Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
It’s been oppressively hot and humid for months now and I’ve been looking forward to cooler weather for a long time. I put in a couple of big days driving right through the heart of Colombia, headed for the mountains. Not just any mountains either, but the Andes. Winding my way up into them is the realization of a dream I’ve had for a long time and I can’t stop grinning the entire time up the very steep and windy road.
The temperature drops quite quickly and I smile when I have to wind up my window due to the cold and not long after I turn on the heater, a novelty. I climb and climb and climb and take the turn-off to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Before long I roll by a sign announcing I’m at 4,000 meters, clearly the highest I’ve ever been in my life. The sun is falling fast so I find a quiet spot off the side of the road to pitch my tent. My only visitors for the night are a herd of cows that are very curious and seem to like hanging around. Once the sun disappears it’s not just cold, but freezing, my little thermometer showing below zero before the night is done.
Early in the morning I move up into the park itself which is already busy due to the Easer holidays. All of the rangers are extremely friendly and try exceedingly hard to help me as I move from an orientation session (in extremely fast Spanish) to filling out a basic form to enter the park. Entrance is quite expensive for foreigners, I pay (in $USD) $19 for entry, $12 for a mandatory guide, $6 for the Jeep and another $6 to camp in the official campground for a night.
Our guide, Michelle, jumps in my Jeep and we form a convoy of four vehicles driving up high into the park. Every five minutes or so we jump out to have a look at the beautiful scenery while Michelle explains the geological features around us. While we drive together I practice my Spanish which again improves a lot in a very short time. We drive up and up, until we reach 4,700 meters where we have to climb the rest on foot. Michelle explains how quickly we’ll run short of breath at this elevation and so we hike up as slowly as physically possible. I’m careful to make sure I don’t have to breathe really hard, though I can feel my heart rate racing to keep up.
In just over an hour we reach the glacier, at 5,125 meters. It’s stunningly beautiful and everyone is really excited to see ice and snow, the first time for many of the locals. It’s surreal to be up this high in the Andes, the first time of many for me I’m sure. After an hour of hanging around and walking on the glacier I make my make back down to the campground, at around 4,200 meters. By this time I have a mean headache that doesn’t go away until late the following day.
At the campground I meet some locals who are crazy about hiking and camping, and even crazier about showing off their fantastic country. We quickly pour over my map of Colombia, talking excitedly about all the places I need to see. The night is again frosty cold and I have out all my cold weather gear, including thermals and two sleeping bags. A couple of times in the night I can feel my heart rate skyrocket just from the exertion of rolling over.
Interestingly the Jeep performs really well at such high elevations, only take-offs are a little sketchy and need a lot more accelerator than usual. I can think of no better way to relax and cure my headache than a soak in a Hot Spring, and as luck would have it there is one just on the outskirts of Manizales, which I make use of for a couple of hours.