Sunday, 2 December 2018

Armenia to Turbo

Armenia was a great place to recharge and plan for the upcoming mountain section. We tried to rest as much as we could before heading into the mountains. After Armenia, we walked up to the small tourist town of Salento, at the edge of the Parque Nacional Los Nevados. We felt ready and excited, though unsure about the route we were looking at. The trailhead at Valle del Cocora had at least three trails heading into the mountains with no maps showing which went where, and we weren’t able to find a physical map for the area. Fidgit and I had spoken with a couple of guides and had digital information, we hoped that’d be enough.

 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.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Pasto to Armenia, Colombia

Talking with a local in Pasto, he mentioned the city was surrounded by volcanoes and large lakes. The volcanoes were visible from the city, though the lakes were tucked away so Fidgit and I didn’t see them before leaving. We were on a mission, and this was our last country to cross in South America. After taking time to plan ahead from Pasto, we were off and walking north once again.
Heading out of the city, I knew we would be getting into a hot area, both politically and climate-wise. I didn’t know how quickly it would happen or how much the heat (climate) would take its toll. We descended from Pasto down along the valley below. The temperature rose as we walked through the day to a scorching . . . well, I don’t know what it went up to but it was HOT. As a generally cold person, I don’t say that lightly.

Over the next few days, we would wind down and up along river valleys, staying below 1,000 meters. The shade was minimal, the dust was heavy, and the semi-trucks passed in droves. Though we weren’t aware of much political tension, there was more military presence - mostly focused around bridges in the area. We often got stared at, though most people kept to themselves or were excited to yell a quick ‘Hola!’ from their seat on the porch.

Fidgit and I tried to keep cool the best we could through this area, purchasing icy drinks and sno-cones when possible. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in high temperatures will likely agree that there’s a point when the heat starts turning your brain to mush. One morning, as my brain was trying to turn mushy once again, a cyclist rode up. He introduced himself as Daniel, a solo cyclist from Austria, and mentioned that he’d heard of two women walking across the Americas- they called themselves ‘Her Odyssey’. I told him that was us, and then let him know Fidgit was ahead of me. He offered a ride on his bike to catch up to her. No question, I hopped on the seat and we were off! We caught up to Fidgit in no time. Daniel ended up walking his bike alongside us the rest of that long, hot day and kept my mind from turning to mush with stories of his travels and questions about ours.
Having another travel buddy, even for a day, rejuvenated both of us. The next few days were a blur of covering kilometers on our way to Cali. We had a friend of a friend named Becky that we were planning to meet up with in the city. We ended up making it into Cali the day Becky was heading out of town for a conference, but she was kind enough to spend some time with us before her evening flight. She and her housemates also let us stay at their apartment. We had a couple of restful days in Cali, learning more about Colombia from her housemates, the Andres’s. We left the city rested and motivated to continue along our way.

Cali is situated in a large open valley. We had already walked for a couple days along the valley before reaching the city and it took us another five days to walk the rest of the way through it. Most of the walking was uneventful, though there were a couple of times we were concerned. One of those times was when we nearly got robbed at knife-point before a policeman came out of nowhere and patted down the teens who would’ve been our robbers. It was an eye-opening experience for Fidgit and I, one that we are glad we haven’t repeated. After that particular experience, we also became more aware of how we were perceived by others and took time to discuss and modify our outward personas as necessary in some areas.

The Cali valley was also hot walking, so Fidgit and I were getting up and walking earlier, trying to keep cool. We were grateful for the shade trees that lined the roads along this stretch- around Cali, it had been mostly sugarcane fields.

The days were blending together, getting up and walking each morning, afternoon breaks with lunch, making it somewhere in the evening to sleep. Rinse (sometimes), sleep, repeat. We walked and walked, making it to the end of the Cali Valley and began to ascend slightly. We were heading towards to Los Nevados range of mountains in Central Colombia, hoping to fit in one last mountain romp before our descent to the Caribbean. Along the ascent, we stopped for another quick rest in the city of Armenia.

Armenia is a small city near the edge of the mountain range we were planning on going into. We were able to relax for a couple of days before heading into Parque Los Nevados.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Ibarra, Ecuador to Pasto, Colombia(!)

We stayed in Ibarra for a week. Our route in, through, and out of the city was along roads so we were able to chip away at those kilometers while having a home-base to work from. During our time in Ibarra, we got a ton of work done including (but not limited to) catching up on writing, updating and adding to our different social networks, walking over 60 kilometers, planning routes through Colombia, and I had the opportunity to cook and bake - a happy place of mine.

We also had opportunities in northern Ecuador to meet some other adventurers who were passing through at the same time as Fidgit and I. Brad of @bikehikesafari was on his way south by bike when he met up with us in Ibarra, and we made plans to see Onna (@redheadednomad) and George Voellmer in the border town of Tulcan. After our working rest stop in Ibarra, we made our way up to Tulcan and met the pair, AKA the other Neon and his partner, and shared many a story over dinner. When we parted ways, Fidgit and I knew we’d likely run into these kindred souls again some day.

Our nerves were on edge not knowing what to expect at the border. Walking there was uneventful - we followed a road that took us along the river valley separating Ecuador from Colombia. At the bridge/border crossing, we walked around the Ecuadorian Aduanas, not seeing a labelled entrance. Fidgit asked a guard where to get stamped out, and we were pointed in the right direction. Thankfully the line was short when we arrived, so we got up to the window in a timely manner. Standing at the Aduanas window, the border employee informed us that we had come into Ecuador at such a small border station that we weren’t ‘officially’ in their system. So they had to put us into the system to take us out of the system. We waited for about thirty minutes for the employee to process our information, then he was able to stamp us out of Ecuador, and we walked north across the bridge . . . into COLOMBIA!

Upon reaching the Colombian side of the bridge/border, we walked up to a long line outside of their Aduanas building. Looking for alternatives (Brad told us there may be alternatives) we walked around the building hoping we could avoid the line. I spotted an empty filing area that looked like an alternate line next to the people all lined up and we went there. Fidgit and I must have walked up purposefully because a few others followed our lead. Thankfully my hunch worked out and we were quickly allowed into the building to get stamped into Colombia. We later learned that the longer line was specifically for Venezuelans and the line we went to/created was for everyone else.

As Fidgit and I walked away from the Colombian Aduanas building, I worked on my observational skills. I found myself looking around and trying to see what differentiated this country from its neighbors to the south. The border town of Ipiales wasn’t a far walk, so I didn’t get to practice much that evening, though I did notice some immediate differences - the presence of more semi trucks and billboards. Many things also stayed the same across the border, such as the amount of fried chicken and the honking of passing vehicles.

We spent the night in Ipiales, running some errands and planning for the next few days into Pasto. When we spoke with Onna and George in Tulcan, they suggested we go off our original route to check out a beautiful church built on a bridge nearby. Leaving Ipiales, we headed toward the church. Nestled at the bottom of a ‘quebrada,' or gorge, the Sanctuario de Las Lajas was definitely worth the side trip to check out, and helped make our first full day in Colombia a memorable one.

After day one, we were walking along roads to Pasto. It wasn’t very eventful, though it was an adjustment to the dirt tracks and trails we had become accustomed to. Semi-trucks hurtled past belching black smoke, and motorcycles seemed to have their own set of rules that I couldn’t quite figure out. Each night Fidgit and I would look over our route for the next day and discuss if there was a possibility of getting onto side roads. The risks versus the rewards were discussed, and we usually stayed on the highway. Fortunately, on the day we walked into Pasto, we were able to spend the afternoon walking along a small dirt road that led across the countryside into the city. The risk was low and the reward was high as we crested the last hill to descend into Pasto. The city sprawled across the valley below as we made our way in.