Entrance and map to the Parque!
There's a part of me that doesn't want to write about my time in Parque Tayrona
. I feel like it's one of those "off the beaten track" insider experiences that you appreciate more because you didn't know what to expect and figured it out along the way. At the same time I want to record the memories while they're still fresh, because it was such a happy experience. And then there's the part of me that joined this site to read about other people's "off the track" adventures - to go there vicariously, or include in a future itinerary - and feels a certain obligation to contribute in return (understanding, of course, that it's quite possible no one will ever read this!!).
Horse-trek to Arrecifes
So with mixed emotions, and mainly as a self-indulgent exercise in getting my thoughts on paper, I write.
A 45 min hike from the entrance through the jungle (which we did by horse... we had waaaay too much in our backpacks!!!) brings you to Arrecifes beach, the first of the camping sites in the national park. I'm going to be a Tayrona snob and go ahead and say that Arrecifes is for day-trippers and people on guided tours. The reception area at the entrance looks brand new and has a computer (!), a pretty restaurant complete with vegetarian options and restrooms that are clean and nice and have super luxurious items such as toilet paper and soap. The beach itself is a long stretch of soft sand, but with water that is too dangerous for swimming.
Arrecifes is great for a quick lunch break but, in my own opinion, to truly have 'done' Tayrona, you need to keep hiking a further 45 mins to Cabo San Juan.
This part of the journey we did on foot, carrying our heavy backpacks, plus extra bags of god-only-knows-what, and scrambling over rocks and under vines. The walk is not difficult, but there are certainly parts where you are climbing over potentially slippery rocks and need to take care.
At Cabo San Juan we found ourselves amongst the people who are on the six-month-backpacking-around-South-America-tour, exactly the kind of people we wanted to be with, even though we were 10-day holidayers ourselves! We spent five days/four nights in the Parque and were definitely amongst the few long-timers. The inability to sleep (in the tents there is no ventilation and it gets unbearably hot at night, and in comparison the hammocks are completely exposed so you freeze and get wet in the overnight thunderstorm - luckily for me I'm one of those freaky people who can sleep just about anywhere, but I was certainly in the minority); the relentless mosquitos; the lack of variety in diet; the outdoor, communal, cold-water showers and typical camping ground toilet facilities (I loved watching peoples' faces when they'd first see the ablutions block.
The hike from Arrecifes to Cabo San Juan
.. an expression somewhere between disbelief and panic!); and the prospect of those loooong days and nights with absolutely no activities other than swimming, laying on rocks or hiking, meant that most people seemed to spend one or two, maybe three, nights maximum in the Parque.
Life at Cabo San Juan was heaven. We'd get up at daylight and maybe find a quiet spot to read or write for a while before having breakfast. Breakfast was usually the campground vegetarian option (three slices of toast with jam and an arepa), or we grabbed some pastries from Brian (one of the handful of vendors who made a living hiking from one end of the Parque to the other selling freshly baked pastries or cakes, ice-creams, water, soda or beer), or we'd take the 15 min hike to a little beach where there were a couple of stands.
The campsite at Cabo San Juan
.. one selling fresh juice squeezed to order, and the other making fresh arepas - since we are both vegetarian, they ran the 20 mins to Arrecifes to get fresh tomatoes so they could make us a special alternative! The rest of the day would be spent in a leisurely way hiking to different beaches, taking our time to stop and look for wildlife along the way, snorkelling (we brought our own snorkel gear with us, and the fish and coral were fantastic - similar to what I've seen diving in a lot of places - the fins were a must, though, as the water gets rough where the good snorkeling is), lying around on - or jumping off - rocks, reading, writing and napping.
By this stage in the journey City Cynicism had finally packed his bags and left, and after a week of traveling with that ray of sunshine, Fernando, I was back to being my old self full of good humour and belief in my fellow man.
One of my favourite parts about traveling, and particularly being in campsites and hostels, is the opportunity to meet and get to know other travelers. I was hopeful about the prospect of meeting people in the Parque who might speak English, so that I could join in the conversations and learn about where these new friends were from, what brought them to Colombia, what their traveling experiences had been etc etc... but alas, this was not to be!
It's surprisingly easy to communicate across a language barrier when the barrier is mutual. When neither person speaks the other's language, there's much you can convey, and learn from each other, through gesture and patience. It's different when there's a group of people who speak a common language, and you're the one person who doesn't.
The campsite at Cabo San Juan
You don't want to slow down or interrupt the flow of conversation, and by the time you finally work out what's just been said, through recognizing a few words and putting them in context, the conversation has already moved on to the next topic, so any interjection you falteringly make usually results in confused looks. In my mute world, I was beginning to understand more and more of the conversations going on around me, but my mind also wanted a break from the constant straining, so when Fernando wanted to join some people we met who were to spend a day hiking to a pueblito, I couldn't bear the thought of having to try and keep up with the conversation for so long and decided to spend the day by myself giving my mind a rest.
I found that when I was on my own I was better able to communicate with people, as they would speak slower and I would make the effort to engage in the conversation, and not hide behind my silent little Language Barrier bubble.
In what I can only describe as a state induced by far too much sun and jungle (!) I came to the conclusion that obviously Fernando was somehow to blame for my failure to communicate, and it would be best for me to split up from my traveling companion and make my way to Taganga
, and home, by myself. When he returned from pueblito we talked it through... him being understanding, caring and compassionate and me being irrational and - I even admitted it at the time - girly, and thankfully concluded that I would stay.
I know we travel to learn about the world and other people, but it's always the lessons I learn about myself that surprise me most. I had always thought of myself as happy-go-lucky, outgoing and someone who loves meeting new people, yet I had let this language barrier prevent me from being myself.
It took me another day to fully embrace Lesson Number Four: let go of your insecurities and make the effort to communicate across language barriers... people will almost always have the patience to help you. After I had learned that lesson, I was no longer a silent observer and began to fully participate in and enjoy the conversations with the wonderful people we met.