.… not just the wing, but the mood :) - this was Colombia for us - and of course much more!
It is impossible to summarize the last two months in a few words and even the images and videos we took will not do justice to the incredible country and its people that we had the chance to get to know. Statistics is one way to show you in numbers what we could achieve with this 2-month expedition.
We were literally on the road between the 13th of February and the 3rd of April: 50 days on the horse, hiking or flying, while organising observations, activities, updating the blog, shooting videos,…but above all getting to know fantastic people and a wonderful country. Now let’s show you the numbers:
- duration: 13 Feb - 3rd April 2016 - 50 days of ride, hike and fly - 6 departments of Colombia: Santander, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Tolima, Quindio, Valle de Cauca - 24 different schools, associations, cultural events - on average one every second day - ~1605 people (kids, students, adults) reached - 1350km in total (the tracker stopped working at times due to battery failures and no recharge station) - 780km by horse (from Bucaramanga through small villages up to Sopo, long extensions in Boyaca & Cundinamarca) - 420km by paraglider (during the trip with the horses and the final run between Ansermanuevo & Piedechinche/Palmira) - at least 150km hiking ;) - above all during the time when the horses were sick and during last days when flying was not possible - around 300km by bus - unfortunately as the crossing of the Magdalena river was impossible with the horses at the time (more below) - 2 weeksof filming in the middle - estimated 30 hours (or more) in internet cafes to keep you updated (especially as phones and computer etc. got stolen…) - consumption of probably 100 avocados each and the same amount of ice creams (for Kira) ;)
These are just rough statistics. It was a wonderful project. Successful in what we wanted to achieve and beyond. However, we have to admit that both of us had never done a project encountering so many challenges as in this one. Challenges that made us reconsider, doubt and even fear at times - but grow in the end:
Major (and minor) challenges
One of my favourite poems reads: “She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach.”
And this is exactly how I felt at times during this trip. …we got robbed, almost all our technical equipment is gone, an entire day lost, ok, let’s keep going, another day, but we end up on this huge cliff, have to climb down for hours with the horses, finally get to a path, arrive to a bigger road at dusk, ride through the night and fiiiinally arrive at a wonderful finca of a friend of a friend….and our friend Leo arrives, too, finally we think it’s time to rest… but then he gets bitten (TWICE) by a dog, all night in the hospital,….
“But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. “ This is how the poem (by Sarah Kay) continues. And it is so true. To value the moment, the opportunity that every challenge offers, when everything is gone, to start from scratch, not give up and the feeling, when everything finally does work and goes right, is not something to take for granted. And even though we will describe the difficulties we encountered now (and complain a little ;)), we valued every moment.
We had two major challenges: the influence of the El Niño phenomenon -surprise, surprise- and the consequences after most of our technical equipment was stolen.
Let’s start with the influence of the El Niño phenomenon. We had never expected such heat and drought throughout Colombia. We have reported several times about it in our blogs and tried to often take it on the light side as humour helps you get through hard times, but in fact, it was not easy. The heat hit us right on the beginning. Climbing down with the horses into the Chicamocha Canyon (and other canyons on the way) was close to suicide. Everyone had told us about the ‘Green Colombia’ and the pictures we had seen of this canyon had nothing to do with the desert-like appearance that awaited us. Also other areas, Santa Sofía, Guapotá, San José de Suaita,…everywhere people were in need of water. The news showed dying cows along the areas of the Magdalena river. It was completely impossible to follow our planned route. So, we had to change and adapt the trajectory: not cross the river, but ride a loop through higher parts in Boyacá and Cundinamarca. But even there, we were faced with no water, no green grass. People told us the Magdalena river had never been so low since 50 years or more…. Another influence of this were difficulties in: selling the horses. Around Sopo, close to Bogota was the place were we had to finally sell the horses. But nobody was interested in them: 1) lack of water lead to lack of grass lead to lack of horse food and 2) only a few months before, horse transport was forbidden in Bogota and hence the region around Bogota was swamped with even free horses! How to sell at a reasonable price? Impossible. Lucky as we are, we met a wonderful couple with a finca like a dream who promised to take care of the horses and try to sell them for more in a few months. They already paid us a part and as soon as they find someone who buys them, they will notify us. But if not, that’s ok, they were really really nice and we are happy that the horses found a good home. And still, that’s not all, we also encountered: super strong thermals. The extremely dry and hot climate (El Niño…) lead to extreme conditions. Yes, strong thermals are good, but these ones were superstrong. So one moves up as in an accelerated elevator, but at the edge of the thermals, one can move down at the same rate. Therefore it can get highly turbulent, too. During flights, we did face a few collapses even with our rather safe equipment. ‘Gracias a dos’ everything went fine always :)
The theft. First of all we have to say that Colombia is a super safe country. We always left our equipment at friend’s places or houses of people we had just met and never anything happened. We were never threatened and even riding through the countryside, along paths, roads or even highways - AT NIGHT - was never a problem. Also sleeping outside, even without tent (we had to couple of times) went without incidences. We were just at the wrong time in the wrong place this ONE time. But you can read the blog about this event for more details. More importantly, what were the consequences? 1. We had no more phones. Our budget was limited and so we bought one suuuuper basic cheap phone for the two of us. Instead of being able to take great pictures, post them on immediately on instagram, Facebook or twitter, we did not even have internet for whatsapp any longer. Our parents were starting to freak out. But that’s life. So, we had to improvise: ask people to take pictures, e.g. at workshops and send them to us over email. Go to internet cafes in the evenings. 2. The Olympus Reflex camera plus lenses and flash was gone. And the computer. 3. The GoPro4 was gone. Well, luckily we still had the old backup GoPro that Kira’s friend had found in a canyon and gave us for the project….it did a decent job and we could use those pictures in the internet cafes. But we did miss dearly our good equipment to post actually outstanding and not just decent pictures and videos….(but without the computer, the video editing was impossible…even photos were difficult in the computers in the super small towns were we passed through)…. So a BIG SORRY to all our sponsors, but we could not post more. We continued to do our best with what we had left. 4. One of the GPS was gone. 5. One of the SPOT tracking devices was gone. The consequence of 4. and 5. coupled with 1. was that it had suddenly gotten a lot more risky to separate to continue with the ‘ride & fly’ concept. We could not decide to separate in places where we normally would have because it was too risky. We did separate at times when the flying and riding routes were more or less secured. Then the setup was: the person with the paraglider took the SPOT and GPS while the one with the horses took the phone. Luckily we still had the two radios, but they did not communicate over several mountain ranges (of course). But it was risky. Flying -along- over unknown terrain, without a phone, unsure where to find a landing that would be close to where we agreed to meet is definitely an experience. Riding -alone- through the Colombian outback with two horses and a mule with the only device that is an antique mobile phone without internet and most of the time without reception is not any better - at least when one starts worrying about the basic security measures we agreed upon before starting the project;) But nobody can describe the feeling when finding each other at the end of the day and everything went well! 6. The leatherman and other knives were gone. Well, that was ok, as our main diet was bread and avocados anyway, we could use a spoon or less sophisticated devices;)
Now we can get to the challenges not related to El Niño or to the theft : The start got a little delayed as we had to wait for the telescopes to arrive that were kindly delivered directly from Meade instruments from the USA directly to Bucaramanga - THANK YOU SO MUCH! But yes, we lost 4 days due to this delivery.
Unprepared horses: We did test the horses before we took them. And we are still not sure if they were simply really untrained or if they were given something on the day we tested them. Valentino was almost ‘wild’ on the test days, but he could not stand anymore on the third day of the trip…. we had never seen a horse just give in….especially after a bath in the river and a day break.
Misinformation by Colombian men: It seemed that Colombian men simply could not admit when they did not know anything. So we ended up on cliffs, taking detours or simply got totally wrong time and distance estimates from them. But we learnt quickly to rather trust the gps and of course ourselves. In fact, Colombian women were much more ‘honest’ in that sense ;) Sorry guys;) - but we trust at least that they did always want to help us, so thank you!
Getting rid of the police company: Thank you again so much dear Comandante in Bogota that you wanted to protect us! We really appreciate those efforts! However, we wanted to run an ecological project and having motorbikes or a car following us, kind of defeated the purpose. Also making us deviate our route because the police van could not pass over the hanging bridge was simply not an option. At first it was difficult to explain this in a nice way, but we hope that they understood. So after a week of body guards, we managed to continue alone again.
FILMING: obviously our equipment was stolen so unfortunately we could barely film ourselves. Luckily Ana and Paula from Al Borde Films came. However, right then, the weather conditions always changed when we took out the glider. Twice Marja got soaked as it just started raining (after 5 weeks of dry weather!)….and of course we had to try to fly, as we needed to film during the 2 weeks that they were with us….
…and many more little challenges.
But through all of this, we never stopped believing in this project. Even after a crazy day either only on the horses or partly horse, partly paraglider, when we arrived exhausted, sometimes late at night at our destination, we tried to either organise still a lunar observation or an activity for the local school the next day or write and update our blog. And this inertia kept us going. Throughout the travel we lived through so many beautiful, intense and simply crazy moments that we would like to share with you at the end of this expedition:
This smile on her face, when she saw the moon through the telescope for the first time. And the way “que chimba” - ‘how beautiful’ - resonated in his voice, when he described the lunar observation…. (big and small kids :))
The skin is sticky, from our own sweat that mixes with that of the horses and with the sun screen that has to be renewed every few hours to avoid further irritations….
Dust, all is so dry, a cloudless sky, my white pants are grey-brown from the dust.
‘rtchhhhh’ - the sound of tearing cloth, at the take-off of la Mesa; I control the harness during the flight, it seems ok….at the landing, again this sound,…I’m scared that the equipment is ruined during the first days…. but then, after taking the harness off, turning around and seeing the huge smile on my friend’s face I look down and see: my pants are totally ripped at the bum :D
The wood feels hard against my back. I’m lying on the bridge above the river. It is midnight and still 35C. But here, a refreshing breeze tickles my hand and flows through my hair over my face. Above Jupiter in the constellation of the lion. Such a beautiful night.
Diana reprimands the police. We are in Guapotá and finally found women! Tonight we stay at Diana’s place. She is such a powerful woman. She yells at the police what they have to do and they seem to accept it. And she wants a picture of everything in every moment and Right Now. One could almost mistake her for a man in the way she talks but in the early morning, she is sitting with a servant in the kitchen who is doing her pedicure….an outstanding contrast….
Rodolfo - his house in Guadaloupe is full with recycled stuff. He builds tables and chairs from old tyres, ropes, wire and all that can somehow be used. He moves into the living room so that we can sleep in his bed. So super nice!
His nose is so soft. Horse noses are the absolute best. And Poseidon’s is the ultimate best. Leaning against his head, feeling the last sun rays of this day is an indescribable present. Although I know that the last ride is ahead….I am so thankful for his company….
Another observation. “Actually, I wanted to become an engineer, but now… astronomy is great!” :))) awwwww…:)))) (not that I want everyone to study astronomy, but it’s still so cool to hear this :))))
….and another reaction by someone else, via a message on the next day: “Incredible the way you changed my perception of the world.”
The hills become smaller and smaller while I ascend in a wonderful thermal - suddenly I am at the cloud base…and then inside the cloud. No GPS as it is stolen. But the compass. And no problem, the cloud is not thick. Just moving forward. And then the white wall opens again and offers me another breath-taking view of the Valle de Cauca….
I’m sitting on the ground in the sun, the wind is making the high grass move so much around me. yes the grass is really so high, that I completely disappear sitting. I m holding three ropes in my hands, it is the first grass we find today and the horses are grazing. I feel warm air in my neck and turn around to a horse nose examining my hair. A bit further I see something blue- orange shooting up, the ARRIBA taking off. The horses don't even care about the large, noisy fabric anymore. It will be a long way down for us, but for the moment we will just stay here.
This trip has completely changed my perception of grass. Horses normally spend 18h a day eating, in which time they will consume 15-20kg of grass. Horse feeding quickly became an important factor in our travel especially due to El Nino drought. Whenever I come across a field now, my mind quickly analyses. Does this field provide edible grass species? Is the grass green and fat = rich in proteins? Are there fences so I can let the horses run freely?
Of course we want to mention everyone who helped us realise this incredible project. Without so many, it would not have been possible.
SKYWALK: Thank you Gerhard and Arne (and also Paul) for believing in this project and supporting us with two wonderful wings, harnesses and rescues. Luckily we did not have to use the latter ones, but they made us feel safe in the air. The Arriba and Massala together with the Range Air and Flex harnesses were a magical combination for all our flights.
MEADE INSTRUMENTS: Thank you Thania for sending us the telescopes. You have no idea how much kids, students and adults were impressed by the view through the two telescopes observing the sun and moon. They for sure have changed and opened new horizons and inspired to think in a different way.
SPOT and GPS LIVE TRACKING: Thank you Corinna and Günther for offering us the gift of feeling safe wherever we were. We are so sorry that one of the SPOTs were stolen, but so thankful that we could continue the journey with the other. An immense thank you also from our parents who probably would have passed through much harder times without the live tracker - it really made a change for us!
GOPRO: Thank you Chloe for providing us with a fantastic camera! Although it was also stolen close to the beginning we could only take a few shots, but still enough to realise the amazing quality. We hope to be able to work with you in future projects. Thank you again!
SALEWA: Thank you Christine for providing us with the best all-round helmets, shoes, that never got wet, jackets that protected from rain and cold, pants that we were using day and night and still look brand-new,… We were amazed by the quality of all the gear, it was fantastic!
LEBIPBIP: Thank you Tim, above all for the Solar Pads that saved our batteries so many times. We were stunned by how long the recharge was lasting and how handy and robust the material was. Fantastic!
PETZL: Thank you Le service Marketing Opérationnel France de Petzl for 4 incredible headlights that helped us so much during the night time observations and riding through the night while trying to find the right path. It would not have been the same without those lights.
COLOMBIA PARAGLIDING: Thank you Richi for hosting, feeding and helping us SO MUCH during the first days and beginning of our project. It was an honour to stay at the Nest and to enjoy your fantastic company. We hope to see you soon, hopefully at the coupe care 2016!
LEITO REY: Thank you Leito for helping us at the beginning, middle and especially during the filming and at the end of this project. It was a gift to have met you and we could not imagine this journey without you. Your advice and support were invaluable. You are part of this project, thank you.
RICHI GOMEZ: Thank you Richi for all your help during the filming days - your Mazda should get an award for going through all the dirt roads with us and you for the enormous amount of patience!! Thanks a billion!
WANDERREITER AKADEMIE: Thank you for sharing your advice on long distance horse treks and sending us immediately the necessary material.
WALTROPEN ZEITUNG: Thank you Bernd for following our project from our home base and publishing the series of articles. It was an honour to be in touch throughout the project.
CROSS COUNTRY MAGAZINE: Thank you for your support already before we took off and for helping us to promote this expedition in the paragliding communities.
CARNET D’AVENTURE: Thank you for supporting and publishing our project already before the start and helping us sharing it amongst other adventurers.
….So now, there is not much more to say, but MIL GRACIAS a TODOS and HASTA SIEMPRE!