I awoke in the morning to the sounds of breakfast from my dimly lit room. Not aware of the time, and afraid of missing the only food option, I arose and headed out into the piercing sunlight. I heard the rambling of our Australian friend Jess who was busy pontificating to her new friends at the breakfast table. I added my name to the list and sat down with my coffee and cigarette. Truly, smoking in the morning is the worst idea; it sets the stage for smoking all day long, and for some reason I run through extremes of smoking. For a couple of days I smoke like a chimney and then after I can’t stand the smell of them.
Minca was one of binge periods, and I hate to blame others, but it was the German who made me aware that they sold cigarettes at Casa Elemento, and who nearly enjoyed as many cigarettes as I did. Dennis so joined and he had a strange luck going on. The night before, he like every newcomer to Elemento wasn’t aware that he had to put his name on the list. He had added it as people were collecting their spaghetti and not a thirty seconds later the owner announced, “Dennis.” He gave me a slightly guilty, slightly pleasantly surprised look and collect his dish as I remained standing waiting for mine. The same happened for him in the morning. I was waiting and he added his name only to have his food handed to him immediately. Different people, different luck.
The night before we hand discussed going to the waterfall and the people at the hostel said there was a jungle trail that led to it. Dennis and I were both in. Jess and Joss also professed interests. After breakfast we collected our things, “alright meet in twenty and we will head out.” Twenty minutes later, with typical German punctuality, Dennis met me at the bar all ready to go. “I talked to Jess, they are going to leave a little later.”
“Alright, whatever, I am not going to wait for them.” Waiting for people to get their shit together can turn into an all-day affair. It is best to announce your intentions of leaving a half hour or so before hand and then see who is ready. Maybe extent them an extra ten minutes but no more. The girls’ clock had run out.
“Well,” I said, “I guess I take a road beer and two bags of water.” In Colombia you can buy small 500 mL bags of water. You bite the corner off and suck it dry. These bulses are much cheaper than a botle. The German responded with, “Actually, Issac,” the bartenders name, “I will have two Aguilas for the road.” I turned and looked at him. Man I liked this guy. “You know what, make it two for me too.” So with our road beers in hand we headed up the stairway to the “road.”
“Are you sure you know where you are going?”
“Yeah, I just asked the owner,” I replied. We walked about twenty feet and the road split.
“Uhhh.” So I headed back down to the hostel and asked. It was to the left, and we were off again. We opened our beers and headed up the path although the waterfall was supposedly down. In our slightly hungover state, the short uphill walk seemed to last forever. “What the fuck man, I thought this hike would be downhill.” Not to say anything about the return trip. Like I said in the last story, I would think about that later. We continued on, and eventually the path did turn downhill.
The footpath finally peaked and descended to a new mountain road. We found a path a little further down the way and started down it. Three hundred meters later we met with some lumberjacks. “esta es de calle a la cascada?” Both pointed back up the path. So we turned around and headed back. Once on the road, Dennis decided that he had heard the directions at some point to and led us down another path. It was correct. The cicadas awoke and buzzed their little brains out, but the sounds of the jungle could still be deciphered through the screaming bugs. The path swept in and out of sunlight; from hot to breezy. We chatted and slowly drank our warming Augilas until we poured the remainder out and popped the spares. It was a pleasant walk, and we took turns leading and following.
Thirty minutes in we came to a fork. A wet sloppy path ran down and a dry path ran up. “I think it is this way,” I said and walked up the dry way. Dennis followed and we came upon a little open hut with some thin sickly puppies roaming around crying. They wagged their little tails at us and came up for some love. We feared that the mother would be none too pleased to find strangers messing with her puppies so we kept our distance. “Man, I don’t think this is the right way,” Dennis opined. “What if this private property?”
“Well they don’t have guns in Colombia, and everyone has been so nice.” Behind the hut a little hill slopped down to another closed hut with a woman standing in the doorway. A native. I yelled down, “como va a la cascada?” She pointed in the direction we had come from. As we turned to retreat, to mutts ran from the shack and up the small hill at us barking. Dennis was afraid of dogs and started pushing me forward as a shield. “Stay calm. Stay calm!” But it was too late for that. The dogs sensed the fear and raced up the hill and started nipping at my legs as I slowly backed up all the while yelling at Dennis, “Give me a fucking stick!”
It wasn’t looking good. There were no sticks on the hill and with Dennis pushing me from behind, a retreat was looking unlikely. But then, like a flash of lightening, a little girl wearing a potato sack as a dress appeared next to me. She yelled at the dogs and through clumps of dirt at them. They whimpered and retreated. She turned and looked at me in the eyes and big grin spread across her round moon-like face. “Gracias.” She nodded and Dennis and I turned and walked quickly back up the hill. Passed the dilapidated puppies, we walked in silence, and finally when we reached the fork and started heading down the muddy path Dennis added, “do you realize we just got saved by a little girl.” We both laughed. “We can never tell anyone about this.” It became my favorite story during the next three days at Casa Elemento.
The path wound on and an hour and a half after leaving Elemento, we found ourselves at the waterfall. It was small and peaceful. They even sold ice-cold beers which is exactly what I wanted after our Aguilas had turned to piss in our hands. We sat and drank a cold Aguila and smoked a spliff. The afternoon had arrived, and I bathed the heat and dirt of the hike off in the cool refreshing waters of the tumbling mountain stream.
Soon an older man and his sister showed up. He must have been in his early fifties but was in amazing shape. His sister, whom only spoke Spanish, smiled and said hello before entering the pool below the waterfall and swimming face up for the next hour. The man bummed a cigarette off Dennis and started speaking English with us after my Spanish failed three questions in.
His name was Harlington, and he grew up outside of London. But his family was Colombian and his sister had grown up in Santa Marta. He told us that he had been an airline steward for the past thirty years and had loved every minute of it. He hesitated at first then boldly proclaimed that he and his partner were going to retire soon and were considering moving to Colombia. I always feel a little guilty that gay men have to hesitate to talk about the people they love. It is shame that people hate them, especially as being gay by itself is no worse than any other pre-determined biological trait such as green eyes. But if people didn’t hate and relegate people, how would they feel better about themselves.
We laughed and joked and really enjoyed the man’s company for an hour until his sister was done bathing and he said his goodbyes and we said, “chao.” Once he walked away, Dennis turned to me and said, “man did we really just talk about men’s fashion with a gay man for an hour?” We both laughed. We had! But the man was very stylishly dressed, and only a fool wouldn’t try to pick up some pointers.
Soon, we decided it was time for us to head back too. But first we bought another beer, and sat. I reasoned that a cold beer before the long hike up would be wise. Dennis, the German, agreed. As three in the afternoon rolled by we started the trek up. As it always seems to happen, the path seemed oddly different on the return walk. Once again, not far from the start we came to a fork and were confused about which direction we had come down. “I am pretty sure it is left.” We went left, but soon were overcome by the strangeness of the way. “Well, I have a little coke, if you want to do this before we go up.”
“Sure, why not?” I replied. So we sniffed a bump or two each off our hands and continued down the strange path, laughing about our stupidity of doing coke before a long hike. We came to a large construction site and I said, “let me ask them if this is the way back to Casa Elemento, I saw someone moving up there.”
“Pardon, donde es la calle a la Casa Elemento.”
“who are you talking to?”
“I saw a person,” and I pointed to the top floor of the empty building. Dennis followed my finger and right as his eyes fixed on the spot, a cat stuck its head over the balcony and gazed down at us.
“You are talking to a cat!” We laughed.
“Pardon, gato, sauves tu?”
“Haha. Stop man. The cat can’t understand you.”
“Hell, no one can understand my Spanish,” and I continued to entreat the cat to tell me the direction the best I could in Spanish. We continued down the same road. And dwindled to the small path we originally had suspected. Like every person who is lost, I proclaimed the whole time, “Oh, I recognize that leaf, and that little rock over there too.” “That cow looks familiar, and so does that stick.”
In classic Colombian style there was a sign at the beginning of the jungle trail where the road ended. It pointed down the trail and with fading paint stated, “Casa Elemento.” No distance was given. And if a distance were given, you can bet your life-savings it is wrong. Hostels in Colombia are always proclaiming, “Just 1 km out of town!” 1… 10… what’s the difference right?
“Well, it is going to be a long climb, let’s get to it. We don’t want to miss dinner.” So we started up. We joked and laughed and stopped talking as the gradient increased. Once we stopped and 10 cm wingspan butterfly fluttered by. The back of its wings were a purple violet that shimmered in the evening sun. It landed on the carved path wall 4 meters down from us and folded its wing. Immediately an owl was staring back at us. Truly stunning. We crept closer and it allowed us to admire it for a minute before taking flight and shifting into the sunrays and disappearing into the jungle.
The hike up was over before we knew it and although now sober, we had enjoyed the trek. Dinner was delicious.
That night was Friday, and the hostel bar was filled with goers. Jess and Joss had been at the juice all day and it showed. They joined us at the bar for some beers and fun.
Stay tuned for part 3