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Tayrona & beyond

COLOMBIA | Friday, 27 January 2017 | Views [815]

It all happened pretty quickly. One minute, my friend and I were hiking- about an hours walk into the jungle of Tayrona National Park, the next- a man is dead on the ground next to us.

Yeah- pretty crazy. But to be an asshole and back track a bit…

Brian and I woke at daybreak with hopes of advancing our travels to Tayrona National Park. It took us about an hour by bus from Santa Marta for 7,000 pesos. Upon arrival, we were faced with a large line and an entrance fee of 42,000 pesos--pretty steep if you ask me. We nonetheless paid the fee and entered--beginning our journey to Cabo San Juan Beach. Lest we knew, we would get more than we (didn't) bargain for in the subsequent 24 hours.

The trails were crowded. It bothered me a bit simply because I would classify myself as a hypnotic hiker. Mothers with small kids, elderly persons and a huge influx of shall I assume Argentines blocked up the sometimes narrow trails like big ole wads of hair in a shower drain. You see, once I get in the hiking zone, rarely will I stop for anyone or anything (except food). So to have to stop for minutes at a time was not what I was expecting.

However, the crowds did give us a chance to slow down and admire the trail’s natural beauty. It reminded me a lot of the naturaleza de Hawaii, with more wildlife. Within minutes on the trail we caught glimpses of and heard the violent screams of monkeys, watched exotic birds preen themselves, and followed thick lines of termites carrying leaves many times their size to engorged nests.

After traversing through the shaded jungle, the trail bled out to the shore. Local indigenous tribes who still live inside the park had set up a coconut stand. Three or four of them, wearing nothing but tattered white linen cloths tied over one shoulder, used machetes to cut open the coconuts and lined them up for hikers to buy. Brian and I stopped and pondered buying one. Suddenly, the man standing right in front of us fainted, as if in slow motion, and crashed to the ground.

“Dan! Dan! Someone help!!” his poor wife cried.

She seemed to be from Europe, and later on we found out the couple was indeed from Switzerland.

The man’s eyes rolled back into his head. His body tightened, and with force, his body began seizing. Brian immediately jumped in along with three or four others to help. They checked his pulse. He wasn't breathing.

“Begin CPR!” Brian yelled.

He pressed his lips to the mans foam covered mouth and blew. Once parted, another hiker performed chest compressions. By divine intervention, another hiker stepped in who just so happened to be a doctor.

I'll spare the gruesome details because they are in fact, gruesome. For what seemed like decades (realistically more like 30 minutes) a group of hikers and Brian took turns performing CPR on what I, and everyone else ultimately knew, was a dead body. The ordeal was traumatizing for everyone, but mostly for Dan’s poor wife, who had to watch helplessly while knowing no medical intervention would be possible that deep into the jungle. It was assumed by the doctor that Dan most likely had a heart attack or a stroke.

Brian and I left the scene and walked silently, our heads low and our hearts shaken. We discussed the transience of life and our goals for making the most of it.

We eventually made it to Cabo San Juan beach and hesitantly enjoyed yet another amazing beach saturated with 95% Spanish speakers. The image of Dan’s seizing body still replayed in my head. I needed space and time to process what had happened. The beach was too crowded for my taste, so we traversed beyond to a smaller beach-- less populated and with people wearing less (or no) clothing. Possibly one of the most beautiful beaches I've stepped foot on in my entire life, i thought. An hour prior sunset, we packed up our gear and backtracked. After being turned away by multiple camping sites for having our own hammocks (instead of renting them), we found a place to set up camp for 10,000 pesos. “Hola gringos! Hola!” The site owner kept excitedly yelling.

We watched the sun set on the beach and again debriefed about the days trauma, which intrigued deep conversations about our past, present and future (what else to do during an absolutely beautiful sunset?) It became cold with the sun behind the mountains so we regressed back to our hammock-ville. Hundreds of tents and hammocks were set up. Music blasting. Food sizzling. Spanish words flying around the campsite like a million golden snitches I couldn't catch. I snuggled in my hammock and fell asleep to the sounds of five young girls gossiping in Spanish, drinking mate. How similar we all are, I thought. I imagined them as my sister and her best friends, in another country, in another language.

We woke in the morning. As Brian slept, i ventured to the beach and did some gentle yoga. The palm trees shook in the wind just like those of Hawaii. It felt so similar- like I was waking in a place familiar- though I'd never been.

I made my way back to camp and found out that Brian's money had been stolen, either during the night or at Cabo (too much money...perhaps a colombianos full year salary worth…) which was a shame. Instead of spending another day on the beach, we decided to take off so he could cancel his credit cards.

On the hike back- I tripped on a boardwalk and fell to the side. My foot disappeared under my ankle like a scared cat who heard a loud sound. It hurt. It hurt a lot. My first thought...simply...FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck. Stupid me! Stupid me for hiking in Chacos! I rocked back and forth in shock.

Heres one of life’s lessons that I KEEP HAVING TO LEARN over and over- it only takes once. I justified hiking in my athletic sandals by the many other times I have and come back without issues - once fifteen miles by myself on the North Country trail. I cursed myself for leaving my hiking boots behind. It only takes once, Deanna...I heard my moms stern voice in my head. But dwelling on it wasn't going to help. The only thing I could do was acknowledge my faults and forgive myself after processing the pain.

Lucky for me I was only half an hour away from the trailhead. I hobbled with a pained and focused smile back to civilization, occasionally trying to crack a joke to lighten the mood. Brian knocked a branch in half and made me a walking stick. For 15,000 pesos each, we took a taxi back to taganga city center and i, again, hobbled like a broken gringo back to my hostel.

If anything can be said- what a place to be injured! The views at Casa Moringa are incredible. I have a group of hostel friends taking care of me- cooking for me, fetching ice for my poor swollen limb. I'm thankful it didn't happen in the deep jungle...like Dan. And I'm thankful it was but a sprain, and not worse.

Im going a bit stir crazy having to sit and watch my friends traverse to new beaches and enjoy the loud music & sensations of Taganga city center while I bob up and down in the rooftop pool and listen to Spanish podcast after Spanish podcast. (Ok, i have no reason to complain, really). My hope is that I can heal in a few days, because I'm realistically supposed to be in Medellin by now. But it seems the universe is telling me: “tranquila, D, tranquila…”

Pues, tendré a ser tranquila. Porque estoy en paraíso. No hay nada razón a ser preocupa.

Hasta pronto, parceros! Medellín is soon calling my name.



Tags: adventure, colombia, hiking, tayrona

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