Brice asked me yesterday one sentence to describe our 4-day trek in northern Colombia that we took a few weeks ago. I paused as I thought about it.
“It was an epic adventure filled with incredibly beautiful views, welcoming people, surprisingly good food, and a lot of hills that left me exhausted, covered in bug bites, and ecstatic to not have to hike for a while.”
We had read a lot about the popular Lost City Trek outside of Santa Marta, a 3-5 day hike in the mountains to the ruins of an ancient indigenous town. That trek is supposed to be crowded, full of mosquitoes, and mixed reviews of the views. So Brice found an alternative – the “Off the Grid” trek offered by Vergel Tours.
Pitched as having more stunning views (I don’t have a comparison but it was gorgeous), less bugs (if this is true, I certainly would not have wanted to do the other trek!) and less tourists (we only saw one other group the entire four days), we decided to go for it.
The night prior to our start, we packed up our day bags with all our necessities for our four days, not fully knowing what we were getting ourselves into.
After a short taxi ride out of the city of Santa Marta, we met up with our guide for the trip Luis and three other guys as our motorcycle drivers.
They handed us helmets, got us situated on the back of each bike, and off we went along the bumpy road up into the mountains.
Immediately I was gawking at how gorgeous the views were. Lush green mountains, rivers and valleys everywhere.
Two hours later (yes, you read that right), we finally got to our starting point. We hopped off the bikes and looked at each other, “That alone would have been a solid day, and we haven’t even started hiking yet!”
We were greeted by a young guy about 14 or 15 years old and his two mules. He packed our larger bag on the mule to meet us at the first homestay.
With about 6-7 hours of hiking up some serious hills with about 6,000 feet elevation gain. The beautiful scenery and excitement of the tour made it manageable, despite the heat and difficult terrain.
The whole hillside we were climbing is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and only has about 300 people living in the whole area. With no roads, you can only access the houses and farms by these cow paths we were taking.
Eventually we made it to the top of the mountain peak with views looking down into the valley and a small house a short way down the hill, our stay that night.
We were welcomed by Janeth, the mother of the household. She and her three sons tend to the dairy farm with about 70 cows, covering 300+ acres, while her husband works in the nearby town. Their home was very minimal – cement floors, no doors, a modest kitchen, cold water and limited electricity.
Nonetheless, they were incredibly welcoming, offering us coffee and a delicious meal and welcoming us into their home. The beds were small and loaded with blankets as it gets quite cold at night, but after long-day of hiking, sleep came quickly.
After sipping on a cup of hot coffee while touring the family’s beautiful garden, we headed to the pasture where they milk cows to make fresh cheese. I fell in love with a one-month old baby calf.
Fortunately the day’s hiking was much shorter, a nice downhill route for only a few hours.
Our second homestay was clearly set up for visitors, with beer, signs for the bathroom and a bench at the view point.
You could see numerous waterfalls, the entire mountain range including the white peaks of the tallest point, Pico Cristóbal Colón, and clouds covering the valley below. The sunrise there was perhaps one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
We had quite a few hours in the afternoon after hiking which were filled with reading (thank you Kindle for being small and easy to carry!), playing hide and seek and taking photos with the adorable 3-year old Marinella, who is the granddaughter of our hostess, and learning a bit more about our hosts. While challenging with my limited Spanish, she taught me how to make fried plantains and told me a bit about her family.
Meeting locals, being welcomed into their home and hearing their stories was a really special part of the trek.
From there, we had another short day of hiking with some hills but nothing like day 1.
We arrived at our last stay, which had quite a few more animals – cows, mules, horses, chickens and even two pigs whom Brice eagerly befriended.
Again, our host family was so welcoming and friendly. Upon hearing I was vegetarian, the wife wanted to share with me all the food she made specially for me – a lentil stew, beet salad, and roasted vegetables, nearly everything from our garden. She said she loves to cook and was excited about the opportunity to try new dishes for me.
With so much fresh produce, despite being so remote, all our stops surely treated us to delicious food.
Excited about the prospect of our nice hotel that night back in Santa Marta, we took off for our last day. We were told it would be another hard hike, likely 7 hours, with a lot of hills. Game on.
By hour 4, I was starting to get tired.
By hour 6, I was getting over it. We had a nice stop with some cows, munching on a refreshing orange and thinking this must be the top of the hill. “Oh no, we’re going there,” Luis pointed to a cut in the mountain. It looked to be miles away and hill up. Great.
By hour 7, I was officially over it. The uphill climb seemed never-ending. My shoes were making my feet and ankles hurt with every step. The heat was taking a toll. I was covered in itchy bug bites. I turned the corner and when I saw it kept going up, I collapsed – both emotionally as physically as I took a seat on the muddy path.
My body kept saying no more walking, but my mind kept thinking “what else are you going to do, Erin? Live here?! There’s only one way out. Get up!”
FINALLY we rounded a corner, spotted some cafes and a small shop selling groceries. We were done! Taking a seat at the local cafe and getting a plateful of rice, beans and soup accompanied by a cold Gatorade seemed like the best meal I’d ever had.
After recovered a bit and starting to smile again, I realized we still had a motorcycle ride back down. But Our drivers from a few days prior rolled up, soaking wet. Not a good sign. Sure enough, just down the hill there was a huge rainstorm happening. Well, no time like the present. We put on our jackets and hopped on the back of the bike.
It started out fine, until the road turned from cement to mud. Then the real fun began.
Slipping and sliding everywhere, thinking the bikes were going to tip over, it was an adventure. At one point, I saw Brice walking because there wasn’t enough horsepower to get through the mud with two people on the bike. If I wasn’t so nervous on the back of a motorcycle, this would have been awesome for the GoPro video!
Eventually we made it back to civilization – the restaurants, hostels and bars of Minca. We must have looked ridiculous – filthy, tired, laughing out of hysteria.
Another taxi ride down to Santa Marta and we arrived at our hotel that seemed perfect: clean sheets, big soft bed, warm shower. Exhausted and extremely dirty, we were ready to be pampered.
As the title of this post implies, it took us 6 days of doing not much other than lounging by the pool, napping and eating good food to fully recover. Perhaps we are a bit dramatic.