My hiking friends
On Sunday, I planned to go hiking in the Valle de Cocora near Salento. I got up and walked into town for a breakfast and some good coffee. Then I went to the square where the jeeps were lined up to take people to Cocora, a half hour away. I got there just after 7:30 and the jeeps had already left. The next ones went at 9, so I wandered around town, had more coffee, than got back in time for my jeep. They’re small jeeps and carry 4 people in the back, two up front and 3 or 4 standing on the back bumper. We bounced our way up to Cocora. It is very small, basically a few shops selling snacks, and places where you can get horse rides up the trails. I was headed to the nature reserve in Acaime. It was a 2 1/2 hour hike up muddy trails through grasslands and wax palms. The palms are the tallest palm trees in the world and they are Colombia’s national tree. They are spectacular as was the scenery. On the trail, I crossed a river about 6 times, usually on narrow, slippery logs. I did bring boots, but the tread wasn’t great. Every time I crossed a log, I remembered the time, years ago, when I slid off one into a river. I took my time and cautiously plodded across the logs. A few times, I missed part of the trail and made a little loop before finding it again. Before I reached Acaime, I walked through a cloud forest. At Acaime, there was a place where coffee or hot chocolate with cheese was served. A charge of 3,000 pesos ($1.50) was collected for the drink and to help with upkeep of the area. While there, I met 4 Colombian guys from Finlandia, a small town not too far from Salento. When they learned I was hiking alone, they invited me to join them. Colombians like to do things in groups. They’re very sociable people and often wonder why some people, like me, do things alone. I thought I would just go back down as I was getting tired and it was tough going in the occasional muddy areas and steep parts. They were planning to head up to the mountain lookout though, a kilometer or more yet. So, I ended up slogging up a steep trail with them. I slipped and fell a few times, grasping at branches to stop myself from falling more. It took an hour to reach the top. I was gasping for air, sweating and my legs were extremely tired. I pushed myself hard to keep up with them. At the top, we rested awhile, trying to get our breathing back to normal. They checked their cellphones for calls or texts and shared their snacks and drinks with me. Then we started down. Before too long, it started raining lightly. We soon were cold and wet. Luckily I had a nylon windbreaker, which helped somewhat, but was not waterproof. I don’t think the guys knew the trails, because we looped around a few times, went up and down a few times, but eventually made it back to Cocora. I had spent 6 hours hiking and was completely exhausted. The guys had a 4 wheel drive vehicle and offered me a ride back to Salento. First, they had to fill the radiator with water and attach one of the headlights that had fallen into the engine compartment. Then, after several tries, the engine game to life and we were off. Back in Salento, the first thing we did was look for a place to eat. We soon were eating huge plates of bandeja paisas. That is basically a gut-busting mound of sausage, beans, rice, egg, arepa and chicharón, or pork rind. We all had fruit juices. I had my mango en leche. We tore into the food and had our plates emptied in no time. The four guys were great. Really nice. We had a good visit together, before they headed back to their homes in Finlandia and I headed back to my room. I really enjoyed them and was glad they invited me along with them. And, it did beat doing the hike down alone. It was more fun to share the rain and cold along with others.