We'd had to postpone our trip to San Gil due to my stupidity in the Galapagos when I damaged my coccyx. Being the centre for extreme sports in Colombia I knew it needed time to heal properly to enjoy our time there to the full, so after a painful five-hour bus ride there I wasn't feeling overly optimistic. We arrived at our hostel called Macondo after a short cab ride to be greeted by Shaun, our New Zealand host. He immediately bombarded us with video after video of the various activities and adventures that could be had during your stay in San Gil, but too much for our budget and timeframe as it turned out! After a lot of deliberation between myself and Faye she got the short straw. Knowing we couldn't stretch to us both doing paragliding AND rafting, I got to do both. She would just come along to take photos of the paragliding and accompany me on the raft. I must stress however that it was her idea! - I would've preferred it if we did both but she insisted, saying that she would have credit to do it "elsewhere" in the world. This of course meant that I would not get another go, leaving me with the words drumming through my head "but what if her's ends up being better than mine?" Haunting thoughts I know!
With our agreed adventures booked and town map explained by Shaun, we were free to explore our new home which would become one of our favourite towns. San Gil is paved with beautiful cobbled streets framed either side by colonial buildings equal to any that we'd seen in South America. The town square is vibrant, full of locals selling anything from paintings to beer, clothing to street food. Youngsters would hang out here sitting on the many benches laughing and joking. There was the local drunk who would pester you constantly for a few pesos which would go towards his next purchase of his favourite tipple. He would march from group to group with his hand outstretched mumbling and ranting things which were generally inaudible. All he was now capable of given the number of years he'd apparently been repeating the same process. A sad but all too familiar site in so many towns all over South America. Another familiar but far from sad sight was the street dogs. How I've grown to love these guys. Faye has now given me the title of "The Dog Whisperer" after all the occasions they flocked around me. I can't say I dislike it if I'm honest. By the end of our fist night I was on first name terms with all of them and the leader was now my own personal bodyguard just in case the local drunk got a little too feisty! The food here was so cheap too. We found the most amazing little restaurant which had a set menu for around £3. That included a starter, a main, a dessert plus a drink - not bad by anyone's standards!
I was really looking forward to paragliding as it was something I'd always wanted to try but never had the chance. I was filming it with my newly purchased Go Pro so I'd given myself the once-over in making sure I knew how to use it! The bus ride there took an hour and twenty minutes and on the way we met Delsi; a larger than life french man who would became a great companion for our entire time in San Gil. We hit it off instantly and within minutes we were joking around like we'd been friends for years! He was also very gifted with languages, speaking Spanish for the first time only 3 weeks earlier but already proficient enough to hold a fairly decent conversation. We even noticed a vast improvement in his English in the 3 days we spent together! We were certainly put to shame that's for sure! Strapped in my paragliding onesie I was ready to go so I went first leaving Delsi to entertain Faye. The take off was great and the ride over the cliff edge was enjoyable but I was still striving for a little bit more. I noticed that all the other pilots were taking their passengers much higher and right out over the canyon, but no matter how much I begged I could not get my pilot to venture any further from the area in which he seemed to fly over, again and again and again. He used the excuse that there was too much turbulence but if every other pilot did it I thought it was only fair that he did the same. Not a chance! So after 25 minutes (which was supposed to be 45 - another annoyance!) we landed right on top of my huge disappointment. I really tried to be positive and Faye did her best (as she always does bless her) to get me to see it but my expectations were far from met and I felt it right to express them! However, mid rant my attention was drawn to Desli! His pilot seemed to be having problems finding any thermals and was falling fast further and further down the valley towards the canyon floor. Now I'm sure Delsi won't mind me saying this but he's not a small guy by any means but certainly not the biggest either, so myself and Faye were very surprised to see the rate of their descent. And judging by the looks on the rest of the crew's faces they were just as surprised as well! Twenty more minutes past and they landed as far down the canyon as possible so it was into the bus for an unscheduled trip. Luckily there was a cable car not far from where they landed (planned I'm sure) so they took it back to the top and we met up with them once they arrived. Delsi of course was very animated about his adventure despite his nausea and we were all very amused during our trip back to the hostel.... No harm done! We spent the evening together reciting our stories after he took us for amazing street kebabs for next to nothing, then into the square for a beer. Bodyguards present of course. Paragliding wasn't the amazing experience I'd hoped for. I'd concluded that even though my pilot was a bit lame and it wasn't as long as I'd hoped, it just wasn't really my cup of tea. I prefer my thrills to be a little more dangerous and it's a bit too serene my me. However, the Go Pro footage proved worth watching and Delsi made the experience very memorable so I thank him from the bottom my heart. Even though he did almost die in the process... Cheers mate!!
White water rafting would prove to be a completely different kettle of fish! We couldn't convince Delsi to man up on this one so it was left to myself and my brave other half. We had another briefing on all the different scenarios which was a little daunting if I'm honest, then we were good to go. This time I was given a head strap for the Go Pro which I was really looking forward to using! As soon as we got out on the water the fun started. There were two full rafts and we splashed each other like school kids. It didn't take long for the rapids to really kick in either and before we knew it were being thrown around like rag dolls in what seemed like far too small a raft for such awesome rapids. The Suarez river is known for its +5's which if you're not familiar with the term are the black belts of the rafting world. For two hours we worked our proverbial socks off navigating the white water responding immediately to the instructions barked at us by our guide who was absolutely superb at firing us up and calming us down just as the moment required. Due to his expertise no one fell out of the boat that day which seemed to happen regularly elsewhere judging by the stories we'd heard from other travellers. He even let us jump out of the boat and ride the small rapids with just our life vests for company. What a totally amazing experience! The only downside would prove to be my own complete incompetence when trying to work the Go Pro. As the camera was strapped to my head I had no idea that I had it on the wrong setting so instead of starting and stopping it at the beginning and the end of each rapid, I'd actually just taken a photo of the start and end of each rapid! The shame of having to tell the two girls in our boat that I wouldn't be emailing them the footage was almost too hard to bear... What a plonker! Faye however was her usual amazing self and made me feel much better about the whole thing. What a girl she is. Although Delsi wasn't so forgiving and proceeded to rib me about it for the rest of our stay - I'd hate him if I didn't like him so much! We met some good guys that day and went out for drinks that night but as our budget couldn't stretch to a steak as well we went to the square and had more amazing street food where we would meet them later for a customary bottle of beer. Great day had by all!
Our third day would be a quiet one filled with admin (which is always stressful) and a few arguments here and there. Travelling with the same person day in, day out will do that to you but you learn to accept them. They usually start because one is annoyed at the other for something completely different to what the argument started over. The afternoon ended with Faye convincing me I should go mountain biking so we must have been friends eventually. That may have been what the argument was about in the first place actually. She enjoys all the things that cost next to nothing and I always seem to be the one that spends all the money, so rather than appreciate her selflessness I was annoyed that she didn't spend more of our money, hence alleviating some of my guilt! Humans are funny things aren't they... Well I certainly am that's for sure!
After the Death Road in Bolivia I was a bit hooked on mountain biking so she was right to push me to do it because it did seem amazing - A full day's biking travelling over 50k including breakfast and lunch. I was so looking forward to it. The breakfast burrito at Gringo Mike's was to die for so our expectations were already sky high. We signed our lives away then were taken to the start where Emily and Jerad would be our hosts. Our bikes were customised to our individual size and weight and after our protective padding and helmets were donned we were on our way. The Go Pro now well and truly figured out was switched on and began capturing some crazy footage. The first and second runs were fast but the third was very technical, and without any real experience and too much nerve I crashed into a rock! I wasn't badly hurt apart from a nice cut on my arm (a trophy of the day) plus the Go Pro caught it all so I was chuffed to bits. I met up with Faye and Delsi in a small town on our journey and proceeded to tell them about my crash and was met with laughter from Delsi and looks of disapproval from Faye. She's come to expect nothing less so I wasn't in too much trouble I'm sure? We said our goodbyes and on we went. I'm not sure if the crash damaged the bike as a few runs on I got a puncture which was swiftly changed by Jared but now the suspension was making a bad knocking sounds - the bike was dead. Congratulation me! My replacement was not a downhill bike and as such was a bit 'twitchy' to say the least. After the switch I totally lost my confidence and found myself at the back of the bunch for fear of falling off. We went off and had lunch and Emily stayed behind and did her best to fix it but when we got back her face confirmed that the bike was a goner! I tried so hard to tame it but it was so frightening I took it easy for the rest of the day, all the while being reassured by Emily that the bike would come into its own on the cross country at the end of the day. She may have been right if I had any level of fitness to endure such torture. 13k of arduous terrain which seemed to be uphill all the way. Twenty minutes in and I'd had it, having to get off the bike each time I hit another hill due to the most excruciating cramp in both legs. The other guys had disappeared well into the distance so all I had for company now was Jared following behind in the truck occasionally asking if I wanted to call it a day - I think he may've been bored of looking at my behind pushing the bike up hills and was trying to tell me something!! Still, I was far too stubborn (or just plain stupid) but my response was always the same - I'd rather crawl than get in that truck! When I did finally finish, a full fifteen minutes after the next guy I was received with a generous round of applause and Emily telling me that as I didn't get in we were only the second group ever where no one got back in the van. Quite an accomplishment, even if I did walk for most of it! I finished the day with a ride on the roof and a beer with the guys and even though I was exhausted it was such a great day. I just think the cross country part isn't my bag!
Our last day was spent separately. I now ached from head to toe and was in no mood for hiking so Faye went off with a few others from our hostel to a picturesque waterfall which was a short distance away. I did the usually admin jobbies such as photo uploading and blog writing and generally enjoyed my last few hours at what was a great hostel with great company. Faye came back and showed me pictures and told stories of her day which sounded great but just a bit beyond me on that particular occasion. We said our farewells to the crowd we met and of course to the legendary Delsi who we would miss greatly! What a guy he is. And what a stay in San Gil. For all my fears of the coccyx ruining my fun it was totally unfounded and every moment spent there was fantastic. It's a place we would surely miss.