A Horse, a Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!

Trip Start Apr 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 21, 2013

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Flag of Colombia  , Magdalena,
Friday, April 12, 2013

I don't know if it was my new-found friend the hammock or the four grueling hours of hiking up hill, but I slept like a baby, not waking up until the sun started to creep up over the mountains. When I was a kid my Dad had a set of nature CDs that played the sounds of the Amazon (the series was very creatively called "Nature", a true testament to the limits of human ingenuity). They got everything right with the gushing river, singing birds and chirping frogs but forgot one crucial element: a cacophony of bugs! Fortunately it's like sleeping near a river and you just tune it out after a while, but the range and volume of sounds can be overwhelmingly intense.

Things change when you have no watch and lose your attachment to knowing the time. Was it 4am or 9am? I had no idea. At that point it just comes down to: does it feel like it's time to get up? It's pretty liberating, and I'm a little disappointed by how little time I have to enjoy the feeling (ironic, isn't it?). It was practically dark when we got to camp last night, and I simply had no idea how beautiful our surroundings were. We were encircled by mountains, and the sun slowly shone between them, large and orange. Brittany and I sipped a cup of coffee and watched the show while our guides cut up fruit freshly plucked from the trees and fried eggs laid this morning. Fresh and simple, the trail food has no flair but it tastes good and does the job. There was a chill in the air that I certainly hadn't expected, but he sun was quickly cutting through the heavy mist.

We were packed up and marching by 6:30am, with another four hours in front of us. Today wasn't as hard as yesterday, but it definitely wasn't easy either. Brittany struggled and even broke down in tears at least once. Watching her trudge along so miserably was probably as painful for me as it was for her. In hindsight, we should have made conditioning a bigger part of our pre-trip preparations, but I honestly had no idea it would be so hard. All the reviews I read said any reasonably fit person would have no problems. Sounds like a load of malarkey to me! Every once in a while a local would pass us on a horse, taunting Brittany by effortlessly ascending the mountain, clueless to her now perpetual pain. If she'd had the strength she probably would've kicked the guy off the horse and ridden off into the distance. Fortunately for the horse riders, after a while the trail leveled out a bit and Brittany found her stride. Once that happened she could finally stop concentrating on every torturous step and really take in the magnitude of where we are. Each turn (and there were many) greeted us with a new and curiously unique vista. The mountains here are gorgeous; there's just no other word for it. I'm going to need to break out my thesaurus and learn more synonyms for "beautiful". I'm running out of adjectives and doing a terrible job of giving the mountains justice. I only wish our camera did a better job of capturing the scope and breadth of what we're seeing. Unfortunately, on the micro level you start to get jungle vision and see nothing but green. But if you slow things down and take a moment to look at what you're walking through you quickly start spotting a huge variety of fruit trees, flowers, and plants. I took a video of one of the most fascinating plants we've seen so far. It has a defense mechanism that reacts to touch. Tap it with your finger and its long, wide fronds quickly retract so as to appear dead and unappetizing. How is that possible? How can a plant sense or feel that it is being touched? Too cool. I probably spent ten minutes tapping those plants and watching the reaction; it never got old!

We also had the privilege of walking through a camp of one of the indigenous tribes, and they have held on to their traditional way of life as best they can. They've built small huts, nestled in the mountains. The people were all working in the fields, so it was a bit of a ghost town. Apparently, the men sleep in one large hut while the women and children share smaller ones. Each man has two wives. The first and principal wife has a daughter by another man, and when she comes to age her mother's husband marries her as well. Technically not incest, but it's all in the family! I was personally struck by the simplicity of their day to day needs and activity. No granite countertops or jacuzzi tubs here. Really, who needs them? The notorious coca plant was growing all around the huts, and quite a few in our group tried chewing the leaves. Right off the tree it just makes your mouth go numb; a lot of processing and chemicals go into getting the drug effect. Come to think of it, other than one guy on the street offering me some coke I haven't really noticed much to do with drugs here. Cocaine is illegal in Colombia too, so contrary to popular belief it doesn't flow in the streets.

We reached our second base camp a lot earlier than I expected, but the reprieve couldn't have come soon enough for Brittany. We're a thirty second walk from a surging river and waterfall, so we threw our sweat-soaked clothes on a line to dry, hopped into our swimsuits and dove into the crystal clear water. It was cold, but we could feel the aches (and stink) floating away :) Eventually two local kids jumped in with us. We had no way of communicating but we skipped rocks together and had some splashing wars. This was another one of those incredibly special moments that I'll always remember. Normally we can't take pictures of the locals but this time we risked it. Their everyday clothes are a funny combination of old and new: one-piece canvas-like robes for their bodies and rubber galoshes for their feet. We did see one indigenous woman walking down the trail barefoot, but that smacks of self-deprecating torture. Somebody give this woman some flip-flops!

We finally got out of the water just in time for a hot soup lunch, and after slurping it down as quickly as we could we hopped into our beds (no hammocks here) for another four hour nap. We're still wiped out from today's hike that the only thing able to pry us from sleep was dinner. Brittany and I sat down and plates appeared with rice, plantains, and a whole fish (ALL of it). I immediately got a look from Brittany that translated to: how am I supposed to eat this??? I didn't know the answer myself but we dug in with our hands and made the best if it. The fish actually tasted great, it was just way too much work. There's no electricity here so the table was lit by candles. The scene was actually somewhat romantic until bugs the size of buffaloes discovered the flame and started to kamikaze the table. Nothing poisonous, just flick the bug off your plate or out of your drink and munch away :). Throw in the rats, frogs, and face-sized spiders in the bathrooms and I've got to hand it to Brittany for making it this far. I married one incredible woman!

Our guide tells us the first hour tomorrow will be all uphill, and its gonna be tough. Brittany's already scared, but I think this far in she'll have the strength to push through. Tomorrow is our last day of hiking before reaching the Lost City. To tell you the truth I don't even care if we make it (although my ego would take a major hit if we fell short). I signed on for the trek itself, and I've already seen more than I'd hoped. I love it here. I told Brittany that in the new system I get a solid century in South America. I'm swinging in a hammock, looking up at a starry sky not marred by smog or street lights, and listening to Dad's old nature CD sans CD player. For me, it just doesn't get any better.
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juan claudio on

can't imagine how tiring that must've been. you guys look exhausted!(good exhausted)

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