My friends below looked like miniature action figures as I tightened my grip on a sharp, protruding rock.
“That’s it, you’re almost there!” shouted my climbing instructor, Hugo Rocha.
Almost there? Is he kidding?
“I think I’m fine to come down now!” I yelled. But Hugo ignored me. “Focus on your feet and push with your legs. You have this, Jennifer!”
Grunting a string of obscenities, I looked for the next groove to place my right foot. Then my left. My fingers trembled as I reached toward the sky.
I thought I’d be better at this. I had scaled the man-made rock-climbing wall at the gym in record time. I had hiked Cerro Fitz Roy over Christmas vacation. I was even halfway through the aptly named Insanity workout DVDs.
But nothing prepared me for the emotion and eventual exhilaration I felt climbing straight up 125 meters, relying on a rope for survival.
Hugo Rocha thrives on that feeling. He does it every day.
“To be in nature,” he says, “with a wall in front of you…to get to the top without falling…it’s nice in the end.”
He’s right, although you couldn’t have convinced me of that half way up the rock. But after finally reaching the top, I understood the reward as I scanned the green landscape and listened to the cheers from below.
I found Hugo’s name while reading in the Lonely Planet about Suesca, a sleepy town about an hour from Bogotá. The short blurb said Hugo was reliable to conduct inexpensive half-day and full-day rock climbing excursions.
It ought to be easy to round up some fellow adventurers, I figured. Wrong. Fellow workers ignored my email, so I posted a Facebook status. Only one person responded, and I had only met her once. She said she would bring two friends. They had all grown up near Bogotá but had never been to the village, never been rock-climbing.
Hugo, in contrast, spent his youth in Bogotá and scaled trees and roofs routinely before moving to Suesca 12 years ago. He had been an industrial design major in college, but left the city life to explore the 400 different climbing routes. He even met his girlfriend while climbing.
“If a climber is traveling in Colombia, they’re going to pass through Suesca,” he said.
For the novice looking for a weekend adventure, making it to the top is the obvious goal. But for me, the experience offered so much more – a bonding friendship. After three climbs, we headed to a nearby tienda and celebrated over beers. Filled with a sense of accomplishment, we drank, danced and cartwheeled in the sun while Hugo packed up the equipment.
Our bodies sore, our hands scratched, we made the quick trip back to Bogotá, satisfied that from a sky-high vantage point, we had broadened our horizon.
Some Suesca facts: Rock climbing costs $60,000 pesos per person for a half day or $120,000 for a full day. Buses to Suesca depart from the TransMilenio Portal Norte on the Autopista. A one-way ticket costs 7,000 pesos. To join Hugo Rocho on the ropes, contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org