Our second backpacking expedition was bout to begin. Excited to get away from the humidity and up into the mountains, we had our bags packed with all the gear the night before. Tent, sleeping bags, prepped food, headlamps etc.. Cerro Kennedy was calling our names. We’d talked to several travelers who had done the hike already and we’d heard the views were stunning. We’d been waiting for our days off to align so we could experience the magic of the Sierra Nevadas at a greater level.
After having a little scare from a random person banging on the hostel doors in the middle of the night, we woke up groggy and ready to get the daily fix of coffee. Breakfast came early followed by a few last minute additions and we were off, ready for a six hour climb to 1500m. The road is incredibly steep for the first half hour, eventually lessening to a steady uphill. The humidity is killer, you’re drenched and ready for water after the first 100m. The weight of the packs didn’t help. We’d gotten used to running and hiking these mountains with minimal weight, now it was time to test our endurance. We stopped periodically to rest, drink water or eat.
Watching the plant life slowly change was fascinating. The trees we’d been used to would eventually turn to pine trees. As we climbed, we passed “El Campano” which is a small village, “La Y” a point in the road where you hook a left ascending into the high mountains, and many family homes. We passed a small school with a stunning view over
\the Caribbean. Along the way people were incredibly friendly with groups of kids saying “hola” in unison and parents giving warm smiles.
Eventually we reached a point where there were no more homes. Only clouds slowly moving over the mountains. Momentary spots of sunlight were welcome, letting us know the rain clouds hadn’t arrived yet. Rain thunders down almost everyday between 1 & 3pm. Climbing through the rainforest with only the sounds of birds and water to accompany us was refreshing. Signs for the bird sanctuary we were walking through were our only signs of progress as we trekked up the road.
After walking uphill for five hours we were exhausted and eager to arrive. The clouds were changing fast and getting darker. Just as we felt the first drops, a car came up behind us. The people driving the car were a family staying at Casas Viejas and they
offered us a ride for the last bit of the hike. As we loaded up the packs and hopped in the rain really started to come down. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. The father used to own a farm in these mountains until a paramilitary group drove them out. He knew these mountains pretty well and was happy to give us a lift.
We drove over rough roads for 45minutes until we got to a shack called Monchos Hostal or Monchos Place. It really doesn’t have a name, nor is it an official hostel. It’s more like a structure with a room where backpackers can sleep and people take refuge from the rain.
When we arrived there were some moto taxi drivers starting a fire in the back to warm up. Moncho was in Santa Marta. We waited out the storm with various tourists and locals taking shelter, sipping coffee and chatting. The rain turned to a light drizzle and we reserved a campsite (30,000 COP) for the night with the trabajador at the TV station. Monchos place is directly next to a cell tower used for Santa Marta.
After a cold meal and a beautiful sunset, we passed out early. The sun rises around 5am here and we weren’t going to miss the clear view of the snow-capped peaks.
With a bit of luck we woke up at 4:30am to find the tent dry and the sky turning a vibrant red. Red to yellow to orange leading to a deep blue almost as dark as night. I’ve never seen a sunrise like it. Emerging behind the mountains, the sun was showing the beauty its light can create on this earth. We both felt like we truly understood why the indigenous cultures hold the mountains in such reverence. They looked like they held the blood of the earth in their layers.
After staring for a couple hours, we finally turned away. After packing up, we were jazzed to get started back down. The buzz wore off after a while, especially when we dropped down far enough in elevation to submerge ourselves in humidity again. Alainas cold was kicking in and the wool socks I was wearing were getting hot. Finally arriving to Casas Viejas was a relief. A hot meal, shower and 2 hour nap provided the recovery needed. After so much exercise we were exhausted, but the experience had been worth it. That’s usually the case while traveling. Pushing yourself to do the things that sound daunting may be hard but in the end you’ll be happy you did it.