We woke up today and ordered our breakfast, anticipating that it would take an hour for it to come (and it did). My mom came down from her cabin. She was limping and told us that she slipped on a large boulder last night and fell. She wasn’t seriously hurt but pretty banged up. She and my dad just wanted to stay at the hostel today and rest – the hammocks and pool were calling them.
Esteban and I set off for the National Park with our kids. Wilmar drove us and shared his story with us – how his family was forced off their land near Medellin by paramilitaries, how they fled to the Coast only to find more guerillas and paramilitaries and the culture of fear they instilled in people, and how happy he is that the area has finally been cleaned up and that they have tourists coming now. The history here is heartbreaking! My only hope is that they can continue to keep these areas safe.
But back to Parque Tayrona, I was so excited! Being here was a dream come true. I first learned about Tayrona when I saw a New York Times travel section article about this place nearly three years ago. It talked about how this gorgeous national park was off limits to tourists for years due to war and safety issues and how it was finally opened up to tourism. People were still afraid to go at that time but for those brave souls who were willing to venture out, the rewards were numerous – lush mountainous jungle, gorgeous bays, pristine beaches with crystal clear waters and abundant marine life. I read that article and looked at the amazing photos and I had to go. At the time, Jade was six and Siena was three and it seemed like an adventure of this sort was not in our cards. But we have grown a lot and chilled out quite a bit after our third child, so here we were driving to the park with our three kids in tow.
On the way to the park, Wilmar told us that there were some gorgeous beaches that were about an hour and a half hike from the entrance. The hike was moderate in Colombian terms (up and down through jungle and over mountains) but he did not recommend that we do it with kids. He thought it was too difficult for them especially given the heat that day. Much of the hike was on terrain completely exposed to the sun. He suggested that we take a different trail on horseback. Most of this trail is through the jungle so we don’t have to walk in the sun. “But what about Saige?” I asked. “She is eighteen months old.”
“Oh, don’t worry,”he replied. “Just strap her on to you in your baby carrier and she will be fine. They do it all the time here.”
I was skeptical but both Wilmar, who has two young children, and the horse owner were confidently reassuring me that it would be fine. We decided to go for it.
Sometimes it’s hard to know as a traveler what it adventurous and what is just plain stupid. We are extremely safety focused in the US. Most of this is probably prudent but sometimes it seems over-the-top and more driven by the fear of a possible threat of la awsuit, no matter how minute, rather than realistic danger. In developing countries however, nobody worries about lawsuits and there are few rules or at least few rules that are actually enforced. As a traveler, you just have to use your judgment and sometimes hope for the best. Judgment is a relative thing though. We often rely on information of those that we trust, of those that we think know the local conditions better than we do, to make our decisions.
The horseback trip started out fine enough. The scenery was beautiful and the energy of the jungle was rejuvenating. We were riding through the rainforest on horseback with our three kids! I have to admit, I was feeling super cool. My dream of adventuring around the world with my family was coming true! And my youngest is barely eighteen months old. How cool are we?!!! I was really proud of us.
And then we got to a big mud pit and all of the sudden the horse was knee deep in mud. It was a very unsettling sensation. It really felt unstable and like I was going to fall off the horse. I was holding on tight and really felt the responsibility of Saige strapped on to me. Yikes! What if I fall and crush her with my weight?
I was just starting to wonder about the soundness of our decision to do this when the trail became very steep, narrow and muddy. Our horses were making their way through a thin trail with steep drop offs to one side. Phew, that part was over quick! Just as I was catching our breath, we were in a steep narrow gorge. Have you ever been on a horse that was jumping down? A terrifying sensation, complete free fall. Going up isn’t too bad but jumping down feels like you can fall off at any minute. And it was muddy and slippery.
I was holding on for dear life, worried about Saige, when I heard Jade and Siena arguing over who gets to hold on to the saddle and who gets to put their feet in the stir-ups. Siena is fearless on horses so she and Jade were on the first horse leading the way. From the back of the pack, I could hear them fighting and pushing each other. Did I mention that it was a single saddle for the two of them? And that nobody was wearing helmets? “Cut it out! You are going to fall off and break your necks!” I screamed in a panic.
At what point does super cool start feeling like a really bad idea? Right about then. The trail got even more slippery, steep and muddy. The horses were slipping a little with each jump. My feet kept falling out of the stirrups and I was having a hard time holding on to the saddle. My heart was in my throat. If we fell, Saige could easily crack her head open on the huge boulders all around us. What were we thinking? This is the most irresponsible thing we have ever done! Who brings a baby on this kind of a trip?
On a particularly steep part, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to just feel the jumps. I just couldn’t watch us going down. With my eyes closed, I heard Jade say “Somebody give me some medicine so I can go to sleep and wake up when this is over.” My sentiments exactly.
After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived on flat ground and were soon at Arrecifes, the most spectacular beach I have ever seen (and I have seen plenty). A long, crescent shaped, white sand beach, wild and untamed with mountains and palm trees in the background. It was spectacular! I felt victorious. All is well that ends well and I must say, nothing like the fear of death to make you feel really alive. I was feeling kind of cool and adventurous again.
That said, I was so ecstatic that the horseback ride was nearly over and resolved to hike back with Saige. Who cares that we paid for a round trip? It was a sunk cost as far as I was concerned. No way was I going to risk my baby’s life twice. Jade readily volunteered to accompany us.
Once off the horses, we hiked to two more beaches, each one spectacularly beautiful. We swam, scrambled over rocks, had a yummy lunch of fried freshly caught fish. Saige napped in the baby carrier as we climbed over some big boulders. Life is delicious!
At day’s end, Jade and I, with Saige on my back, did hike back. The sun was low so it wasn’t very hot and it was an amazing hike. The beach and mountain views were spectacular. We climbed over huge boulders to see the setting sun. Hiking through the mountainous jungle at was also amazing (and quite a workout with a baby on my back). The sounds of the animals and birds, the lush greenery, the scent of nature, the energy of aliveness. Jungles are fountains of energy. We had a great time! Jade is a fabulous hiker and wonderful companion. It was such a pleasure to spend some quality time with her.
Meanwhile, Esteban and Siena opted to horseback ride back. They had a good time too. Apparently it was much less steep going down on the way back. They had to go up much more than down and going up doesn’t feel nearly as scary. Plus, as I said, Siena loves horses and has no fear.
We got back from our adventure and jumped straight into the fresh water pool. It felt glorious! As we told my parents our story and how we survived, I felt adventurous and cool again and so grateful for everything in my life. Most of all, for this great adventure!