Tag Archives: Tayrona National Park

Waterworld, What a World

I’m not sure why we were driven five hours from Tayrona to Cartagena, but Lynn and I agreed it was important that we did because it showed us sides of Colombia we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

We drove south along the coast past more beautiful beaches.  If we had flown from Santa Marta to Cartagena we might have been left with the impression that all of Colombia was unspoiled.

But soon we were driving over a very long causeway with what I can only describe as water-logged slums on either side. Here’s a photo of the place, Tasajeras.

This area stretched along a couple of miles.  Our driver said something about the residents being dependent on tankers for clean water.  Ironic, given that they were surrounded by water, but it made sense.  There were no signs that the houses had indoor plumbing.

And here we were, sitting in air-conditioned comfort behind tinted glass, our suitcase contents probably more valuable than the entire contents of one of these homes.  In dollar terms, anyway.

Everywhere I go, I am very conscious of being a one percenter.  I’m not a one percenter in the US, but I imagine that, compared with the population of the planet, my net worth is higher than 99% of the rest of my fellow humans.  At home, I am probably solidly in the middle, which is fine with me.

As I’ve written before, I started my adult life at 17 by getting pregnant, going on welfare, and moving into subsidized housing.  I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but I know firsthand that the vast majority of people in the world can never get ahead no matter how hard they work because they have no social safety net to support them until they get traction.  And the US is heading backward in that direction.

So I have donations to certain causes automatically deducted from my bank account (HIAS is one of my favorites).  I volunteer to do some small part in fighting mass incarceration in the US, and I work for a nonprofit that supports people who have been affected by war trauma.

Lately I have been trying to buy less plastic.  It’s so hard. Everything is packaged in plastic.  I got an Amazon order last week where the item came inside a small plastic tub, wrapped in a plastic bag, mailed in a giant bubble-wrap plastic envelope.  It made me feel sick.  I set the envelope aside and meant to write to Amazon to complain, but I never did.  Now, recalling all the plastic and other waste choking this watery community in Colombia, I wish I had made the effort.

When I travel I tell myself I am supporting the local economy.  Is this true? Would it be better if I stayed home, reduced my carbon footprint, and send a check for the amount of the tour to some Colombian charity?  I don’t know.

We drove through Barranquilla, a city of over a million. I’m sure there are many very nice areas of Barranquilla, but this was pretty much what we saw for 20 minutes as we passed the outskirts.

“Shakira,” said the driver out of the blue, pointing to the city.  Apparently the hip-shaking pop singer is from here.

We drove through a nice residential area down a wide boulevard with signs that announced “Free Wireless,” and just for kicks I tried to connect but we moved on too quickly.  That’s great that they’re making internet available in public parks, I guess.

We stopped at a light and two young men started washing the windshield.

“Venezuelans,” said our driver, as he rolled down his window and gave them some money.  “I don’t need my windshield cleaned but they have no other way to earn money,” he explained.

So a few of my tourist dollars did trickle down.

Two more hours.  The driver’s phone rang and he handed it to me.  It was someone from Responsible Travel.

“We have changed your hotel to a much nicer hotel,” she informed me.

Um, okay?  Who knows what happened and it doesn’t matter.  I was just ready to get to a hotel, any hotel.

Melt Downs

It’s when you’re really tired—completely drained—that accidents happen.  I somehow mustered the effort to focus on every step for the two-hour hike back from the beach.

It occurred to me, too late, that I could have hired a horse to carry my back.  But I made it, and there was Lynn sitting under an umbrella outside the dining area, having a cool drink and reading.

I waved weakly at her and kept walking, to the hut—all I could think of was a shower. Cool, cool water … I felt like a loaf of bread just out of the oven.  Was heat radiating off me?

After, I put on one of the white fluffy robes provided to us as luxury hut dwellers and sank into the hammock on the porch but couldn’t sleep.  Lynn came along and asked if I wanted to get some dinner.  “I should,” I said.  “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

As I was getting dressed there was a knock at the door.  It was the German guy I had passed on the trail.

“Is this the shower building?” he asked disingenuously as he snoopily glanced around through the open door.

“No, it’s our lodgings,” I responded.  I was still wearing the fluffy white robe, a universal symbol of luxury.

“Ah so, you have your own shower!” he stated accusingly.

“Yes, it’s very nice.”

“Very vell zen—enjoy your privilege!” he tossed off as he whirled and stomped away.

Vee vill, Verner!” I yelled after him. “Enjoy your hammock and your slave girl, you pompous jerk!”

I didn’t say that but I thought it.

I stared at my meal, a pastry packet filled with catch-of-the-day fish and vegetables.  A side of plantains and a salad.  A beer.  Anyone who has shared a meal with me knows I am not a delicate nibbler at the table.  Lynn’s husband Richard once remarked, as I was serving myself a third helping of moussaka or some such, “You certainly have a healthy appetite.” For which Lynn admonished him for being rude.

I could hardly bear to look at my meal, much less eat it.  Lynn had tucked into hers and was talking about her book.

“I have to go,” I announced abruptly as I pushed back from the table and stood up.


“I have heat stroke.  I should have known. I’ve had it before and you’re prone to it once you’ve had it once.  I have to go.”

I felt like I’d been hit between the eyes with a very large meat tenderizer.

“But what about your meal?”

I walked over to the line of backpackers at the buffet and picked out a girl at random.

“Would you like a free meal?” I asked.

She looked at me incredulously.  She was also exhausted, but hungry.

She walked over to our table and I handed her the plate.  She stared down at it and I thought she would cry.  I made a beeline for the hut, fell onto the mattress, and slept for 10 hours.

I awoke to a scream.  I ran downstairs and there was Lynn, pointing to a giant bug on her bed.

“It crawled out of my bag!”

“Eeew, it’s a cockroach.  Better dump out your bag to make sure there aren’t any more in there.”

“No!  It’s never a cockroach!” Lynn countered.  “It’s some kind of beetle.”

I didn’t argue.  I lived in public housing for 10 years, so I know what cockroaches look like.  This one happened to be five inches long.

My appetite had returned with a vengeance. As we walked to the dining area, we saw the young woman I’d given the meal to, sitting on a picnic bench.  She was sobbing while her friend patted her on the back, trying to comfort her.

“Ah, backpacker drama,” Lynn observed.

“I hope the meal didn’t give her food poisoning.”

We had the same waitress as at every other meal, so I asked where she lived.

“In a nearby village, some miles from this place,” she replied in English.

“How do you get here?” Lynn asked, taken aback.

“I walk.  It’s a nice walk.”

Humbled and grateful we were leaving today, I wolfed down my eggs.

Because It Was There, That’s Why

I needed more exercise, so I told Lynn I would hike to Cabo San Juan, a beach we had heard was “the most beautiful.”

I would start from the same easy sand path we’d taken to Canaveral.  I put my flip flops back on, grabbed a water bottle out of the mini bar, slung my purse over my shoulder, and headed out.

“I’m happy to just sit here and read,” Lynn said, “So don’t be in any hurry.”

I was gone for five hours.

Why do I do these things to myself?  Why, when I am supposedly on vacation, do I undertake grueling five-hour hikes in sub-tropical heat and humidity—in flip flops?

I brought the map from the lodgings but it wasn’t helpful.  There were no signs. I followed the sand path until a branch led in the direction I thought seemed right.  People on horses passed me by.  I scoffed.  Who was so lazy that they would do this by horse?

A half hour passed and I didn’t see anyone else.  The sand made my footfalls silent.  There was a rustling in the jungle and there—there was a capybara! At least that’s what I thought it was.  It looked like a furry black pig as it scuttled away.

This was what I had come for—to be alone in nature, to hear the sounds and see the flora and fauna.  There were the usual leaf cutter ants and spiny tree trunks and twisting vines.

A boulder blocked the path.  I scampered over it.  There was another boulder on the other side.  And another, and another.  Oh, I see.  The boulders were the path now.

“This is a good workout!” I told myself as I jumped up and down.  Then the path took a steep incline, so I was jumping from boulder to boulder going uphill.  Then downhill.  Then up, up, up, then down, down, down … you get the idea. The “path” was wide enough that it didn’t afford any shade.  It was like hiking in a dry sauna.  My sunscreen was washed away by sweat.  I hadn’t bothered to wear a hat.

After an hour and a half of this, I hadn’t seen any other hikers or signs.  Was this really a path? I heard the sound of horses and pressed myself against a rock face to let them pass.  So it was a path, and if horses could do it, I could too.

Finally, a sign.

“The Cabo. 80% of the way.”  I took this to mean I was 80% of the way there, not that I had 80% left, because that would have made me cry.  My water was long gone and I would have sold Lynn into slavery for a granola bar.

A young couple came from the other direction.  They had enormous back packs and she was carrying a five-liter water bottle. “You’re almost there, only 10 minutes,” he said in a Swiss or German accent.  “Does this lead to Canaveral?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but it’s a very long, difficult hike.”

“Vee vill haff no troubles!” he scoffed.  I exchanged looks with her and wondered if he would make it to Canaveral alive.

I descended back onto a sandy path and walked through a cool grove of palms toward an unmissable sign that said something about an entrance fee.  Normally I am a rule-abiding person, but I was too tired to stand in the line of backpackers waiting to pay.  I have learned that if you stride confidently along—and you’re a white middle aged woman—usually no one asks any questions.

Ahh, a breeze!  The beach was beautiful, but I was too exhausted to enjoy it.

There were more camp sites.

I had been gone for a long time, and wished I could send Lynn a What’sApp message so she wouldn’t worry.  But the only way to get wifi was to buy a meal in one of the thatched-roof restaurants and I had no appetite.  An ominous sign.

Why had I done this?  I couldn’t think.  I would think later.

I paid a peso—33 cents—to use the bathroom, bought two bottles of water, and started back.

Canaveral and Capes

We were joined by a young Spanish woman who was also on her way to the beach.  Even though there was only one path, we didn’t trust ourselves not to get lost.  Our companion—maybe 21 years old—was traveling around Latin America by herself.

“Don’t your parents worry about you?” I asked.

“Of course they do, but they would worry about me if I was in Valencia.  I just don’t tell them where I am, exactly.”

The path split into four or five trails, some leading into the jungle, some splitting around gigantic banyan trees and reconnecting on the other side, others heading in what we presumed was the direction of the ocean.  I tried taking photos of the banyan trees but it was impossible to capture their scale.  This is a section of path that wound through a coconut grove.

“The first beach is Canaveral,” said our fellow traveler.

“We lived near Cape Canaveral, Florida, in Coconut Beach, when my dad worked for NASA,” I told Lynn.  “In fact when I was three I dug into a hill of fire ants.  My mom heard me screaming.  She had a cleaning lady back then, who was a native and knew what to do, so they filled the bathtub with water, stripped my clothes off, and shoved me in.  They even had to hold my head under water to get the ants out of my ears and nostrils.”

“That sounds terrifying!” Lynn exclaimed.  “I’d take the ants over having my head shoved under water any day!”

We passed a panaderia, or bakery, in the middle of the jungle.  It was really just a cinder-block building with some of those ubiquitous white plastic chairs set outside.  I wondered if the owners were Tayrona Indians.  They were shorter than me, which is short.  Their long black hair was plaited, and they wore what looked like white night gowns.

“Here is where I leave you,” said our friend, “I will buy some sweet bread here for the beach.”

We walked on, passed a hut selling cold beer and snacks, and in five minutes were at the beach.  I had heard that Tayrona’s beaches are the most beautiful on earth.  I haven’t been to enough beaches to judge that, but from our first glimpse Canaveral was wildly beautiful.

I’m not normally a beach goer; I do things.  I go, go, go when I’m away.  Vacation, for me, is not a break from physical activity but from routine.

Today I would try to do nothing.  I knew Lynn was just going along because it was the thing to do.  She wasn’t a sit-on-the-beach person either.

We were both dripping with sweat, and as soon as we cleared the forest there was a breeze and we both let out an “Aaaahhhh.”  Then, “Oooohhhh,” when we caught sight of the actual beach.

Lynn was wearing her usual long black pants, a black tee-shirt, and black sandals.  Sometimes if she’s in a wild mood she wears a red tee-shirt.

We found a patch of sand and laid down a large towel from our hut.

Lynn sat down gingerly. “We used to go to the beach as a family,” she said.  “Mum made these portable changing frocks, like a round table cloth with an elasticized hole in the middle that fit over our heads.  So there we’d be, in full public view, changing out of our clothes into our bathing suits under this contraption.”

“How did you pull your tee-shirt over your head?”

Lynn thought a moment.  “I don’t know!  Maybe mum always dressed us strategically, with button-up shirts.”

“There weren’t any ‘public conveniences’ in those days?”

“No, just sand and more sand, and wind.  Sand in our sandwiches.  Sand in our shoes, sand in our hair ….”  She was wiping sand off the towel as she spoke.  She clearly did not like sand.

I walked up and down the beach, barefoot in the surf, it was heavenly.

The towel was empty when I came back.  I sat for a few minutes, feeling the sunscreen dripping off with my sweat, then went to join Lynn where I knew she would be—in the shade of the snack hut having a beer.

Ant in My Pant

“I’m surprised I’m not in agony,” Lynn remarked the next morning as we walked to the dining hut for breakfast.

“I know,” I replied, “I thought I’d be … be… aggghhh!” I screamed as a hot burning pain pierced my right thigh and I turned to run back to our hut.

“Whatever is the matter?” Lynn called after me.

Ants!  Ants in my pants!”  I had left my suitcase on the floor, and fire ants must have crawled in during the night.  I tore of my pants, hopping up and down on one leg then the other.  Turns out it was only one ant, but a very big one.  Everything here was supersized.  I shook my pants out the window to send it flying back to where it belonged.  The burning lasted a few more minutes as I hobbled to the dining hall.

“It was an ant in my pant, to be technically accurate,” I reported to Lynn.

“Sounds like some of the fish stories Richard tells,” Lynn needled m.  “By the time you get back to St. Paul the ant will be the size of a cat.”

Today was beach day.  That’s why people come to Tayrona—for the beaches.  The jungle itself was rather dry and dusty.  The trees, which from what I observed were mainly coconuts and mangoes, were spaced widely. It wasn’t lush and thick like jungles in Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Belize.  Maybe it was the time of year.  Maybe it lushes out during the rainy season.

As soon as we approached the dining hut, our waitress from the night before escorted us to a table.

“Seems like we’re destined to always order off the menu,” Lynn said.

“I know.  They’ve got us pegged as white-linen-table-clothe people.”

“That’s fine with me,” Lynn replied.  We’d been given the bill for our free meal the night before, just for our records.  They had given us two entrees each, then main courses, dessert, a bottle of wine, two bottles of sparkling water, and coffee.  It had amounted to about $40 per person including tip, the most expensive meal we would have in Colombia.

A 30-something couple sat at a picnic bench outside the dining hut with their three young daughters.  They were all eating granola bars.  We had seen them emerging from a tent on our way in.

“I give them a lot of credit for doing this,” I said.  “I hope the kids appreciate it.  They look to be about nine, six, three … I wonder if the younger ones will even remember it.”

“Are they doing this for themselves or for the children?” Lynn wondered.

“For the whole family, maybe.  But they look miserable.”

“More like serious, I’d say,” Lynn said.

“Yeah, you’re right.  They look German or Scandinavian.  They always look so serious.”

We made our way in the general direction someone had pointed when we asked about beaches.  Soon we arrived at a stream, over which someone had thrown some wobbly tree branches.

“Oh really!” Lynn exclaimed.  “This is just not on!  How can they expect to attract tourists to this place if they expect us to cross a river every 10 minutes!”

I would have crossed that thing in five seconds had I been on my own.  It was the kind of stream I’ve crossed a hundred times in Minnesota.

“I am not doing this.  I will not!” stated the London girl who had never been on a bicycle, didn’t know how to swim, and had just experienced her first (and last) horseback ride.

Other hikers passed us, looked at Lynn curiously, and crossed the stream with no drama.

“Here,” I offered as I stepped into the stream.  “You walk over the logs and hold onto my hand to keep steady.”

“But you’ll get wet!” Lynn protested.

“We’re going to a beach.  It’s no deeper than my ankles.”  I hoped there weren’t any schistosomiasis larvae in the water.

“You’re a good friend,” Lynn said as we walked together over the raging river (not).

And there, on the other side, was a giant blue butterfly (not my photo, below).

“This makes it all worth it,” Lynn murmured as we watched it flutter.

Yes, There is Such a Thing as a Free Meal

“That’s awfully nice of them,” Lynn remarked as we were seated in the thatch-roof dining area for our free dinner, courtesy of Responsible Travel.

“The missing driver pales in comparison to that horseback ride.  I will have a word with them about that.  If they are promoting this trip to people like us they should warn that Tayrona is really still a backpacker destination.”

“Yeah, I’ll give them feedback on that too.  There’s no mention of it being an intense physical experience.”  I didn’t fess up that I thought it had been fun—the highlight of the trip so far.

“If you had a bad back you’d be screwed.  You’d have to go back into town and hope you could find a motel room.  I wonder if anyone from Responsible Travel has ever actually been here?”

The waitress brought menus and a bottle of wine.

“It’s a lovely place and I’m glad we’re here,” continued Lynn.  “They didn’t need to give us a free meal and I hope they don’t do it again when I give them feedback on the horses.”

“I know.  I always hope when I give feedback that they use it to tweak the tour for people who do it next.  But I suppose some people are hoping for freebies, in the age of Trip Advisor.”

There are always unexpected turns of event on any trip.  With time, and from the comfort of home, sometimes they become the best memories.

“I’ll just have to have ceviche again,” I said to the waitress.

“And I’ll have the catch of the day,” Lynn ordered.

Nearby, backpackers shuffled through a buffet line where food was slopped onto their plates—it looked like beans and rice—while others sat hunched over picnic benches outside eating granola bars.

“I like having money,” I observed as I smoothed my hands over the white linen tablecloth.  “I’m not rich by American standards, but I pinch myself when I think of where I came from and that I am sitting here in Colombia eating such a good meal and staying in the nicest accommodation.”

“And we’d be eating in here even if it wasn’t free,” Lynn commented.  “I don’t do buffets.”

“Granola bars are nice once in a while when there’s no other choice, but to eat them for a gap year?  Yuck.”

“I did it when I was 17,” Lynn said.  “We traveled all around Italy by train and hitchhiking and slept in stations … and on hillsides.”

“With horrid little men!” I laughed.

“Yep, I’ve paid my dues too.  I once stayed in a friend of a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. It didn’t have hot water, and when my friend’s friend—I never saw her—complained, the landlord disconnected the toilet and put it in the middle of the kitchen.  I don’t know how long it had been there.  I had to run down four flights of stairs and use the bathroom in the bar at the street level.

“But it was free!  I lived off saltine crackers the whole week and had a blast.”

Our luxury hut had a bedroom and bath on the first level, plus a porch with chairs and a hammock.

The beds were hard as concrete so, like Goldilocks, I checked out the ones upstairs.  I suppose firm mattresses are easier to move—especially on horseback.

There was a single mattress off to the side that was probably meant for a spare kid.  It was the softest bed in the place, so I set up there.

The bathroom had some amusing features.  Well, we Americans are always amused and slightly horrified by bidets.  It doesn’t make sense, if I’m being logical.  But this one was set up so it would drip water on the TP roll.

Then there were these bad translations.

Yes—Plugs of the World, Unite!

How hard is it, really, to find a competent translator?  This was a national park, not a mom and pop outfit.  But maybe I’m being too critical.

It seemed like a shame, but we closed the shutters at dusk as we had been instructed, “to keep insects out.”  We would learn that this was an illusion.

Hangin’ in Tayrona

The other night I was watching Antiques Road show.  A guest was proudly displaying an earthen pot with four animals crouched around its rim.

“This is a classic example of what you think of when you think of Tayrona pottery,” said the expert.

There’s Tayrona pottery? I spent two nights in Tayrona National Park and didn’t know what  the “Tayrona” referred to.

“But the opening is only 4 inches wide, and when I knock on it … here … there’s a hollow sound instead of a solid sound.  I’m afraid it’s not genuine,” intoned the expert.

The owner looked crestfallen.

“It’s still a charming piece.  May I ask how much you paid for it?”

“I bought it in a gallery in Seattle for $6,000,” said the owner sheepishly.  “It came with a certificate of authenticity.”

“Counterfeiters will often spend as much time making the certificate of authenticity look believable as they do on the object itself.  As I said, it’s still a very nice piece of pottery, and it might bring $200 retail if you were to sell it.”

Long pause.

“If it was a genuine pre-Colombian bowl, it could bring up to $23,000 at auction.”

Here’s a bit of what my personal librarian, Wikipedia, has to say about the Tayrona—or Tairona—people.

“Ethnohistorical data shows that initial contact with the Spanish was tolerated by the Tairona but by the 1600 CE confrontations built and a small part of the population moved to higher stretches of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This allowed them to evade the worst of the Spanish colonial system during the 17th and 18th centuries. The indigenous Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuacos (Ijka, Ifca) and Kankuamo people who live in the area today are believed to be direct descendants of the Tairona.”

So they were still around.  I had noticed on the map handed to us at reception that there were villages in the park which were off-limits to tourists.  I liked that.

It’s a beautiful map.  Unfortunately, the type was microscopic so it was only marginally helpful.

The compound in which we were staying was called Cabanas Arrecifes.  On the way to our hut we walked past an area with permanent tents for rent.

Farther on, there was a big hut with hammocks, also for rent.

The tenting and hammock options were as basic as they look. After all, it’s a national park.  I stepped inside the hut because I’m nosy.  Lockers were the one amenity.

If I slept in one of these, I’d be unable to stand erect for days.  As it was, I worried how I would feel the next day.  As I’ve written, I have scoliosis, for which I got to wear one of these four years (this is not me; I’m grateful none of the photos of me they took for “research” made it online).

One of the activities I was admonished not to do was horseback riding, due to the jostling.  Not that my family belonged to the horse-riding set; I did it once pre-brace at Campfire Camp, where I went on a scholarship.

There were communal bathrooms with showers for the tenters and hammockers, but you would definitely want to take a flashlight and wear shoes in the middle of the night to avoid stepping on one of these.

That goes for all levels of accommodation; this was in our bathroom in the cabin.

I’ve tried to find out how much it cost to book a hammock vs. a tent vs. a cabin, and all that comes up is .com sites that want to book the cabin for $280 a night.  Responsible Travel must have an agreement because we couldn’t have paid anything close to that.  Two nights at that rate would have been over a third of our price of our entire 10-day trip.

There was no Internet in the park, so no way to let Responsible Travel know we’d arrived safely.  But they were way ahead of us.

“You have a free dinner tonight,” our young friend with braces informed us.  “Courtesy of Responsible Travel because of your troubles this morning with your driver.”

Driver?  This morning?  The morning seemed like two days ago.

See How I Resisted a Horse Pun?

I hadn’t been on a horse since I was eight years old, at Campfire Camp, where we had probably received two hours of lessons before we even mounted.

The walk into Tayrona National Park had been billed as one hour by foot.  How long it would take on horses was anyone’s guess, but it would have been impossible to bring our suitcases if we had walked.

As I lurched up and down and back and forth on my horse, I tried to recall those horse riding lessons as Lynn screamed behind me.  Not to get too graphic, but I had to firmly lay my left arm across my bosom to prevent giving myself two black eyes as the horse pitched up and down. God help any woman with double DDs.

“Let me down this moment!  Stop hitting the horse, you awful man!” Lynn kept repeating.

Hie, hie!” was his response, as he urged one horse, then another, onward.  I’m sure he was as eager as we were for this to be over.

I was a terrible friend.  I started to laugh.  I tried to do it silently, but thought it a good idea to yell back to Lynn, “This is the craziest ride I’ve ever been on!” so she would think I was laughing at the situation, not her.  I haven’t laughed that hard since Lynn ran over the boulder in Cornwall.

“Stop right now—I demand you stop this horse right now!” Lynn shouted.

I knew she was terrified.  “Try to stay relaxed,” I yelled over my shoulder as my horse suddenly jerked over to one side going over a hill of bowling ball sized rocks. “Don’t tense up!” I had read somewhere, maybe in Black Beauty when I was 10 years old, that horses can sense you are nervous and will take advantage of it by behaving badly.  It was also advice I’d received in similar situations like a Jeep ride on a potholed road in Jamaica and a boat ride on the squalling sea in Italy—don’t tense up, it’ll make everything worse.

While all this was going on, I kept seeing this scenario: One of my horse’s shoes would slip on a rock, his leg would fly out from under him and break, and I would hurtle onto a boulder or off a cliff.  Then the guide would have to shoot the horse in front of us and I would have to crawl on my elbows the rest of the way with two broken legs.

Several days later, I found a horseshoe on another path.  Ignoring the airline rules about not transporting livestock items, I brought it home.  It’s pretty much as worn and slippery as I assumed they all were.

As I was imagining my future on permanent disability benefits, I also knew my horse had done this hundreds of times.  He was not thrilled about it, because the horrid man had to keep urging him on, but it wasn’t his first time at the rodeo.  Ha ha.

“There’s a bridge!” I cried out to Lynn.  “Bridge” is a very generous description.  The riverlet was only about 15 feet wide but too deep to wade.  Someone had laid rough-hewn planks across it.

Nooo!  I am never going across that … that!” Lynn inarticulated, and instinctively pulled up the reins to stop her horse and somehow got down.  “I am not going across that river.  I am not ….”

Lynn is not a fan of water.  I heard her bargaining with the guide, who had slapped my horse so hard that it galloped headlong across the “bridge,” and on into the jungle.

I don’t know what transpired behind me, but Lynn arrived at the lodgings shortly after me.  We each tipped the guide something and he skedaddled.

Did I mention it was 90F/32C, and 90% humidity?  We were covered in sweat and dust.  Lynn probably did stink at this point but I could no longer smell because my nose was clogged with dust.

“Welcome to Tayrona!” A young man with braces came to greet us.  There should be something called “The Braces Index” to measure countries’ economic development.

Soon we were in our luxury hut, post showers, enjoying cold beers.

No Experience Needed

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.