Y’know when you see pictures of something outstandingly beautiful and you think to yourself, “I have to see that for myself,”? Y’know when you commit to something, like, say, a six hour trek through pure-ass jungle? Y’know when you haven’t seen another human in hours and have sweat entirely through your clothes and are cursing the existence of palm trees in general? No, me neither.
When I first arrived in Colombia, one of the places commonly described as The Most Beautiful Place in Colombia was the Valle de Cocora. [Call to attention: the tallest wax palm trees in the world.] Every photo I was shown featured an open valley with scatterings of massive palmas, leading me to believe the valley was the magic of the place. Naturally, one would assume those magnificently tall trees to be the highlight of the experience. To stand at the bottom of a hundreds-of-feet-high natural phenomenon and understand a little more firmly one’s relative smallness. But I’m not one to feel dwarfed by a single tree (although among hundreds) in an open valley.
[I’m a firm believer in the need for aimless wandering, don’t get me wrong.]
I went with my friend, but I needed to load film into my camera and she decided not to wait thirty seconds. I’ve been [fondly] referring to the below photo as: “Peace, Bitch.” Henceforth, I was entirely alone.
For maybe thirty minutes I was walking behind a German couple who constantly stopped to snap cute pictures of each other to placate their families with. Maybe they were just bulking up their Instagram accounts—probably a joint Instagram account—but I digress, I don’t know their lives. They were adorable. They were the worst.
I’m not sure when the jungle began; I was simply suddenly surrounded by the densest, oldest forest you’ve ever dreamed up. [The Forest Moon of Endor.] You know a forest is ancient when the trees are too thick to see through, and the moss is too thick to see the ground. When every time you turn your head, you’re sure you’ve seen something—[Master Yoda?]—flit away out of sight. When you’re Legolas-ing your way through your solitary confinement. You are nimble. You are myth. You are untouchable… You are falling on your ass trying to exude grace, silly human.
I wound my way up this switchback bastard of a trail over slapped-together bridges you’ve only seen Indie J successfully cross, and you don’t even have the Lasso of Truth to help you…something about that mythology is confused…oh, well.
The trail was one directional for hours, so there was never a worry about getting lost. I stomped my way along, [alone], with absolute confidence—something I should know by now is always misled. It had been at least an hour since I’d crossed paths with another Homo [sapiens sapiens] when I came across the only fork in the trail. Less of a fork, more of a dead stop and two options. To the left was straight uphill and had a closed gate blocking most of the trail with no sign whatsoever to tell me to go that way. There was, however, a very large red arrow pointing right. Now, maybe my logic is more flawed than I thought, but I’m pretty sure you’d make the same decision in my shoes. I went right. I was wrong. As it so happens, I was ten-kilometers-out-of-my-way wrong. So… way wrong.
Five kilometers up a mountain, I finally saw a sign pointing to Cocora. Pointing in the direction that I had just come. Telling me el Valle de Cocora is actually ten kilometers back that way. I sighed a very deep sigh and marched my ass back down those five kilometers, and up-up-up a new five. It took a long damn while, but eventually I heaved myself up the Final Monster Switchback and came out of the jungle at a little finca mirador overlooking what I can only assume to be the jungle and probably—likely?—some palm trees.
By the time I got up there, the whole mountain had been swallowed by clouds. [Have you ever breathed a cloud? It’s quite refreshing.] I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, let alone the jungle below me or the mountains around me. It was surreal. Cathartic. And there were puppies! Puppies that did tricks!
At this point, I had used 39 of my 48 total photos. I hadn’t even reached the valley—the whole ‘point’ of the hike—and I didn’t care. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop myself. From the finca, it was another 30[ish] minutes to see las palmas. I didn’t make it passed the finca with any photos left. Many people might consider this a waste; enduring a six hour hike to not have proof of seeing this landmark.
Personally, I consider this to be an accomplishment on my part. Enjoying and appreciating the journey so you can stop and sit and actually experience the end result seems to me a pretty worthwhile way to live your life.
We walk, and we climb, and we sweat through our clothes in an attempt to reach an end-goal far out of sight. The only thing to keep us strong enough to continue trekking towards our ending is to appreciate the journey we take to reach it. Take the time to observe the path you’re on. The end will always be there. Every trail leads somewhere.