The day I would start volunteering at Caoba had finally come and I couldn’t wait for my first day there. Katherine had given me a rough idea about the directions and the modes of transportation that could be used and so, I was fairly confident about making it there without any hassle whatsoever. Armed with my massive and over-packed bags, I made a move from Santa Marta.
It turned out that I didn’t have to go all the way to the bus terminal in order to reach Bonda, which is a small town located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada from where the trek to the reserve usually begins. So, I simply walked over to the main road in the direction I was given by the hostel staff and began to look for the local blue buses with a placard reading “Bonda”. Within minutes, I hailed one down and got consumed by a mob running towards it. Weighed down by my bags, I wasn’t exactly as swift as Usain Bolt and was the last one to get to it. As soon as I took my first step into the bus with the rest of me outside it, it began to speed and at once I was taken back to a memory from home taking the bus to my high school. With a warm feeling of nostalgia and a little adrenaline from nearly been flung out, I brought all my belongings inside the bus and sat next to the driver upfront. I find it the best seat in the house especially when you are packed like a mule. It was a comfortable forty-five minute ride with Reggaeton music blasting from all four sides. Within minutes, I was working as the driver’s assistant, collecting money from the passengers and handing them their change. It was the day I began volunteering, so I thought I’d get a head start.
I was soon dropped off at the Bonda Police Station from where I was asked to take a ‘mototaxi’ all the way to the river just before the reserve. After buying a couple of snacks and water from a nearby tienda, I went around searching for this ambiguously named public transport. I knew enough Spanish to understand that it wouldn’t be regular taxi but a smaller vehicle of some sort. A man in a dark-red sleeveless jacket approached me and told me that he was a licensed mototaxi driver and could take me to Caoba for 20,000 pesos. The Indian blood began to rush through my veins and I began bargaining and quoted half the price straightaway. We settled at 12,000 and he told me that he was going to bring the taxi to me. Within minutes, he was back riding a motorbike. I was taken aback a little and confirmed with the onlookers whether this was indeed the famous mototaxi and the only affordable way to get up to the reserve besides walking; they nodded. The driver took my big back pack and surprisingly put it in front of him on the handle of his bike and asked me to climb aboard his two-wheeler taxi. My mind began to wonder whether I had any breakable material in my backpack because I was convinced that it would fall off somewhere along the ride.
The first few kilometers were smooth and we passed through a narrow dirt road with small constructions on each side. ‘This is pleasant’, I thought to my self. That changed almost instantly when we began our ascent through what I can only describe as a trekking path laden with massive boulders and rocks. I didn’t even want to look ahead because I could not think of a possible way this bike could traverse through all those obstacles. But this guy was born for the job; he effortlessly dodged every single bump and stone and stuck to a tiny little dirt trail barely wide enough for the bike’s tires. He flipped the bike into first gear and revved loudly through the steep path and climbed over boulders like it was a walk in the park. This regular city bike was somehow packed with a few extra dozen horses giving it supernatural strength. After an unbelievably adventurous ride and a breathtaking view (whenever I mustered the courage to look away from the path), we finally parked in front of river through which I was expected to go through by foot unless I wanted to pay him extra. The driver told me that there was another way to cross it without getting wet, which was to cross an old rickety overhead bridge. The planks leading to the main body of the bridge were missing so I had to somehow balance myself on the metal wires it was supported by to ascend to its main body. It turned out be stable after all as I’m here sitting in the reserve sipping my herbal tea and recounting this journey. After the crossing, it was only a 15-minute walk to the reserve that greeted me with a large indiscreet sign and a boisterous entrance. The two resident canines, Tai and Fiona rushed out to inspect their new volunteer and I was finally led towards my destination.
The journey was almost as much of an amazing experience as actually being at the reserve and being surrounded by the very best that nature has to offer. The flora and fauna at this place is breathtaking and the people behind this endeavour, warm and inspiring. It’s one of those places where you instantly begin to feel at home.
Caoba, you beauty, I have a good feeling about you.