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Evan Belkmap

Snaps from Suesca

Colombia—part 1

—Evan Belknap

I made it to Bógota, Colombia about a week ago. For some reason, it took me until about now to realize that I’m actually here for a good long bit. I have to get used to the idea that by the time I fly back home, I’ll be leaving a Colombian lifestyle that I will have grown accustomed to. I’ll know the Colombian colloquialisms, I’ll use the public transportation system like a pro, I’ll hum along to the music, and I’ll have a favorite dish at a favorite restaurant on a favorite corner. But so far, my big question is why I, and other people, do this—this fleety traveling thing—why we want to deal with the juxtaposition of comfort and discomfort, boredom and adventure, loneliness and sudden friendships. It’s kind of hard at times, and it would probably be easier to stay at home and settle into a nice expanding bubble of security.

I think that people probably stay in place so that they can control more things in their lives, have a better idea of what will come next—and that’s kinda nice. But on this haphazard path through life that many travelers seem to like, one can’t help but contemplate how fate has almost everything to do with the people we meet, and the places we go, and the things that happen, and that’s just too fascinating.

My first day here, I walked nearly half way across the city, taking in faces and smells and tasting the things that people sold on the street—empanadas, juices, cold sweet coffee from a thermos here and there. To be so anonymous among tens of thousands of people was kind of refreshing. I thought that maybe I could write about that—the ups and downs of being alone—but then I decided that being alone was hard and overrated and decided that I should put some effort into making friends. I took a couple bad pictures and eventually, when my feet started to hurt, hailed a little red bus and rode back across town to my hostel.

That night I was drinking Club Colombia beer in a bar in Chapinero, and a new friend asked me why I liked rock climbing. “I would never,” he said, in Spanish. “Because I’m not crazy.”

I told him that I liked the feeling of being in control in a seemingly out-of-control place, and that, plus, it takes me to some pretty places that I probably would never see otherwise.

The next morning I hopped on a bus and rode north to a little climbing town called Suesca. Arriving on a weekday put me in one of those unavoidable “uncomfortable” moments. The town was dead, the shops closed, and the hostels mostly shutdown. I walked up and down the dirt roads in the hot sun with my pack full of arbitrary, expensive climbing things, sweating profusely, while dogs followed me and barked.

People in South America will always give you directions. It makes no difference if they know what you’re talking about or not. I remembered this after three different, very nice people pointed me in three different directions. Giving up on finding the one particular hostel I was looking for, I found another and decided to stay. No point in being particular. I dropped my pack and took a cold shower, letting all that discomfort and angst wash away. I lay down in the bed for a while and watched a giant spider follow a fly across the ceiling.

Later, out for lunch, I ran into a friend that I had been making climbing plans with on the Internet, and from there, things kicked off.

For the next four days, I climbed on the big jungly walls, ate amazing cheap food, met all the local climbers, and genuinely fell in love with that beautiful countryside. It seemed that I had serendipitously found my way to the right place.

I’m back in Bogota now to copyedit the Signpost, but I’ll be heading back to Suesca in a couple days to climb some more. If I can finish up work and find some internet good enough to send all these words back to Placitas, some locals are going to show me around all the lesser-known, and seldom-seen climbing crags this coming weekend.

Bogota has been cloudy and a little dark the last few days. The lush mountainsides on the east are veiled in big strings of cloud, and I’m glad I brought a jacket. There is a slight breeze blowing leaves and flowers down the street into the gutters. It is lightly starting to rain. Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating alone with a cappuccino on a hostel porch. I’m ready to get back out of the city

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