I was kicking myself for not retaining more from my classes. I had taken Spanish in High School, a little in college but I still found myself staring at everyone speaking to me with absolutely zero comprehension of anything they were saying, nothing registered. I had to admit to myself that I could not speak the language and I would need to take a step back and ask for a lot of help during this trip, or get really good at charades.
I lifted my over-sized duffel and saw two of my favorite faces cheering in a crowd of people welcoming the passengers from my flight. After some super satisfying bear-hugs and exclamations of mutual excitement, Callie, Aaron, and I weaved our way through the crowd. Our cab driver enthusiastically greeted me with a robust, "welcome to Colombia!" I was thrilled. With pride and confidence, he promised me that I would love my visit.
I was handed a roadie in preparation for the cab ride from the airport to Cali. The cab created its own lane of travel through the fluid traffic of cars and motorcycles as we briefly toured each neighborhood on our way to the Hefstad home. I felt like I was reviewing an old strip of film as each scene passed by and recorded in my memory as a single frame. My mind raced to take in every sight.
We caught up as old friends do, and I settled in for the night to a light breeze carrying music from every direction in the city.
The next morning we packed for the fist leg of our adventure, a backpacking trip up Pico Pance, a 4,100 meter mountain in the Los farallones National Park in the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia. Rides were arranged, new friends were met, and we leisurely made our way out of the city up a dirt and cobble road cheering for Dan's car as we cleared each rut and continued forward.
I fell in love with Pance. We were welcomed to town by our guides and travel companions, Sasha Poulin, her daughter Natasha Aliza, and their small pack of dogs; Daisy, Puddin', Dali, and Manu. The mountain community is known for being a restful retreat on Rio Pance as well as a local cycling destination. You could see fincas everywhere, small farms growing produce and citrus. The town is situated somewhere around 1,700 meters. Here we left the car, picked up our backpacks and started our hike to base camp at Amor y Paz.
We followed the river out of town and into the forest. Large boulders created secluded and calm swimming pools that were perfect for small groups to have a personal river experience. As we hiked it felt like were were skimming brief chapters in the lives of people in the community - toddlers running away from the cold water, a couple of old friends chatting while tanning on top of a massive boulder, mischievous teens pointing out the perfect jumping spot - taunting each other with wild excitement, and quiet family picnics. We crossed the river and began our trek up.
After a few hours of hiking we reached Amor y Paz.
I dropped the pack from my shoulders to the ground, pulled off my sweaty shirt and let the warm air take away the built up moisture from my belly and bra, I attempted some half-hearted stretching, and sank down until seated. This spot would be perfect. We pitched our tent, evaluated the interior space for accomidating three bodies, and sorted our gear for the next morning. I discovered that an open zipper on a pack was an invitation for critters where I was begrudgingly invited to a game of cat and mouse with a couple of little cockroaches. Cockroaches 1 : Kay 0.
Sasha, Natasha, Alejandro, Douglas, and his brother prepared food. The hand built stone oven was stoked with wood and tended to all night while slowly cooking the food to perfection. Our group was a collection of friends of friends. Aaron, Callie, Dan, Golnar, JP, Juan David, and I spent the evening exchanging stories of life in Colombia, teaching methods, and scheming up all sorts of possibilities for how difficult the hike we had ahead of us really was. Sasha assured us that people did summit, most can, but it is quite the push. Conversations turned to music and talents driven by passion. At a subtle suggestion JP gladly offered us a reciting of an original piece of his poetry.
We woke at 4am.
The hike up Pico Pance follows an old trail cut by hunters and is visited by groups looking to summit the highest peak in the region as well as intrepid birders. The grade is steep and in many places you climb roots more than you walk. Being my third day in Colombia I could feel every heavy breath pull in thick air and settle in my chest before I exhaled. I sighed, knowing that my fitness would lag behind my want and desire to make it to the top. We pushed on.
In all, we hiked for 12 hours.
The places your mind takes you when you apply a good deal of struggle, desire, fatigue, and time will always amaze me. It is one of the best parts of exploring and being outdoors. You get to face your own personal limits and push through to newly discovered depths of strength - or humbly accept where your body is at and that you are done. We hit our designated turnaround time with the summit still far in the distance. I hiked ahead to let Alejandro know (in very basic and broken Spanish) that we would not make it today. He asked us to wait while he gathered together some gear.
Callie, JP, and I spend our time laughing together, completely proud of the elevation we had reached ~ somewhere around 3,600-3,700 meters. Callie and JP collaborated on new lesson plans and we spoke about finding our voice while chasing dreams as we continued grow up. It was a familiar conversation and I was so happy to have an old friend back in my life as a reminder of who I once was and the decade of decisions that have shaped who we have become.
Aaron, Dan, Juan David, and Douglas made it to the summit and caught us on the way back to camp. We were all moving a little slower but you could see that the trip was special in its own way for each of us.
The next day we ended the trip with our own chapter on Rio Pance before sharing a celebratory toast and continuing on the the city.