Thursday, November 17, 2011

First off, I apologize. I have ADD. I come into an internet cafe to catch up on the blog, check for hostels in the next town or city or country we`re heading to and what happens? A little email, a little news reading, a little football news and predictions (The Ravens are disappointing me). Next thing I know I`m forty minutes into my hour and I have not acomplished a thing. I have been meaning on giving Guatape the time it deserves in writing and now don`t think I will win this time.

The hostel we stayed at in Guatape, Lake View Hostel, had an activity book which travelers could look through at all the wonderful, beautiful things there were to do around Guatape. From climbing la Piedra, to horseback ride to the monastery, to taking a boat tour of the lake and checking out Pablo Escobar`s bombed out finca, to kayaking, to day trips to Rio Biscocho and San Rafael, each page made you want to stay long enough to experience it all. We did our best with the three weeks we were there.

On one of our first couple days, we decided on a trek to a nearby waterfall, unknown to most gringos and Colombians for the matter. The hostel owner made a call to a local family who were hired as our guides. The family, from northern Colombia, was displaced (i.e. kicked off their land by F.A.R.C., the current cocaine controlling group located in the far outposts of Colombia) and moved to Guatape to start over with nothing. They live by the side of the lake in a series of shanty shacks built from pieces of scrap wood and sheet metal. Ismael, the father, will do just about anything for money. He`ll take tourists fishing, hike to the waterfall, sell your bike for you for comission. We met Ismael and his two sons, Jonathon and Esnyder, and their huge black lab, Negro (Yes, his name was Black) outside the hostel and set off on our adventure.
Minutes into our hike, the three of us knew what amazing and beautiful souls our guides contained. Ismael was a born Naturalist. He would stop when he knew there were beautiful photo opportunities, point out birds and offer their names in Spanish, identify the plants and trees that were edible or used for some function. When we crossed the streams over slippery rocks, he or one of his sons held out their hand for Kara, Jess, and I to cross without wiping out. As we made our way from the cow pastures adjacent to the stream into the chilly interior of the forest, Ismael forged ahead with his machete chopping at the branches and bushes that can so easily sneak into the open sun spaces created by a trail. When we reached the waterfall, beautiful of course because every corner of this country is incredibly gorgeous, he warned us about how cold the pool would be, but we were three gringos on an adventure and needed to experience the waterfall in its own element, wet and freezing. Ismael used one of our digital cameras to mark the moment. Only crazy gringos want to swim in ice cold water. Afterward our ever-so-brief dip, we threw on all the layers we brought and began making our way back down through the valley shaped and carved by thousands of years of steady and constant water trickling through the path of least resistance.
On the way back, we thought we`d just take the same road back to the hostel but Ismael, Jonathon, and Esnyder took us a back loop through pastures overlooking the fingers of the lake, sneaking like a thief into the far corners of the Guatape valley. At one point, Ismael jumps up a tree and rips off an entire branch laden with a yellow-green fruit, bright pink on the inside with yellow seeds, delicious (so long as you don`t eat one with a worm biggie). We make our way, the long way, back towards the hostel and stop at their home. As we walked up, four beautiful tiny puppies come rushing up to greet us. One all black, one mostly black with a white chest and two white paws, one brown, and one a khacki tan. So cute. It was hard not taking one with us. Soon we were walking again making our way back to the hostel, each of us giving Ismael a bit more money than we were obligated to, they deserved it all. I pulled my Livestrong and One bracelets off my wrists and handed them over to Jonathon and Esnyder, small tokens of thanks for their humility and hospitality as our guides.
Over the next two and half weeks in Guatape, we`d randomly see Ismael in town, one time him riding his bike with a guitar case on his back searching for a pick. I don`t think it was his but he was selling it for someone and wanted a pick to be included. The handfuls of travelers to stay at Lake View during our stay, the waterfall hike with Ismael and his sons was the first we would recommend. It`s by far worth it.

We hiked the rock one sunny day, giving us a 360 degree panoramic view of the lake. Wonderful. We took the three hour boat tour around the lake, visiting Pablo Escobar`s finca and restaurant, bombed by the Colombian government sometime back in the early 90`s in an attempt to kill him (He escaped). People have since left their mark on the walls of his lakeside home, restaurant and disco with grafitti (some very talented grafitti artists here in Colombia) while others have clearly dug up and busted down walls looking for stashes of money and cocaine. I`m sure some people found some too. Other days we headed a couple thousand feet less in elevation for a warmer day lounging and swiming the the river, having a cheap beer and a good book sitting in the warm sun. All of these mini-trips and adventures were amazing in their own right but I know, looking back on our time in Guatape, I will remember fondly our hike with Ismael and his sons. A family that has been through so much, seen terror I can only imagine, left with no posessions other than what they can carry, and there they were, happy, smiling, courteous and warm. They are the living breathing example of the Colombian culture and people we have met and experience here over the past five weeks. I would choose Colombia over downtown Baltimore on a scale of trust and ease any day of the week. I hope one day we`ll visit Guatape again and visit with our new friends.

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