Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Paradise- Day 1

‘Have a good time! Oh, of course you will, you’re going to Paradise!’ Those were the parting words we heard from London James, an intriguingly random character that had popped up a couple of times on our trip so far. Parque Tayrona is a coastal chunk of protected wilderness in the North of Colombia that James had just been to and was now deeming to be paradise.

Our group of four was made up of Angie and myself, and Paul and Charlotte, a couple from England, who we first met way back on the Bolivian pampas excursion and recently stumbled into again in Bogota. The journey to Paradise started with a multi-hour visit to the mall, where we purchased tents and stocked up on other basic camping essentials such as two-minute noodles and multi-pack Doritos. The search for transport took up a further sweaty portion of the baking afternoon, and we arrived at the park entrance with an hour of daylight remaining, hoping to avoid the dreaded ordeal of putting up new tents in the dark.

At the gate we were greeted with an ad-hoc price list that stated that all non-Colombian visitors were to pay three times the rate that locals would. It was a prime example of the unfortunate Colombian custom of uncompromisingly attempting to take gringos for all they’re perceived to be worth. Colombians are generally the most open and friendly people of everyone we’ve come across in this continent, but anyone who is selling you something won’t hesitate to overcharge, shortchange or in someway rip off visitors. It’s a really frustrating phenomenon, and one of the only bad points about travel in this country. To come across a government-sponsored version of this tendency, especially at the gates of Paradise, was a little disheartening.

Apparently, though, not something we had to worry about today, because Paradise was full, and there was no room for any more callers. We stood at the gates, which were being guarded by a group of bored, but as always in Colombia, heavily armed soldiers. In an interesting, seemingly reasonless turnaround, someone decided all of a sudden that there was room for a few more after all, and after handing over the cash and having our bags thoroughly molested, we were herded into a fourteen seater van with thirty other eager pleasure seekers.

The van putted uncomfortably along the winding road, coming to a stop in front of the entrance of a campground. Apparently this is where we were to stay for the night. After some confusing discussion we came to the conclusion that this was not up for discussion, and we wandered into the campground only to be greeted with the news that the campground was full. Again, there was a turnaround in which the owner agreed to let us stay as long as we were out of there early in the morning.

Paul looking oddly pleased at the prospect of fitting his oversized frame into this undersized tent.

In the fading light, we erected our accommodations. The tents turned out to be outrageously undersized- allegedly designed for two people, but those two people had apparently undergone a quadruple amputation. There was enough room for me to sleep contorted into an inhuman s-bend, and Angie was restricted to a similarly unnatural pose. Everything else- bags, food, bodyboard- had to stay outside, and turning onto our backs was an impossible posture. Ah- camping.

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