Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Off the Beaten Track - Villeta, Colombia

Written by Karen.
In the morning, Adam and I join up with Fernando, a local adventure trek guide, who will take us on a hike that will include walking to a series of waterfalls.  The waterfalls are called the Monkey Leaps, located in the jungle just outside of Villeta. 

Shady main square of Villeta
Umbrellas and tables for lunch or a cool drink in Villeta
We bring our sunscreen, hats and bottled water for the expected 3-hour hike.  We leave from the main square in Villeta.  Once passing through the small town, we start hiking down a small footpath that leads us towards the river and the beginning of the trail leading to the waterfalls. The trail is narrow, muddy and steep. Fernando explains that the water levels of the river rise and fall depending on the amount of yearly waterfall. This year the river levels are a bit lower than normal. 

Outside of Villeta - starting to hike into the surrounding jungle.
Once you leave town, the jungle is quickly upon you. It turns out that Fernando, who is in his early twenties, is already a military veteran. He is well-versed in being in the jungle after fighting the guerrillas in southern Colombia during the time that he was serving in the military.  It shows.  He is nimble and knowledgeable in the field.  He is also fun-loving, with a quick laugh - despite our language differences.  

Within a few minutes, it feels as if I am miles away from anything. The heat - from the sun and the humidity - makes me appreciate the shade and the approaching sound of flowing water. We walk at a pretty quick pace even though the path is narrow and the incline is fairly steep and very slippery.  We make good time, and it seems that we are at the first of seven waterfalls within 45 minutes or so from the time we left town.  The air is cooled by the mist - and best of all - there is a suspension bridge to cross that really wobbles and sways!  We take a few minutes to play on the bridge and then power on.

First waterfall
Adam and I on the suspension bridge.
Fernando and Adam on the suspension bridge.
The bridge may seem innocuous....
but it's pretty high up....and it really sways!
We quickly climb to the second waterfall and stop to take a break.  It's hot.   Very hot.  We are in the shade and start to cool off.  We enjoy the scenery with the cool mist blowing over us from the churning of the falls. The dense and varied green of the jungle casts its shade over much of the area, and the few areas that are not covered are exposed to a fierce and penetrating sun.  

We've reached the second waterfall.
Fernando demonstrates his fearlessness by climbing up the rock face of the  waterfall and free dives into the water below.  Loco!  Having seen two of the seven waterfalls, we decide not to hike any higher to the remaining waterfalls, and instead opt for an extended hike around the jungle.  

As we continue to hike, Fernando shows us where the big red biting ants live (in muddy-looking blobs on a tree) and we saw how they transport two-inch leaves to their "home." Fernando points out what wild papaya, mango and plantain trees look like in their natural settings, as well as a variety of other fruits that we had never heard of before.

Red biting ants carrying leaves across the path.
Red biting ants live in these muddy-looking blobs.
Fernando shows us a beautiful mango tree, full of small, perfectly-ripe fruit.    He picks a few for us to eat, showing us how to bite a hole into the thin skin, and then how to suck out the juice.  Despite the heat, the juice inside the mango is cool and tastes wonderful.  The perfect treat for a hot afternoon!

Mango tree growing in the wild.
Jungle path going up...
View from the top
We continue hiking through the jungle - eventually even crawling under a barbed-wire fence - to see more of the natural beauty that can be found just off the beaten path.  We find an old conch shell partially buried in the ground.  We come across another area where we find quartz just under the dirt. We see flowers, trees, vines, huge tropical plants, bugs, birds, and incredible views.  As we start to head back to town, Fernando takes us to the place where you can illegally bungee jump and asks if we want to try.  Nah.  Not today.

Bungee jumping anyone?
At the end of our hike we are pretty hot and sweaty, and we have seen and experienced a lot of pretty amazing things in the past three hours.  I am really appreciative for that experience.  

But, what I am most appreciative for was the opportunity to experience the jungle from Fernando's perspective.  He really knows the jungle - the ins and the outs.  His unbridled enthusiasm for the riches and the beauty of the jungle - his long-time home where he is comfortable - is absolutely contagious.  


David in SF said...

I'm shocked, just shocked!, that you passed on the illegal bungee chord jumping! :)
Nice pictures, it sure looks like fun areas to explore

Observers of Life said...

Hi David!

LOL! :) The area around Villeta was really just a very beautiful place. We were both pretty happy that we got the chance to see these off-the-beaten track destinations!