Lauren Taylor Creates

South America

Travel Journal: White Water Rafting in San Gil

TravelLauren Engel1 Comment

Dubbed the adventure capital of Colombia, San Gil is the place to go if you want an adrenaline rush. From white water rafting to hang gliding, this town has it all. We woke up early the morning of James’ birthday and met up with everyone who would be rafting with us. After a 30 minute drive, we parked and carried the rafts down to the river and got briefed on what to expect. The only time I’d been rafting previously was down a lazy river, so this was my first experience in class 5 rapids.

After doing a few drills on how to row and climb back into the raft we set off down the river. It was such an adrenaline rush navigating through the rocks and rapids. At one point we were pushed up against a massive rock and nearly tipped over. Our guide Ariel wasn't exactly the calm confident leader you would want for a situation like that, however were able to make it around at the last minute. 

About halfway down the river we stopped and had a snack break of fresh pineapple and watermelon. (Colombia has the best fruit!) On we continued working as a unit to make our way down the river.

Since it was James’ birthday Ariel had him sit at the very front and hang on for his life while we went through a few of the rapids. Holding onto a rope as if he was riding a bull, James was thrilled and made it through without falling off.

When it was a bit calmer we all jumped and did flips off the raft into the river and swam and floated down the river on our backs. Upon finishing we enjoyed a massive lunch and beer by the river celebrating James and the amazing day we had. White water rafting in San Gil was one of the highlights of our time in Colombia!

Travel Journal: Páramo de Ocetá

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LTC Paramo de Oceta

While traveling through Colombia, my boyfriend and I spent a few days at Finca San Pedro in Sogamoso on our way from Salento to San Gil. Snuggled in the Andes mountains the Ffinca was quiet, relaxing and surrounded by beautiful landscape. One of the highlights in this area is a hike to the Páramo de Ocetá. This Páramo is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world and boasts plants only found in this kind of high altitude microclimate. We woke up early on a cold drizzly day and caught the bus to a tiny town called Mongui to meet up with our guide, Maria. Over coffee and arepas, she mapped out the route we would be taking to see the Páramo. The plan was to start the hike in a smaller town called Mongua, pass by la Laguna Negra (Black Lagoon), climb to the highest point of the Páramo and then descend back into Monguí. After breakfast we were dropped off in Mongua and started the hike up a dirt road.

LTC Paramo de Oceta 1

As we walked, Maria told us about the Muisca people that inhabit the area and their history. We passed by farmers and locals walking down the road and received many confused looks. Tourism has begun to grow in the adorable town of Mongui, however very few tourists have come to Mongua to-date. As we climbed in elevation, we saw less and less farms and more plants that are indigenous to the Páramo.

LTC Paramo de Oceta 2
LTC Paramo de Oceta 3
LTC Paramo de Oceta 4

The trail to Laguna Negra was wet and muddy but pretty easy. We walked around the lagoon and stopped above it to admire a small waterfall and the deep dark color of the lagoon.  The black water was a sharp contrast against the low white mist that hung over the lake. The rain came down harder as we continued up the mountain and our trail got more and more saturated and eventually turned into a small river. 

LTC Paramo de Oceta 5
LTC Paramo de Oceta 6

Though it was pouring and frigid out, it was impossible not to admire the incredibly beautiful landscape and vegetation that surrounded us. Between the rain and the cold temperature our legs were soaked and numb. I could have run up that mountain because I literally couldn’t feel anything.  From the top we looked down at where the lagoon used to be - now a thick white blanket of mist. We walked along the ridge for a while through a sea of frailejón (plants that look like they’re from a Dr. Seuss book). We started our descent sloshing through the knee high river formerly known as our trail, both of us grateful to have a guide, otherwise we would be completely lost. The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur as we sloshed through the Páramo.

LTC Paramo de Oceta 7
LTC Paramo de Oceta 8


After seven hours of hiking we were back on a dirt road and had Mongui in site. The sun was finally out and warming up our soaked, numb bodies. We passed by a house on the outskirts of town were a group of Colombians were having a BBQ in the yard. One of them recognized Maria and they all came over to greet us. They were visiting Mongui from Bogota for the long weekend. As we chat they offered us a shot of whiskey, the perfect way to commemorate the hike we had just accomplished.  We hugged our new friends goodbye and made our way into town, ready to peel off our wet clothes and enjoy a hot shower and large meal.
This was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done, but so rewarding and worth every minute.  One of my best travel memories!

Travel Journal: The Kids of Comuna Trece

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One of my favorite memories from Colombia was playing with the neighborhood kids in Comuna Trece - a slum in Medellin.  What was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country is now an area frequented by tourists. Over the past decade the government has worked hard to recover from years of violence and clean up the slums. In 2011 they built an outdoor escalator system to help the residents of this area climb up and down the steep hillside more easily.  After finishing the

Real City Tour

of Medellin (which I highly recommend!), my friends Kent, Aaron, my boyfriend James and I hopped on the metro to Comuna Trece.

Looking Down at the Escalators

Colorful Graffiti

View from the Top

We rode the chain of 6 escalators to the top, checked out the colorful graffiti, and took in the view of Medellin. After walking around a bit we stumbled upon an outdoor slide where two little boys were playing. Immediately, my friend Kent ran to the top and went down the slide with the boys. They thought we were crazy, but after a few rides they were begging us to slide down with them. A group of little girls joined us and we all took turns sliding down together. 

Playing on the Slide

After snapping a few pictures I began recording the rides on my iPhone in slow motion. I showed it to the kids and they thought it was the most amazing thing ever. They begged me to record them and then laughed hysterically at themselves. Anytime we spoke in English, one of the boys, Armando, would ask me to translate everything we said.. he didn’t like to feel left out. He told us about how he wanted to be an opera singer someday, and he and the guys bonded over video games. We stayed and played with these kids for hours until they were called home. I recorded so many slow mo videos my phone ran out of storage. It was so much fun being silly and feeling young on something as simple as a slide. 

Travel Journal: The Most Northern Point of South America

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When my boyfriend and I were traveling around Colombia together we typically wouldn’t plan too far in advance on where we were going. We met people along the way and adjusted our travel plans based on what they recommended. That’s how we ended up in Punta Gallinas - the most northern part of South America. We heard from multiple people that it was beautiful and worth going to.  We couldn’t find much information online but decided to wing it and make our way up there.

We took a bus headed for Venezuela and got off just before the boarder crossing at a stop called Cuatro Vias. We caught a collectivo - a shared taxi (which basically means any Colombian with a car) and made our way to Cabo de la Vela.  

In this part of Colombia, the desert blurs into the ocean and after a two hour bumpy ride on a dirt road we finally made it to the coast.  The wind was strong and the water was the most brilliant shade of turquoise I had ever seen.  

The turquoise water in Cabo de la Vela

We settled into our hostel, grabbed a few Polars (Venezuelan beer) and relaxed on the beach. As it got later in the afternoon some local guys came out to take advantage of the strong wind and kite surf. Besides a few crazy tourists, they were the only people brave enough to enter the jellyfish infested water.  

Beached jellyfish

We spent the evening watching them rip through the water and soar dozens of feet into the sky.  Besides the kite surfing, one of the best parts of Cabo de la Vela is the abundance of fresh seafood - especially lobster. That night we enjoyed two butter soaked lobster tails each for under $15 a plate.

On our third morning in Cabo de la Vela, we woke up before dawn to begin our tour to Punta Gallinas.  We were joined by a Canadian couple and a Colombian from Bogota. We drove for hours through the desert on the bumpiest dirt road I’ve ever been on to a bay where two teenage Wayuu girls met us.  They took us across the bay to the hospedaje where we were staying the night. 

After a quick breakfast we continued our tour to the most northern tip of the continent. 

The most northern point

The best part of the tour was visiting the sand dunes.  It was basically a massive slide into the ocean.  We spent several hours running down the dunes, playing in the water and walking along the beach.  

We stopped at a few more scenic spots on our way back to the hospedaje, then cleaned up and watched the sunset.  We spent the evening laughing, drinking Cherreche (basically the Wayuu version of moonshine) and getting to know the Wayuu people who ran the hospedaje where we were staying. 

The crew

The next morning we woke up in our hammocks, heads spinning a little from the night before. We said a sad goodbye to our new friends and made our way back to civilization. 

Travel Journal: Spearfishing in San Bernardo

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Several months ago, I spent some time on a catamaran in Cartagena, Colombia. The captain, his friend and I sailed out to San Bernardo overnight and dropped anchor in front of a small island covered with palm trees and surrounded by the clearest blue water I’d ever seen. 

After making lunch, we selected a random spot to try spearfishing. We saw loads and loads of colorful reef fish and swam around for over an hour, but had no luck finding anything worth spearing.   

Later that day we made our way over to Casa en el Agua, the notorious floating hostel (It’s not actually floating, but because it’s built up in the middle of water, it looks like it is). There, we met a local who agreed to take us spearfishing for snapper in the mangroves - at night. We returned to the catamaran and waited for the last light from the sun to fade away. The sky and water became pitch black, and there was no moon in sight. We met up with the guide and set out for the mangroves.

As we rode in the dark, the stars lit our way. There were billions of them. You could even see the milky way. The water glowed too, as bioluminescence floated on the surface. We maneuvered our way through the narrow waterways in between the mangrove bushes. Our guide directed us to a spot where we should find snapper. We hopped into the water and swam along the mangroves with our eyes peeled, in search of the fish. No dice. We all climbed back inside the dingy and went to the second fishing spot. Still nothing.

 As we dropped into the water at our third location, the moon slowly began to rise over the island. It was massive, bright and full, a magical sight I will never forget. Swimming around one last time, we finally saw a large snapper.  I loaded my pole spear and shot at it. I stunned the fish, but it easily shimmied off the spear, so I loaded up and shot it again. Unfortunately, the spear was too small to hold the fish. Being wounded but not dead, the fish quickly swam away. We all reluctantly climbed back into the dingy, a little disappointed and hungry, and made our way back to the catamaran. The moon was completely full in the sky now and shown so bright you could no longer see the stars. I looked up, closed my eyes and smiled. While it was technically an unsuccessful night, it was an experience I will never forget!