The first question other travelers in Salento asked us was whether we had been to the hummingbird reserve. We had not heard of it, but it became clear that it was a favorite stop for those hiking through the wax palms. Ildi, a capable travel gossip, shared her digital pictures with us. Unique to that part of Colombia, the tall, slender palms rose high above the grassy slopes, seeming to touch the clouds. They did not group together, as do many other species of palms, but stood apart, making it easy to travel by sight.
Phil at the Plantation House had drawn a map that showed several possible round trips, all criss-crossing the stands of palms. We decided on the hike that included both the hummingbirds and the palms. We both studied the map, committing it to memory…or so we thought. Phil asked whether we wanted to rent Wellingtons and we looked at him like he was nuts. We had excellent walking shoes, with Vibram soles. Why would we want uncomfortable “Wellies”?
The first leg of the journey was hiring a jeep to take us near the trailhead. Five Jeeps went up together, bringing about 25travelers, set to walk to the palms. Once there, several local men offered to take us by horseback. Ridiculous! We are experienced hikers. Horses are for sissies!
John took off in a hurry, striding up the road. Before I could even catch him, we passed the right turn to the fish hatchery. Passing a few farms, he found the left turn he was looking for. I was uncertain; I thought we were supposed to turn right! Ten minutes into the hike and communication had broken down! Odd we were the only hikers within sight… Several dairymen came up the road, empty milk cans tied to their donkeys. Photo op! That took our minds off the difference of opinion and off we went. Soon we had to cross a shallow waterway, and 20 yards more, we had to cross the stream, meaning shoes and socks were removed and pants rolled up to the thighs. The water was cold and fast, deep enough that it was hard to gauge the best way. Thank goodness I had hiking poles because footing was slippery.
I continued to question our route because the crossing came up so fast and seemed deeper than the one described on the map. Soon, however, we were on the trail, leaving behind the wax palms and traveling alongside dense vegetation.
We grow orchids and it was immediately apparent that we were in orchid country. Although few were in bloom at this time of year, strands of leaves were high above our heads and below us as well. Bromeliads were blooming, their dark-red centers east to spot.
The trail quickly became muddier and muddier, heading up and up. Spattered with mud to the knees, we quickly realized why most of the local residents wore the willies. Lesson learned.
We came to no additional river crossings, so either our estimation of distances was off or … we were on the wrong trail. Finally, we met other hikers coming toward us. They had returned from the lower trail, saying they had come to the next river crossing and that it was way too dangerous to try. Hmmmmm, well, the high trail must be the right one! Up and up we went, arriving finally at an outpost of the local power company.
This had not been on the map. The forest grew denser, not thinning out for that beautiful view of wax palms. By now, I was a pretty unhappy traveler, urging my husband to turn around. Finally, even he decided we were on the wrong trail. And, if we wanted to catch our pre-paid Jeep ride back, time was wasting. If we missed the Jeep, we would have a 20-mile walk. In the dark.
We slipped and slid down the trail, crossed the stream, and got back in time. Once we arrived back at Plantation House and checked the map, we could see we should have turned right, toward the fish hatchery. We had missed the best sights and the hummingbirds. So be it; we were not going to pay for the Jeeps for a second day! Plus, if we had gone by horseback, we would have seen it all. Next time…