PARQUE NACIONAL FARALLONES WITH CAMPING TRIPS COLOMBIA
Cali is situated in the Valley of Cauca (Valle del Cauca) and thus surrounded by lush, green mountains wherever you look. The ones closest to the city are the Farallones – a mountain range approximately an hour’s ride away from the city center of Cali. And that’s where you can quite effortlessly go to when you want to spend a weekend out, hiking and camping.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by my friend Gian to join his expedition with Camping Trips Colombia to Alto del Buey, a peak at 3500 meters above sea level, in the Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali. This was the first time outsiders were granted a permit to visit Alto de Buey in more than two years (Why? Read on!). Thus, our eight-member team was immensely privileged and lucky to climb a path that no other visitors had stumped upon in a long time.
Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali
The Farallones are a mountain range which can be seen from the city center of Cali on a sunny day. They separate the basins of the Pacific and the Cauca River from the Cordillera Occidental.
The Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali is the largest, protected area in the Valley of Cauca, with more than 540 bird species and over 30 new-born rivers. Moreover, it is a reserve of diversity of unique species, in danger of extinction in Colombia and the whole world.
The Farallones, and especially the river Pance, are typical recreational areas for the citizens of Cali. They are close enough to the city for a day-visit, and far enough to feel you’re out in the wild. Another peak of the Farallones, the Pico Pance, is a typical peak to visit for people in the lookout for a weekend hike.
A Two Day Hike to Alto del Buey
The morning of the hike we gathered at Gian’s place at 6AM, where we went through our equipment and food. From there we headed with three cars to a small and remote community called Peñas Blancas, which is where we had breakfast (scrambled eggs and arepas) and where we met up with out local guide, Doña Maria. (Although Gian knows the area well, the authorities of Parques Nacionales require the use of a local guide, in order to support the local community. Fair enough.)
To tell you the truth, I’d never done a proper hike in the mountains before, so I had no idea what to expect. I’ve hiked quite a few times up and down the infamous mountain leading to the rock face in Ceüse, France, and in general the approaches for rock climbing are often rocky and demanding. I’ve also walked through Spain one and a half times: In 2007 I did the Camino de Santiago called Camino Frances (a 800km walk from France to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Western Spain) and in 2010 I intended to do my second Camino de Santiago. This time I opted for the 1000km walk called Via de la Plata from Sevilla (Southern Spain) to Santiago de Compostela. Yet, half way through I broke three bones on my metatarsus and had to call it a quits.
Although I’ve never been too interested in mountain climbing, I was happy Gian asked me to join his trip, as new experiences and challenges are always welcome. And when the hike from Peñas Blancas took off at 9AM on a gradual uphill, I was quite surprised on how easy it all seemed. Soon thereafter, I realized it was just the beginning, though. Bit by bit, the path turned steeper and steeper, and rockier and rockier. And not long thereafter, I stumbled into a river, which resulted into my shoes getting wet. (My friend Céci had it even worse, tripping over and getting totally soaked… and not only that, to her utmost horror, she had been filmed by Gian while at it.)
Around lunchtime, we stopped at a small plateau to enjoy our sandwiches and the amazing cloud forest around us. All in all, the nature in Parque Nacional Natural Farallones was (and is) incredibly stunning throughout the whole hike. Varying between different ecosystems, from humid rainforest (bosque húmedo) and tropical rainforest (bosque tropical) to cloud forest (bosque nublado) and bleak uplands (páramo). My favorite part was definitely the cloud forest, as always, yet even the páramo at 3500m had its arid charm. Definitely not what you expect to see at 3500m as a European.
At around 3000m we landed at the battalion (no photos were allowed at the battalion), a fortress of the military, looking after the Parque Nacional Natural Farallones. A place of around eighty men who stay up in the mountains from two weeks to two months, depending on the shift. Why? Because the Parque Nacional Natural Farallones used to be, and still is, a place for illegal mining.
Illegal Mining in Farallones de Cali
Illegal mining is something many national parks in Colombia, and in whole Latin America, deal with every day. In the Farallones, the mining business has been going on for at least 70 years, previously with machines (there are such heavyweight machines at the height of 2500m that it’s impossible they were brought there by anything else than a plane or helicopter) and nowadays manually. Even on the Alto del Buey where we camped (with the most awe-inspiring view over the twinkling city lights of Cali), there were two, well-hidden entrances to former mines, and higher up, the entrance was very much visible.
The military at the battalion takes care of illegal mining not happening near the peak of Alto del Buey these days. However, everyone in the area knows there is still illegal mining within the park. What’s more, people even seem to know who does and where it happens. So, why don’t the authorities stop it, could one ask. Because they’re possible somehow in it themselves. And even if not, people still prefer illegal mining to legal mining, because were there is gold, it’s better mined illegally in order not to exploit the nature too much with big machinery and crowds of people. Of course, it’s all also a question of landownership, as the law states that what’s beneath the ground never belongs to a landowner, but to everyone.
Our local guide, Doña Maria, shared with me her vision on the mining business. According to her, half of the miners are male, half female. Most people come to the area from the city on chivas (open buses used in Cali) and walk into the woods with their backpacks. Apparently, there are quite many entries to the mines, yet many take the visible road across the bridge at Peñas Blancas. According to Doña Maria, these miners are not workers without other jobs, but rather people who simply want to get rich with gold.
So basically, even though the Parque Nacional Natural Farallones de Cali are apparently trying to get rid of the illegal mining business, in practice the scenario is quite contradictory. The men at the battalion look intimidating and efficient with their machine guns on their shoulders, yet although even they know where the mining is, no one seems to really be doing anything about it. However, at least the mining is not directly on Alto del Buey anymore (at least so it seems), and so, perhaps in the future, more visitors will be able to enjoy its wonderful nature and the amazing scenery, including the city scape of Cali and the view all the way to the Pacific coast on a clear day (which we didn’t have, unfortunately).
The Cold Night and the Strenuous Way Down
The night at the camp was freezing cold. I was tucked into my sleeping bad, my in-liner, and my second home: my Jack Wolfskin mini-tent (which I absolutely love!). I even had a borrowed mattress from the guys at the battalion and had all my clothes on (yes, I know in some sleeping bags it’s better to be naked, but not in mine, I assure you after tens of experiments out in the ice-cold Patagonia), and was still freezing. Even so much so, that I munched onto the whole snack bag Gian had handed out to each one of us in the beginning of the trip. This included chocolate, more chocolate, chocolate filled caramel candy, Orio’s, granola bars, peanuts and almonds, caramelized peanuts and whatnot. And so, solitarily in my little tent, I literally ate it all away. Heh. Yet, wat eventually managed to warm up my frozen body, was a hot dinner.
The next morning, we woke up to the sunlight at around 6AM and climbed up to the peak of Alto del Buey again, just to check if we’d have more luck with visibility this time. Nope, we didn’t. So, we returned to the camp, packed our gear and started heading down. Definitely the part I’ve always been more concerned about, even on short walks. When rock climbing, you never climb downwards (unless you’re training) and I wish it was like that on every terrain. And there’s a reason – even this time I fell over nine times, hurt my knee and twisted an ankle. No biggie, but just to be clear, the way upwards felt way much easier. And needless to say, my front thighs hurt like hell for the following three days. So much so, that I could barely lift myself up from the bed. However, the biodiversity of the forest was definitely worth all the pain.
Why Camping Trips Colombia?
This is obviously not a very objective review of the trip organizer, as Gian is my friend, yet I still think anyone visiting Cali and wanting to explore its surroundings, should do it with Camping Trips Colombia. Why? Because Gian is a great person and a dedicated guide, who truly knows his way around in the wilderness. He’s trained to be out in the wild and can also shed much light into the ecosystem of the destination in question. He really takes hiking to his heart and loves showing people the breathtaking nature that the nearby regions have to offer. This is definitely just some dude taking people up to the mountains. With Camping Trips Colombia you can rest assured you’re taken care of!
How I met Gian?
On the second day upon my arrival to Cali, I posted a video on my Facebook Page Strangerless in the neighborhood of San Antonio. I have no idea how Gian ended up seeing the video, but he did, and commented below it, that I should drop by for a coffee one day. Well, I never did, although I intended to, but as some people are bound to meet, so were we. One Saturday night Gian, who doesn’t dance salsa (that’s what he says although he actually does), was dragged by his friends to La Topa Tolondra (my usual salsa club) where he recognized me from the video. The start of a new, hilarious friendship!
P.S. If you want to check out videos from the trip, there are two short clips I did at the Parque Farallones on my Facebook Page Strangerless.