Fondest memory: We were blessed with unusually fine weather in a place noted for fog, whiteouts, rain and wind. My inability to make it through the night without peeing was finally rewarded with thousands of stars so close I could just about touch them. I still swear my recently passed away Mom was the one especially twinkling star I saw each night, leading me around what otherwise seemed a trek a notch above my head. Once we turned the corner on the most difficult part of the trek, when our success was nearly certain, the star was no longer to be found. I kept looking each night. Perhaps I didn't need such things anymore or maybe, just maybe, my Mom was letting her son go on his way, knowing he would be okay without her guiding light.
Fondest memory: The trek? About 70 kilometers they said but it felt more like 200. That perception surely influenced by the fact that 95% of the hike takes place over 4000 meters and Colombians measure their distances as if across a flat plain. Take note, this is one terrain that is anything but flat. Doreen acclimatized well and I chugged along as well as I could while carrying about 18 kilos. Each night we camped at an incredible alpine lake fringed by craggy peaks sheathed in glaciated ice. Each day we climbed a couple passes in the 4400-4800 meter range. Swaths of frailejones ensured that the flora was unlike anything we had ever seen. These curious looking hairy-leafed plants are well-suited for El Cocuy's often less than welcoming climate. We saw only a handful of other trekkers, all Colombian and mostly climbers drawn to the remote region's imposing peaks. Despite warnings of the difficulty in navigating the demanding trail, we found our ways just fine with no guide or campesino, carrying our own packs when it would have been easy to hire a horse for the first and last few days of the trek.
Though you can visit El Cocuy National Park without doing a trek, this is a special and remote area. These are the kinds of experiences that are disappearing on our planet. If you are able and so inclined, take advantage of a true wilderness experience. Is it easy? No. Will you ever forget it. Not likely.
Fondest memory: Milk splashed only intermittently on my wife, crouched down in the milk truck we had caught at 5 AM, some four hours previous to reach Parque National Natural El Cocuy in northeast Colombia. I had extradited myself from that position earlier, preferring the chilling Andean air and the occasional brush with the flora that had me releasing my hold on the icy enclosure that keeps the precious milk aboard. Doreen had casually remarked only the night before that I had some sense of timing, picking the start of our six day trek around the El Cocuy massif on our 5th anniversary. But as bad as the ride on El Lechero might sound, it was the beginning of one of those adventures that in the modern world are becoming increasingly hard to find. Stop after stop, small dairy farmers rushed up with whatever milk they could muster that day and by the end of our four hour tour, the truck was brimming with the dairy nectar (well, what had not dripped on poor Doreen). Even she had enjoyed it, once temperatures got to above freezing. Ok, perhaps not the last hour or so. The bumpy ride was even getting to me by then. (continued below in Fondest Memory)