Day 176 – 27 Aug, 2015
Reaching the coast of northern Colombia felt bittersweet. I had taken 73 buses from my farthest point south in Puerto Natales, Chile all the way to Palomino, Colombia. I had slept in countless hostels, tents, buses, and bus stations. I had visited 7 countries on the continent in 6 months time. I don’t know if it was it because it was my first continent or if it was because I was still green as a traveler or if it was something else but I had grown quite fond of South America and I was melancholy when I thought about leaving.
With only a few days left, I wanted a quiet retreat to reflect on my adventure so far. Most people head to Tayrona National Park. I had wanted to go there as well but it felt too rushed and I had already decided I need to return to Colombia again one day. Instead, I chose Palomino, a quiet town with white sand beaches and aquamarine water. My second to last bus journey was a city bus that you simply hail from the side of the road and drops you off much the same. A kid on a motorscooter waits for you to disembark and he can drive you the rest of the way to the beach. For $1, he drove me and my 3 pieces of luggage about a mile down a dusty road. I’m sure we looked comical but not unusual; this is standard protocol in Palomino.
Dreamers on the Beach, my resort-like hostel, was exactly what I had in mind. On my second morning, I was lazing in a hammock when I met Jonah. Jonah and Michael had just arrived from California and were on a quick 2 week tour of Colombia. I later learned they were the guilty parties of waking up our entire hostel dorm room when they arrived the night prior but I’ll let Jonah tell you about that in his own words. I immediately was drawn to him. I can’t say why. We had a few moments of standard intro conversation, yada yada, when I learned they were making plans to go tubing. I had heard about the lazy river and I was keen (sorry, I use this word because I’ve been around too many English people. Forgive me?) to give it a go. First rule of a lazy river is that you can’t go alone, not because it’s dangerous but because it would be really lame. Obviously. I invited myself to go with Jonah and Michael.
We each hopped on the back of our respective motorbikes with inner tubes precariously positioned over our heads and sped off toward the entry point. I was wearing nothing but a bikini and flip flops with a few pesos stuck in my top and I soon learned we had to hike about 30 minutes into the jungle before the river revealed itself. Not ideal, but being with Jonah and Michael I felt more confident. If I had worn anything else, it only would have been wet (thus, no photos!) Conversation came easily with them and I soon forgot about the kind of jungle creatures that love bare feet in their domain. With my propensity for getting lost, I forged ahead knowing that I was not alone.
What should have been a 2 hour excursion turned into 4 hours of floating down the laziest of lazy rivers. Jonah and Michael were kind enough to pick up some beer on their way and the 3 of us spent the whole afternoon lounging, swapping stories, and drifting from our entry point all the way back to the ocean. It felt a little symbolic to me, floating to the ocean (at least it wasn’t a bus!). I have met some pretty incredible people, but these two were unexpected and the time was going too fast.
Upon our return, we were all sufficiently sunburnt, as in lobster-style sunburns, yet we had a beachside dinner and an evening swim in the pool, drowning in the sweet thick syrupy strawberry daiquiris the hostel serves. Again, so that I’m not redundant, I’ll let Jonah fill in the details on our day, but I echo his sentiment. We had a special connection and I’m lucky that I met both of them. It was an appropriate finale to six months of exploration and relationships in South America.
Yesterday I started to write this post, but something was missing. Almost 3 months ago now, when I met Jonah, he expressed interest in writing a guest post. I haven’t exchanged messages with him in several weeks, although unbeknownst to me, he has been following this blog. He noticed I was almost caught up and this morning, I received an email with his editorial on Palomino. It made me laugh and also a little sad as I do miss him all the same, but mostly, it leaves me with a smile and a very happy memory. I hope you all enjoy Jonas’s post as much as I do.
I am writing this “Guest Post” because I spent two weeks in Colombia with my three best friends – hiking through tropical jungles, exploring long-defunct but enduringly beautiful castles, eating fresh ceviche on deserted beaches, and sleeping in hammocks while sipping cold beer – yet the memory from this trip that I savor most is of a 14-hour conversation with Rhys and my traveling buddy that jumped from motor bikes along a dirt path to inner-tubes on a jungle river to lunch on a beautiful beach to 10 hours in a hostel pool to bed. And then, finally, to a sad goodbye.
I should preface this post by noting that this is my first swing at travel blogging. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an exhibitionist, but the idea of documenting experiences and feelings from an admittedly brief adventure seems awfully narcissistic. I’m doing my best.
Also, this post was originally meant to help Rhys catch up on her blogging; when we met, her 14 most recent destinations had not yet been documented on “Someday Is Now RTW”. The situation has not improved. Rhys and I met In Palomino, Columbia on August 27th, and as of press time, she is still yet to document our small fishing village on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
Enough with Rhys. Back to me.
The first thing my traveling buddy and I did in Colombia was ride two hours in an unlicensed cab – passing semis and weaving through jungle darkness – to Palomino. We arrived no more than 5 minutes before the front desk of our hostel closed. Instead of spending the night sleeping on the beach and getting eaten alive by sand fleas, we were able to meet some of the still-conscious guests (not Rhys, obviously – it was after 8:00pm), have a few drinks, and melt into the first night of our two week vacation. Life was good… until we arrived in our assigned room (following some solid first-night-of-vacation tomfoolery) and realized that we would be sleeping in a sauna. My survival instincts kicked in and I grabbed the first communal fan and positioned it directly at my face, rather than leave it oscillating a short distance from Rhys’ bunk. She was still a stranger… After three flights, one missed connection, two hours in a cab, five strong daiquiris, and a quick dip in the Caribbean Sea, sleep came easy.
Spirits were high the next morning. We woke up, devoured the first of many mediocre Colombian breakfasts that included the non-descript combination of “arepas with eggs and onions”, lathered up with sunscreen in a feeble effort to combat what would ultimately be the worst sunburn of my life, and strolled 30 seconds from our sweat-lodge hostel room to the beach. Growing up, my family never spent much time “vacationing”, that is to say, we never visited pretty beach destinations. All of our trips had to involve some element of stress, lest we lose our edge when acclimating back to the everyday. We were more of a “visit-the-in-laws-in-upstate-NY” or “take-the-train-36-(grueling)-hours-from-SF-to-Colorado-and-visit-our-still-stoned-over-from-the-70’s-uncle” type of family. You know how it is. Maybe.
Back to me.
Stepping onto the deserted Palomino beach was strangely emotional for me:
Me to Me: Beach?
Me to Me: Holy shit, this is gorgeous.
Me to Me: Why have I never seen this before?
Me to Me: I hate my parents for not bringing me here.
Me to Me: Wait that’s fucked up.
Me to Me: I love my parents, just not as much as I used to.
Me to Me: Still fucked up.
Me to Me: This looks like National Geographic porn for office workers.
Me to Me: Is this real?
Me to Me: Life?
Me to Me: No, don’t get distracted.
Me to Me: Beach.
Me to Me: This is gorgeous.
Me to Me: I’m going to get in the water now.
I’m pretty sure my travel buddy had the exact same thoughts. Or maybe we had those thoughts out loud. Perhaps even with each other? That would make much more and less sense at the same time. Life?
At any rate, we frolicked in the warm Caribbean water and again let the realization of vacation soak into our skin. It’s probably worth mentioning that we’re both awesome people with not awesome jobs. He’s an Oil Man and I’m a Banker. Save your judgement. Whatever, Rhys is a banker too, and Big Oil is worse than Big Finance. Shutup. The point is, we don’t get much time off of work and this trip was a much needed reprieve.
When our fingers were sufficiently pruney, we got out and trekked back to the communal area at the center of our hostel and inquired about the lazy river (this had come highly recommended from a good friend). This is also the point at which we met our soon-to-be-good-friend Rhys!
As we re-applied sunscreen on the stoop of our oven, I mean hostel room, we struck up a conversation with the nicest person standing within 10 feet of us (she was probably in the process of procrastinating her next blog post). We covered the BS quickly – my traveling buddy and I were still in America mode – and found out she’s from Chicago, worked in finance, was taking a break from America, was six months into her trip, etc. etc. She was nice enough so we all decided to tackle the lazy river together.
Shortly thereafter, we grabbed our fully inflated inner tubes, hopped on the back of motor bikes and rode into the jungle, quickly stopping at the local food bungalow to purchase some Cerveza Aguila’s (Rhys is a rookie and forgot to stop, so we had to grab her a couple rounds). After about 15 minutes of scooting through the jungle on the back of a motor bike while balancing inflated pool toys and beer, we arrived at what we believed to be the jump-in spot. Wrong. The three of us were told to follow another nondescript path for approximately 10 minutes. Skip ahead 45 minutes of hiking a narrow path in the sweltering heat while wearing flip flops and carrying inner tubes and beer, we were ready to float.
The next four hours floating down the river were among the loveliest four consecutive hours I’ve ever had. The three of us talked life, love, happiness and health. We commiserated over work, discussed travels, shared non-sequiturial stories of hardship and disappointment, drank beer, laughed, swam, got sun burnt, and genuinely became close friends, all the while enjoying the untouched beauty of Palomino’s wildlife. I think we even saw a family of wild cows? Honestly I didn’t even realize wild cows were a thing.
When we finished our float down the river, we hiked about 30 minutes back to the hostel along the beach. We returned our inner tubes and grabbed some much deserved fresh seafood at a small restaurant right on the water. Colombian ceviche was consistently amazing. Calm down, Peru. I’m sure your ceviche is also delicious…
After lunch, we jumped into the hostel’s pool to cool our scorched skin. Again, we spiraled into the type of all-encompassing conversation that is generally reserved for old friends, siblings and significant others. We discussed very specific heart-wrenching experiences and the intimate emotions surrounding them. We challenged each other’s fears, plans and desires. We tested and helped each other, offering advice at times and simply listening carefully when needed. It felt as if the three of us had had a million things to talk about but no one to talk to. But then we found each other.
10 hours (literally) and several (literally?) daiquiris later, the three of us remained in the pool, unwilling (or perhaps unable) to leave. Upon request from the maintenance staff, we reluctantly returned to our room. After a quick rinse, we all independently and collectively felt the exhaustion that results from 12 hour days in tropical heat. We rearranged the room’s communal fans and said good night. I was sad the day was over.
The next morning the three of us ate breakfast, poured over Rhys’ meticulous travel spreadsheets and talked about our next moves. Rhys was staying in Palomino for another couple days before saying goodbye to South America (and hello to Europe!), while my traveling buddy and I were off to Parque Tayrona for a few more days of hiking in tropical paradise. We aggressively lobbied Rhys to join us, and for a second I thought she might break (I know she wanted to), but in the end it was all in vain.
The three of us acknowledged the sadness we felt and how weird it was to be moved by people that you had met just 24 hours prior. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.
My traveling buddy and I spent the rest of our two weeks really enjoying Parque Tayrona, Cartagena and Medellin, all the while holding each person we met to the impossible standard Rhys had set in Palomino. It’s hard to meet people that allow you in so quickly, that answer questions about themselves when asked and return fire with genuine interest. People like that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Hope your travels are everything you wanted, Rhys! Until next time –