Well, I finally did what my mother, my doctor, and several others vaguely concerned for my safety attempted to get me to promise not to do: I ventured into the Colombian jungle.
OK, I don’t really know if it can be considered the jungle. It certainly isn’t the Amazon. And there are no malarial flies (that I am aware of…if I had contracted malaria, I’d know by now, right? …Right?!) But it felt enough like a jungle for me to feel justified in calling it one, so jungle it is.
It was a particularly Colombian adventure from the start. As often happens here (at least to me), I did not know quite what I was agreeing to. My friend (who will be henceforth known as the Colombiano) told me about a nice river just outside Cali and invited me to visit it on my day off. “A river, you say?” was my delighted response. “Just outside Cali, you say? Let’s go.” Did I mention how hot it is here? I was assured that you can, indeed, swim in this river, so I readily agreed.
The adventure began in the morning. I met the Colombiano on the south side of the city and we set off. This being Colombia, however, we did not go to the main terminal to catch our bus. We simply strolled along the side of the semi-highway and flagged down passing minibuses to ask if they were headed towards our destination. When we found the right one, we hopped on.
The right one turned out to be the wrong one, so fifteen minutes later we hopped back off.
And up the mountain we went, this Gringa regretting not having changed out of her jeans when she had the chance.
After an hour of walking (all uphill, of course) and a few detours to look at various birds and waterfalls, the right bus finally passed our way and we got on. Shortly, however, the Colombiano decided we should get off before our destination and take another detour, naturally an uphill one. This time we headed into a national park that may or may not have been open to the public, but it was open to us. We mostly stuck to the main path and mostly avoided getting eaten completely alive by mosquitoes. Sadly, we did not spot any monkeys or capybaras, but to be honest, if I saw a capybara in the wild, my heart would probably stop from sheer excitement.
So after some more wandering, we headed back to the main path and continued on to our destination, you guessed it, further uphill. Oh, did I mention that I had donated blood the day before and had promised the nurses I would rest and drink water for the next 3 days? The Colombiano was unsympathetic to this fact and urged me boldly forward. All told that day, we trudged upward through the midday heat for a total of about three hours before we finally arrived at the promised river.
Also, it’s the dry season, and it’s been a particularly dry year, so the river was about three inches deep in most places. Oops. Not much for swimming. But we did get to cool off in some unexpectedly cold natural pools at a resort along the river, and we managed to find a mini-waterfall to frolic in, so in the end, it was a successful adventure.
The journey back was as Colombian as the journey up. First, we waited two hours for the bus that supposedly comes every hour, and it never really came. While we waited, we sat with a drunk old man who told us about living in that town when the guerillas had had control of the area, and then cheerfully encouraged us to brandish the machete that he casually carries with him at all times. He was just one of a colorful cast of characters we met that day.
Instead of the bus, we took a jeepeto back to Cali. These are basically big jeeps with the normal backseats removed. Instead, there are two benches along the sides, and iron bars on the ceiling. Why, I wondered, would you need iron bars on the ceiling? Well, I did not have to wonder long. Everyone firmly but perfectly calmly held on as our fearless driver careened down the unpaved, tightly winding mountain roads, sometimes catching slight air off bumps and always swerving just in time to avoid oncoming traffic. Come to Cali, and you, too, can experience the adrenaline rush of this thrilling ride for less than a dollar!
Well, that was one day in my Colombian life. Most days are neither as eventful nor as exciting, but every day is just as typically Colombian, whatever that might mean.