December 6, 2007
El Cocuy National Park Trip Day 3
Everyone I talked to yesterday, including the park ranger, the refuge owner, and the owner of my hotel told me that the milk truck left at 5:30 in the morning, and could drop me off near the refuge. I began looking for the truck at 5:15, bud didn't see it. I was surprised to see a few people standing around so early in the morning, and they gladly gave me the bad news: the truck already left at 5:00. Since when did anything happen early in South America? So the list of adversity continued to grow: first the bad information on the park's access point, then my food poisoning, followed by the damaged road, and the lack of maps in the park ranger's office yesterday, and finally the early milk truck. Everything was going against me.
I walked back to the hotel to think about a decision. My only choices were to wait another day for the next milk truck, cut my losses (again) and head back to Bucaramanga, or walk to the top. Normally I'd walk to the top in an instant, but I was without a map or even decent directions, I had barely started eating again and still didn't have much energy, I wasn't acclimatized to the altitude and would have to walk up another 1000 meters, and of course I would have to carry my heavy backpack to get there. Still, waiting around a town as small as Guican for a whole day by myself would've bored me to tears and I had already come so far, I didn't feel like giving up at that point. So my decision was made. I'd take my chances and walk to the top.
The lady at the hotel claimed there was only one road, but of course, the road split into two almost right away. Eventually I found a farmer who showed me the right way. There were a few farm houses dotting the road, so I was able to get updated information for most of my walk. The landscape where palm trees gave way to pines and eventually no trees at all reminded me of what I had seen in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (it was really incredible now that I think about it), but the people were different. I had never seen so many tall, white-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed "natives" in my life. The walk was indeed more difficult than it would have been had I been in good health, but I still made it by mid-afternoon by taking my time.
The refuge I was walking to consisted of three Swiss-style cabins and a couple small administrative buildings. The only people around were the owner's wife and son. The Colombian tourists were supposed to start showing up in about a week for the Christmas holiday, and it was very rare to see a foreign tourist there, despite the fact that the park was listed as one of Colombia's highlights in the Lonely Planet. I put up my tent and tried talking to the owner's wife, but I only received one-worded answers to every topic I tried to bring up. Soon she informed me that she was sick and was going to take her son down to their house. I was then the only human around.
I'm sure the area was beautiful, but a thick fog had blanketed the region by midday and refused to go away. The constant cold wind made sitting outside unpleasant, so I walked around a bit, but quickly headed back because I couldn't see anything anyway. I was happy when it got dark at 6:00 because it meant I could cook supper and go to bed, but that's when the rain started. At first it was just a thick drizzle, like the clouds were trying to empty themselves, but soon it turned into a heavy downpour. I was attempting to cook under the overhanging roof of one of the cabins, but the deck was built further out than the roof extended, so the water ended up splashing all over the place. Soon I was freezing cold and soaking wet, and getting back into the tent was a great pleasure. But my tent had taken some damage in more than a year of heavy usage, and the water started soaking through the barrier of the fly. I started to think I was cuckoo for going to Cocuy.