In late April five members of the Touchstone’s family ventured to Colombia for a little adventure and a healthy dose of climbing. Justin Alarcon the manager of Dogpatch Boulders, Lauryn Claassen the director of Social Media and Marketing, and Ryan Moon from the Berkeley Ironworks team were joined by Justin’s wife Becky and longtime member and friend Eric Vergne. Justin, Lauryn, and Ryan offer some insights into their travels.
How’d this trip come about?
Ryan: After pretty much committing to a trip to Kentucky's Red River Gorge, I bumped into a BIW member friend of mine (Camilo Lopez) who had just returned from Colombia. He mentioned the price of the plane ticket, how far the US dollar goes, and last, but not least, the adventure.
Lauryn: You know [when] people are talking about a trip, but nobody is pulling the trigger... it's just not meant to be. After Ryan ran into Camilo tickets were booked within the week. I love spanish, collecting passport stamps, and trips that include exploring new cultures along with climbing.
What did you know about Colombia before departing?
Justin: Aside from a little soccer history and a dangerous reputation, not much. Of course I researched the climbing as best I could before we left but there is not a ton of information out there. A few videos and trip reports, but that’s it really.
Ryan: I literally had very few expectations. The general lack of information I had about Colombian climbing had me feeling pretty in-the-dark about the experience as a whole. However, I knew whom I was traveling with (awesome girlfriend + great friends) and that Colombia had become MUCH safer than it's reputation suggests.
How were you surprised on the trip?
Lauryn: I was surprised by how friendly every. single. person. in Colombia was. EVERYONE. People would just ignore you and let you go about you day, until the moment that you stopped to ask for directions or needed help. Then they would go out of their way to help you out. I was also surprised how safe I felt. Walking down the street in the booming metropolis of Bogota or the small town of Sesquile, it didn’t matter. This country is amazing and everyone should go and feel bad about thinking it's a dangerous place.
Ryan: I forgot what 9,000 feet of elevation felt like. I had heard that Colombians were super nice, but they even were nice than that. Unfortunately, unpleasantly surprised at how lack luster the food was. Although it wasn't "terrible", sampling local cuisine on travels abroad is one of my favorite things to do. I can eat chicken and french fries back at home.
Justin: We did have two amazing meals in Bogotá.
How did you like the climbing? What would you recommend to other climbers looking to travel to Colombia?
Justin: We spent all of our climbing time in Suesca. The rock quality was great, but lines weren’t worth writing home about in my opinion. Unfortunately, due to the short duration of our trip and a combination of lost luggage and poor planning we weren’t able to check out some of the many other areas in Colombia that, in my opinion, look far better than Suesca.
Ryan: The climbing was, dare I say "fun". Unless I'm cleaning boulders, it's not very easy to get me on a rope. Although a lot of the climbs were pretty short by sport climbing standards, this made switching gears into endurance mode a wee bit easier. It seemed like most of the climbs were fairly easy moves separated by hard-ish boulder problems and get-everything-back ledge rests. While quality of rock was high, quantity was low. I most likely will not be revisiting Suesca (the climbing area) having done most of what I can do.
Lauryn: If you're going to go on a climbing trip to Colombia, you should bring gear. We only brought sport gear by accident, but we needed cams too.
What were some non-climbing activities you would most recommend?
Lauryn: Museums! Bogota! Lake filled with gold! Practicing Spanish! Watching soccer! Buses!
Justin: Plan to spend at least part of your trip in Cartegena. Take the gondola to the top of the mountain in Bogotá for amazing views of the city and get your picture taken on the back of an alpaca.
Ryan: Check out the Botero museum — best paintings of chubby people ever!
Did anyone eat any bad empanadas?
Justin: Two of us caught a belly demon towards the end of the trip.
Ryan: Bring extra underwear.