Something is happening. It started last summer when I fell in love with my life and since then the shine has only gotten brighter. I feel like I am walking through life carrying my heart out in front of me for everyone to see. It’s intense and it’s also one of the most incredible spaces I have ever been in. I feel like I fall in love a million times per day. A song plays in the bus and my heart overflows. I discover a beautiful new cafe and my heart overflows. And most of all, I meet new people and my heart overflows. Like when I returned from the amazing 24 hours of bonding in San Cipriano, I am back from another trip and completely encantada with my travel buddy (and friend from San Francisco) Sarah AND with our new friends we met along the way.
Sarah and I started in Cartagena, that same colonial Caribbean city where Cameron and I ended our year of travels 3 years ago. My sister Sophie who has spent the last year teaching English on the rural island of Baru just off the coast, met us and we spent our days wandering the colonial streets, drinking wine on the city wall that overlooks the ocean, and enjoying Costeña food and mojitos. Sarah and I had never done more than a weekend away together but she is so laid back and easy going that we immediately fell into a perfect rhythm.
After Cartagena Sophie led us by bus, ferry, and motorcycle to her home on Baru where we toured her very tiny dusty town of Santa Ana and then headed to Playa Blanca for beach massages, sunshine, and a night in an adorable and extremely rustic sand-floored beach cabaña. Playa Blanca is packed full of tourists from Cartagena during the day, but at night and early in the morning we found ourselves on a deserted turquoise beach. Lovely.
But it was the trip up the coast to Taganga and into Tayrona National Park when the adventures really began. There was the bus incident when a simple 20 minute bus ride turned into 3 bus transfers and an hour of Caribbean sweat (met with good humor and topped off with a passionfruit cocktail in the swimming pool that made everything better). There was the iguana incident while we waited to board our boat to Tayrona, when a giant iguana lept out of a tree nearly falling on someone’s head, raced around the street causing total chaos and then ran into the ocean and disappeared. 30 minutes later as our boat speeds through the ocean waves on the way to the park, said iguana appeared on the outboard motor. We had to pull into shore and toss him toward the rocks. =) Hopefully he is having a less adventurous life now. There was the monkey incident when Sarah and I hiked through the jungle to visit the ruins of an indigenous village. We were so excited to run into a group of monkeys playing in the treetops. Until one got a little too interested in us and headed straight down the tree to get a better look. We very quickly decided it was time to move on. =)
And then there was the Tropical Storm Incident. We first met Jose and Jose from Valencia, Spain, in Taganga before we left for the park. But we had no idea how integral to our trip they would become. Parque Tayrona is one of my favorite spots in Latin America. It’s wild. Giant boulders, palm trees, and sandy beaches backed by thick jungle and blue mountains. The ocean is fierce but there a few protected bays for swimming. The most popular spot is Cabo San Juan del Guía where you can rent a tent or sleep in a hammock. There are two sets of hammocks- the lower ones set back from the beach, packed tightly under a thatched roof reinforced with black plastic where you sleep to the sound of the generator and the smell the horses. The upper hammocks are fewer and harder to get but are high above the ocean, where you listen to the waves and smell the salty air. Sleeping in the upper hammocks is one of my favorite memories of my last trip in South America, so Sarah and I were determined to get up early and reserve them for our second night in Tayrona. Our new friends, the Joses, decided to stay in the lower hammocks and we teased them for it, bragging about what a lovely night we were going to have from our ocean front viewpoint. The only downside of the upper hammocks is that the ocean breeze is a bit chilly at night. Luckily I knew this from past experience and Sarah and I had packed very carefully including long sleeves, hats, socks…we had planned extensively to make sure we would have dry warm clothes for a comfortable night.
That night, we were sitting in the restaurant for dinner when the storm started. The restaurant is a large open air “room” covered by a thatched roof, filled with plastic tables and chairs, and the only place to be under cover besides in our hammock. It’s also the only place with light at night so most people sit there to play cards etc. The rain started hard- true tropical storm style. We were sitting the middle of the cover but it soon became obvious that that wasn’t enough to keep us dry. I was still in my beach clothes. A sleeveless cotton minidress, no shoes. And starting to shiver. My backpack and all my clothes was all the way across the beach and up the hill in my hammock. And as the downpour and gusts of wind continued for the next hour it became apparent that all my careful planning was probably soaking wet along with my hammock. The boys gathered up the few articles of clothing and damp towels they had and we all circled up to try to stay warm. Amazingly, while other tables of stranded travelers sulked and argued, we spent hours laughing at the absurd hilarity of the situation. Even though Sarah and I had absolutely no idea how exactly we were going to get through the night, for the time being it felt like enough to be in good company and we managed to maugh our way through hours of rain. Around 10 pm the rain slowed enough that I decided to borrow a broken umbrella and make a beach-run for it to see if I could salvage anything from the backpacks. The beach was dark and deserted and I hurried down the narrow strip of sand between the two bays that leads to the steep rocky trail up to the hammocks. It was dark and raining and all I could see was the circle of light right in front of me so when I suddenly reached the end of the sand I was disoriented. Where was the trail? and the hammocks? About 50 feet in front of me I could see the cliff where we were supposed to sleep. Except that the peninsula had turned into an island and between me and the island was a lot of dark rushing water. We were definitely NOT sleeping in our hammocks tonight. And it was probably better because anyone who had been in the hammocks when the storm started was now stuck out there. I hurried back to the restaurant and wrapped myself up in Jose’s towel. All the staff members had gone home after dinner leaving a dining room full of stranded and desperate travelers. All around us people we sleeping with their heads on the plastic tables or trying to curl up on flimsy beach chairs.
Around midnight when we couldn’t manage to stay awake any longer, the boys cemented the friendship and put us in their debt by giving us one of their hammocks. Muddy feet, wet minidress, and all, Sarah and I cuddled up in the single person hammock. Next door two 32 year old men did the same and we all made it through the night, exhausted and sleep deprived but still smiling. The next morning, emerging from our hammocks felt like we were survivors of a natural disaster. The grass was scattered with debris, clothes, overturned tents. There was no electricity and no running water. Nearby someone was bailing buckets of rainwater from inside a tent. All around people were ringing out everything they owned. We wandered to the beach and found that the island was still an island, but in the daylight the water was crossable so I waded over and gathered up a backpack full of wet clothes. We decided to hike out of the park early in case it started raining again. 5 hours and a bus ride later we arrived in Cartagena, wet and exhausted but still laughing about the adventure and so grateful we had met the Joses.
Sarah flew home the next morning and I headed to Bogota to spend the rest of the weekend with the boys. Maybe that is what happens when you survive a storm together, but we were totally bonded and the three of us stuck together like glue for the next 3 days. We took long bus rides, we visited the absolutely lovely mountain town of Villa de Leyva where we watched fireworks and drank wine, and we partied with the entire Spanish ex-pat community of Bogota (Fancy cheese, Spanish tortilla, Sangría, and lots of lessons in how to speak “real” Spanish and where I need to visit in Spain). I came home with the same floating on air feeling I had after my weekend in San Cipriano. Just feeling completely blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.
And for the weekly single paragraph update on my actual research…I finally have a green light! I presented my project to a panel of Public Health staff members and they gave me my third and final letter of approval. I am now the proud owner of three whole ethics committee approval letters (UCSF, Universidad de Valle, and now the Cali public health administration). The one catch is that I can’t start until January. Colombia takes Christmas very seriously and the entire month of December is reserved for holiday happenings. So my job is to officially enjoy life until January when I can actually start working. =) Luckily I have had plenty of practice and am getting pretty good at that job…