“El Roca!” The tuk-tuk driver shouts triumphantly as we lurch forward, gaining our top speed of 10 mph in that first moment. He has decorated his tuk-tuk carefully and proudly points out little details to us as we drive. He will hand us a small green card when we get to the bottom of the hill leading up to The Rock, extracting promises to call him for a ride back. The Rock looms ahead of us and I can see why he was so proud of it. It’s the kind of big that dwarfs you, that intimidates you until you feel properly small.
We climb 740 steps to reach the top, up thick concrete staircases that criss-cross over each other, creating the feeling that they might detach and rearrange themselves at any moment. We pause to appreciate the view, the air is still and heavy up here. The lakes and islands form a swiss cheese landscape, stretching out in a maze of blues and greens. We wind back down, stepping carefully without the benefit of handrails and pausing to peer through the staircases at the view. We’re swooped up by a different tuk-tuk driver before we have the chance to call our friend.
Our arrival back in Guatape is abrupt. The Crayola colored houses are tall and cheerful, with vibrant, three dimensional, wooden panels forming tiled murals around the base. Here purple orchids the size of small children chase each other in even intervals across a turquoise background. Each one is carefully framed in a dark blue wood. Across the street, white carousel horses march across a deep red background. The same dogs keep turning up, a black one with a white muzzle and a ragged ear makes his way up the street, pausing to accept a scratch behind the ears here and a scrap of food there. Everyone knows his name, he’s a member of their society. Another stretches out across the sidewalk as people walk around him, his companion relaxes in the street, confident that the cars will drive around him. They do.
We stop for dinner, taking a seat at one of the four tables of Etereo Cocina Artesenal. A small, round woman with short, white blonde hair and a side shave sings opera in the open kitchen. Her pans sizzle and the room fills with the deep, rich aroma of a libretto. I do not know yet exactly what I have ordered, there are no menus here and just the one option for dinner. I am lucky, it is waffles. The most delicious waffle I ever expect to enjoy. They are slightly sweet and piled high with savory vegetables, onion, apples, seeds and spices. She stands in the kitchen with her hands on her hips, I look up after the first bite and I can see her smiling a huge satisfied smile. I look at Matt’s face and he’s looking at his plate with a dreamy kind of awe, I recognize the look as my own and smile back. Silently promising to come back, I drink my watermelon juice slowly and take tiny bites so it will last a little longer.
Tomorrow we will mountain bike 30 kilometers and then hike into a secret waterfall. The vistas are breath taking, the countryside rolls out in front of us, luxurious with vegetation and a symphony of birds. The clouds stretch out like a lazy cat’s paw, playing with the mountains. My bike chain keeps falling off and my seat sinks slowly with each pedal. I pause periodically, when my knees rise to my chest or my bike has ground to a halt. Matt fixes the chain patiently while I swear and yank on the seat. The guide (who is not Colombian) tells us to hurry up and I tell him to shut up. He rides away before I can tell him anything else.
Matt’s bike doesn’t have gears and I thank him for switching me every time I shift during one of the massive hill climbs. We finally make it to the top of the path, laying down our bikes to begin the long hike through the jungle. We can hear the waterfall, swollen with rain, before we can see it, rising maybe 20 feet in a rocky grotto. It thunders into the deserted space, the five of us pause. The water thrashes angrily but it is so clear you can see the bottom, it is studded with boulders. It has an incredible, brutal beauty.
My bare feet slip across the rocks and my stomach jumps uneasily as we scramble over to the pool at the base. The water is raging but the guide, who I’ll now refer to as the snarky twit, insists we jump in. There are four of us in the group and Nina steps off, falling the 5 or 6 feet to the water. She comes up looking terrified and it seems to take her several minutes to get back to the rocks. I jump and understand her fear. The water sucks at my body, pulling me towards the falls and away from safety and I have to stretch out and swim hard with deep, frightened strokes before I start to move. The snarky twit recommends I use my upper body, I open my mouth and see Matt out of the corner of my eye. I close my mouth and raise my chin, taking the higher road, Matt smiles encouragingly. He reaches out and helps the struggling Australian who can’t gain purchase on the slick rock and risks falling back into the grasping river.
The twit decides it is a good idea to scramble down the river, across rocks that are slick and sharp. I follow because Nina follows and Matt follows me. The twit falls hard and whines about his hand, I grin cheerily. My foot slips between two rocks and I fall in a deep crevice, jamming my food hard. A sharp pain sears my foot and doesn’t let up, my eyes water. I’ll soon realize I’ve broken the toe next to my pinky toe, sending my parents photos of my swollen, bruised foot every day for the next few weeks as I limp around feeling sorry for myself when it aches particularly bad. Matt and I go back to a large rock in the sun while the twit creeps on the other women in our group on another group of rocks. They are unimpressed. He falls again and I grin, risking karma a second time. I clench my teeth through a chilly ride in the bed of a truck back to Guatape. The Australian volunteers to play music on her phone and I’m grateful.
I rinse off any residual anger in a hot shower, reminiscing in the beautiful views we saw today. Matt and I spend the next day limping around, enjoying the colorful structures, freshly baked goods and coffees from every cafe we can find.
*We arrived in Guatape, Colombia on Friday May 27, 2016 which means this post is not in chronological order. From here we went back to Medellin and then on to Salento. The previous post about the protests occurred on the drive between Medellin and Salento.0