When you aren’t feeling good doing much of anything is far from a fun experience. Especially when it’s the type of sick where your not sure whether the food entrance or exit hole is going to release what I like to refer to as ‘the demon.’ Unfortunately this is a reality when traveling abroad, especially when you love eating street food in third world countries. A question I unfortunately discovered the answer to during one of my bouts with ‘the demon’ was, ‘Does being in paradise lessen the effect of being sick?’ It’s a reasonable question as being in a gorgeous place makes a lot of situations better, like waking up early or doing boring work. However, I can honestly tell you that unless your paradise is a comfortable bathroom then it does not improve your situation. The following tale is my experience with ‘the demon’ in one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen.
Tayrona National Park on the surreal Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia can quite truthfully be called a paradise. A thick, lush jungle covers mountains for miles, ending in a series of beaches so beautiful you need to rub your eyes to make sure they are real. The coastline is dotted with gargantuan, perfectly rounded grey rocks that look like something of a different planet. The place has a raw and ancient natural presence where it seems like dinosaurs still might actually live. Equipped with hammocks my travel buddy and I took off intending to camp in the national park for a few nights. After an amazing short trek through a dense jungle containing spiders the size of my face and the horrifying sounds of howler monkeys we arrived at a beach so amazing we decided we must sleep on it no matter what the cost. Now technically it’s illegal to camp outside the designated camping areas which cost money, but there wasn’t a soul around, the sun was beginning to set and sometimes adventure means breaking the rules. Our hammocks were equipped with mosquito nets which were more than necessary in a land where the mosquitos carry dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria. The jungle was so dense leading up to the beach it was hard to find any trees far enough apart to hang hammocks, but eventually we found two adequate palm trees. The problem was that there was only one good spot to set one up a hammock on the whole beach so we came up with a creative solution, bunked hammocks!!!
As we weren’t supposed to be spending the night on the beach we refrained from making a fire and ate a dinner of canned tuna, crackers and fresh coconut water under the light of a couple headlamps. We used rocks and fallen coconuts to throw at the fresh coconuts on the tree above our hammock and managed to collect quite a bit of the delicious nectar. After a restless night sleep trying to get comfortable on the ‘top bunk’ hammock surrounded by mysterious jungle sounds and high winds, I awoke to an extremely distraught stomach. My travel buddy was experiencing the same phenomenon and the beach didn’t look quite as beautiful as the night before. As we packed up our gear and set off into the jungle ‘the demon’ started churning our stomachs and we had to take frequent jumps into bushes to do our business. The walk to the next campsite took nearly the entire day and was nothing short of spectacular from a scenery perspective, but our condition would not allow us to enjoy even a minute of it. An extremely strong sun, lack of toilet paper and the ‘huge spider web’ phenomenon were all contributing to our extreme discomfort. This phenomenon is when you are walking through nature and you accidentally run into a spiderweb. Now unless you are petrified of spiders this isn’t usually such a big deal you usually just brush it off and even if the spider managed to stick to you somehow it’s small enough that you probably won’t notice. This is simply not the case for Colombian jungle spiders. These things are literally the size of your entire face, so you can imagine when one of us broke through a web on our way to release ‘the demon’ in the bushes we involuntarily did a dance, screaming “Is it on me!?? ” After a couple naps on various beaches we made it to another campsite, but not wanting to pay the fee we snuck off deep into the jungle, set up our hammocks once again and tried to ride out another night.
The next morning we awoke feeling slightly better which was a good thing because it turned out to be a strenuous 5 hour hike to get back to civilization. The funny thing about this adventure is that whenever I’m talking to someone about my time in Colombia they often ask me if I visited the notorious Tayrona National Park and wonder what it was like it. When I respond that it was absolutely gorgeous, but one of the most miserable experiences of my life people are often confused! To this day I’m not sure if it was the canned tuna or the coconut water that brought on ‘the demon’ and unfortunately I find myself avoiding both whenever I can…