Colombia

The Mountains Outside of Medellin

It was a beautiful and strange silence. When we finally reached the top of the hill that we had been climbing, our group leader asked us to sit in ten minutes of quiet.

The first few minutes felt a bit awkward, our group of strangers making eyes at each other and trying not to laugh. But as the seconds passed, another feeling moved over the group and I felt myself sink into an awareness. The sun was beginning its descent at this early hour in March, and it was illuminating a string of clouds that had hung heavy and purposeful. It had rained in patches around us, the strange wind patterns keeping us dry for the entirety of our hike. So these clouds were dark, doing their best to mute the sunlight. But still, there was something breathtaking about the colors that managed to bleed through.

And it was quiet at the same time that is wasn’t. In the distance, a bell tolled the hour, a chicken found its voice, and somewhere behind us, a dog’s collar clanged as the owners clapped and yelled for him back in Spanish.

The seconds fell away slowly, and as the other sounds faded into the distance that’s when I began to hear what we were truly listening for.

The city.

At first, it sounded like a distant hum of electricity. That sound you get when you sit near a fridge or air-conditioning unit. It’s a low, constant rumble, chugging away. A noise you don’t normally pay attention to unless you listen for it.

That was how the city slowly revealed itself. A low, distant rumble. And then you started to hear voices. Voices that rose over the hills below us and reached our ears. A car horn from way, way down in the valley that rumbled over the foliage. Another set of bells tolling. The thrum of hundreds of cars and motorcycles making their way through the many streets.

As I stared down at the city from far, far above it, my eyes began to see what I was hearing. Up here, the air was clean and crisp from earlier rains. I felt the difference in the air up in the mountains then what I had been breathing in the city. And what’s more- I could see it. It was as though a bubble formed over the houses- a dimly lit, yellow dust that settled and contained the noise and pollution as I sat above it.

The wind had turned cold, my skin still slightly sweaty from the climb, and I shivered as more moments passed. I gazed around at the strange group that sat at the cliff’s edge. They were from all over the world, all brought together in this moment by a language school that I had only found through an old friend. And I was only here, sitting in this moment because of her, too. I looked at the people I had had a chance to speak with, to practice my Spanish with, to hike this mountain, and drink a beer alongside. What were the chances that we had all found each other in this moment? That we had all come to be here, staring at an orange sun covered in gray clouds sitting high above a city of 2.4 million people.

It had been a journey, too, to reach this peak. A series of modes of travel by foot, train, and bus. A train that was packed from front to back as it traversed the length of the city. Up the precarious tight mountain roads, the drone of a bus that might or might not make it, mothers tugging children out of the road.

From there, a quick pit-stop inside a grocery store bathroom in a corner where there was no door before taking the muddy path that would lead us farther up. The Greenbelt that had been built as a barrier against wild land fires but now served as a beautiful cut off to allow nature its space. Where grandparents walked with their families to enjoy the fresh air outside the city limits before dinner. Where mosquitoes droned in your ear and the smell of turned earth filled your nose. It had been such a different site than the city- the greenery and lushness of a country that is one of the most bio-diverse on our planet.

Ten minutes before we reached the peak, we had stopped for a cerveza at a home who’s front doubled as a pit-stop. The couple that greeted us was cheerful, sharing what they had and working together to serve our large group. A parrot sat on a pole amidst a rudely constructed sitting area made of wood. And it was perfect. The beer was cold, kept cool by the ice that was carried up the same path each day that we had just traversed. From behind the bar, we could see their living space- a bed made up with a beautiful quilt and a window that framed the mountainous descent down into the valley. Simple, windowless, built to be a part of nature and not apart from it. Here the air was cool and fresh and easy to breathe, and there was a kind of quiet that I had been craving for the past three weeks.

Our guide’s soft voice brought us back to the present moment atop the mountain. The silence broke, and it was like a breath that was being held finally found release. We talked in low voices, snapped photos, and gathered our belongings for the journey back down the mountain. As we descended, the lights began to go on, the darkness giving way to a different kind of magic that felt both strange and distant. By the time we made it back to the center square by foot, it was dark and music poured out of the few bars around us. My stomach rumbled in hunger, and I finished off the last of my water as we climbed aboard the bus that would have a far easier job going down the mountain, the city glittering far, far below.