I arrived in Colombia haggard. The past two-and-a-half days had been a series of exhausting traveler’s snafus: delayed flights, a string of unrealized standby flights, and a pile of airport junk food and several nights sleeping on airport floors. I’d say I was tired, but that’d be a severe stretch of underestimation. I was completely haggard. So, with eyes burning from a lack of sleep, I walked down the Bogota airplane terminal hallway, following sides to baggage claim and customs, ready to continue the journey. From the airport I had another 3-4 hours to tack onto my areadly 60+ hour travel arrangements. I needed to catch a bus to a taxi, to another bus, and finally arrive in a tiny town called Suesca — my destination. Suesca is a mountain community, situated on an old rail line that splits sandstone cliffs and used to ship raw materials from old mines back to Bogota. Now, those same sandstone cliffs have been developed for rock climbing, and were my main objective for travelling to South America. Despite the snafus I’d run into in my travels, I was psyched to finally arrive south of the equator and on the home stretch of my travelling. But when I arrived at baggage claim, I met a traveller’s nightmare. Luggage of all types and sizes circled the baggage kiosk, and a big sign with blinking yellow lights informed me that the bags had “arrived. ” Yet, mine weren’t there. For a full 45 minutes after the last piece of luggage flopped onto the carousel, I waited for my bags. Hoping they’d suddenly appear. Nope. The airlines lost my baggage. Shit. Due to a general lack nutrition and sleep, considering what to do next was a battle. My mind knew I needed to take action to recover the bads, but my brain was taking a peaceful protest, determined to not continue negotiations until after sleeping. I looked around the airport for an information counter that might be able to assist me in English, because I could barely think in English, let alone Colombia’s Spanish, and thereby reporting the missing luggage in English might be some sort of compromise to my brain. No such luck. I circled the airport lot, and found exactly zero information desks. What was worse: zero people spoke English, period. Yet, here I was needing to communicate with a Colombian who didn’t speak any English that “my very very important bags are missing and I need written documentation of the lost luggage to provide to my insurance company. ” That, “The bags were supposed to arrive two days ago, when I was originally scheduled to arrive too, but I missed my flight due to maintenance issues on the flight prior from Denver to Houston. ” Tough first translation. “Mi equipaje,” I said, outwardly struggling. The sounds of the Spanish language rolling off my tongue like curds. These were the first spanish words I’d spoken since 2 years ago when I visiting Cuba. “Mi equipaje es, no esta, no there are two of them, estan. www.best-ghostwriter.com/? mi equipaje estan lost,” I said, waving my arms around to indicate gone, vanished, not there. My face said more than my mouth did. Swollen eyes and a look of genuine concern say a lot in international language. The poor woman sitting in front of my exhausted exhibition, got my point. On a notepad and with a pencil, the woman scrawled some handwritten notes, grabbed the baggage tickets I’d, thankfully, remembered to tuck into my wallet before leaving the states, and handed me a copy of the handwritten note on a slip of yellow notepaper that was wrinkled and already disintegrating in the humidity. I shoved the yellow slip into my small backpack, unpersuaded that her handwritten scrawl was going to do much to for returning my luggage, especially because I had no address to send them to. I stood there looking at her for a minute longer, hoping there would be some explaination that my bags would be arriving in 24 hours, and I needn’t worry about getting them back. But the woman wasn’t paying me any attention, and had moved on to talking in fast spanish to the couple standing behind me. I took it as my cue to go. I peered into my backpack and took inventory. I realized this would be the only luggage I’d have. I took a breath of relief. Years of international travel had taught me some things, like, “carry on all the essentials. ” I had a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, shampoo, iodine for water, Ibuprofen, deodorant, my laptop, and my phone and computer chargers. I’d be OK. But not to say it didn’t put a damper in already exhausted mood. Not only did my luggage have sevearl changes of underwear, it also held all my climbing equipment: a 70 meter rope, a dozen or so quickdraws, my climbing shoes, a harness, and a double rack of trad gear. In total, I was missing $2,000 worth of gear. This was a climbing trip. I was about to travel 3 more hours away from the Bogota, to a remote town for climbing, without any climbing gear. I sat down on the dusty cement floor adjacent to the baggage claim knees pulled up to my chest, and rested my head on my knees. I fought back tears and tried to think about what to do. There are times when traveling that really test your spirit. It’s like the loneliness exacerbates whatever is happening by two times. You don’t have someone to ask, “What do you think we should do?” or anyone to say, “Yeah that’s a good idea. ” You don’t have someone to watch your luggage while you pee, or double check the hotel reservations, or stay awake when you’re most tired. Every moment and decision is a hollow vessel, captained and crewed by you. It can be tiresome and lonely. Whatever, my brain ascertained, I need a bed. Now.
Counter to my typically frugal travel, I hailed a taxi to take me to the far end of the city, skipping the first bud line. Better to go, than hang around any more airports, I resigned. And off I went. A few hours and a crowded collectivo later, I arrived at the tiny town of Suesca, Colombia. An old lady I was sitting next to on the bus mercifully shook me awake when we arrived. Despite my every attempt to stay awake and alert, the cool breeze of the mountain air lulled me asleep as the collective gradually gained altitude to roughly 10,000 feet. “Gracias,” I told the old lady. And as the bus slowed–not exactly ever stopping–and I hopped off, landing on the main thoroughfare of Suesca. My new home. Roughly 3,000 Colombians live in Suesca, mostly farmers or workers in a local cement factory that can be seen from the pueblo. The town is situated on a river that cuts through a mountain canyon leaving a 300 meter sandstone cliff on one side, and fertile soil that is partitioned into individual farms or personal property on the other. Lining the river is an iconic railroad that once took cement from the factory to other towns and pueblitos, but the tracks are now burried about one kilometer from town. Still, graffiti art and murals on local tiendas picture the railway as the culture center of town. After a short walk, I finally arrived at the climbers hostel. Thank god. And was met by climbers!, the most glorious community this world’s ever hosted! Climbers are the sort that are always the same no matter where you go. Because of our intimately shared experiences, fellow climbers from around the globe already know each other and many of our values like health, the environment, the world, the outdoors, trying hard, bravery, exploration, and acceptance. As a climber, no matter where you are in the world, no matter how hard things get or seem to be, you’ll always be graciously accepted into the arms and homes of other fellow climbers. It’s an unwritten rule that’s changed my life, for good. Here I was, home again, with my people. The hostel was clean and lively. The front room served as both a guest checkin counter and a mini restaurant. Climbing posters and guidebooks littered the tables. If you were a guest, you were allowed behind the counter and walked through the single door that led to the back of the building, a three room structure. One room had four bunk beds; one room had a big community table, and at the very end of the building was a tiny private room with a single bed that took up nearly the entire 5′ x 8′ space. That was my room. It’s funny, from the climber perspective or from the Latin American perspective, a tiny private room is pretty cush. It’s $20/night as opposed to $7 or sometimes $4. By most American standards the room would be unlivable. For me the room was delectable, delicious, exquisite. Just big enough. Comfortable. Quaint. I adored it. I tossed my backpack on the floor, and fell face first into the pillow falling asleep before my shoes were off, and slept for 5 hours. In the afternoon, the gal running the climber’s hostel knocked on my door, waking me, and told me about a mountain store located on the way to the climbing area. She said I might be able to rent some gear. I stood up, still fully dressed and knuckled sleep from my eyes with a big fist, and listened hard. Her broken English was hard for me to follow, but I could tell she was trying to help me, so I got up and met her outside my tiny room. She pointed down the road and said: “climbing equipment. ”
And so, I walked outside, and when looking. I followed her directions a short distance to a tiny, but relatively complete, mountain shop. In fact, compared to a lot of off-the-beaten-path mountain shops, this one was surprisingly good. The local Colombian economy has improved dramatically over the past decade since the decline in power of the FARC, a guerrilla war group. As a result, most of the Colombian people have more money, more merchandise, and, apparently, more climbing gear. Nicely hung parkas, down jackets, climbing pants, and trad gear hung from shelves; new ropes packed tight in cellophane lined the walls. Immediately I walked up to the guy standing at the counter, Freddie, who runs the shop and told him my problem. “My equipage están perdidos, y no tengo mi equipo para escalar,” I explained. My luggage is lost, and I don’t have my equipment for climbing. Freddie smiled fired 100 words back to me, in about 10 seconds, none of which I could understand. I continued on,
“Puedo comprar zapatos para escalar y uno de esto?” Can I buy shoes for climbing and one of these?, I said, motioning to my waist and hoping he’d pick up on “harness” not a word we learned in Spanish 1. “Claro,” he said. Of course, and he took my hand and led me to a stack of shoes at the front door. I full night’s sleep and a big healthy salad of spinach and broccoli later, and I was a golden girl. I awoke to a melting panorama of dewey bits glistening and then disappearing into a rich, green landscape. Several cows were tied with rope outside the front door of the hostel, like bikes to a city bike rack, and I could hear the squawks of roosters as dawn continued to break. Despite being in the southern hemisphere in their summer, at 10,000 in elevation, Suesca is chilly year round. I shivered in my down vest and long sleeve shirt as I crawled out of my straw-filled mattress, and into the kitchen. I wished I had my puffy jacket, safely tucked away in a stuff sack at the bottom of my duffel bag, somewhere between here and Colorado. I made coffee, and chatted with the other climbers who were gearing up for the cliffs. Another American, Josh, didn’t have a partner and I asked him if we could climb together. It’s a strange position to be in: internationally traveling alone, and 100% relying on another person in order to do your activity. Apart from bouldering and free soloing, in climbing, you must be with others, well at least one other person. But this is the beauty of both the climbing community, and traveling alone. I had to put myself in a state of vulnerability, and hope that it was received. And, of course, it was. So together with my rented harness and shoes (which were all together too big and flopped around my toes and )
I haven’t finished this tale yet. More later.