We stand quietly, craning our necks upward toward the sky. Jungle sentinels sway to and fro as a troop of howler monkeys pick at the fruit hidden among the giant trees. In the distance, waves crash, charging against the jungle’s edge. The vines creep toward the sandy shores of Tayrona National Park on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. As I look around, I can’t help but admire the endless battle between land and sea. I signal to move on, we’ve got a long way to go until we reach camp. Little did we know: the journey had just begun.
Tayrona National Park isn’t on everyone’s radar. In fact, Colombia as a whole has a pretty bad rep. Drug and guerrilla violence plagued the country for decades. However, Colombia wants to shed its violent past in favor of its jaw-dropping jungle mountain landscapes. Since I’m drawn to the path less traveled and my brother, Bentley, wanted to dip his toes in overseas adventure travel, I figured an overnight trek through Colombia’s national park was in order.
Bentley and I landed in the resort town of Santa Marta, hopped a one-hour cab to the park entrance and embarked on a journey into the jungle. He didn’t have much backpacking experience and he has never left the United States, so we had our work cut out for us.
Fortunately, the trails weren’t too long, and if you got lost in the oppressive canopy of the jungle, you simply had to listen for the crashing ocean waves to guide you. In the park, you can only camp in designated, pre-established campgrounds. The jungle receives an average of 38 inches of rain a month, meaning you will get wet. Ventilated rain gear, such as the Ultralight Trench, is an essential kit item. This also meant that we ditched a tent in favor of hammock camping. Hammocks allow you to get off of the wet ground and air out, the key to success in any jungle expedition.
The trail to the beach campground quickly became saturated with mud. Quickmud, as the locals call it, contains high amounts of water. The soupy ground sucks you in up to your knees in an instant. Despite the low mileage, the trail to our coveted camp exhausted us with the dizzying jungle trees and an endless sea of mud.
Occasionally, we would catch a break from the claustrophobic feel of the jungle and spill out onto a sandy beach where the water called to us. However, this stretch of shoreline contains some of the most dangerous currents in the Caribbean, and swimming is only allowed in certain areas. So, we turned our backs to the ocean and headed back into the dark, muddy and dangerous jungle.
The relentless challenges of the jungle began to wear on me, despite being an experienced hiker. I began to fear that I had drug my brother into a dangerous situation. However, the jungle landscape completely captivated him. He pointed out caiman, lizards and endless rows of marching leaf-cutter ants. He frequently stopped to admire giant trees that stood proud in an army of green. Meanwhile, I struggled to keep a positive mindset, beaten down by the dizzying sea of vegetation and dangerous wildlife.
I chuckled to myself, I prepared him so well for this unforgiving place, that I had forgotten to mentally prepare myself. His lack of experience gave him an advantage that I didn’t expect. Instead of me teaching him the ways of adventure travel, he showed me to how let go and focus on the beauty of the jungle instead of its hardships.
Eventually, we stumbled into camp filthy and beaten by the thick heat. In a matter of moments, we dumped our packs, stripped down into our bathing suits and crashed into the oncoming surf. Bentley laughed as the waves poured over his head. Wide-eyed he shouted, “this is so liberating!” In that moment, I realized that introducing a loved-one to the outdoors isn’t about the destination, or even the journey. It creates an everlasting bond with those you love.