Ah, the Paramo. You find it in the Northern Andes and Central America. You find it only above the timberline. It’s unique because it’s tropical and ecologists say it is the fasting evolving ecosystem on the planet.
Unlike any landscape, I have ever seen. The Paramo blossoms with hundred-year-old cacti like trees called Frailejones. In the high altitude, with the hot then cold wind snapping at your heels, one moment you are sweating in the unrelenting equator sun, the next you are feeling the chill of the encroaching clouds. Soon the view will be lost as the afternoon fog sets in.
I wouldn’t call it an easy trek. My son, who was 18 in the time would disagree. I did get affected by the altitude on this occasion, even though we had spent the past month jumping up and down to an altitude of five thousand metres give or take.
We started in the quaint little town of Salento. It was the yearly festival so the town was full to the brim. With music into the night and market stalls to keep the visitors from Columbia happy, Salento was alive.
Day one of the trek we catch a jeep with our wonderful guide Chu-Cho to the Cocora Valley where you will see the magnificent wax palms. Funny to be high in the hills and be surrounded by palm trees.
We set off at around nine for a quick ascent from 2900 metres to 3400 metres. The surrounds are similar to that of a rainforest. We share the path with horses and farmers of the Paramo. The day is all uphill.
The late afternoon brings us to our first farm stay. The Farm is called La Argentina. We arrive late from the overflowing conversation with Chu-Cho and the consistent stops to talk about the Biology of the area. All the other trekkers are already at the farmhouse either looking lost and dazed staying warm in the kitchen or, just trying to stay warm elsewhere.
The accommodation was simple as you would expect to be so far away from Salento. The farmer’s wife was incredibly adept with cooking for fifteen trekkers from all around the world.
Day two most of the trekkers headed off in a different direction to us. They were either trekking for two or three days, we were the only ones crazy enough to choose the four days at high altitude it seemed.
The morning was brisk and the walk was uphill (again) each step pushed the breath deep into my lungs and then it exhaled with the force of each landing foot. When the sun was on our backs we were dripping, it was important to keep the fluids up.
The day was longer than the first and we arrived at our second farm stay late afternoon. We only walked fourteen kilometres or so, but the trekking at altitude really is like climbing a mountain with no lung capacity.
Our hostess with the absolute mostess was Maria. The adorable farming wife who lived her current life looking after the passing trekkers. There were only four of us at Buenos Aires Farm.
With a mixture of being mesmerised and exhausted, I watch Maria dance around the kitchen to prepare a delicious and nourishing meal for all of us.
Day three involved leaving early and heading into Los Nevados National Park. The trek today was around eighteen kilometres but thankfully it hovered pretty much on the four thousand metre mark the whole way. The first climb the hardest, then the next hardest decisions were continually deciding to go left or right along the cow divetted trail.
Along the way, we pass Laguna Otun. It is picturesque and also the largest body of water in the National Park. High above the Laguna, we have a sunbaked picnic as the cold wind whipped in every direction all around us.
It was a long walk to our next stay which was a horribly cold and dirty meeting point for all trekkers to either acclimatise or jump off into their next trek. The kitchen was filthy, the food the worst yet, the bunk beds scratchy, the showers cold and the toilets left for the ferals. We did not mind so much though as we perched ourselves in the sun and watched the day dwindle away.
Day four time to jump back in a jeep and head to our final trekking point. After a half-hour drive up through the Paramo, the jeep stops to allow us to climb our final ascent to the rapidly melting glacier.
Our packs were back at the lodge so the walk up was easier for the less weight but harder for the altitude. The wind was wickedly wrapping itself into the rocks and crevasses. Without a backpack, I decided to just keep walking to arrive at our highest destination.
We set off early to avoid the day-trippers. These people do not often acclimatise and end up feeling sick and nauseous on the way up. Some even vomit and have to be escorted down. Thankfully after four days were almost jumping over the boulders (not!).
It took about two hours, but we made it. The final climb hurt like hell, but we did it.
The glacier was thin and I questioned just how long there would be any snow and ice up there among the volcanoes at all.