"Oh, you can do Tayrona Park in a day, it's not a long hike."
The owner of the dive center gave us this sage advice, which in retrospect we should have totally double-checked, corroborated and done our own research. But more on that later...
Hiking through the mountainous region of Tayrona National Park
We rode out to the small road-side village of Calabaza, about 25 minutes outside of Taganga, where we parked our motorcycles in some guy's backyard after negotiating a small fee for the day. When the owner asked us when we were going to return, we told him later on that evening. He looked at us incredulously and asked, "Are you sure?" and followed up with a "Well, okay, if you say so...."
That should have been our first clue.
Well on our way to getting lost
The hike turned out to be fairly steep and the trail was primitive with no signage at all, often devolving into confusing underbrush. At one point we got lost and went around in a huge circle coming back to a point that looked familiar: "Weren't we just here 20 minutes ago?!"
Thankfully a guide showed up. He was leading a couple from Bogota, and he showed us where the trail continued:
This was the trail. You had to squeeze through these rocks. No signs.
How were you supposed to figure that out?!
Cotton-top Tamarin Monkey
The Cotton-top Tamarin is an endangered species and is only found in the forests around Tayrona and north-western Colombia. It's the rarest primate in existence having had its natural habitat reduced to 5% of its original area. I can imagine this little guy looking down at us thinking, "Damn kids, get off my lawn!"
Kogi boy leads his horse through the mountains
We had been hiking for a couple of hours now and still no sign of the ruins of the old village, Pueblito, which was on the way to the coastline. We wanted to hit the beaches of Tayrona, which everyone told us were quite wonderful. While resting, we were passed by a boy and an older man walking their horse up the trail. They were dressed in the same way as the hippy-looking guy we saw in Taganga the other day. We found out later that they were all members of the Kogi tribe, an indigenous people native to Tayrona. They told us the village was only half an hour away.
Holy geez, this was a lot further than what it looked like on our tiny map of Tayrona Park.
Village of Pueblito
There are 20,000 Kogi living in the Santa Marta area. They were quite an advanced civilization before the Spanish came, colonizing Colombia and driving them into the mountains where they live to this day. We found out that they are very spiritual and ecologically conscious, their belief that the earth is a living being and humanity its children.
These people were the original long-haired hippies, long before the flower-children of the 60s!
These striped bags are very typical of Kogi culture
Most of the men were carrying these toy-like objects that kind of look like dreidels, except that it was like a white receptacle mounted on a stick. They would rub the outside with another stick and occasionally put it in their mouths. It looked like it had religious significance, but we found out later that these were called poporo, and is given to a Kogi male upon his 18th birthday. The inside of the receptacle is a mixture of lime and coca and is actually a stimulant which helps to ward off fatigue and hunger.
I think this is my favorite part of our travels, seeing up close how people used to live. I was never interested in history and geography when I was a kid, but our trip has opened up a curiousity that I never knew existed.
Kogi village of Pueblito
We asked the guide how much further to the coast. He told us we were halfway.
This shocked us, as we were already 2.5 hours into our hike, which meant another 2.5 hours to get the shore, and then 5 hours back to our motorcycles. We had left late in the morning and by our calculations would not make it back until well after sunset if we stayed on this course.
The guide offered us another suggestion, from the beach, we could walk a bit further up and catch a bus to the entrance on the other side of the park. That would be a quicker way to get back. When I heard the word, "bus", I was all over that plan...
Yay! We finally made it!
We followed the guide and the couple from Bogota to the beach and finally arrived to the beaches of Cabo San Juan. It was like a mini resort with a restaurant, several huts and tons of tents pitched up by hikers. This should have been another clue that Tayrona was not a single day hike...
Beach at Cabo San Juan
Posing proudly with the Colombian flag
Frolicking at Cabo San Juan
It was getting late in the afternoon and we had no idea where to catch this bus back to the entrance, so we tore ourselves away from the beach and followed the coastline in search of a way out of this park.
Bye bye, beach!
We got about 45 minutes away from the resort and still no sign of any bus. We asked a beach-side vendor and she told us it was a couple of hours away!
A couple of hours? It was already 4PM, and it would definitely be dark by the time we reached the bus. I was very upset. No one around here has any reliable information! And no signs anywhere! Throughout this trip, we had decided that our number one rule was we would never ride or walk around after dark (even though we've broken it a few times), and now it looked like this was inevitable again.
We were now racing against the setting sun, so no pictures even though we hiked through some fantastic beaches with the sun's rays casting a magical glow on the sands. We had a bus to catch.
Once again, the trail was poorly marked and we followed some other tourists through some underbrush that turned out to be a dead-end. Going our own way, we ventured back into forest to pick up another trail, but by this time, the canopy and diminishing sunlight meant we were hiking in near darkness. Neda pulled out her iPhone and ran her flashlight application. Battery level less than 30%. Uh oh.
Meanwhile in the ever-frightening darkness, we could hear sounds of animals moving around close to the trail we were on. A bat flew past my head brushing past my hair. We saw glowing points of light that looked like the nocturnal eyes of beasts that prey on lost hikers in the northern Colombian forest. That freaked us out plenty and I came up with a plan of making as much noise as possible, clapping my hands and talking loudly.
We came upon some other hikers coming our way and they smirked at my hand-clapping. "Um, los animales...", I offered up lamely... As it turns out, the glowing eyes were actually fireflies. I was clapping my hands in the dark at fireflies. What a big city dope I am. The hikers told us it was another 45 minutes, so we stumbled ahead and finally found the bus after what turned out to be a 10-hour, 17.5 km hike through the Tayrona National Park. Day-hike my ass.
*phew* I need a bed now...