May
25
2009

Mountain Tripping

This past weekend Eloisa and I had a nice time hiking and staying in cabins up in the woods in the Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. After organizing and working a multi-day conference then going out dancing with the participants, Elo caught a night bus from Bogotá to meet me in Pereira. Naturally she arrived exhausted, but impressively rallied through the day’s adventures. We caught a chiva for the bumpy road to the park. Chivas are wonderfully idiosyncratic buses of rural Colombia. Painted in outlandish colors, they are open-sided (great for experiencing the scenery), and made almost completely of wood!

Since Elo works for the Parks Department she was able to get a discount at the cabin we stayed at the first night, called La Suiza. Like Switzerland. This was a former hacienda that became part of the park system fairly recently. The tourist services (hotel, restaurant, etc) were set up and run at first by a Big Evil Company, but it’s so out of the way that it got no business so they handed it off to a local collective who now run it. Good ending to the saga.

The park is “home of the howler monkey, puma, spectacled bear, tapir, bus, mountain solitude, turkeys, barranqueras, toucans, eagles, among others.” Wild buses, delicious. Unfortunately we didn’t end up seeing much fauna, although a European couple we met saw a monkey and some exotic birds they were pretty psyched about. An interesting couple – they’re English teachers working for one company who rotates them into different countries every couple of years. They’re just finishing up a year and a half in Bogotá and are headed to Bulgaria next. That will be a change! Nice to think about as a fallback profession if I have trouble getting work in the theatre.

The morning after arriving we walked over the Otún River, which provides drinking water to all of Pereira and other nearby cities, to an incredibly high and impressive waterfall. For what is a nondescript small stream coming out of the woods it suddenly plunges 90′ straight down, creating a hypnotically impressive spectacle. Then it carries on downhill being the same mild-mannered little stream. If the weather were warmer I would have loved to try standing under it. I wonder if it would injure.

For our second night we decided to stay at a different cabin, further up the mountain and more remote. This involved catching a chiva in the late afternoon for an even bumpier ride to the end of the road (El Cedral) followed by a two hour hike 6km up the mountain. Unfortunately since the chiva was late we did most of this hike in the dark. Thank goodness another couple was making the same trek, and he had been there before (although not in seven years). Having all of dusk for our night vision to develop, we were reluctant to pull out the flashlights. There was just enough twilight to catch a reflection of the puddles and thereby avoid stepping in them. Rocks appeared as lighter-colored blobs, and you just had to take it on faith that your foot was going to land squarely. Although the trail was supposedly an old Spanish road, it is pretty rocky and crisscrossed with small streams making everything slippery.. more appropriate for mule than carriage. I thought we had arrived when we reached a farm / homestead.. alas, no. Another hour or so to go. There were a couple of nervous-making points when we weren’t sure exactly where the trail was or what direction to go, but eventually we did find the lodge (La Pastora). I was mighty impressed with the four of us – we all kept it together, no one freaked out or fell in what could have been a very dicey situation.

The two we hiked with were Classic South American Hippies… you’ll see their photo if you look up the archetype. Naturally they were camping, despite the cold, rainy weather. The lodge family heartily welcomed us and I was surprised to see the number of people up there, when there had been almost no one at the first, much more accessible lodge. There were a number of families with kids of all ages, besides the very young kids belonging to the host family. Elo pointed out how wonderful it was that most of the hikers were residents of the region, out enjoying their own backyard. I guess this is not common in the rest of Colombia. When we arrived a large group was suiting up to hike through the night up to Lake Otún, apparently a very strenuous 8-hour climb. I’ve no idea why they were doing this in the dark – crazy, if you ask me. This lodge is much more rustic than the one we stayed at the first night. No electricity, so dinner is served by candlelight. By 7:30pm, you think it’s about 11 at night. We got our own room which I was happy about, replete with bunk beds, leading to the inevitable argument over who got to sleep on top. 😉

Rising at 5:30 am to pee, I was awestruck by the beauty of my surroundings. A pink dawn was breaking, the horses were munching away in the fields, and the lush green mountains were calling with yet another impressive waterfall in sight. So I went back to bed.

After a traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs, buttered arepas, hard white cheese, hot chocolate and cowboy coffee, we headed out for a leisurely hike in the woods. It’s beautiful territory up here, incredibly rich in biodiversity. Cloud forests punctuated by wax palms, the national tree of Colombia and one of the tallest (and oddest looking) trees in the world. It would be fun to do a multi-day hike over the mountains to other villages, but the wuss in me doesn’t like the thought of camping in the cold rain. We ended up spending a few hours just relaxing on a big open rock next to the river, lazily watching the clouds drift by. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. The rock had cool colors of moss, lichen, and algae growing all over it.

I feel sooooo much better being out here in the fresh air away from all the exhaust and noise of the city. I hadn’t realized how much I needed or missed this quiet calmness. It’s making me rethink how much time I’ll spend in Cali versus some of the countryside in the south. Elo is encouraging me in this direction too, and I think she’s right. I’ve seen enough Colombian cities.. my soul needs more time in nature.

As dusk approached we wandered back down to the lodge, stopping enroute to chat with some of the dozens of people camping. Well, chatty Elo chatted – I couldn’t understand a word. We were about to go to bed after dinner when we heard the distant sounds of a troubadour. Wandering out to the grand circular fireplace we discovered a wonderful scene – a local folk singer was holding court to couples and families laid out on pillows surrounding the fireplace, the only light provided by the flickering flames. Wow, what a scene. This guy had such a distinctive voice and guitar style. Apparently all his songs were from the region. Although I couldn’t understand a word, his delivery surely told me he was singing the classics – about love gone wrong, drinking, and hard times.. Elo confirmed my suspicions. It was one of those iconic moments you dream about having when taking a trip like this. I owe a debt of gratitude to Elo for suggesting this place, I never would have found it on my own.

I thought it would only take us half the time to hike down in the daytime than it did to hike up in the dark, so naturally I thought Elo was crazy for wanting to leave so early the next morning. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 37 years it’s that women are usually right, and this time was no exception. We barely made the returning chiva, and the next one wouldn’t be for many hours later. Back at the bus station in Pereira we said our tearful goodbyes. Elo caught a bus back to Bogotá, and I headed south to Cali. Not sure when we’ll see each other again, although there is a chance she’ll have a workshop in Ecuador when I’m there.

Here is a 360 video by the waterfall. I’m standing 100′ back getting drenched.. imagine what that crazy girl is experiencing!

Written by in: Colombia | Tags: ,

3 Comments »

  • JDF says:

    Random formatting request: any chance of getting your links (including photo links) to open “in a new window”? That way, I could continue referencing the parent post without the blare of the video re-starting everytime I return to the parent page!

    Picky picky, I know…I loved this post, btw…you’re getting GOOD at this blogging stuff!

    xoxo JDF

    • Josh says:

      Just the kind of comment I like – specific feedback followed by a compliment!

      Yes, I can definitely make external links open in a new window/tab – great idea, I should have been doing that all along.

      Photos, however, are another matter. I don’t think there is an option to do that, unfortunately. But I’ll look into it. You can make them open in a new window manually by command-clicking the image (this works for any link, btw). Or just right-clicking and choosing the appropriate command.. but I know neither of these are ideal.

      Regarding the videos starting by themselves, I hate that behavior. I have that flag turned off on the posts, but it’s being overridden by your QuickTime preferences. Go to System Prefs for QT, and uncheck “start videos automatically”.

  • JDF says:

    p.s. and what IS a “bus”? I presume it was a typo, but what was it supposed to be? A buG? A buB? A buT?

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