As we ascended from Valle del Cocora, Fidgit and I were excited to be off roads and back on trail. We kept following the trail as it ascended then descended and the elevation wore on us. Mid-afternoon, Fidgit asked a woman going the other way how far away the Finca/shelter we were aiming for was, and we discovered that we were on the wrong trail. Looking at our digital sources (GPS, phone app map), we still couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to be, so we decided to continue to a different Finca and figure it out from there. The trail became more rutted and muddy as we continued our ascent. Every step forward, we slid back. Unable to make it to the Finca before sunset we found a flat-ish spot next to the trail, set up our tents, and dejectedly crawled into them as the clouds descended around us.
The next morning dawned rainy and cold. We trudged on after packing up our damp tents, wind whipping around us. Mid-morning, we made it to the Finca. They didn’t have any extra food, though did give us ‘agua panela’, or sweetened water, to warm us up. The people at the finca were kind, and gave us directions to where we were trying to go. Fidgit and I clambered our way up a drainage to the lesser-used trail that would take us the direction we wanted to go. Up and over a pass followed by an immediate steep descent into the next valley, and we were ready for lunch. While eating in a wind-protected area, we discussed our options going forward. Looking at our our map sources, looking at our food supply (we had already eaten two lunches that weren’t planned for because of missing the finca meals) and looking at the current time, we knew we would have to camp at high elevation another night if we chose to continue deeper into the mountains. In the end, we opted to walk out down the valley. It was a tough blow to the ego, as well as sad to leave the mountains. Dejectedly we descended along a trail that led us out.
The next couple days for me were spent going through the many emotions I had about deciding to retreat from the peaks of Parque Nacional Los Nevados as well as the part I played in what I saw as our failure to make it through them. It’s tough to process what was going on for me during that time- I would say there was a lot of turmoil and sadness to muddle through even as we physically moved forward along a different route. I think it also helped my psyche that we weren’t completely out of the mountains- we were now walking along them to the city of Pereira.
Pereira was a dusty city with people hard staring as we walked through, though it had its benefits as well. I had plans to make the most of our slight change of direction; I was looking at getting corrective eye surgery in Medellin, and had been in contact with a doctor there who requested I have a Pentacam procedure before my consultation with him. So while in Pereira, I made an appointment with a local optician and was able to get the Pentacam procedure taken care of.
From Pereira, we walked on, and descended along a river valley to the heat and added humidity of the Colombian lowlands before ascending once more. In this area we passed through many small towns and villages, seemingly places the rest of the world zooms through without noticing. Fidgit and I also made quick work of it (as quick as one can while walking) as we made our way toward the city of Medellin.
As Fidgit and I closed in on Medellin, I once again fell ill. Thankfully this was a shorter burst of everything evacuating my body and I only felt like crap for a day or so. Then we made it over the last pass and into the city for a longer rest. After a day or so of resting, I went into the eye surgeon for a consultation and he said I was a great candidate for the corrective procedure. So I made an appointment, got PRK to correct my eyesight, and Fidgit became my caretaker for a few days after the procedure as I slept and healed. It was an odd feeling to be mostly blind and helpless for a few days, though it was nice to be in a semi-stupor and sleep a lot. After a few days I was ready to get up and move again, though my sight didn’t fully clear for another few weeks as my eyes healed. Over the next week, we rested, walked through Medellin, went to the dentist, caught up on work, and I went in to the eye doctor for my post-op appointment and was approved to continue moving.
Time in the city passed too quickly and our rest in Medellin came to a close. Fidgit and I packed up then made our way out of our last city in South America. We walked on, descending out of the mountains and back into the hot humidity of the Colombian jungle. Thankfully it took us about a week to fully descend, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the last we’d be seeing of the Andes on this trip. We even got to do some bush-bashing to shortcut a long switchback. As we crept closer to the Caribbean, the humidity soared in the morning, and we would usually get an afternoon drenching storm to cool off. I use the term ‘cool off’ loosely, as the temperatures never dropped below the mid-70s, even at night. We walked from town to town. Most evenings I felt like a puddle of my former self from sweating so much, the oppressive humidity preventing it from cooling me much.
A week and a half after leaving Medellin, Fidgit and I made it to the port town of Turbo. We met up with a guide who said he’d help us get into Panama from Colombia and we made our plans to leave the continent of South America. We had to wait a bit, so we tried to keep a low profile in the heavily Afro-Caribbean influenced town while passing the time. A day or so after arriving, we walked our last steps on the continent of South America and boarded a boat to Panama.