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Along for the Ride

We started our day running after a gentleman who took our bags and we ended our day chasing after another gentleman who rushed off with our bags. This is the third time on this trip that this has happened, either Colombians are very helpful or Ol is a terrible baggage handler!

In Ol’s post he neglected to report that he had a difficult time with the treacherous roads and hair pin curves and sitting across from the sick woman did not help matters. At times, I was worried he wasn’t going to make it, because every10 minutes he would say “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” On the return trip, I would be sure to have our dramamine and our lavender essential oil in our carry on bag!

Colombia is just so beautiful. From my window seat I continued to enjoy the scenery as we wound our way higher and farther into the Andes. On some curves we would be treated to giant trumpet vines cascading over the roadways and wild orange trees exploding with fruit. I loved how the landscape changed depending on the elevation from tropical, to arid mountainsides of cactus, to tall evergreens and valleys of moss draped oaks. I had no idea that poinsettias could grow into trees and to see hillsides covered in brilliant red was magnificent!

I liked the fleeting glimpses of everyday life. There was the woman doing her laundry by hand on an old wash board on her back porch. A mother shucking corn with children and chickens under her feet. Every home we passed seemed to have an assortment of healthy free range animals, but the dogs didn’t look as fat as the city dogs that we have grown to love.

Colombians waste nothing and they are great at taking everyday objects and recycling them into art. In the small towns I could see all the possible uses for used tires. They were cut up painted and adorned with bottles to make turtles, butterflies, monkeys and flowers. Also huge tractor tires were painted and used as welcome signs adorned with statues of the Blessed Mother hanging from the middle.

Every village we passed, took great pride in their schools and their churches. You can tell that these institutions are the heart of their communities. And, the real reason I would have loved a private driver, we could have stopped to take pictures of all the roadside shrines, which would have filled a few coffee table books. We later learned these were memorials to people who lost their lives in the recent conflicts. The stories as heartbreakingly sad as the monuments are beautiful.

I’m also happy to report this trip has also been good for our relationship. We have had a few role reversals. Ol neglected to mention his brilliant negotiations for our private car to El Cocuy. I almost didn’t play along as it was the first time in 35 years that Ol has ever been Bad Cop. He was so good at negotiating, that we ended up taking the bus after the car company realized they would not make a profit! Which turned out to be a blessing as we would not have met our new friend Ivan from Mexico City.

From the moment we stepped off the bus in El Cocuy I was literally running after everyone carrying our gear with my boots untied. Again, I don’t know what happened to our mantra of slow travel.

After three weeks in Colombia our Spanish is still terrible. I was thankful that we had Ivan to help us navigate the national park permit process. However, I think things may have been lost in translation as I tried to explain to the Park officials and Ivan that I already had made plans for a guide, transportation and lodging on the internet before our arrival. I pointed in vain to the lodges I had booked on the large park map that adorned the wall.

I didn’t understand why everyone kept insisting we had to begin our hike at 4 am the next day, or be on the same permit as Ivan. He only had two days and I had envisioned a weeks long stay of leisurely hikes and a romantic mountain cabin with glacial mountain views.

The officials kept saying we could only do two hikes and we couldn’t stay where I pointed. I was also under the impression we could not stay as long as we wanted, it was Park rules. I tried to explain how I was worried we needed to acclimate and about my knees, but again I was told “No, Señora, no worries”.

The Park has been open and closed many times over the years, do to the guerrilla war and conflict with the indigenous U’Was tribe. It was difficult to get up to date information on the area, but what Park officials were saying didn’t mesh with the emails I had received from the lodging owners.

Ol, kept reassuring me it would be okay, it would all work out. I just needed to go with the flow. So with permits in hand, we checked into our modest hotel, enjoyed a glass of wine and visited with our new friend. Ol set the alarm for 3:45 am and I insisted in sleeping in my hiking clothes as I am not a morning person!

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