Volcan Galeras is in Pasto, Colombia. It is 4276m above sea level and yes, we know that it is in the top ten volcanoes in the world, expected to erupt.
We also know that the road is closed with a checkpoint that only allows authorized personnel into the area.
We also know that volcanoes blow huge rocks out of them, as big as cars at times, not to mention the really hot lava that burns you to a crisp.
We also know that it is really naughty to bypass the checkpoint to climb the volcano.
So at 5.30am, we got out of the taxi in the pitch dark, in a small town on the flanks of Galeras and started the climb. Everything was going well, once the sun came up, so we could see where we were going. We crawled under barbed wire fences, crawled over the long grasses, leapt over more fences, walked through freshly ploughed fields, walked past the cows being milked-only to be bailed up by the cattle dogs. Cattle rustling is alive and well in Colombia, so these dogs were the equivalent of the bouncers outside a night club. They even had numbers on their chests.
We walked briefly on the Camino Real, which is a cobbled road we hear was made by the Spanish, then after another two hours, we hit the road that we shouldn´t have been on. After another hour of walking with magnificent views, we took a break on a hairpin bend with no cover. Squirrel was taking a toilet break standing out in the open when he yelled out,
“Hide Studley…a motorbike!!” The bike was twenty metres away, Squirrel was standing out in the open, watering the plants and I was left with nowhere to hide. I just ran around in circles and amongst my mad panic, I think I put my hands over my eyes, so no one could see me. We had been sprung.
Squirrel explained to the motorcyclist that we were actually on the old Spanish road and we were looking at the flora. The guy on the bike was a technician for the television antennas on top and said that we weren’t on the old Spanish road. He added that no one should be on this particular road. We pretended to be two lost gringos and the guy obviously could see by my pathetic hiding techniques, that we were pure amateurs. He rode off telling Squirrel that he hadn´t seen a thing. He also told us that a guy had actually died, fifteen days ago on the volcano. It was a good job that we were only just looking at the flowers, because volcanoes are obviously very dangerous.
We hit the top after five hours, but we were in the cloud and we couldn´t see the crater. After we had lunch, the cloud cleared and we had three minutes of the most fabulous views of the cone inside the crater, we could even see footprints on the edge of the cone-maybe this was where the guy had died. The building on top had been destroyed by eruptions, with giant rocks – the size of bean-bags, just punching holes through the concrete roof; it was like a battle ground. After marvelling at Mother Nature, we started our descent.
After one hour it started to warm up, so we decided to take off our cold weather gear. Squirrel again, was in an unfortunate position squatting on the ground wrestling with his tights and pants around his ankles, when he yells out again “another motorbike hide!!” We crawled behind a big rock, Squirrel still trying to pull his pants up, I looked from around the back of the rock and I see a truck with three guys standing on the road. We decided to try and have another go at hiding again, but Squirrel stuck his head up to have a look and one of the guys was looking straight at him-we were sprung again. Like naughty little boys we walked out into the open to be confronted by three guys out of the truck. One was holding a handgun, one had a camera and the other had a really nasty moustache. There was one still in the truck behind the tinted windows, so it was a little unnerving.
They asked us what we were doing and where we were from. “Australia and Canada,” we said, one couldn´t possibly go wrong with that. They wanted to see our passports, we didn´t have them with us- in case of a robbery. Squirrel had to hit them with the story that we were avid flower watchers and we were lost again and we would have never dreamed of going to the top of the volcano.
Pity, confusion, total bafflement, who knows? They just told us to get out of there, “Go” they snapped, waving the gun with the finger still on the trigger. After an unfortunate incident like this, one checks that you still have your life, that all your limbs are still attached, passport, camera and money are still part of your travel kit, and then it usually makes a great story two weeks later. I told Squirrel that I was concerned that things come in threes and expected a welcoming party before we got off the banned road. We made it though, it was great feeling to go running down into the bush and paddocks, even the psycho cattle dogs were having a siesta. We finally hit a dirt road at the bottom and didn´t know which way to go, but we finally decided on a direction and were pleased to hear the sound of a truck coming so we could hitch a lift to town.
Things really do come in threes and by the look of the nasty moustache behind the tinted windows, on a familiar looking truck, we knew we were in trouble again. Yet, just like on television, some things really do have a happy ending. The tinted window lowers two inches and we see the guy give us the nod to jump in the back. We couldn’t believe it, plus we had totally exhausted all of our hiding combinations, so we just jumped in the back. On the way down, we decided that if they weren´t going to stop, then we would just jump out. I had seen people do it on television and I was feeling quietly confident that we could do it too. They didn´t take us to the police, they didn´t rob us, Squirrel tapped on the window and they even stopped for us. By this time, I had found a really good hiding spot in the back and didn´t want to go, but Squirrel coaxed me out.
In the end, we found out that they were military police protecting the television antennas, this is why the road is probably closed along with the fact that there is an active volcano up there too. The motorbike guy would have called them and told them that we were there, which is fair I think.
But what a fabulous day, we saw some fabulous scenery, an incredible active volcano and some wild weather. The technician and the military police saw some ridiculous hiding attempts, listened to some massive lies. I just don´t know who is laughing the most-it was a ton of fun for everyone.
I just love this country.