Disclaimer: We didn’t take magic mushrooms as I am in no way mentally stable enough to handle hallucinogenics.
Well, I’ve finally got around to writing the next instalment of ‘Near Death Experiences On My Travels’. If you haven’t read part 1, I highly recommend it, mainly just to laugh at me.
We were staying in beautiful Salento when our near death experience happened. We spent 3 days doing coffee tours, playing a game with locals which involves throwing rocks at gunpowder to make it blow up (no, it’s not safe), and relaxing after a crazy week in Rio.
The journey to Colombia was marginally eventful. Matty and I didn’t speak a word to each other for the entire 5 hour plane journey after we had an argument about seating arrangements. Yes, it was pathetic. Yes, I’m embarrassed. No, I haven’t changed.
Valle De Cocora
The Valle De Cocora is an incredible national park, just a short drive outside Salento. It’s home to the tallest palm trees in the world and has the best hiking in Colombia.
We got a huge group together from our hostel and set off for the day. The hike we all decided to do takes about 6 hours and in true Colombian fashion, doesn’t have many signs. You sort of just have to wing it, which you will see is where we went a bit wrong.
The drama started when we realised that an Australian girl in our group was a little bit insane. I won’t mention her name in case I’m friends with her on Facebook.
She informed us during the hike that she was going to hunt down some magic mushrooms. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t involve magic mushrooms. I say unfortunately like I would have tried them if it did – of course I wouldn’t (hi Mum). I can barely even cope with caffeine.
Now I’m no scientist, but as far as I’m aware, picking random mushrooms off the ground in a national park isn’t particularly wise. I think she claimed that her grandma had taught her how you can tell which ones are poisonous. We were all a little sceptical.
So, it’s safe to say that the hike got off to a rocky start. We had an Australian on a mission to kill us all, and we hadn’t brought nearly enough snacks. But, we pressed on, visiting a hummingbird sanctuary, sampling the Colombian traditional hot chocolate and cheese (which literally tastes like hot chocolate with a lump of cheese in it), and feeling like we were playing Russian Roulette whenever we had to cross a bridge.
The Imaginary Path
3pm is around the time our chances of dying increased from 10% to 97%. This happened when we decided we wanted to hike up a mountain.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘that’s a strange thing to decide to do at 3pm in the afternoon’, but what can I say? We’re spontaneous. We left the majority of the group, and set off up the mountain path – Me, Matty, the Australian, a Dutchman and two Belgian boys who we were already friends with.
To get to the top of the mountain (I say mountain, it might have been a hill), we had to follow a track into the woods and climb from there. Bear in mind this national park is HUGE. The forest is on a very steep hill, leading down into a huge valley. Not only does the sheer size of the forest and lack of signs make it quite easy to get lost, it’s also very steep which makes it a little dangerous. Oh, and there’s also most likely snakes, bears, crocodiles and the odd drug lord (I’m being sarcastic).
We found a little gap in the trees and managed to take this picture which I love, even if it does give me PTSD – I’m sorry, I know this blog is so un-PC but I really can’t help it. I hope I don’t ever become famous cause they will dig this up and I’ll probably end up in the Daily Mail.
The first pickle we got ourselves into was when we came across a barbed wire fence crossing the path. Being the sensible folk that we are, we, of course, decided to turn back. Didn’t we?
No, we didn’t. Crazy Aussie and Equally-Crazy Dutchman decided that we should climb through the fence, as they could think of no logical reason why the fence would be blocking the path and it must just be an accident.
I know, I couldn’t believe it either.
Of course, I can’t really blame them for it all. I decided to follow them through the fence and so did the others. But as far as I’m concerned, they had the original idea and they persuaded us therefore they are 99% responsible (it is my refusal to take responsibility for my own decisions that keeps my mental age at about 16 instead of 25).
So, we climbed through the fence and carried on walking. Although I couldn’t escape the uneasy feeling building in my stomach that we were going to encounter some sort of wild animal and have to fight it off Leonardo DiCaprio-In-The-Revenant style. Either that, or my Bolivian-food digestive issues had decided to make a reappearance.
We carried on walking for another 30-ish minutes, even having time to snap this selfie. I may look happy in this selfie, but I definitely wasn’t. I felt uneasy, hungry and very, very scared. I know, you don’t have to tell me, I am a fantastic actress.
Suddenly, the path disappeared. Well, I mean, it probably disappeared gradually and we were too busy talking about pretentious travel shit to realise, but it definitely felt sudden. While the path up until this point had been fairly clear, it suddenly wasn’t so clear. There were various path-like grooves (we were pretty deep into the woods by this point) both up and down the hills but no actual, solid path. We realised that we had been aimlessly walking between trees, thinking we were following the track. In fact, we hadn’t been on the path for a very long time.
People often say when they feel like they are in danger that a voice pops into their head and tells them the right thing to do. At this point I swear I could hear my dad’s voice in my head telling me to turn back. I knew that if we turned around now, we could still find our way back out of the woods the way we came. But the longer you walk for and the longer you leave it, the harder it is to find your way back. I don’t know if I learned this from a TV show or if it’s just basic common sense, but I was adamant that we should turn around.
Clearly I’m the only one with basic survival intuition, because the others decided that we should carry on, and the path would eventually reappear. Of course, they had no evidence for this whatsoever, as we were in the middle of a forest and had just climbed through a barbed wire fence to get here. But you know me, I’m a people pleaser and if I have to die pleasing people then I probably will.
When Death Became Imminent
So, we stupidly carried on and the path didn’t reappear. Every time we stumbled across what we thought was the path, only for it to disintegrate meters later, I would tell them again that we should turn back. This went on for about an hour and we must have found and then lost at least 10 imaginary paths. At one point, we attempted to slide down the valley to find the path they thought they could see further down the hill. Every time I tried to protest I was told that we would find the path eventually, and to think how great the view would be once we made it to the top of the mountain.
When my dad’s voice in my head changed from encouragement – ‘I think you should turn back’ to full on rage ‘TURN BACK NOW YOU BLOODY IDIOTS’, I decided I no longer cared about the view. My priorities had changed. I now cared about not dying from dehydration and starvation. I cared about my family not having to read about my body being discovered in the forest approx 17 years after I went in there. I cared about continuing my 14 month streak of not dying on my travels. We hadn’t seen a path in well over an hour, it would soon be getting dark, and we could hear rumbles of thunder over the trees.
Eventually the ‘make-everyone-like-me’ side of my personality decided it no longer gave a shit, and it took off into the valley intent on saving its own life. This cleared up space for the side of my personality I hate the most to flourish – intent on ensuring my survival. This personality is called the ‘cry-until-I-get-my-way’ side.
So that’s exactly what I did. I stood in the middle of the forest on the side of an enormous valley and cried. I refused to move another step. I had made it through 14 countries over a 14 month period so far unscathed.
The worst part was that I knew it wouldn’t even be a quick death. We were literally lost in the woods with no water, no food, and no map. We were going to die either at the hands of a bear or from dehydration and I definitely hadn’t watched enough Bear Grylls to cope with that shit. I could already hear my family saying ‘well we’re sad that she died but she did climb through a barbed wire fence into an unknown forest in the middle of a national park in Colombia’. I would get zero sympathy.
I managed to convince Matty and our two Belgian friends that we needed to turn back right away. I say convince – what I actually did was cry and refuse to move and scream dramatically that I was going to turn back with or without them.
Back Through The Woods
The other two were still intent on finding the non-existent path. So I just decided to be selfish and turned back without them. Matty and the Belgians had no choice but to follow, as I was literally a woman on a mission. I stormed back through the trees, desperately trying to remember where we had came from. By the time we finally emerged from the woods, I was covered in scratches and still crying, much to the amusement of other hikers we eventually came across. Climbing back through that barbed wire fence I felt a relief like no other. We had made it, and I wasn’t eaten by a bear.
We carried on the rest of the hike and everything from then on was fine. Great, in fact. Although we were all slightly worried about our two companions but really, they should have turned back when they had the chance. Perhaps she would finally find her magic mushrooms.
Once we got back to the village, we informed some locals that there were people still in the woods. It was getting dark by this point and they started organising people to go in after them. Virtually all the other hikers had gotten tuktuks back to the town where we were staying. We sat for a few minutes mourning the fact that our hiking companions were probably dead, but also silently thanking God that it wasn’t us.
It’s now nearly two years later and the Australian and Dutchman still haven’t emerged from the woods.
God I actually hate myself for making that joke. I’m sorry everyone. Eventually, they reappeared of course, pretending that nothing was wrong. ‘The path was only about 10 metres away, you guys shouldn’t have turned back, we got such a good view’ they started to tell us. Regardless of what they say, we all know that the fact they made it out the woods was a miracle. There was no path, and no mountain view is worth that stress.
- Barbed wire fences are there for a reason
- The scariest person I met in Colombia was an Australian.
- If you ever feel in danger, listen to the voice in your head.