It happened. I achieved something great. It wasn’t the Forbes “30 under 30” that I daydreamt about when I was a fresh graduate and still full of career related goals nor winning the world championship in snowboarding. “30 under 30”-list shows new irritatingly fresh faces every year and if I would have ever gotten more serious in snowboarding I would most likely have been badly hurt, multiple times, by now.
So I am happy with my current great feat.
If you have ever read any travel articles about Colombia, you’ll recognise the clichés “Colombia has it all”, “Many faces of Colombia” etc. what it is trying to tell you is that Colombia has a) beaches, b) cities and c) mountains.
After being on the gringo trail for a while and getting our adrenaline fix in San Gil (rafting was fun, paragliding was not! I am not a bird clearly), we headed to the snowy mountains of Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Chita. I used Pinterest for the first time for planning our travels in Colombia and photos of weird plants lured me to embark us for 15hrs+ bus rides to a less travelled corner of Colombia. And yes you read right, photos lured me, Richie usually does not have an idea where we are going before we are actually going there. And I think he would have used his veto rights if I would’ve revealed the reason for this trip to be weird mountain cactuses.
El Cocuy national park is a massive area covering valleys, glaciers and snowy mountain tops. The villages where you start your hike booking are located at over 2,500 meters above sea level, the accommodation in the start of the trails at 3,600 meters, and trails themselves can go up to 5,000 meters.
Back in the days – when even New York Times made an article about hiking in El Cocuy – one was able to go without a guide, do an epic 6-day trek, and walk on the snow.
Now however things are different. The park was closed for 1,5 years because of conflicts between the government and the indigenous people. Or something else, depends what sources you read or who you talk to. The park finally opened in 2017 and now one can choose from three different one-day hikes and has to hire a guide for 120,000 COP. “A guide” in this case means a local person going up with you, there’s really no guiding services in terms of history, geology etc. included. After hearing the background - about the park closing - and how it affected the income of local families we just said “fair enough” and paid happily the $40 USD.
Because of the closing and basically a pause in any tourism development, the process of getting to El Cocuy and booking the hikes is a bit of a messy affair but a great chance to practise ones Spanish. Since I am not writing a travel blog to provide guidance for others I will skip a lot of the practical matters but you get an idea how difficult it is to do a one day hike here:
1) First you need a guide name. You can pick one from a list in the park office and just call different ones, try to manage to understand their Spanish and if it’s a yes or no and hope for the best that you both got the day right. Other option is to call at the cabins that offer accommodation in the start of the trails and pick one of their guides. Easier this way.
2) You need to go buy insurance for your guide. Different office from the park office, of course.
3) Go back to the park office to register yourself and the hike(s) you are doing. Pay entrance fee.
4) Get yourself up to the cabins. Options: Milk truck (10,000 COP) or private transportations for 15,000-40,000 COP pp depending on your luck and how many other people are going. We took the milk truck and that was a fun experience albeit a cold one!
5) Have the park ranger check your permits and paper work
7) Find your way back to the El Cocuy/Guican town. Again, an alternative option (cheap option) was to take the 5am school bus with the local kids.
8) End your journey with 3+ buses and 12+ hrs back to big cities.
Even though getting everything sorted and actually getting up to Hacienda Esperanza (our accommodation) did feel like a great achievement already, that’s not why I want to meet you at a Finnish square.
It’s because talking to the park ranger revealed me to be the First Finnish Person to Come to El Cocuy National Park! And yes this moment deserves capital letters.
Imagine being the first somewhere. In the age of traveling being easier than ever and more and more countries becoming safe to explore it’s a wonder to realise there is a place no-one from your country has been yet.
Of course there’s the possibility that the park ranger was full of shit and says that to everyone that is not German, French or Dutch, and in reality I will soon find full coverage in one of the Finnish newspapers by other brave explorers.
We did only one main hike because we weren’t sure about our ability to deal with the altitude and/or our general ability to hike at all. Long gone are the New Zealand hiking days and times of being in “glorious shape” as Richie would put it. As a warm-up on the day before we climbed up some fields, climbed & jumped over millions of fences, wire and electric, and (I) got (us) lost and did not find the lagoon we were looking for. But we had some great views so I’d call it a success.
The park is beautiful, the people are friendly, the history is touching, the food is good and the company at the cabin was amazing.
And the plants are called Frailejones, cousins to the sunflowers we all know.
Maybe you will have a chance to become the second Finn here?
* Torilla tavataan!- saying is a common way to connect with fellow Finns when someone from Finland has done something great. Most famous example: Finland winning ice-hockey world championship. Then everyone met at the square, including yours truly.