I went back and forth with the driver in Spanglish, he explained the situation to his friend in the passenger seat in Spanish, and I tried to translate it to Lynn. Meanwhile I was also, mentally, pulling essential items out of my suitcase and stuffing them into a plastic bag to take with me into the park for the weekend.
“You cannot take your luggage into the park,” he repeated for the umpteenth time.
Finally, he phoned someone related to some tour company connected to Responsible Travel. He explained the situation to her, driving with his other hand, then turned and handed me the phone.
The English of the woman I spoke with was about as good as my Spanish. I didn’t say it in exactly these words, but I made the point that we didn’t want to leave our luggage with someone we’d met 10 minutes ago, especially after the disappearing act of the driver in Medellin.
Did I sound like Donald Trump, accusing Latin Americans of being criminals? I hope not. It seemed like a reasonable expectation, to go with what was stated in the itinerary.
“Our bags aren’t even that big,” I said, and they weren’t. Lynn travels everywhere with a carry on, and magically, never smells bad. My bag was a bit larger.
Whoever I was talking to on the phone had never been to the park. Lynn and I had never been. Our driver said he’d never been inside, only to the entrance. All of us were flying blind.
The driver dropped his friend off in Calabazo, the last town before we reached the park. Then we drove on to the park entrance, where security guards stood watch over a closed gate. The driver turned and asked for our entrance voucher. Thankfully, for once I had read all the fine print when we’d paid for this trip and I had printed out the voucher.
At the park office, we were greeted by an extremely cheery young guy with braces. “Welcome! I am so happy to practice my English with you! I love the United States and I want to go there—to New York City!”
Oh dear. I have mixed feelings when people in other countries have an idealized notion of the US. I’m so cynical and disillusioned right now, so I guess it’s good to be reminded that other people think wonderful things about us.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked about the luggage.
“No problem!” ruled the young man. I thought he and the driver would stand there and debate it for 20 minutes but no, the driver vanished, and our host waved over another guy leading three horses, who quickly strapped our luggage onto one of them. Somehow I had the presence of mind to throw my purse into my suitcase.
I knew Lynn was sweating bullets. “I’ve never been on a horse before,” she pleaded. The guide had already helped me up onto a horse, then slapped its flanks and the flanks of the horse with the suitcases, and off we plunged into the jungle.
“I’ll need some lessons,” I could hear Lynn behind me, then she let out a shriek as he slapped her horse and it began to run.
The guide didn’t know any English and he must have been paid by the ride, not by the hour, so he pulled out his whip and started flogging the horses on. He wasn’t so much a horse whisperer as a horse whipper.
The trail quickly turned into a boulder-strewn nightmare. Since I had packed my camera away, I have no photos from this episode but they would be blurs anyway. The path below is a tame version of what we did. Wherever we were was, literally, just piles of football-size rocks strewn along hills and valleys.
I could hear Lynn behind me, screaming. “Stop! You horrid little man!” in a crisp English accent. I may have imagined the “horrid” part but her accent had suddenly become like the Queen’s, not her usual casual London.
I wasn’t sure if she was furious about the horse being whipped, or terrified about being pitched headlong onto a boulder—both valid concerns.