Two years ago, when I got my passport stolen I was forced to return home. I didn’t know how long it would take to return to Colombia. I didn’t realize that I would come back with all of my rock climbing gear instead of my unicycle and gear.
I returned as an entirely new man, sensing the difference by directly re-experiencing certain familiar places. I made my way through San Gil, in the state of Santandér. This little city is known to travelers for having a variety of extreme activities to choose from, from river rafting to climbing, ziplines, and paintballing. Ironically, I chose something more relaxed, volunteering at a hostel on a farm in the mountains outside of town. The Lost Inn recently opened, and I worked with other internationals to paint the wall and do sustainable design. I spent three week volunteering in various projects, including creating a bar table hung from the ceiling, a little bar from bamboo, and a table from re-purposed rustic doors. For one project, I sourced local bamboo and hemp rope to create a ladder for a rope-swing. On the walls, I painted palms, plantains, and other local species.
A brief stop in Bogotá allowed me to get a look at some awesome graffiti, and the Museo del Oro, (Gold Museum).
Next, I visited the monolithic rock called La Piedra de El Peñol, in Guatape. Believe it or not, the “GI” painted on the rock, was going to say “GUATAPE.” Why did they stop? Because it’s a eye-sore on an otherwise pristine natural formation? No, reason they stopped was the neighboring county of El Peñol didn’t want Guatape written on it. Signatures, tagging, and So-and-so couple with a heart around it–while these are quintessential human activities, they are no less strange and out-of-place. Like swimming pools in desert cities.
In Guatape, I met and climbed with two local climbers, who for six months have been camping out at the base of the rock, sleeping on porta-ledges. The family that owns the tourist attraction on top, with its winding staircase to an admittedly beautiful view, believes they own the rock itself. The two climbers have won small victories in protecting this gorgeous feature for what it is: a Natural Monument. Also, aiding in the climbers’ battle against the family, these gentlemen have used their encampment as a protest against the huge amount of trash that is thrown off the top of the rock. Their message of conservation could not come at a better time: the trails leading up to the climber were not only littered with non-biodegradable plastics and Styrofoam, but also broken glass, an obvious safety hazard.
I got the honor of climbing some very newly opened routes on the rock, including a 6 pitch route to the top, following the slab on the right side of the feature. What better way to exercise my concern and appreciation for the environment than engage my body in climbing some of its densest, oldest forms?
Now I find myself in the little mountain community of Suesca, outside of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. I am taking full advantage of the rock climbing here to bring my physical body back into shape, utilizing the quiet (unless it’s one of the crazy holidays here) to bring my spiritual level to an even keel, as well as starting a few creative projects. I have been hired by a family friend to illustrate her book about training dogs, tentatively called “Rudy and Ranger.”
Something else I’m absolutely ecstatic about is something I both never expected, and somehow knew was coming. I have always had a love and appreciation for National Geographic, its sense of adventure and and its promotion of humanitarian and conservation efforts. I’ve also considered how awesome it would be to apply for a Fulbright fellowship in another country. So by cosmic intervention, enter the—National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fulbright. It is just how it sounds: a partnership between Nat Geo and Fulbright which accepts 5 americans for fellowships in a number of countries around the world. The purpose is to use digital tools to document pertinent global issues. When I read the description, something clicked into place. I knew this was my next mission. My intended project would involve studying the endangered species and spaces of Chile. I will use my experience with Latin American culture and the Spanish language to engage the art and scientific communites in the country. I will use my experience in cross-country unicycling and rock-climbing to reach remote locations in order to document the animals and bio-regions they call home. I will use photo, video, graphic illustration, and present it through the format of interactive blogging. This award would be a dream come true, and truely appropriate for the natural progression of my life. I have worked and will continue to work to prove to the application reviewer that I am the ideal candidate for this project and fellowship.