Colombian “Camping”

This story begins, as most of my Colombian stories do, with me agreeing to something without knowing exactly what I was getting into.

It started the week before our long weekend, when a coworker invited me to visit Lago Calima, which is a man-made lake about a two-hour drive from Cali, over the weekend. I hadn’t been and I’d heard it was beautiful, and I didn’t have plans, so I agreed. Well, what I thought was going to be a nice day-trip to a lake turned into an overnight adventure with a bunch of Colombians I didn’t know.

My coworker picked me up on Sunday morning, and I thought we were headed to get our other companion, who also works at SENA, before driving off to the lake. Well, we went and piled into a car with not only her, but also her parents. Okay, cool. So off we went.

Why did I put “camping” in quotes? Well, I don’t really know if I can rightfully call it camping. We paid about $10 each to stay in lovely tents that were already set up for us, underneath nice dry tarps and built on top of sturdy platforms, and inside were delightfully comfortable mattresses at least four inches thick. We were also sure to be snug and warm with the fleece blankets they provided. This was a far cry from my previous experiences of camping, which has largely consisted of lying on the bare ground of the Israeli desert in January and shivering awake all night. So that’s different.

Roughing it
Roughing it

We had a relaxing afternoon at the lake. I gorged myself on the bandeja paisa, which is a beautiful Colombian dish that includes: rice, beans, avocado, a fried egg, chicharron, chorizo, ground meat, and an arepa (I actually had to just look it up because I couldn’t remember everything on it). Later, after a boat ride in which I dutifully called “last line” (I hope you’re proud of me, sailor friends), my coworkers decided to rent a jetski. Now, I am anti-jetski, so I elected to stay ashore with the parents. We waited for them to come back from their half-hour ride, and I had a confusing conversation with the mother about sociological differences between Colombian and American cities, all in Spanish of course. When they hadn’t returned after an hour, we began to wonder what was going on. Well, this being Colombia, it turned out that about 10 minutes after they left, the motor of their jetski died. So the parents and I waited a while longer for the now-dead jetski and our companions to be rescued.

When darkness fell, of course it was time to eat again, so we headed back to the tent and got the grill and campfire ready. Or rather, we tried. The Colombians seemed like they had been camping before and knew what they were doing, so I hung back for a while and let the men attempt to do their thing with the fire. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The newspaper they were using as a fire-starter quickly burned up, and neither the coals on the grill nor the logs on the campfire were even close to catching fire. I tried to step in to help, but my efforts were quickly undone by my fellow-campers. Here are some highlights of what came next:

  • Throwing a plastic bag in to use as a fire-starter: Oh, dear God, forgive me for letting this happen and not saying anything. Now, I’m not exactly a camping expert, but I know intuitively that this is a terrible idea. Perhaps some of my more scientifically or environmentally knowledgable friends can tell me exactly WHY this is so bad, but I just knew that it was. But they loved it.
  • Building a pyramid of coals on top of a candle: This actually is what worked.
  • Putting ALL of the logs onto the campfire once it got going: Again, I’m not an expert at this, but I know that this doesn’t work. When I saw this happening, I went over and removed most of the logs and rearranged the remaining logs in an efficient way so that they would burn and last a while. As soon as I stepped away, one of my companions immediately put it back the way it was, lecturing me on why I was wrong. The fire quickly burned out.
  • Throwing styrofoam plates onto the grill so that they would flame up: This is kind of like when my mom throws paper or wood chips onto the fireplace because she likes to see a blazing fire, except this is way worse in so many ways.

Well, somehow we got through it.

Early morning at the lake

The next morning, we did what I’d really been looking forward to: horseback riding. We’d spoken to the people the night before and they’d assured us that the horses would be ready by 6 AM. Well, let’s just say that by 10 AM they finally started gathering the horses together and saddling them up, and we were off by around 10:30. At the beginning, the old Colombian horse-wrangler was leading one of the horses on foot, so I figured this was going to be a necessarily pretty tame ride. Well, when we got to the top of the hill, he turned us loose and said “See you in an hour!” Cool. So off we went, completely unsupervised and free to go where we pleased. It was a very different than horseback riding in America. We signed no waivers, no one asked us if we had even ridden before, and we were free to go as fast as we wanted. So of course we did, and it was awesome. Mum, don’t worry about it, it was totally fine.

I think that’s a pretty good snapshot of my Colombian “camping” experience. I returned late on Monday afternoon, tired and sunburned and muddy and totally happy, and as usual, I’m glad that I’m in the habit of saying “” to just about everything, because it can lead to some really cool and unexpected adventures.


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