In August of 2016 I visited Colombia with my partner Maritza, and took a voyage to San Juan del Guia, a well-traveled beach in Colombia's Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. The park is located about an hour outside of the coastal city of Santa Marta in the department of Magdalena. Arriving to this beach was an obsession of mine ever since seeing it come up on Google searches. It was to be a cathartic moment, a celebration of triumph of both Maritza and I's completion of our graduate studies and our next step into adulthood. Still, reaching paradise requires constant work and struggle, and the jungle, like life itself, has a way of testing you before it reveals its treasures.
We began our journey early Friday morning leaving our hostel at 6:00 a.m. in search of the bus that was to take us to the entrance of the park. After some confusion and misdirection we managed to chase down our bus, and once on it, sat patiently as the bus driver stopped at every corner hoping to add paying customers. Every street light "Tayrona! Tayrona!" the driver would shout. The Vallenato songs playing on the driver's beat-up radio were the only thing calming my impatience. Slowly, the bus began to wind its way up into the mountains, and the heat of the day began to recede, replaced instead with the cool mist of the high mountains. After getting through the entrance and taking yet another bus down to sea level, our journey was truly set to begin.
We started our 2 1/2 hour trek with much enthusiasm, smiling at each other in wonderment of our surroundings. Lush green forests, enormous boulders, and the calling of exotic birds all titillated our senses. "I can't believe I'm here" I thought.
Upon arriving to paradise there was only a sense of relief, and not euphoria. Our exhaustion was complete, and our irritation with each other palpable. We spent the first couple of hours shunning each other for not doing what the other expected. Our silence was only interrupted by a few phrases of "should we go there" and "do you need to go to the bathroom?" Our trek through the jungle had clearly taken its toll.
After securing our accommodations, which consisted of nothing more than two hammocks in a communal hut, we decided to finally make our way to the water. We walked over to the second beach and laid out our towels under the shade of towering palm trees. The breeze was warm and welcoming, and looking out at the crystal-clear water, it seemed as if the ocean went on forever. Silently, we sprayed copious amounts of sunscreen on ourselves, making sure to cover every corner of our bodies. Finally, we were ready to meet the sea.
I took my first step into the water and a shockwave went up my leg, as the water was much colder than I expected. I took a few more steps in and Goosebumps started to crawl up my back . Once the water had reached my waist, I looked over at the trembling Maritza, and she gestured for me to jump in. I shook my head in defiance, and did not succumb to her demands. Having no more patience, she jumped in head first, and came out on the other side of a wave screaming a liberating "ahhhhhhh!" Having no choice I did the same and came up right next to her.
After wiping the salty water from my face, I reached for her hands in an attempt to make amends. "Hi" I said. After a long pause, "Hi" she replied. We had not spoken more than a few words since we arrived at San Juan del Guia, but I knew it was time to start anew. I tried to start conversation by recounting something my mentor had told me, "you know, Chavez told me that to cleanse your soul you need to submerge yourself into the ocean nine times. It's supposed to cut off all negative energy." Maritza responded unamused, "yeah?" I asked if she wanted to try, and she consented to my invitation. Her only condition was that we do it together.
She placed both of her hands on my palms and looked into my eyes without blinking. She too was ready to leave our disgruntled journey behind. We were ready to dip into the water when I paused and confessed, "Wait, I don't remember if you're supposed to submerge yourself nine or seven times." Without hesitation Maritza said "seven makes more sense." "Yeah, you're right" I responded. We counted to three, and together, we went under water once, then twice, and then five more times. After the last we looked at each other and started laughing. Our baptism was complete, we had made it. After months of planning and talking about it, after hiking through the treacherous jungle, through two years of maintaining a long-distance relationship, it was only us. No yesterday, no earlier today, no tomorrow, just now. Just Maritza, Erik and the magical waters of San Juan del Guia.