I lay on my stomach and stretched my arms and legs out. The sun was fierce. The sky a pure blue. The shade scarce.

The countdown began, “three, two, one, GO!”

I started rolling, slowly at first but picking up speed as I gathered momentum and rolled further down the sand dune. It was surprisingly bumpy. Half way down I decided it would be wise to shut my mouth so as not to swallow any more sand. Upon rolling into the sea (just), I picked myself up, disoriented and dizzy, but exhilarated. For once Lonely Planet had been right!

I ran straight back up the sand dune, puffing and panting, as every footstep of mine sunk deep into the sand. Time for another go I thought to myself.

A nine – day mini adventure to mark the start of 2012 had seen Patrick, PJ, George, Lucy and I leave Santa Marta behind for La Guajira, Colombia’s north – eastern department. After journeys in buses, taxis, 4×4 jeeps, lanchas – small boats – even a ride in the back of an empty coal lorry, we had finally reached our target, Punta Gallina, the northern tip of mainland South America.

As the sun began to set,  those that had come to visit the dunes during the day returned to the only hospedaje in the area, Luz Mila, a bumpy 25 minute drive away.

But us five weren’t leaving. Every evening since we had embarked on our New Year’s mini adventure we had camped out and tonight was no different. Under the light of a full moon we collected pieces of wood, skeleton like in their appearance, for our camp fire. Patrick cooked up a hearty vegetable soup with, naturally, a hint of sand, and we ate it from the bottom of a cut off Coca Cola bottle, taking it in turns to use our only spoon.

Away from the sand dunes the landscape was desolate with cacti, scrub and thorn bushes only surviving. Goats roamed around. We passed a handful of small communities, their occupants lying in hammocks and the fences around their plots of land made from cacti propped against one another.

The waters where our lancha had docked were slowly receding. The former sea bed, formed from  pieces of dry, flaking and crackling mud, like paving stones or a mosaic but with out the grouting in between, was littered with shells and the bodies of crabs, starved of water and frozen in time. Desertification was starting to take control.

Long gone were the banana plantations, the palm trees and the slopes of the Sierra Nevada which define Santa Marta’s department, Magdalena. La Guajira was like another planet. And a beautiful planet it was.