Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mud, sweat and tears

Greetings from a balcony overlooking a crystal blue pool under sunny clear Colombian skies. A far cry from what we endured yesterday.

Yesterday dawned clear and blue and we got up early in order to meet our bus at 8:00 for our escorted walking tour into Tayrona National Park. We were in the lobby by 8:00 and to be fair, we were told our pick up would be between 8:00 and 9:00 so having to wait a bit wasn’t unexpected. It gave us a chance to people watch and we noticed a lot of the other guests - all Colombians, since we’re the only Notre Americanos in the hotel - being picked up by very small, very cramped mini-vans and heading out on their respective adventures. With each pick up we worried more and more; cramming ourselves into a tight mini-van just wasn’t at the top of our to do list. But just as our trepidation was starting to build a large 15 passenger micro-bus pulled in and through sign language and gestures (so much for our English speaking guide) we determined this was our ride to the fabled Tayrona National Park, where we were promised an easy to accomplish, 2 - 3 hour nature walk through groomed trails.

All we needed to do was make one more stop to pick up additional guests at a different hotel and we’d be on our way……. but it wasn’t to be. We arrived at the next hotel and our guide/driver left the van running while he ran in to make the pick up and we waited…. and waited…….and waited……..until he eventually came back and told us (again through much sign language and gestures) that this group had cancelled. No worries we thought, less people on the bus, lets go. Not. Buddy apparently gets paid on a per guest basis and refused to take us any further if it was just the two of us. He proceeded to drive us back to our hotel and unceremoniously left us on the curb. He tried to apologize but I wasn’t the smiling understanding gringo I usually am. At this point I was the loud obnoxious Notre Americano that is convinced if I say this is absolute crap loud enough and slow enough it’ll eventually overcome the language barrier. We didn’t exactly have a scene but it wasn’t pleasant.

Luckily it’s a cheap and relatively short cab ride into town so after calming down (me, not Rosi - she was fine) we made our way back to the tour company where we’d pre-paid for our tour. They fell all over themselves to apologize and explained that the driver didn’t phone them until after he dropped us off and by then it was too late for us to join another tour so they offered us a full refund on the spot. The only problem was this didn‘t get us any closer to the park and we didn‘t want to go Saturday (today) because it gets a lot busier on the week-ends. And this is where I’m actually proud of my behavior/approach. I shelved angry tourista and switched to calm reasonable customer and asked plainly and reasonably if they considered themselves a reputable company? They of course strongly and adamantly said yes and I responded that the question then was simple: a reputable company would make arrangements to take us on our tour then and there, regardless of cost, while an unreliable company - one I would review on Tripadvisor for instance - would give us a refund but leave us to make our own arrangements…… gotcha!

With lots of Spanish spoken under their breath amongst themselves they agreed to hire a cab to take us from their office to the park (a good hour drive, maybe more) pay for our entrance fees and have the cab pick us up at the end of the day and take us back to our hotel (probably an hour and a half). I added up the total and their out of pocket expense was at least $50 Canadian more than what we paid for the group tour and this way we had an air conditioned taxi to ourselves - Muy Bueno! Calm reasonable customer trumps angry tourista every time!

So now the park…….

First, it was beautiful. The topography we saw and hiked through encompassed deserted beach, scrub forest, tropical rain forest and thick jungle. I don’t know for sure but I would say the elevation ranged from the shoreline to maybe 300 - 500 feet where we climbed into the mountains and/or hiked over headlands to get around rock outcroppings etc.

But an easy walk on a groomed trail? Not on your life. It was broken into sections which was great but it was MUCH harder and MUCH more arduous that we thought. All the other hikers we encountered were young hippy types hiking into the deserted beaches or staying at the wilderness camps - there wasn’t ANYONE our age at all. And it’s no wonder. The trail was well marked and for the most part well groomed but there were lots of sections with huge rocks to clamber over (and Rosi is the fist to admit her clambering days are behind her since she’s had problems with her knee) and lots of elevation gain and loss - and all of this in 32 degrees and 100% humidity. Within minutes we were soaked through. My shirt literally couldn’t have been any wetter if I’d worn it into the shower.

The first section was just over an hour of steady hiking and it spit us out at the wilderness camp which had bathrooms and a restaurant where we cleaned up a bit and had a much needed cold drink. It was then another hour to a remote beach, with more rock climbing, more elevation gain and loss, and a long stretch through loose sand, which turns out is the hardest hiking of all. From there it was turn around and repeat in reverse in order to get back to the parking lot by our allotted pick up time. All we could do was pray that the never ending jungle hell our life had become would end at some point.

I know the word grueling is bandied about a lot but if it ever fit a description this is it. We started our little “ walk” at 11:30 and stumbled out of the jungle, soaking wet and absolutely spent - five hours later. Rosi was absolutely fantastic. She needed help in a few places but the look of grim determination never left her face and turning back was never an option.

Bear Grylls would have been proud.

We arrived back at our hotel around 6:30 and after showering to clean up we could barely keep our eyes open through dinner - and it was a very, very early evening.

Such is life in Colombia!

Safe and sound and enjoying a day recuperating around the pool

Dale and Rosi

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