Volcano hiking: Paramillo del Quindio, Colombia

2016-02-17


Hands down one of the most amazing 3 day treks out there is to the top of Paramillo del Quindio in Cocora Valley, Salento, Colombia. One of the most beautiful and satisfying hikes of my life.

This was my first time in such high elevation. We hiked about 60km over the course of three days from approximately 1,800m/5,900 feet to 4,800m/ 15,700 feet. Things are different that far up. There is a slow and steady introduction to vegetation and species that do not exist lower. The earth transforms. The clouds move faster. The air is remarkably thinner. The views are everything.



Under skies painted twelve kinds of blue we spent miles and hours off-trail lost in thought and in millions of pillars of frailejón plants. When the hours of the day added up and our bodies wore down each steady decline mocked our small victories over hikes up steep inclines. Stinging lungs and burning thighs conflicted with desires for ultimate views that come with just a few more steps. Just a little further, a little higher, addicted to the possibilities that await on the next horizon.


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And the next horizon does not disappoint.  Around a bend the land opens to a marsh filled crater from another planet. We traversed our way across it hopping spongy green islands.

By the final push, the steepest climb, my altitude headache had kicked in and my body pushed back. So close, so far away. Arms akimbo, head down and breath heavy all I could notice was the little speckles of yellow. I was astonished at the flower power pushing through cracks of crumbled rock. When the climb got tough and putting one foot in front of the other really meant sliding backwards like there was a slow moving treadmill under my feet I kept thinking to myself, If they can do it I can do it. I’d send myself to the next bright patch like little milestone markers.


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Mother nature makes you work hard for the sort of outwardly views that are so hypnotizing they cause inwardly views to shift. Kneeling at the edge of hardened, grey volcanic rock while fast moving clouds sweep in and envelope you does something. The kind of clouds that evoke fear and adrenaline to shoot through your veins, like riding the worlds tallest, fastest roller coaster without being strapped in. Not sure if they’ll knock you off the mountain or simply swallow you whole, either way they move too fast to ever make up your mind. All that’s left to do is surrender. Even the birds that zip like black specs in the sky from the ground theatrically span their wings wider than yours as if to purposely remind us that all things are a matter of perspective, interpretation, and relativity.


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And when the hefty floating masses becomes full and pushed by steady winds and their presence is no longer a teasing dance all around you, they engulf unexpectedly. Everything changes in the matter of a single minute. Transported to space. This is what the moon must be like.


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Relief and rest in the early evenings was found in small family owned fincas turned hostels. Handfuls of passing hikers stay for a home cooked meal and for the night. As the sun falls in the mountains so does the temperature, drastically to freezing. Everyone eventually finds themselves huddled in the basic but sufficient kitchen around the stove, the only source for heat and wearing every layer they own. A one woman show prepares a simple but delicious feast for her starved, admiring audience. Each night some sort of chicken or sausage, fried plantains, soup and hot, sweetened tea sedate weary climbers straight to bed.

The accommodations sufficed. Dorm rooms separated by cardboard stapled together for walls, sunken beds and wool blankets piled thick enough to almost keep warm but barely breath.


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The the families and farm animals that live there go about their daily business. They run their household, take care of the kids, and welcome an ever revolving door of grateful travelers.

For me, each climb I make to the tops of the world is a lesson revisited in humility and recharges me with overflowing gratitude towards our earth, our need to love it, take care of it, and appreciate what it does for us in return. Worth every bit of  breath-taken and breath-taking moment. Long live mother earth.


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