The trail in Tairona National Park, from the entrance of the park to the campsite we stayed at, took 4 hours to hike. Burdened with heavy backpacks and cotton shirts sticking to our backs with humid sweat, we traipsed through the jungle. Straw hats scratching hairlines, shoulder straps pressing into flesh and legs shuddering with the extra weight we climbed, feeling the rain tickling our skin, diluting our sweat in the hot, sticky air. There was nowhere to go but onward.
Once reaching the campsite and setting up the tent, already soaked from the downpour of rain, we knew we’d have to make that trail many times in one day to access the beaches and the small shacks serving food. Stomachs nagging with their hunger, we left our belongings and found a restaurant. It was small beach hut, manned by one weather-worn woman, her leathery skin brown from incessant sun. She served us freshly-caught fish, which peered at us from their one, exposed eye, mouths open and tiny, needle-like teeth bared as if saying, “just try to take a bite of me, if you dare.” And I didn’t.
The regular hike through the muddy jungle path turned out to be the most delicious experience of our trip. We began to relish hiking through the jungle, smelling the humid, fresh air, listening to monkeys and birds calling each other through the treetops, while we leaped over the parades of red fire ants, filing across our path. They busily hoisted chopped up pieces of leaves, twenty times their size, on their tiny backs. We walked, soaked with sweat and saltwater from our bath in the private oceanic basin, called La Piscina, a place of spiritual gatherings and sacrifice for the Taironan natives. We were deliriously happy and cleansed, our presence there writing ourselves into the legends. Sweat and humidity rinsed off the sticky white salt from our skin. As we walked, our flip flops stuck in the thick mud of the jungle floor. One came off, with a lewd sucking sound, its white plastic buried in deep, sticky mud.
“Quitamos las chanclas,” Let’s take off our flip-flops, said J. The walking became easier, and, despite an initial hesitation, I began to feel like part of my surroundings, like it was my ecosystem: I was a Taironon, landed from Canada. As we tip-toed nimbly through the forest, stepping over exposed roots, scaling effortlessly up slippery, muddy steps, we took care to lunge over the traffic of a million ants, avoiding the wrath of their painful bites, all without so much as a stumble or missing a beat in the rhythm of our footsteps.
We walked quickly and silently, reveling in the simplicity of finding it, right there amidst the trees and mud: happiness. Saltwater and rain had soaked through my cut-off jeans. I’d taken a knife to them a few miles back in another town and now felt the ticklish strands of fabric sweep across my calves, Robinson Crusoe-style. Appearances ceased to matter; the only judges of fashion were the magnificent rocks looming above us, and the pounding, green sea to our right.
While walking, our feet were caked in mud, but the muscles of our feet allowed us to grip the earth in a way that the rubber prison of shoes never could permit. I pushed thoughts of tapeworms creeping into my exposed soles from my mind, my feet moving over the red clay. The moisture in the air made my skin feel expansive, erasing the limits of my body from the world around me. Everything was water.
The nakedness of my feet allowed me to feel the earth beneath me, to make direct contact with the soil, the source of nourishment for everything around me. I felt free in a way I’d never felt before. The opportunities for photos were endless, but I took the time to snap only a few, for the best photos sometimes live forever in our memory. My camera would only meddle with my memories, creating a distorted, crude interpretation. Who has time to take a snapshot, when we’re busy living, moment to moment? The camera could never capture the majestic rocks, like dinosaur eggs, or the rich palette of greens and blues. It could never touch on the sensation of the earth beneath me, encasing my feet.
It’s funny that this memory of this trip comes to me at a time when the weather is better for slipping on wool socks and sipping tea than for waving bare toes in the heat-soaked sunlight. But, with J making his now once-annual visit to my own continent soon, and our plans becoming more suitable for the ice and snow, the time came for me to reflect on the experiences we had while sharing his side of the equator. We lived a lot during the years I spent in Colombia and the months I returned to visit. Both of us, and our backpacks, toured more than half of the country. I’ve been through a few pairs of shoes, some of the them never having left the sticky mud of the North Coast. And, now that we’re in Canada, exploring the earth with snowshoes attached to our feet, it just doesn’t feel the same.
The Tunnel (on long distance relationships)