Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Brought To You By the Letter "C"

If You Can't Swim, You Don't Go; That's Why It's An Adventure

This last weekend became an extra long weekend when the school decided to cancel classes Friday due to anticipated low student attendance because of a national holiday on Thursday and the following Monday. Good call, school!

I took the opportunity to travel to a fairly remote location in the mountains east of Medellin with two elementary teacher-friends of mine, Tina and Lisa. During the trip, one of them suggested we make a list of fun things that happened beginning with each letter of the alphabet. (There's the reason I mentioned they were elementary teachers.) We never did, however, I thought that might be a fun way to remember this trip...and then I sat down to do it and it wasn't so fun. The main problem being there are 26 letters and some of them are "Q", "X", and "Z". Also, I found an over-abundance of memories for the letter "C". Therefore, this recounting will be all about the letter "C".

Canyon The reserve we stayed at sits along the Rio Claro at the bottom of a beautiful tree-lined canyon. Everywhere we hiked, you looked up and see these amazing rock formations towering over you on both sides of the river. There literally wasn't a bad view anywhere! I'm not one for taking excessive pictures (that's a lie), but I found myself flipping through the photos on my camera thinking "I took 80 shots of the same thing!"

Caminando I'm cheating here and using the Spanish for "walking" but it's with good reason. The bus we took to get to the reserve was a Medellin to Bogota bus which meant that about three hours after leaving Medellin we would get dumped off. That's kind of what happened. The driver realized we were passing the Rio Claro as we were going over it and then proceded to drive for another two kilometers before letting us off and then telling us to walk up another road! As the bus, and our link to civilization, drove off, a semi pulled in to go up said road and, after asking where we were going, the truck driver informed us that, yes, indeed, the river was about two kilometers back down the high way. So, we proceded to walk (caminar) with our huge backpacking packs for two kilometers in the noon-day Colombian sun along a narrow shoulder on a busy highway connecting the two biggest cities in Colombia because our bus driver was a tool.

Caving I've only been in two caves in my life. One was as a daycamp leader for the Parks Department in Roseville when I was in high school. We went to a cave somewhere in Wisconsin (I should know the name of it; I drove by the signs enough times) and I had sore arms for a week from all the kids hanging on me for fear of getting accosted by a bat. The second time was in college when a group of us drove to St. Paul to walk through one of the caves along the Mississippi River for Halloween where people jump out at you. Either way, both of those experiences were pretty tourist friendly and "safe" because there were actually walking paths and ropes to lead us along. Not here!

I need to back up a bit though...our fifteen year old tour guide was a little confused and tried to take us in the exit and decided the water was too high. The reason the "water was too high" was an issue was that in order to get to the cave, one has to swim across the river, current and all. Well, after a few hours (yes, hours) of waiting the boss came by and imparted his wisdom to the group and our guide making statements such as the subheading of "If you can't swim, you don't go; that's why it's an adventure!" Thanks for the confidence.

Eventually we all made it across the river, although me without my water shoes - they got sacrificed to the river. The entrance to the cave was about a twenty minute hike throught the forest and our guide stopped us along the way to point out trees and rocks (there were plenty of both). Then he warned us that should we encounter any ants that we need to "keep our feet moving" because they sting. At that point I remember the group collectively looking at me, the one with no shoes. As we rounded the next ridge everyone ahead of me started running. The ants apparently don't just cross the trail, they follow it! After declining Tina's offer to get a piggy back ride from her, I waited until the "shoed" group was far enough ahead for me to sprint through the forest. About fifty yards later I emerged with only two bites and a soaring adrenaline.

Finally at the cave entrance we turned on our lights and ventured inside. Remember now, there are no paths, no tow ropes. Lisa mentioned that it reminded her of "canyoning" in that we were always in water, but it was in a cave and therefore dark. After walking a few hundred feet we all became aware of one of the most awful noises I have ever heard in my life. Condors that nest on the cave were flying about overhead screaming at us. Shining your light upwards only made it worse. It was a horrible sound. Some Hollywood film crew needs to come down here and record it for their next slasher flick. It was as if they were screeching "kill! kill!" in unison.

At times the water was at our ankles and at times we were literally swimming. There were a few short "water slides" made from the centuries of water running through the cave over the marble rock within. Those were fun! The exit of the cave was a waterfall with a rope ladder attached to it. After climbing down the ladder, we traversed the river again by hanging on to a rope that stretched across it. I guess "that's why it's an adventure," huh?!?

Capsizing On the second day at the reserve we went kayaking. Now the Rio Claro, at least were we were, never really reaches any kind of difficult rapids, however, if the rating scale included a .5 Class Rapids, we went over them. Again, not difficult, but fun nonetheless! The three of us were in two kayaks, the girls in one, me in the other, and we departed with two rafts full of families. At one point the rafts got behind us a ways (that's our story anyway) and, in an attempt to let them catch up, we grabbed some low hanging tree branches. Correction: Lisa and Tina grabbed some low hanging tree branches, I grabbed their kayak. ...and then they tipped over. :)

Children The last thing a teacher wants to see on vacation is a mass of school kids. One or two with their families is fine as long as they don't bother you but a school trip is not acceptable. We were graced with the presence of two different groups, although thankfully not at the same time. The first was a group of about 20 8th grade girls. Against all odds, they were pretty good. Then came the group of about 40 ninth graders. If I had wanted to see my kids all week I would have brought them. Unfortunately they were staying right above us in a very tree house-like lodging. Fortunately Tina had no problem going up and telling them to go to bed.

Campfire The second night at the reserve we met some teachers from our school's sister school in Medellin, Columbus School. They were camping for the weekend and invited us to come to their site after dinner and enjoy the campfire and all things that go along with it. It was a surreal feeling sitting around a fire in the cool night air getting smoke blown in your face by the breeze and listening to the river rush by a few yards away. In the dark I would have thought I was back in northern Minnesota; it was a nice feeling.

Canopying For those that don't know, like my dear mother, canopying is moving through an area, usually a forest, at the level of the canopy. In essence, you're really high and, if you're on a zip-line like we were, you're going pretty fast. This particular canopy had three zip-lines, one that crossed the river and two that followed it. Great fun but it goes by really quickly.

Clear River (I know I cheated on this one too.) There is a reason it is called Rio Claro. It is clean and clear. The guides all told us we could fill our water bottles from the river. We didn't, but it's nice to know we could have.

C you next time! (Lame?)


~Lynn~ said...

Sounds amazing! SO jealous of the canopying...not so much of the caves!

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