The trip is nearly over. To end it I am in Bogota once again at my friend Jeisson´s apartment in Chapiñero. Zach is back from the ruckus of Carnavale in Baranquilla and I am back from a journey into the deep mountains of Colombia. Both seem to have been quite the experience.
The trip from the coast to Cocuy National Park is long and involves changing transport many times. The roads lead through the departments of Santander and Boyaca. Boyaca is definintely the mountain heart of Colombia. The dirt roads wind through an epic landscape sparsely settled by cattle farms and campesinos. There are small colonial towns once every couple of hours. These are the places that i wish i had seen earlier in my trip. Most never see any tourists, and are uniquely tranquil in a way that i´ve never experienced before. I rolled into the small colonial mountain town of El Cocuy after dark and found an incredible place to stay with an artist and musician who lives alone in a beautiful old house with a massive collection of plants and paintings around the inner courtyard of the home. I made preparations to head high into the park the next day. To get to the park I hopped a ride with the local milk truck that drives through the mountains collecting the fresh milk from the numerous dairy farms in the hills. Higher and higher we climbed, stopping to pour the steaming milk into the large vats in the back of the truck, the driver carefully noting the amount of milk collected at each location. It is real campesino life in the hills. Small brick houses made from the earth they sit on. The weather was colder, the air thinner as we continued to climb higher. I got dropped off at the end of the main road and had to walk another hour higher into the mountains to get to the farm where the park begins.
After talking to a couple austrian mountaineers a day earlier i realized that the extra wool hat i bought was going to do nothing for me in the backcountry. I sucked it up and told myself that it would be okay for me to sleep indoors and only do dayhikes being as how I had no cold weather gear and no stove. The accomodations are an unelectrified farm house with the family who has been there for generations. Around the house are their cows, sheep, and horses; corrals constructed of stones from the fields. The views from the house are insane. Miles of mountain peaks and giant valleys right out the front door. The snow capped peaks and granite cliffs loom ever higher above the camp which is situated at around 10,500 feet.
Coming from the coast direct to the mountains I had expected to be hard, but not as hard as it was. I struggled to catch my breath my entire time there, especially above 13,000 feet. My first day i did a hike up to 13,500 to a mountain pass up a steep ravine. The going was tough, having to stop almost every 50 feet to catch my breath. The water was crystaline, frigid, and perfect; like a deer, stop to drink at every stream. From the pass I got my first view deep into the sharp range, and i instantly regretted not having the right gear to continue walking.I felt like absolute shit after returning from the 8 hour hike. The altitude squeezed my ocean air accustomed lungs and used my brain as a dart board. I went to sleep without eating anything. Next morning i woke up early to the sound of four Colombian hikers come up for the day to reach the Devil´s Pulpit. I set out after them but soon we were hiking together. I was the youngest by far, the rest in their fifties and one in his eighties. What a character that man was: 29 years as a machinist on a colombian freighter. He told me tales of nearly 30 years of life on a boat, travelling to almost every continent and countless countries along the way. It´s people like that that really inspire me.
The hike up to the pulpit was much harder and longer than the day before, plus much higher. We stopped at 15,210 feet, almost a thousand feet higher than i´ve ever been. Just like the sierras in california, I staggered gasping for breath along granite ridges and massive boulder fields. The going was slow but at the end it was as close to the sky i´ve ever felt. Snow cones of ice and condensed milk, sledding on my ass with my raincoat, and a brilliant sunshine day, made it one of the best hikes ever.
The two days in the park and the two days it took me to get there and back were by far a highlight of the whole trip. This whole trip has been a highlight of all the trips i´ve ever done. I am happy to be leaving, if only to continue my journey in another foreign land.
This is the last entry. Im not even sure how many people actually read it or look at the pictures, but it does feel good to explain at least to the little computer elves what i´ve been up to. Maybe ill be inspired to continue from the middle east.