it’s better if you take it with you. With it you can defend yourself,” he answered, giving back the copy.

The man went away, and we looked at each other with a confused face. There was a woman without her cédula (colombian ID) and it wasn’t a problem, she told the ID number and that was it. They closed the door of our van and we continued on our way.

With it you can defend yourself echoed in my head and I said out loud, “Defend yourself from what?”

“Well, it’s incredible that in the 21st century they can’t check your visa with the passport number,” said Stefano, laughing.

“Welcome to the south.” To be honest, some things do not work as over there.

Meanwhile something had changed in the atmosphere, the temperature was dropping, we weren’t suffocating anymore. We looked at the sky, suddenly it was filled with clouds, oh, oh, well, let’s just hope that this won’t ruin our starry night.

Rainy day in the Tatacoa desert.

Definitely, not a good weather to see the stars.

We reached the desert and the number of clouds increased, in the distance you could see that it was raining, but we still hoped to see the stars–we are dreamers, we know it–. The plan was to go to the observatory, see a sky full of stars, from where you can appreciate the constellations of both hemispheres and spend the night in hammocks, so we took a short walk to get to reconnoiter and get distracted while the night came.

The astronomical observatory in the Tatacoa desert.

The astronomical observatory in the Tatacoa desert.

As we walked, a sense of familiarity came to our minds, as if we already knew that place.

Before starting Stefano always says: “Just a moment, I have to turn on my nerd thingy”, an application called Wikiloc; this tracks your path via GPS. Once ready, we started to walk in the desert ‘not desert’, you will see that the Tatacoa desert is actually a tropical dry forest. As we walked, a sense of familiarity came to our minds, as if we already knew that place even if we’ve never been there–yet neither of us said anything–we were contemplating the landscape in total silence.

The ochre part of the Tatacoa desert.

Where did we already see a similar landscape?

Small plants in the Tatacoa desert.


Landscape of the Tatacoa desert.

Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, we saw goats, easily leaping in the red, thin, and arid clay canyons of the landscape. I couldn’t keep it no more, and I blurted out:

“Doesn’t this landscape look familiar? It’s like I’ve already seen it, and I don’t mean photos on the internet…”

“Yes, a little bit. But I can’t identify it.”

I kept thinking, trying to remember the images, finding an answer to the ‘this place remembers me of’ feeling… “I know, it remembers me the planet of Anakin Skywalker.”

“Yes, Tatooine!”

We started to laugh, we already felt in an expedition on another planet–I know, too geek–with interplanetary goats.

A goat in Tatacoa desert.

An interplanetary goat!

Touching a cactus in Tatacoa desert.

Examining extraterrestrial vegetation.

Looking over the Tatacoa desert.

Conquering new worlds.

Andrea in the Tatacoa desert.

From the observatory we saw a gorgeous sunset, worthy of a movie.

We kept walking in the red part of the Tatacoa desert until the sun started to lower its luminosity, but not its strength, and we decided to go back to the observatory, where we rented two hammocks to spend the night and from where we saw a gorgeous sunset, worthy of a movie.

A sunset worthy of a movie in Tatacoa desert.

A sunset worthy of a movie.

On several occasions I have told Stefano that moments like these should be recorded, luckily and until our human nature allow us they are stored in our memory–each one lives his own movie and attends its première of ‘Memorable Moments’ in a preferential seat. Before us, a deep intense sky combining fuchsia, orange, violet, and blue, colors that go through your soul, and a landscape hiding its aridity in the dark and cool night.

Sunset or sunrise in Tatacoa desert.

Burning sky at sunset or sunrise in Tatacoa desert.

We knew that we wouldn’t see millions of stars, but be decided to attend the talk at the observatory anyway.

Yes, the night was almost completely cloudy, with only a big and yellow full moon. We were a bit bored–just a bit, but that’s life, like when you go to a fancy café and ask for a chai tea, you expect it to be prepared with milk but you get it with water, it is just as good but not what you wanted. At that point we knew that we wouldn’t see millions of stars, but be decided to attend the talk at the observatory anyway, which was very interesting since there was a group of students between 14 and 17. It was quite entertaining to hear their questions and how the astronomer, with a lot of patience, answered. Some were quite good and coherent, and you thought mankind has hope, but others were like oh God, such an unhappy age! Although only the Southern Cross constellation came out, it was a fun night of learning.

To compensate for the night, at dawn we saw a surprisingly huge moon–it looked so close, so big. When the cold woke us up and forced us to go in the same hammock, it was hiding at the same time as the sun rose. It looked like a cartoon moon, yellow as an Emmental cheese, spectacular!

Bike ride in the Tatacoa desert.

Our hosts took us for a bike ride around the Tatacoa desert.

The next day our plan was to visit all the desert: the first part, the ocher zone in the area of Cuzco, in which we would walk, and the second one, the grey zone of Los Hoyos, which we would explore on motorbikes. We were ready, it was a beautiful day, a bright blue sky with just a few clouds adorned all the desert–the sky we wanted for the night before.

Andrea in the Tatacoa desert.

The Tatacoa desert opens the door to two different world, on one side the labyrinthine ravines of the ocher zone, with hundreds of shades of brown, red, orange, and yellow which invite you to walk among them, and a little further away the various mysterious and almost perfect shapes of the gray zone.

Blue sky in the grey part of the Tatacoa desert.

Finally, a great blue sky!

Blue sky in the ochre part of the Tatacoa desert.

The grey part of the Tatacoa desert.

The two scenarios take you to the intergalactic landscapes of Star Wars, with the advantage of being able to find cold sugarcane juice, to freshen up during a burning day.

Blue sky in the ochre part of the Tatacoa desert.

Blue sky in the grey part of the Tatacoa desert.

Blue sky in the grey part of the Tatacoa desert, overlooking the natural swimming pool.

Blue sky in the red part of the Tatacoa desert.

P.S. If you plan to spend the night in the desert, we recommend you to take warm clothes for the night, although during the day the temperature can reach 40 °C, at dawn, around 3 or 4 a.m., the temperature drops a lot, they say that it can reach 0 °C, we don’t know if it’s true, but the fact is that at that time we had to accommodate the both of us in a single hammock with sheets, because the cold was too much.

Goodbye! Tatacoa desert.


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