When I beat the sun in waking up, I usually expect something special from the rest of the day. The idea was that at an early hour the bus up into the mountains would be mostly empty, and I could watch the sprawling metropolis of Medellin fade from view through a quiet window.
After five months spent in a rather lengthy and strict quarantine, a day hike to a waterfall sounded like the perfect way to shake off the cobwebs and prove that a world beyond my apartment walls did indeed exist.
The predawn walk to the bus stop was quiet, but the ride that followed was anything but.
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Before my delicious Colombian coffee had time to settle in my stomach, it was jostled about by the bumpy road and reggaeton music blaring from various bluetooth speakers. My friend and I had one seat to split between us, and we balanced ourselves as best as we could upon it through the uphill turns. We exchanged nervous glances as the bus driver barreled onward and upward without ever acknowledging the existence of other drivers or his brakes.
We took shallow breaths through our masks, which unfortunately failed to filter the scents of body odor and deodorant from the other occupants. Most of which seemed to be just entering their teenage years. After this forty-minute gauntlet of endurance, we were released from our metal tube of terror into the beautiful outskirts of the city.
We wasted no time creating distance on the trail from the other passengers, our tidy party of two eager to leave the pubescent horde in our dust. By following a barb wire fence post along the ridgeline, we were soon able to leave the smells and worries behind us. The mountain trail dipped slowly into the forest, and soon we came upon the river, our first sign of progress.
The bio-diversity of Colombia is second only to Costa Rica, and this is apparent even in the parks within the city. There’s an exotic range of life naturally abundant this close to the equator, and out on the trail, this intensifies wonderfully. Lush foliage at eye level and rich canopies above, it was something of shock to go from an urban to natural environment so quickly.
The trail was fairly straightforward, but we still managed to get lost with me at the helm. After slowly wading upriver for thirty minutes, we heard the ominous reggaeton beats closing in behind us, and we decided to get back on land and look for true markers.
We scrambled up rocks and slid down trails still muddied from overnight rains. It was a bit chilly as the sun still struggled to break through the morning overcast, but we were so happy to be outside that we smiled through each obstacle.
When searching for a waterfall, the unmistakable sound of rushing water falling from great heights onto itself is always promising to hear. We knew we were close, and this revitalized us to make a final push until we found our mostly unoccupied prize: la cascada Chorro de las Campañas.
Well fed from the recent rain, the waterfall flowed into a deceptively deep pool of water, ideal for a quick dip. In front of it was a rock that seemed destined for vainglorious photoshoots. As I just so happened to be wearing my Flex Canvas Pants, made by the company that helps keeps me fed and sheltered, I decided to give my nature modeling career one last attempt.
After the mercifully brief photoshoot, my photographer and I splashed about in the water. The now midday sun slowly baked the rocks with warmth, and we then laid about like lizards upon them.
Eventually the adolescent mob caught up to us. One deserving of mention carried roller blades out there, my only regret of the day being that my Spanish was not advanced enough to inquire as to why.
As always the hike back felt like a blink compared to the time it took to find. Vendors were set up selling popsicles as the trail ended, which we enjoyed before the rickety bus arrived to take us back down into the city.
The lesson of the day, if there need be one:
When you hear the call of Los Cascadas (and you have successfully translated the local government's message regarding allowed outdoor activity) then you best answer. Nature can cure both the body and mind, and help fortify them both against whatever else the world might throw at us next.
Written by Brian O'Dea