After about ten months of teaching at the institute, which in fact hasn’t existed for a long time now, I got my first break on the path to becoming a private English teacher. One of my wife’s cousins had recommended me to a recently employed graduate, and I started giving her classes at her home on Saturday mornings. Sometime later she asked if we could have the classes in her office, and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it wasn’t long before I was teaching people at the company every morning and lunchtime.
It was then that I decided to stop teaching at the institute and concentrate on giving private classes. Apart from a six-month period teaching at a high school, which can best be described using adjectives such as, depressing, awful, disheartening, distressing, ghastly, dismal, dispiriting, horrendous, dire, and as an understatement, unpleasant, I have survived without problems from these private classes and the occasional translation project.
Unfortunately some six to ten months later the countryside became dangerous due to the existence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups, and so the treks in the countryside slowly fizzled out as less and less people were willing to take the risk.
When I started working at the school the situation had improved and people were once again venturing out into the countryside, surrounding towns and their holiday homes or “fincas” as they are called in Spanish. It was at the school that I met a teacher who, like me, was passionate about trekking, and she invited me to go on a few walks with some friends of hers and a local guide. After a few of these monthly walking trips the guide, who was quite old, had to take a rest due to knee problems, and the teacher introduced me to another group of hikers.
The walks are graded from 1 to 5, 1 being very easy and 5 being the most difficult; however, this can only be used as a rough guide as so much depends on individual fitness levels. I would class myself as being fit, but not super fit; however, I probably have a better fitness level than most people of my age. The majority of the walks I go on are graded between 4 and 5, and I have always been able to finish the walks, and though occasionally I feel tired for a day or two afterwards, it is more common that I feel fine with no or very little muscle soreness.
After the last walk I went on just a week or so ago I did have painful muscles, especially in my thighs, for a couple of days. I think this was mainly due to the fact that having climbed to the top of a peak called Cerro Bravo, between the towns of Fredonia and Venecia, it started to rain as we made our descent and thus the ground was slippery and treacherous for the rest of the walk, approximately another three hours, and so one had to walk with extreme care, putting extra pressure on muscles.
Usually we meet between 05:30 and 06:00 on a Sunday and travel by hired bus to our starting point, stopping for breakfast somewhere along the route or in the town where we are going to start our walk. Around 08:00 we set off and walk for between six and eight hours, stopping for lunch somewhere up in the mountains.
There are no shops or restaurants, and so lunch is whatever you take with you. The other things which are vital to take are enough liquid to stop you from dehydrating, sun block to protect exposed skin, and a hat. The amount of liquid will depend on the altitude as the lower the altitude the hotter it will be and the more liquid you will need. I usually take one and a half litres of water mixed with mineral nutrients to help replace what I lose from sweating. This is usually enough, though during walks in extreme temperatures it sometimes isn’t and I have to take an extra half litre.
The group I walk with is perfect for me as they walk at a good pace so I feel like I’ve done some exercise and pushed my body hard, but not so fast that I don’t have time to stop and take photos and enjoy the surroundings. Also the number of participants is manageable, about thirty each walk. There are some groups that go on shorter, less demanding walks where people go in their hundreds! I guess that reduces the possibility of it being a peaceful walk. On the other hand there are groups that walk very fast and treat it as a test of endurance.
I have also heard of one group, where on arrival at their final destination, usually a small town, spend the next two or three hours getting wasted, and arrive home a little inebriated to say the least. As I have class early in the morning the following day and have to get up around 04:30 this would be a disaster for me, plus it seems like a contradiction, demanding exercise followed by copious amounts of alcohol.
We usually finish walking around 16:00, then rest and take refreshments in the town for about forty-five minutes before heading back home on the bus which is waiting for us in the town. Hiking is a great way to get to know a country while at the same time keeping in trim, but make sure you are fit before you start.
The average cost of the walks at the moment is approximately $30,000 Colombian pesos or $15 US dollars, which includes the transport, guides and 24 hour insurance. In the time I have been walking with the group there have never been any major accidents, occasionally people suffer from cramp, twist or strain ankles or just get too tired to continue in which case they wait for a “chivero,” a jeep that travels around the unpaved roads in the less accessible parts of the countryside, transporting people from the isolated areas to the nearest town.
He had been trying to open a can of tuna which was placed in the palm of his hand with a knife which would better be described as a dagger; the knife slipped and cut open the veins in his wrist. I remember those nearest to him had speckles of blood on their shirts. Someone took off their shirt and wrapped it around the wound, but in what seemed like less than a minute this was soaked and the blood was dripping onto the floor.
Luckily for him we had not long before passed a few houses and one of the owners had a motorbike. They took him to hospital about 45 minutes away where he received stitches and fortunately lived to tell the tale. That is the worst accident that has happened in my group while walking; I have heard of a man in another group that had a heart attack while walking in the mountains and died on the spot. Remember these walks are at altitude. On the last walk we started at 1,700 metres, climbed to 2,580 and then descended to 1,500, so you need to be fairly fit.
Click here to check out the photographs and information from my treks.
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