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Exploring Choachí

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After living in Bogota for only a week, I can already understand how people could quickly feel suffocated by the city’s concrete jungle. Even though Bogota is surrounded by stunning mountains, the sheer expansiveness of the city makes it easy to feel lost in an endless sea of concrete walls and bumper to bumper traffic. Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to escape the daily hustle and bustle and explore the truly beautiful Andean wilderness in Chocahí.

My hiking partners were two young men from the Netherlands, both here for university exchanges. While we drove up the mountain we were chatting a bit, not paying too much attention to our surroundings, until one of our guides pointed out the immensely thick fog in front of us. He explained that what I had thought was fog was actually a cloud. I should have realized this earlier since we were traveling to a ‘cloud’ forest. When we reached our destination at about 3000 meters we met our second guide, a local named Hernán. He briefly introduced himself and wasted no time in getting to the hike. We crouched under a fence, trekked passed some bushes and trees, and suddenly we were immersed in a nautral wonderland.

We first came across a small lagoon. Hernán explained that it was formed by the moisture from the clouds and the water was fresh enough to drink. As we continued to hike through Choachí we were treated to beautiful views of the cliffs and mountains surrounding us. The guides explained that when the sun hits the rocks they look blue. Unfortunately, it was quite cloudy that day, but I now have a desire to return and see the cliffs in all their glory. After walking for a little while Hernán asked if we would be up for getting muddy in order to see a waterfall he doesn’t usually show to tourists. We were all feeling adventurous so we proceeded to follow our guide across marshy land. He advised us to step carefully and softly so that we didn’t sink into the delicate soggy moss. Hernán expertly traversed the landscape and helped the rest of us crawl through a dark cavern dripping with moisture. When we emerged on the other side we were just meters away from a waterfall that clearly had not been seen by many other tourists. After stopping for a few photos, we continued on to the next waterfall. This one was slightly larger and definitely louder than the first. Our guide told us that it was called “La Cascada de Abuela” or “Grandmother’s Waterfall”. As the story goes, there was once a grandmother who lived nearby and washed her clothes in the waterfall, and thus it was named after her. We then continued to trek back down the mountain and saw some awesome Indian rock paintings. They really helped to illustrate the history and culture of Choachí for me.

One of my favorite parts of the hike was learning about the different native plants. Our guide explained that the plants in the cloud forest need to be super absorbant and collect as much water as possible because once the sun comes out, the water evaporates very quickly. We also had the opportunity to taste several types of wild berries. Even though I was told ahead of time that the fruit would have a very strong flavor, I was not prepared for how sour all of the berries were. As Hernán explained, for the birds who typically eat them, the berries are a delicacy, but most humans prefer their fruit to be sweeter.

Even though I don’t plan on eating more of those berries anytime soon, I loved learning about the edible plants and tasting wild fruit right off of the vine. I’m so glad to know that it’s actually very easy to escape the craziness of Bogota and find a green getaway. I can’t wait to do more exploring of other natural areas nearby!

- Sarah

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