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Tales from an intrepid viajero in Latin America Despite promising myself that I´d never be so self-indulgent as to write a blog that´s exactly what I´m going to do. Welcome to the blog that I´m writing while studying Spanish and travelling in Latin America over the next 8 months

El Parque Cocuy - wind, rain, snow and an hour a day of spectacular views

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 11 June 2009 | Views [2050] | Comments [1]

El Parque Cocuy must rank among one of S. America´s most spectacular yet least visited mountainous areas. It has plenty of intimidating yet scalable 5,000m peaks, incredible lagoons, strange botanical life and rock formations which change colour with the position of the sun. However, there is one thing that you can`t bank on in the mountains - good weather. Things change by the minute - you can have hail one minute and sun the next. I was (un)lucky enough to have an hour of clear weather per day when in the past month or so there has been at least 6. I shouldn`t really complain though as for most of this trip I have been lucky with the weather I have had in the mountains and on treks.

I organised a 5 day trek in Cocuy sometime ago and had been looking forward to it for sometime. Our group consisted of our guide, an eccentric German, his surpringly norma girlfriend and an underprepared Austrian (given what transpired). Anonymity is probably best for this story...

The first days trekking was fairly easy and we had fairly good weather. We got the "milk float" from the village of Cocuy to the start of where our trekking was to begin and had the good fortune to see the "Pan de Azucar", a 5,300m peak, which we were due to climb the next day. It was the only view we got of it for the whole trip. The trekking was fairly easy at 4,000m and we walked through lush mountain valleys and scenery. Although we were deluged with a mid-after shower this was followed by a rainbow that spanned the lower part of the mountain. Early in the evening the rain started and didn´t stop until 7am. Luckily we were already in our tents and weren´t affected by it.

I was really looking forward to Day 2 until I got out of my tent and realised that I was likely to spend the day climbing the Pan de Azucar in pure "cloud forest". In fact, it was far more extreme than I was expecting. It started with rain, turned into snow and gale force winds and ended up with hailstones. Hmmmm. Having acquired the nick-name of "mountain goat" I felt it only fair that I lead the way through the extreme conditions. My gloves were of absolutely no use when they got soaked, nor for that matter were my "waterproof" trousers or jacket. When conditions get that extreme you find out that there is no such thing as waterproof. I spent 10mins waiting at the bottom of the glaciar at 5,000m for the rest of the party to arrive. Underprepared Austrian man proceeded to inform us that he coulnd`t climb the Pan de Azucar in such conditions and this was roundly backed up by eccentric German man. So, we didn`t climb the Pan de Azucar and didn´t even see the famous Pulpito de Diablo which was less than 60m away from us - when you are in the middle of a storm it is hard to see beyond what is immediately in front of you.

We returned slightly chastened by the experience and were completely soaked. Luckily things cleared up in the afternoon and we treated to some great views of the mountains from our camp and were also able to dry (some of) our clothes. At this point underprepared Austrian man and eccentric German man started talking a lot in German rather than Spanish or English. This obviously meant that they were scheming. As it turns out their chat revolved around what they should do if the weather continued to give us trouble.

As it happens it didn´t rain that night although I woke up to find ice outside the tent that I was sharing with underprepared Austrian man. As soon as we had eaten breakfast and started to move the rain started. Eccentric German had arranged for a horse to come along and pick up all his "luggage" the previous day instead of walking with it to the next camp spot. It was probably a wise move. Rucksacks with clothes in are not waterproof and the last thing you need is no dry clothes. As we walked through wind and rain for the best part of six hours I did begin to wander why I enjoy hiking in the mountains so much when it really isn´t much fun in bad weather. We finally arrived at the stunning Laguna de la Plaza in the early afternoon in one of the few periods of "dryness". Tents quickly went up before the rain started although it was a bit of a struggle given we were warding off the frostbite from our hands.

In the late afternoon things cleared up a bit and we enjoyed the scerenity of the laguna and the surrounding mountains. As all the clothes in my rucksack were soaked from the walk in the rain and wind I had no choice but to stay in the slightly less wet "waterproof" clothes that I was wearing. The night was spent listening to the rain beat against the tent. It stopped at about 3am and I thought that meant that it was clearing up outside.

I got up at around 7am and slipped on the ice outside my tent. After managing to haul myself up I looked up to see the mountains surrounding the laguna to be coated intermittently in snow. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight. However, underprepared Austrian man did not seem to be appreciating the beauty of it all. A "crisis" meeting was called and all members of the Cabinet were invited to give their views on whether we should continue to stay at the Laguna or return to the village of Cocuy a day early. Eccentric German man and underprepared Austrian man said that we should go back a day early. I voted to stay and tough it out as you never know when things will clear up in the mountains. The guide sided with me and said that if we walked back that day we may end up doing so in worse conditions than if we braved it out. However, he also said he was a "facilitator" and didn`t have a vote. Eccentric German man´s girlfriend wasn´t really given a chance to say anything as her boyfriend told us in Spanish so that she couldn´t understand that she "should really go back as she is finding it tough" even though she had earlier said that she wanted to stay. Well, that was me outvoted fairly easily. I went into the tent to pack only to find that underprepared Austrian man had already packed all his stuff before the "crisis meeting". Clearly, I had been the victim of some sneaky political deal hatched by the German speaking folk.

As it turned out we got the very worst conditions on the walk back to Cocuy with all our backpacks weighing more as they were soaked. The guide and I were not in the best of moods as we felt on the wrong end of a poor decision - especially, the guide who had to carry about twice as much as the rest of us. I could hardly lift his bag. We walked for several hours through snow, wind, rain etc. Suddenly, in the early afternoon everything cleared up and there was hot sunshine. If only we had stayed we would have enjoyed the Laguna de La Plaza at its best. However, neither of the two protagonists were willing to accept this. Given that, the last few hours of the walk back were spectacular and I did enjoy them.

Back in Cocuy we went out for some rum and beers. Underprepared Austrian man was in high spirits and I decided to enjoy the festivities rather than sulk. The following day we did a day hike from Cocuy minus underprepared Austrian man (he had opted to go back to Bogota a day early) and it was surprisingly enjoyable. Eccentric German man spent most of the time hatching plans for motorbike trips in the Colombian mountains and it didn´t actually rain. The weather looked fairly miserable from the direction although I still thought it would have been worth staying the extra day in the mountains for the hour a day of good weather.

Given the incredibly beauty of Cocuy, I have resolved to return one day to see the mountain landscapes and lagunas at their best. Who knows, it might even be next year... 

Tags: trekking mountains lagunas



Amil - if you're going back, I'll join you. It look's awesome and sounds like there is potential for some "extreme" adventures :)


  Martin Jun 26, 2009 10:00 PM



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