February 20, 2018
Today we’re taking a break from the iconic hikes that people visit the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy for. I don’t remember why we didn’t organize the major hikes back-to-back, but given the shape I am in, a day off – relatively speaking, anyway – is well in order. The plan today is to go on a walk into the foothills eastward from Capilla San Antonio De la Cueva.
Having simple but spacious private rooms, it would seem difficult to want to do anything other than relax for the day, although given that you are pretty much forced to go to bed early due to the electricity being cut off at an early hour, it’s a given that you will wake up early as well. We enjoy a modest breakfast prepared by our guide’s lovely wife, simple Colombian fare, including eggs prepared whichever way, arepas of course, hot chocolate, a piece of cheese and a roll. I inspect my laundry hanging on the line outside, realigning the individual pieces of clothing, eyeing the sky for the threat of a potential downpour, although at this elevation, the rain clouds can appear very suddenly.
The trail takes us across grazed fields, bushes, clusters of exotic flowers and orchids that belie the otherwise northerly aspect of the environment. The snow-capped peaks in the national park further to the east crown shorn mountains. No stone has been left unturned in human’s quest to exploit nature, but the drama of the topography remains the same.
The path we were supposed to be able to take dead-ends on a hilltop in an abandoned, marshy orchard rich whose damp, shaded environs are perfect for a variety of exotic blooms. But as alluring as the photographic material around us may be, the path doesn’t seem to go any further, nor am I feeling too motivated to climb over barbed wire fences and bushwack through scrub. Far below us we can still see the enclave La Capilla is located in and our guesthouse off to the side. Next to the hill we are on runs the dirt road towards the national park boundary, although we hardly have any intention of climbing that far.
The road reveals a much more bucolic, charming view of the region, with the occasional modest residence interleaving the grazing pastures populated by docile cows, battered parked vehicles, the occasional aggressive dog, and virtually no living being in view. As we gradually weave upwards along the serpentine road, embankments rising steeply, then taper off, our gait accelerating at the sound of hysterical barking, stopping to take pictures again when the barking fades in the distance.
The land may be striking, but the sense of nature is relative, given the rampant use of pesticides, animal medicines, and whatever synthetic agents that may be of assistance in increasing yields and mitigating downsides. Of course, this is true everywhere, although there could be an increased likelihood of abuse amongst the less education consumers of such agricultural products, of which Colombia is apparently a big dumping ground.
The views of the high mountains are increasingly spectacular as we rise above La Capilla. To the back of the green hills shorn bare by overgrazing and deforestation lie the enormous glaciers shining white, draped over the high peaks framed against the horizon. The walk has been far from difficult, but the afternoon has been advancing, and it is time to return to our accommodation in the settlement below. The straggling clouds billowing on the horizon are suddenly shrouded in rich sunset colours, and then it is nighttime, and another simple but satisfying dinner and relaxing evening awaits us.
Given that I can’t use my laptop due to the lack of available of three-prong plugs and the fact that I have no adapter, I have to revert to using my non-electronic notebook. Which in fact feels very refreshing, engaging a different writing sensibility than does the electronic tool. It would be difficult to articulate the difference at this point, although it is also worth mentioning a somewhat unrelated point, how recording an amount of detail at the end of each day to give the journal a sense of substance and credibility presupposes an excellent memory, which I have never been known for …