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An Unexpected Homestay

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity – John Muir

As I mentioned previously, one of my goals for this trip to Colombia was to go on a multiday hike. The good thing about Colombia is that it has numerous hiking locations. After (reluctantly) leaving Medellin I brought myself to Salento in the coffee region of Colombia Рyet another beautiful area of this country. As I arrived, I set about looking for hikes that I could do and I found a 2 day hike provided by Crested Outdoors (which I highly recommend, Diego is amazing).

I had nerves over whether or not I could do this hike but I was determined that I wasn’t going to scare myself out of this trip. That determination was great because I turned up on the day, unfortunately it covered up altitude sickness. Even going at my pace – slow and steady, I still fell victim to altitude sickness.

Diego, our guide, making us coffee along the way

I did some reading on hiking in PNN El Cocuy before embarking on this trip because Cocuy is in very high altitude. I therefore concluded that this hike in PNN Los Nevados would prepare me for Cocuy. This hike was a moderate hike which ended in 4000m so I thought I would slowly acclimatise to the altitude. Nothing of the sort happened. I was hiking and could slowly feel myself getting dizzy. I thought it was my mind playing tricks on me so I continued. Then my stomach started hurting but I assumed it was hunger. I concluded that it must be my nerves fooling me and wanting me to give up. So I trekked on. We got to a steep part and I knew I was going to go up…until my stomach churned. I decided to stop and catch my breath, waiting for the nausea to fade, but it didn’t. In fact, I had to stoop down because I thought I was going to throw up. I never get sick, even when I get seasick I’ve never thrown up but this time I thought that I would. That was scary.

My guide suggested we take a break. In my group were two medical professionals who were a walking drugstore and had everything I could possible need. I believe their help prevented me from getting really sick. When I found out that the altitude was only 2,800m I felt like a wimp. You came all the way to Colombia thinking you could hike and got sick at 2,800m – what a loser! I felt like I let my group down because we had to stop and I felt like I was letting down people back home cheering me on. I really wanted to see up the mountains so my guide arranged for a horse. As I rode up the mountain while the rest of the group continued to hike, I still felt defeated. Another experience my body prevented me from participating in.

There always seems to be a good in the bad, because where we were supposed to overnight turned into a haven. The finca was called La Argentina and the hostess, Gloria really helped me to feel better. Hot soup and numerous cups of hot coffee really eased my bruised ego and upset stomach. Her patience with my very bad Spanish should also be commended. Like a substitute mother, Gloria made me forget my pain.

Puma the cat and I warming ourselves
Puma the cat and I warming ourselves

That night, I found myself in the company of 6 farmers. I played a game called “Why always me?” and won twice and because I understood some of the jokes my little Spanish was rewarded. Someone pulled out a bottle of El Dorado rum and I was given the first taste. Three times the bottle was past around and three times I participated, never considering whether rum was good for altitude sickness or not.

In the morning, the others carried on to see the volcanoes in PNN Los Nevados whilst I stayed back playing with the cats and chatting with Gloria. Although I hate being cold I really enjoyed myself at the finca and would have loved to stay longer. When it was time to go I went down on horseback, as the nausea started to kick back in, which got me feeling defeated again. I felt sad all the way until we got to the part where I was collected from. As we passed it and continued walking down I was really impressed with how far I had gone. I felt really proud. I remembered, despite feeling nauseous, I wasn’t exhausted and knew that I could have continued hiking. I was even impressed with the fact that I made it to 2,800m! That is higher than the highest peak in Jamaica. Every victory, no matter how small, should be celebrated.

I still have some time in Colombia, so I’m going to train for altitude because I want to achieve that goal of a multiday hike :).

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