A VACATION OF TREKKING POLES AND A SNORKEL MASK
Words, Photos, and Video by Brett Davis (@bdavis)
It was only 30 minutes after I had walked in the door from my final work trip of the year when my partner in life, Diana, interrupted a conversation we were having and confidently stated: "While you were gone, I booked us flights to Colombia for July. Do you want to be involved with the planning of the trip, or can I handle it all?" Still working furiously with a Q-tip to remove one of the many grains of sand from one of my ears, which had become embedded during the recent weeklong river trip, I paused in my digging to switch conversation topics: "I'm in. You can handle it all. Let me know at some point when we are leaving and what to pack." A glow began to spread and crescendo into a smile as my response impacted the love of my life. And just like that, we returned to our previous sharing of how each of our weeks had been.
This isn't the first time in our relationship that such a scene has occurred. Since we first met, we have taken on the roles of "surpriser" and "planner" when it comes to date nights, travel, and adventures. They have always led to interesting and fun outcomes for both of us. One just has to be okay with letting go of control and open to the unknown.
The weeks leading up to our departure were filled with other commitments and adventures, so I inquired little as to Diana's plan for this international trip. At some point, she did reveal that we were going to do some Salsa Dancing, which consequently led to a few YouTube dance lessons in our living room. Without a doubt, she is much better at finding the Latin rhythm than me.
A couple of days before our flight, I finally did a Google search for Colombia, learning what a bio and culturally-diverse country it is. My previous associations with the country had always been of drug cartels and the violence associated with such organizations. In the past 15 years or so, the people of the country have worked hard to improve security, bring stability to the government, and create initiatives for economic growth. The country is beginning to stabilize and, thus, attract visitors from around the globe to explore its many wonders. We were to be some of those visitors.
On the eve of the trip, Diana shared her travel plan and gave me the packing list. We would be going light and fast, each utilizing an HMG pack as a carry-on for all our clothing and gear. Additionally, I was to find our snorkel mask and a pair of trekking poles, as these items would be essential to our journey. All nonessentials were to be left at home, as she didn't want to be burdened by extras as we executed the three components of her plan: 1. An exploration of our initial destination city, Cartagena, a port city on the Caribbean coast; 2. Rest and relaxation in the island paradise of the Rosario Islands; and 3. Some jungle trekking in a national park. This was going to be fun!
Our entire bodies and senses were shocked out of the norm upon landing in Cartagena. The consequences of the high heat and 90% humidity revealed themselves immediately as we stepped outside the airport. Both of us were quickly drenched in sweat, with our travel clothes soaked through as if we had just walked through a car wash. Living in the arid climate of southwest Colorado left us unprepared for the continual feeling of dampness over the duration of our trip.
Additionally, as has been our experience in visiting developing countries where every tourist is seen as an economic opportunity, whether through legal or questionable means, the bombardment of locals vying for our attention to relieve us of our travel money was yet another abrupt indication that we were no longer in our quiet mountain town. The adventure had begun.
After spending a day and a half wandering through the cobblestone streets and among the colorful colonial buildings of the old walled city of Cartagena, we found our way onto a 20-passenger boat bound for the Corales Islas del Rosario, a national park comprised of islands located 20 kilometers offshore from Cartagena. Upon stepping off the boat and onto the island where Diana had booked us into a small eco-resort, a feeling of relaxation immediately came over us. We had found a tropical oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Checking into the "presidential suite," we quickly made ourselves comfortable with our lone snorkel mask emerging from the bottom of my pack. The turquoise water lapping at our doorstep was calling us to explore its wonders. The Rosario Islands were designated as a national park in 1988 to protect one of the most important coral reefs of the Colombian Caribbean coast.
After an initial dive along the reef, one can see why this area deserves protection. The coral reef's different shapes and vibrant colors and the myriad of aquatic life calling it home was engrossing. We found ourselves spending hours in the water floating, diving, and sharing what we had seen with each other. It seemed like the only way to break the allure of the reef was the amazing happy hour drinks our resort bartender created each day at 4 PM. Island life was good!
A day and a half after leaving paradise, we found ourselves bouncing in a four-wheel drive van with eight new friends up a rough dirt road. As the van's rear wheels began to spin without traction, our driver and guide asked us to exit the vehicle to help with a push through the loose section of road. With the escape from the van, we got our first unencumbered view of the steep, lush landscape in which we were entering. Our road clung precipitously to the steep hillside with snaking vines and an abundance of green, seemingly keeping the road in its place. Low clouds drifted among the steamy air, obscuring distant peaks and creating a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie. Pointing up, our guide brought our attention to a pair of toucans flying over. Our jungle experience had started.
Soon after reaching the end of the road, our trekking pole parts snapped into place and were planted into the red dirt of the trail that would lead us to an amazing cultural heritage site a couple of days distant. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park is Colombia's second oldest national park, which was established in 1964. It encompasses an amazing area of biodiversity and climates from tropical beaches to craggy alpine peaks standing prominently at over 18,000 feet. Culturally, the area is significant with 30,000 indigenous people living in the area working to responsibly protect their heritage. Our trek would be led by local guides from the Wiwa tribe, who graciously shared their history, way of life, and home with us.
Having limited experience in jungles, each step was one of wonder. The many shades of green contrasted by the vivid blues, reds, yellows, and purples of the flowers and creatures of the environment were mesmerizing. Around every corner of the trail, there was something new to be awed by, whether it was a stunning view or an explanation by one of our guides of the many plants and their use by the indigenous community. On our third day of the trek, we climbed 1,200 stone steps through dense jungle to the highlight of the trip: an archeological site of an ancient city that predates Machu Pichu by 650 years. Wow! Part three of Diana's plan was complete.
On our flight home, Diana asked me to give our overall experience a grade. Immediately, the letter "A" with a plus sign flashed into my mind. The experiences she researched and planned were aligned with our interests, involving some good rest and relaxation contrasted with an undertaking requiring both mental and physical energy. All her meticulous pre-trip research paid off as we moved fluidly through the country without mishap relying on taxis, boats, kayaks, buses, and vans to get us where we wanted to be.
The accommodations she booked, though not extravagant, fit our style and were located optimally to experience the local area without issues. Case in point, our lodging in Cartagena was just around the corner from one of the more famous Salsa clubs in all of Colombia (my dancing still has a long way to go, but watching true artists in person was inspiring).
Even her packing list focused on moving unencumbered while carrying light packs containing limited clothing, one snorkel mask, and a couple of trekking poles was spot on for this adventure. Sign me up for the next DD adventure! Where are we going?!