Exploring the Trails in Chicaque Natural Park

photobombed by Alain who we met on the trail to Pico
March 12

With our first week of volunteering concluded at UBHA school, we were free to spend a 3-day weekend hiking through the stupendous Chicaque Natural Park. On Saturday morning, we set out on a hike to visit one of its landmarks: Pico (the peak), which on a clear day offers a sweeping view of the valley below. (Pico is also short for Pico del Aguila, meaning “eagle’s beak”, which is what this formation resembles.) This wasn’t a particularly clear day, and in fact was either very foggy/ cloudy (hard to tell the difference at this altitude) or rainy most of the day — indeed, it never dried up much during our entire stay in the park, and our shoes stayed wet pretty much the whole time. But even on this mostly rainy/cloudy/foggy day we still managed to sneak in some pretty good peeks form the peak of the beak.

For part of our trek to the top, we were joined by a fellow named Alain, who was Canadian, eh? More specifically French Canadian, from Quebec; he’s fluent in French, English and Spanish. The latter is perhaps explained by the fact that he has spent a great deal of time in Colombia on business. In recent months, that “business” has included spending time with his Colombian girlfriend. On this very evening, after a day of trudging through the mountains in Chicaque, he was planning to go dancing with her in Bogota.

Not far from Pico was another point of interest, Mariposas (butterflies). This, apparently, was supposed to be a favorite hangout of those gorgeous little airborne bugs with flamboyant wings. Unfortunately, someone forgot to alert the butterflies that we were coming, so not many of them showed up to greet us.

Along the way, we stopped at Refugio, another rustic lodge and restaurant similar to the one at the entrance. It’s also next to the horse stables and the tent camping area. And it’s the launching point for a couple of adventures that we hoped to experience in the near future: a zipline, and a very tall tree that you can climb with the aid of ropes, pulleys, harnesses, etc. We inquired at the office, and informed them that we were volunteers at the school. So they offered us a very generous discount — about 75 percent — and the price was already low to begin with! So we tentatively arranged a time slot for next weekend. Up, up and away!

Living with Lovely Llamas

Back at home, we were greeted by our “neighbors”, the llamas, who were making themselves at home in our yard. Later, Dennis tried his hand at baking bread, and it turned out rather well. All the ingredients, including the flour, were supplied by our hosts. The arrangement here was that we would turn in a shopping list (in Spanish) once a week, and someone would go into town the next day and purchase the items, insofar as they could be readily found, and bring them back to us at no cost. Then we could cook our own meals, without ever having to go into town ourselves (we never left the park during our 3 week stint). A great arrangement, and one that we much preferred to our previous position.

In addition to getting some staples like flour, tea, oatmeal, nuts, fruit and pasta, we were also presented with local produce grown by someone connected with the park. (There was a garden in our back yard too, but not much available at the moment except salad greens). This gave us a chance to try some local foods that were new to us — and sometimes we weren’t quite sure what to do with them. One such fruit, referred to as a “ground apple”, looked somewhat like a brownish jicama, but had a sweeter taste. Another was a rather bitter fruit that grew on trees in the back. David (the husband of school director Ruth) taught us to cook them properly, sautéing or baking them in oil, and then sprinkling them with a little salt.

And, this being Colombia, we had enough eggs on hand to feed an army.

March 13

Come Sunday we decided to head out and explore the trails again. This time we added a side trek to the Laguna, which used to be a cow pasture but is now being reclaimed by the natural habitat.

Feeling like the King and Queen of the Cloud Forest

March 14

On Monday, our fellow volunteer Joel returned from his weekend getaway in Bogota. He was rather quiet and pensive, so we weren’t sure at first if he’d enjoyed the excursion. When we asked him, he replied, “I think… it was the most memorable weekend of my life.”

He went on to explain that he befriended a fellow who had offered to put him up if he wants to stay in Bogota for a while after he is done volunteering — an offer he felt very much inclined to accept. One reason was that he also met a girl, who seemed very much to have piqued his interest. As the three of us built, and tried to sustain, a fire in the fireplace, we sat and ate dinner, talking, and we learned more about Joel and how he became a school teacher, which he really loved doing. But then he decided to volunteer as he is doing now, so he could travel more.

He indicated, however, that he was not satisfied with how things were going in the present position, and might be leaving early. We were disappointed to hear that, as we had come to regard him almost as part of our family. Oh well, in the meantime, we could all enjoy the fire, and the rain, and the stars and the peace and quiet. Oh, and the llamas, of course.

Here be the Birds at the end of the post

March 12-14, 2022

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