Into the Colombian Wilderness...

As I stood overlooking the sand grave that had been dug for me, my jaw dropped open and I nervously glanced around for an escape route. Julio’s beaming face lent little reassurance and when he started gesturing towards the human-shaped hollow in the pit, my clammy hands balled into fists.

In the vow I had taken to myself before I had set out on my travels to be a ‘Yes Man’, I just started to feel like I had taken it a step too far. Standing in my bikini in the middle of the Colombian jungle at 10pm, in a natural hot spring resort up in the mountains, I was more than a little nervous. We were five hour’s drive from the nearest town, in the pitch black darkness of the night, a glowing energy-saving torch our only source of light. The ludicracy of the situation suddenly hit me.

Julio the resort manager was thrilled that two pale-skinned English ‘princesses’ had turned up at his middle-of-nowhere campsite to enjoy the volcanic heated pools and natural saunas. In return for entertaining him with our unabashed Englishness, he offered us free spa treatments. To understand this offer and moreover to understand us accepting the offer, you really need to understand the Colombian people and their fascination with fair skin and all things European, which is a subject too deep to delve into here.

Julio, small and bouncy with a deep coffee hue to his skin, had unlimited enthusiasm for life and a zest that could bore through even the most pessimistic soul. Communicating mainly through a combination of sign language and charades we finally got the gist of the message: “Meet me by the third pool on the right at 10pm this evening.” Back in the safety of my little flat in London, this idea admittedly sounds absurd but at the time what can I say, I was a Yes Man.

Encased by thick shrubbery, each pool was its own private oasis. The outside air was damp and still with a silent chill that clung to our goose-pimpled skin. Steam curled up from the water and evaporated into the misty dark blanket overhead. A tumbling waterfall descended onto smooth cold stones and only an occasional cry from a feathered creature interrupted the rhythmic cascading of water. As we immersed ourselves into the hot pool we spotted our host bounding round the corner…with a shovel.

The lack of a common language didn’t seem to hinder communication and he signalled for us to exit the pool. Next to the steaming bath of water was a large pit of sand that heated naturally from the volcanic matter beneath us. So there we were standing in our bikinis, awaiting our fate whilst Julio is digging two long oval shapes in the pit. He indicated for us to lie down in them and for lacking of a better plan, we followed his instruction. Sand was scooped onto our trembling bodies until the only thing left exposed was the round circles of our faces. The sand was hot and my backside, being buried the deepest, was burning from the heat.

We lay still, side by side like soldiers not wanting to voice our fear through the clutter of words. After several minutes Julio pulled me out of the pit and before I could protest thrust me under the ice cold waterfall. I gasped for air and emerged to find Julio laughing heartily. The idea that he was mentally unhinged was confirmed. Leading me by the arm, we entered a small greenhouse-like hut, made from tarpaulin. The hut was a natural steam room, which captured the rising vapour from the volcano below. I was too aware of Molly still lying in the hot pit of sand but there was little I could do.

Julio then began to lead me through a series of resistance exercises; press ups, sit ups, squats. All the while my breath was shortening and my body was trying to regulate itself from the dramatic changing temperatures and battle the suffocating thick vapour. After the ‘workout’ was complete I was rewarded with a foot massage and then finally led out back to the pool with a gentle pat on the back from Julio, feeling bewildered by the bizarre experience. Knowing Molly had no idea what was ahead of her, I flashed a knowing smile and sank into the delicious warm water to await her return.

M Hales

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