Puerto Rico to San Carlos
23 December 2016
Originally, we were going to bike back to Guatape after one night in Puerto Rico, but it was so beautiful and so difficult to get to that we decided to stay another day. We rose early to run to San Carlos, about five miles away. Before leaving, Lenin got instructions from Luis, the father of the family caring for Paola’s house, for how to get there via trails instead of taking the steep and rocky road that we had driven up the previous night. We started off on muddy trails through cow pastures, following the heavy footsteps of the cows. Sadly, much of the land has been stripped of its natural vegetation and replaced with grass, lowering the tolerance of the land for rainwater. The saturated land doesn’t have enough trees or other plants to soak up the water, so it ends of being muddy and slippery, also creating landslide hazards. Fortunately, we soon entered a more untouched section of jungle where the trails were dryer, and we gained more traction.
According to Luis’s directions, we were to cross under the powerlines and bear right on the trails when we came to a big tree. Then we would come to a house with an old lady and about 20 dogs. I’m not sure what we were supposed to do when we got there, but we did eventually come to this house with numerous dogs. At that point, we encountered two people on horseback who were also going to San Carlos. They led us back on the right track, and we chased the horses as fast as we could until they got too far ahead. This trail led us to a river where we crossed an old, narrow bridge that was suspended over the river. From there, we had to ask a farmer for directions again, since we somehow ended up in his backyard. The trail finally emerged into the outskirts of San Carlos, and we walked into the center of town for lunch.
After lunch, we decided to climb up to la Piedra del Tabor – another giant stone like the one in Guatape, but with no stairs and even higher of a climb. As we walked back out of town, we passed a dog who was lying in the sun. He got up, and we invited him to follow us. There are hundreds of stray dogs in every town, and it’s so hard to ignore them. This one was very friendly, cleaner-looking than most, and looked to be about 2 years old. He was maybe a cross between a yellow lab and pit bull. Lenin asked several people in town how to get to the stone, and once we were on the road out of town, he asked one more farmer about which trail to take. At this last junction, before traversing the farm and entering the narrow, steep trail, Lenin comments, “funny, they all say the same thing, to be careful of the tigers”. You can imagine how I felt for the rest of the hike up to the stone.
At one point, we stopped to bathe in a waterfall and refill our water bottles with fresh spring water. When we finally reached the stone, it was already growing dark on the shaded trail. The toughest part of the climb began near the base of the stone, and we continued up the even steeper, more slippery trail. We emerged from the woods and had yet more rocks to climb. The dog almost couldn’t make it up one of these rocky sections, and he stood whimpering until we encouraged him enough to jump for it. Just past this point, Lenin saw a poisonous snake. We couldn’t go much higher than this because the rock was too slippery and there was no easy way to climb, as it was nearly vertical. It was still sunny up on the rock, but we needed to move quickly to get out of the woods before it became impossible to see. For the entire hike back down, I was scared of both tigers and snakes while I tried not to slip on the muddy trail. Going down is always harder for me than climbing up, but I think I went faster than usual this time.
Once we were in the clear again, we shared our leftover lunch with the dog. Back in town, he got distracted and wandered away to say hi to some other people, and we never saw him again. That night we agreed that if we saw the dog the next morning we would take him with us to Medellin. To get back to the house in Puerto Rico, a moto-taxi cost a minimum of $30,000 pesos ($10). We debated staying in a hotel in town that night instead, since it was cheaper than getting a ride back, but then Lenin found a guy on a motorcycle who was willing to take us there for only $20,000 pesos. We needed two motorcycles though, so he had to find someone else willing to go for $10,000. He came back a few minutes later with another guy on a motorcycle, and we each got on the back of one. The ride was insanely bumpy, but I felt much better on the motorcycle than I had the night before in the pick-up truck.
The things people do in this country on a daily basis is astounding, and commutes like these are probably most bewildering to me. For example, Lenin and I met some farmers selling honey in San Rafael who walk 2 hours each way every day from their bee farms to sell their honey. They don’t just walk on flat roads – they walk over mountains on gnarly trails that are sometimes washed out by landslides or covered in deep mud. The people we met on horses while trail running earlier were probably just going on a routine trip into the town for groceries or something. The next day we would experience yet another mode of transportation to get us out of Puerto Rico for the final time.