The Desert Isla Puna

Hitching a water taxi to Isla Puna for 200kms of dirty two track, single track, goat trail, beach, trespassing, finding gas/water, getting lost exploring.


Getting There

After coming out of the mountains we stopped for some street meat. Not really expecting to be able to get Puná from this side or even at all I asked the lady selling the food how to get there. She said to go to the port town of Balao and ask. Seeing as it was only 20 mins west we decided to check it out.

We got to the town and there were small fishing boats lining the canals. 
This wasn't at all promising seeing as there'd be no way of even getting the bikes down the canal wall never mind fit them in the small boats.

I stopped and yelled down to one of the fisherman scooping shrimp out of the bottom of his boat. He told me to go to the station. That's all he said and he didn't seem to interested in talking more. Looking again at my GPS I saw the road went further down the river so we decided to keep going. 

At the end of the road there was just a couple little shacks, some more fishing boats and beach landing on the river. There were a few guys drinking beers on a bench and I asked them about going to Puna. There was some confusion but after a while I determined they said it could be possible and that the captain of a water taxi heading that way was on his way. 

After speaking with the captain, looking at the small boat and agreeing on a price ($30) for both bikes, ourselves, gear and help loading/unloading we decided to go for it. We stripped down the bikes and loaded them on the boat with planks of wood. 
Everyone pitched in to help and had their hands out at the end for money. They weren't happy with a dollar each but I had negotiated with the captain for all included price. The captain gave them a few extra dollars on top of that. Unfortunately Dave couldn't help after hurting his back earlier that day. 

Soon we were on our way. Two bikes, a scooter and a handful of people.
The only problem was the low tide. 
It had us meandering back and forth across the river trying to find the deep spots. The river itself was quite nice with a ton of birds.

Eventually, at the mouth of the river we got hung up on a sand bar. Seemingly in the middle of the bay, the boat driver jumps out and the water is barely shin high.
We have to push the boat for several meter with sticks and actual pushing until finally we are in deeper water.
When we approached the town I was starting to wonder about the place. It didn't look like much. We didn't know what to expect at all but I was expecting something more developed. 
Then the problem of unloading became the issue at hand. These stairs were the unloading point.
And after watching them struggle to get the tiny scooter off we opted to find another drop point. Luckily it was low tide and there was this beach on the other side of the river. 
After much struggle and Dave further injuring his back we got the bikes safely on the beach. No ramps this time. Just had to lift them off. I gave the two guys that helped us $5 each. We quickly loaded up the bikes. Rode down the muddy, soft "beach", to the steep, littered, rutted out hill climb to get up to the road. Then we had to cross the river on a foot bridge.
There was an interesting, meandering, narrow walled path to navigate that was an absolute pain in the ass with bags. We kept having to get off and pull the ass-end around.

But we made it.
That night we hung out with a friend we made on the boat. He took us around for food and showed us the town. The nicer parts and the not so nice parts. We then got some rest for the long day of exploring that was ahead of us. 

Exploring the Island

The next morning we left the majority of our gear in the hotel and rode out of town with no maps, no sense of where to go and apparently not enough water. 
The industry of the place seems to be ship building.
And shrimping. There were tons and tons of shrimp farms.
At first the road was pretty clear. Clearly designed for rugged 4x4 and motos only. There were even some bridges to help get over the tide at high tide.
But it quickly got harder and harder to see the road. It was also painfully obvious that they weren't used much.
We hit another fishing village with some houses on stilts.
And after that village the road got even harder to follow.
Before long we ended up on goat trails that had no signs of moto tracks on them.
The goat tracks led to a gate with car tracks. Those tracks led to another, larger shrimping operation.
They weren't too pleased with our presence and they sent someone to get us. That guy made me talk to the "hefe" on the phone who wanted to make it clear that it wasn't just good enough that we left. He seemed very keen to tell me it was private property and so on. Finally they let us leave by escorting us...extremely the farm.

We set out to find another road. That proved to be very difficult.
That turned into full on bushwhacking!
Mercifully, shortly after giving up on the bushwhacking, we went back to the town on stilts and found someone who pointed us to a road south.

It was fun and fast and flowy dirt road that eventually opened up to a sort of paved road.
But now we had another problem. If we wanted to continue we'd need to find gas and water. There was no where to get gas in the town where we were staying and Dave realized that his extra water was not in his pack like he thought. So in the hot desert heat we were splitting my 3l camel and the 1l bottle Dave had. Luckily at the end of the paved road there were some nice people who told us where we could get gas and water. Turns out just 20 mins the other way was a pretty established town called Campo Alegre. There we found gas, water, food and a fan club of over 30 people.
I taught a local kid how to take photos and he went to town...he took over 20 pictures in all.
With gas and water we continued on exploring the island with the southern half being easier to navigate for the most part.
We even found a town that looked like it was trying to attract tourists...however it didn't seem to be working.
The road continued along the beach for 10km.
Then we headed back inland to find an alternate route back north.
Which we did. It was a fast, flowy, dirt road that ran along a power lines. Outside of some lazy cows it was uneventful...just fun.
Before too long we got back to the main road out of Puna Nueva, where we were staying. The clouds got ominous.
Then Dave's back finally gave up on him after pushing it hard for 7hrs of saddle time exploring the island.
After a bit of a rest we continued on the last 20km back to town where the goats were out in numbers.
We woke up at 5am. Loaded the bikes before sunrise...this time at high tide from a different set of stairs which was much easier and didn't require us to pay anyone. The guy who took us back we had met in town the night before and he only charged us $25 and seeing as we handled the loading and unloading ourselves this time it was $15 cheaper to get off the island than to get on it.
The boat off the island wasn't much bigger than the one we came in on yet this one had 17 people, 2 babies, 2 motos and a ton of supplies.
Unloading wasn't too bad and we got out of the heat and made Loja mid afternoon.


Isla Puna
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