It was two days before Christmas and no one back in El Cocuy town could give us an answer, via Susima’s radio, as to whether there would be a bus back to Bogotá on Christmas Eve. We had a wedding to go to in Medellín the day after Christmas which meant we had to be back in Bogotá to catch our flight the morning of the wedding day. We decided to come down the mountain a day early. Another hike to one of the lagunas would take us a whole day and we just couldn’t muster the strength to camp elsewhere, much less hike back to Susima all in one day. We painfully accepted the fact that it was the day to go back to town to try to catch the night time bus so that we’re back in the capital the next morning.
We started off on the right foot. It was a beautiful morning–the kind of weather we would have appreciated the day before–and the trout were enjoying the running water as much as we enjoyed watching them. El Cocuy marked our third big hike, and even though the Dr. and I get along when traveling, I can’t say that everything runs perfectly smooth all the time. On our way down, a pick-up truck gave us a ride up to the fork on the road where we had started just a few days ago. The rest of the way would be the opposite of the lechero ride two days before, but because we were on foot, we knew it was probably going to take us at least four hours to get back to town.
Our adventure began when we saw the German hikers from a distance being escorted by several guys in military uniforms. The Dr. wanted to shout and wave and get their attention. Maybe they’re being shown a short cut! That was a nice thought but my thinking was that we were in Colombia, a country with ripe history of drugs and violence and that we probably shouldn’t be attracting the attention of armed men while in the mountains. Not to be defeated, the Dr. insisted to take his own short cut a few miles later. I was familiar with the road after watching it on our way up a couple of days before and I didn’t feel confident cutting corners in an unfamiliar territory. I shouted after him when he insisted on going down a different route but to no avail; I ended up on my merry way alone. We did meet at some point again, but I was livid that he insisted on going his separate way. For the remainder of the hike–about three hours–we were on our own. I was on my own.
I tried to enjoy the quiet time and the experience of being on my own. I asked a group slaughtering a cow for the holidays permission to take photographs. I said hello to a few pigs, cows and horses, and even rabbits. I waved to farmers staring down from a hill while I lugged my backpack. Motorcyclists stopped and inquired if I was lost; a couple offered me a ride. I stuck to my guns and swore that I would finish the rest of the trek on foot. I would finish it on my own without the stubborn Dr.! (I do recognize the fact that I was being equally stubborn, but hey, I’m the one telling you the story here.) I stopped a few times to ask some locals in my poor Spanish if I was going the right way and it was with their confirmation that let me gather strength to keep going. When the town’s church building finally revealed itself from where I was walking, I sighed a breath of relief: a few more miles and I will be back at the bus station.
Back in the town center, I sat in the park and waited for the Dr. I was hating him then, but I also realized that he had our money and that we would need to make up if I wanted to go back to the city. (Note to self: keep some local currency to myself in case of emergencies or…stubborn situations.) A few minutes later, he rolled in the park behind some guy in a motorcycle. I found out later that he was asking locals all over the mountain if they’ve seen someone who looked like me, and because I stopped a few times to talk to them, he kept getting confirmation that I was still alive and going the right way. (I also found out later that the Germans were indeed being escorted by the military to a short cut.)
The twelve-hour bus ride was more miserable than ever because I sat next to him with a heavy heart. I was about to reach a new milestone the next day and I couldn’t believe we still had to fight after all we’ve gone through in El Cocuy. The hot shower in our Bogotá hotel at 5am after the long bus ride did more than just cleanse our bodies, it also warmed our cold, cold hearts. We started the new leg of the rest of our trip nicely after that. Sometimes, a trip like El Cocuy is necessary to sustain a relationship like ours.