It’s been a while since I posted something and even longer since I gave an update of my trip, here’s some of what Erin and I have been up to since you last heard from us. I also have a video for you all to check out (link at the end). It’s a little rough, feel free to give me some feedback on it.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” – Unknown
When Erin and I left New York for Ecuador, the airline wouldn’t let us on to the plane without some proof that we intended to leave the country. Many countries have this “onward ticket” rule, but it generally seems to be only sporadically enforced. In a panic, we booked a bus ticket from Quito, Ecuador to Bogotá, Colombia, just so they would let us on the plane. Once in Ecuador, we took a closer look at the ticket and realized we had signed ourselves up for a 30 hour bus ride. Great.
We contacted the company to see about a refund, but the best they would do was let us change the dates on the tickets. So, two days after the home invasion, we packed some snacks into our new daypack, and climbed aboard. The ride wasn’t actually too terrible, just long. The real excitement was at the Colombian border when we were informed that, as Canadians we are required to pay a “reciprocity fee” of $160,000 pesos (roughly $50 USD) to get in. We weren’t sure we had enough money, and the closest ATM was 7 km back, in town. We emptied all our pockets, pulled out our emergency stash, counted up all of our change, and we had just enough to pay our fees. We had about $4 left when it was all said and done. Good think we brought our own food for the bus trip, because we had no money left to buy dinner or lunch when the bus stopped for breaks.
Eventually we made it to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. Bogota is a huge city. To put it in perspective, there are more people living in Bogotá then in the whole province of Alberta. We stayed at a hostel in the old part of the city (La Candelaria), and, for the most part we just wandered around and took in the sights. We went to the Museo Del Oro (Gold Museum), which featured a lot of indigenous and pre-colombian gold works and sculptures, – all owned by the bank, oddly enough. The bank started the museum after finding a particularly beautiful piece, and deciding maybe they shouldn’t be melting down all this ancient artwork. We also did a bicycle tour of the city, it seems on every block in Bogotá someone important has been assassinated. I’m glad things have calmed down lately, because it is a beautiful, chaotic city and certainly worth seeing.
From Bogotá, we took a short ride on the bus to Zipaquira. We spent a single night in a very run down and poorly kept hostel, and saw the Salt Cathedral in the morning. It’s a salt mine carved into a cathedral complete with some very impressive sculptures.
Next up was the picturesque colonial town of Villa De Leyva, where we spent a few days relaxing. One day, Erin and I decided to do a hike up one of the small mountains nearby. At first I wasn’t sure we were even on a trail, but eventually we saw some other footprints and were reassured. After the first forty five minutes in the heat and high altitude, I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the top. After the second forty five minutes, I was worried I wouldn’t make it home alive. Erin just rolled her eyes at my bellyaching, and kept on climbing.
Eventually, the trail stopped leading upward and levelled off. Suddenly the trail was leading between fields of grazing sheep and cows, and small houses dotted the landscape on the sides of the mountains. We stopped and had some lunch (fresh baked bread and gingerale). As we headed back down, I was looking out at the houses and I realized something. There were no cars or motorcycles, these people commuted to town via the trail that I barely survived. Suddenly I felt a little silly and plenty weak. On our way down, my theory was confirmed as we passed several groups of people, many walking and some riding donkeys laden down with supplies. One man we passed was talking on a cell phone while riding a donkey up the hill, it was just an interesting sight to see.
The day after our hike we decided to rent some mountain bikes and do a self guided tour to a local park with a few nice waterfalls. We biked up hill the whole way there along a gravel road. We arrived at the park, paid our fees, and hiked down into the valley to see the waterfalls. We passed a few people on the trails but didn’t see anyone at the waterfall. We sat on a rock at the bottom and had some lunch and then we climbed up the slippery rock to the top of the falls, which was really just some water trickling down the rocks, as it had been very dry lately.
After taking some photos and admiring the scenery we came down and grabbed our gear. Before we could leave a local man explained in Spanish that there was a nicer, larger waterfall further down the trail. He was pretty adamant and got us to follow him, until we saw a sign that clearly denoted the end of the trail. He waved his hand in a “ah its nothing” fashion and kept walking, we went a little further and then Erin said “I’ll wait here.” We were both a bit concerned that it might be a set up, trap, or ambush of sorts. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to give and excuse not to follow him also I was aware that my paranoia was still a little high from the previous weeks excitement in Quito. After a bit more following we showed up at a really big waterfall, and I was quite relieved. We felt bad for being suspicious of him. Erin and I headed back to the park entrance, grabbed a lemon aid, and headed back towards town. On the way, we made one more stop near a small pond and had a light snack before finishing our tour.
From Villa De Leyva, we made our way to San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. We stayed at a nice hostel run by an Australian man who organized activities with other local businesses. I signed up for kayaking course and was up bright and early the next morning ready to go. Unfortunately, they had forgotten about me. Erin had left before I was supposed to be picked up so while she was off exploring nearby towns with new friends, I sat in my room, grumpy that I had been forgotten. Oh well, I needed the rest and relaxation. That evening I mentioned to the owner what happened and he immediately called the company and confirmed I would be picked up for classes the following day.
The next morning, they called the company to re-confirm. Sure enough, they showed up this time. The first day, I was told, would be in a pool working on basic skills. I expected a normal swimming pool, but we actually went to a local waterfall that had been dammed up down stream to create a semi natural pool. The class consisted of myself and one other traveller who was staying at the same hostel. We worked on basic paddling and maneuvering and then started to work on eskimo rolls. An eskimo roll is the ability to roll a kayak from upside down to right side up using a lot of hip and a bit of paddle… and from what I could tell, a bit of magic. By the end of the first day I was sore, tired, and still unable to do the roll.
On the second day of kayaking lessons, we were taken for a trip down the river over some light rapids. It was pretty exciting. I had to bail out of my kayak more than once, and be rescued by the instructor. After the first crash it was a lot less frightening. My classmate had a few spills that day too, but he had figured out the eskimo roll on the first day, so he was a little ahead of me. Throughout the day, we stopped along the shore a few times to go over more techniques and practice our eskimo rolls. I was still having trouble with it. Eventually, we were on a nice slow and deep patch of river. JD, my classmate, did an eskimo roll at the teachers request. Then the instructor looked at me and said “Ok, this is it Tyson, you’re going to do and eskimo roll right here, right now. Go for it!”
I assumed the position, rolled under, and sat for a moment, I regrouped mentally, loosed and tightened my grip on the paddle, and visualized what I wanted to happen. I thrust my right hip “up” and my left knee “down” and popped out of the water like a cork. I had done it. I looked around, amazed as both my companions cheered and clapped. For the first few seconds I didn’t believe I had done it myself. As we neared the end of our route, the instructor told us there was a huge wave just before where we get out of the river, and he wanted us to hit it head on. I was happy to oblige, worst case I crash into water and sure enough, thats what happened. I went straight up the side of that wave, went right upside down, and couldn’t roll out of it, so I had to eject from the kayak and swim to shore… how embarrassing. We were then told that the following day we would hit some harder rapids and do a longer trip.
The next morning my stomach was in my throat. I was very nervous about hitting bigger rapids. The instructor assured me I would be fine. Worst case, I have to get rescued. I decided to bring my action camera and get some footage. The three of us headed down the river, and more than once I was tossed from the kayak and had to be saved. We then met up with another instructor and a student on his second day. We did some more work on our rolls, and I was introduced to the kayak equivalent of water boarding. The instructor flipped my kayak and then I had to roll to correct it, at which point he would flip it again as fast as he could, over and over until I couldn’t roll anymore. I did six and got it on film. Later on down the river on calm flat water without someone flipping me upside down, I was able to do eight rolls in a row unassisted. It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
We finished out the trip and had a few more crashes along the way. When we finally made it to land, we were offered a second run on the river, we both declined. JD had hurt his shoulder in a crash and I was so tired I was worried it would be a safety concern. I had also taken a good bump to the rib cage, courtesy of a large rock, during one of my rescues. So I headed back to the hostel to recover before taking an overnight bus to the Caribbean coast, but I’ll tell you about that in my next story.
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