Rain on the roof throughout the night, a constant drip, water pooling near my head. Wind howling, rattling loose roofing, chilly gusts scuttling under the door and creeping into my sleeping bag with me. I am sleeping in a bare concrete cell of a room at the desolate finca, ironically named Campo Alegre**.
I wake early and poke my head out the door. A white wall of fog.
Coffee. Porridge. Pull out my walking pack and put the essentials – sleeping bag, down jacket, camera, head torch, a spare pair of socks – in dry bags that I don’t trust. The rest – tent, sleeping mat, stove, food – in the pack. I had a waterproof pack cover but I ditched it in Cartagena where the sun was shining. It’s a shame.
I bid the Elena, the finca cook, goodbye, telling her I’ll be back tomorrow, or maybe the next day. It’s only 16 kilometres to the camp at Laguna de Otun – an easy couple of hours walk. It starts to rain again as I leave and doesn’t relent. Not once. I follow the trail but I see nothing of the landscape, have no sense of the terrain.
At one point a man on a mule looms out of the mist. He looks amazed to see a lone tourist wandering in the clouds but, professionally, he raises the hood of his rain poncho to reveal his park badge.
“Where are you going?”
“Laguna de Otun.”
“There’s nobody there. I’m going to Campo Alegre.”
This is where I have just come from.
“I’ll be back later this afternoon.”
I have been sitting huddled under the eves for an hour or two before I rouse the motivation to don one of the pairs of Wellington boots that are lined up on a shoe rack by the door and venture out to explore a little. It is still drizzling and down jackets don’t work so well when they are wet so I stick close to the building peering in the numerous windows trying to peruse the colourful information posters describing the local environment and wildlife. My face is still glued to the glass when from behind me the ranger, still mounted on his mule, greets me.
It isn’t until almost dusk that finally the clouds lift and the rain stops. In my borrowed Wellingtons, I go out to explore before night falls.
The ranger, after we discuss the dubious merits of various soggy campsites at length, says I can sleep inside in one of the bunk beds. I am grateful. We cook our separate meals by the light of a single candle while the ranger expresses decided opinions on gringos, the Pope, Colombian politics – past and present, Catholicism, environmental catastrophe and the world at large. We are largely in agreement.
I wake a couple of times during the night in my cosy bunk to the surprising sound of no rain. The morning dawns clear – I’m in luck. Breakfast quickly disposed of and with directions from the ranger I head off towards Santa Isabel – a glaciated summit of around 5000 metres.
Leaving the park, I pass an area which has suffered a recent fire. Just about all the fires in the park are caused by human foolishness and this is rumoured to be one of the reasons that the park is currently closed to visitors. There are something like 10 rangers to police an area of over 58,000 hectares.
* la tierra fria = the cold country
** campo alegre = happy camp