As soon as we heard the voices of our guides waking us at 7 am, we knew that we had finally reached the last day of our three-day hike. Everyone began to pack their things, take down the tents and clean the campsite. After a frustrating hour or so of not being able to pack as well as our parents had, we finished the last of our cleaning and began our final group warm up before embarking on our final stretch. With a mostly downhill hike we were all a relieved to have a break from the steep climbing we’d done over the past few days.
I think I speak for everyone when I say that with every step closer to our awaiting bus, we were filled with more and more of a sense of accomplishment. While we were all excited to finally use a real bathroom and sleep on a mattress, no one could help but feel slightly sad to leave the páramo. For the past two days, we’ve come to push ourselves to extremes we never thought possible and see incredible, once in a lifetime views. There was at least one time during the hike that we wanted to give up, whether from the lack of oxygen or the weight on our backs, but despite everything, not one of us gave in.
We finished the hike, just as we started it: together. Together we helped each other power through the moments of weakness. Together we provided enough support to get through each day. Together we laughed (and sometimes cried). Together we hiked the páramo. –Alexa Greeley ’16
The day started off with an early wake up at 7 am, followed by breakfast. We were told that we would have the opportunity to hike 2 hours to Stone City and to pack our day packs. Not knowing what to expect we set off on our adventure.
The hike itself was not particularly easy but worth it in the end. We stopped at the top of the mountain where the view was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It was truly amazing! We then continued walking to Stone City. I had a clear image of what I thought we were going to see but the reality was so much better. Stone City which is also known as the Lost City, is a place made entirely of rock. We walked through this incredible place with walls of rock all around us.
For the last part of our day, all of us had a choice to make, we could either hike all the way back to camp or continue the hike up Eagle Mountain. Personally I chose to go up Eagle Mountain. I was a little nervous because our tour guide told us that this particular mountain was a lot harder than what we had done so far. However I was up for the challenge. Eight of us plus our tour guide and Mr. Weiland hiked the entire mountain in a total of twelve minutes, which is apparently incredibly fast. Although the hike was tiring and at some points we had a lack of oxygen because we were at an altitude of 4,100 meters, we all felt relieved and extremely happy to reach the top but most of all accomplished. We had a perfect 360 degree view of the páramo. On the way back down we watched the beautiful sunset. At the end of the night our tour guides sang Colombian songs before we went to bed. Overall this day was lots of fun and we learned a lot of new things about Colombian culture. –Rebecca Ross ’16
As soon as we finished our acclimatization hike, I knew that the real hike to the páramo would be the hardest thing that some of us had ever done. For those of you who don’t know what the páramo is (and I can’t imagine that most of you do), the páramo is a mountainous range near Mongui, a small village approximately 4 hours from Bogotá. What makes this place so special is that the páramo’s ecosystem is so delicate that there are only a select number of people permitted to hike in the region, let alone camp there for two nights. According to our guides, most Colombians don’t even visit this remote area of the country.
Almost exclusively uphill, and on rocky terrain, hiking had never been harder. With about 40 pounds on each of our backs, today was the hardest day of our trip to Colombia. As cliché as it sounds, the views were worth the effort of hiking for hours in the ever-changing weather of the mountains. While the hike itself was physically strenuous, it was more of a mental journey. Getting over the next hill and breathing enough to make it was all I could think about.
On a more personal note, this trip was already changing the way I think about a lot of things, but it was really in the middle of hiking at a high altitude with what felt like no oxygen that I realized that I made a good decision to visit Colombia. I have never experienced anything like this trip. The anxiety I felt before starting had almost completely cleared up thanks to our amazing doctor, Esteban. If it weren’t for him, our guides and the teachers on this trip, I don’t think I could’ve made it to our destination. The ache in my back and lungs, the dirt on my face and the altitude-induced headaches will never compare to the feeling of accomplishment after climbing the páramo. – Christina Papageorgakopoulos ’16
Leaving the small town of Mongui, we all felt quite nervous about what lay ahead. The hike we were about to embark on was not going to be easy and that was made very clear from the beginning. Living at sea level in Montreal and climbing to an outstanding 3,200 meters would bring the expression “physically draining” to a new level. Many of us didn’t know what to expect and I can speak for the majority when I say we were all surprised.
The hike consisted of extensive segments of uphill trekking with minimal flats to regain our energy. Considering the drastic change in altitude, we all felt out of breath very quickly. After the first 15 minutes we knew what was in store for the next three hours.
Having 19 other peers at my side provided a sense of comfort as well as support throughout the hike. In my opinion, the practice hike was the first real bonding experience of the trip. Everyone felt the same way and we knew that all we had to do was keep encouraging one another.
Arriving at the top we were quick to take a seat and enjoy the view. After many pictures, snacks and applications of sunscreen we were ready to head back down and enjoy lunch. Many memories and jokes were formed on our descent. From where we ate lunch it took us around an hour to head back to our hotel in the centre of town. We were overcome with a profound sense of self-accomplishment and excitement when the main square was in site. Having pain in our legs, slight sunburns, and blisters, we had accomplished something we had all been dreading, together. –Viv Tellier ’17
As part of the Duke of Ed Gold Trip to Colombia we had the opportunity to build houses for two families in need. Before arriving at our destination, we had no idea what to expect. We were told that we were going to a very poor area near Bogotá and would even require military escort to bring us there. When we finally arrived, this could not have been further form the truth. Instead of the rundown and dangerous area that we imagined, we discovered simple, sparse homes in the country with beautiful views and great weather.
During the building and painting of the houses, one of the relatives of the families that we were helping invited us into their home for a delicious lunch of sancocho, a Colombian stew. We soon learned that whatever wealth they lacked was made up for with kindness, pride, and happiness.
When we finally finished the houses we received big “thank yous” and even saw some of the members break into tears of gratitude and joy for all that we had done. At the end of the day we felt truly humbled. We saw first hand the impact that an act of charity could bring to others, and we all felt very grateful that we were given the opportunity to do the work and make the difference that we had made. If the opportunity presented itself again, I know that we all would have built the houses a thousand times over.
–Louis de Gaspé Beaubien ’16