A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

As soon as Ed whirled his way through the upstairs bar at our Santa Marta hostel, throwing out brown paper business cards every few steps and grinning disarmingly at anyone who made eye contact, I knew I was going to like him.

“Yeah man, we have an awesome place up in the mountains near Minca. It’s chilled, really cool, and we’ve got hammocks, dorm beds, a swinging bed, and an outdoor hammock that sleeps ten people. Pretty sweet, really!”

It was hard enough to not be interested in Ed’s excitable description of his hostel – particularly the idea that the area was in any way cooler than Santa Marta’s 35’C heat and 85% humidity.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
The sweaty joys of Santa Marta

We’d been in the small coastal Colombian town for four days at that point, and living in a temperature that didn’t involve being constantly coated in a sheen of sweat was high on my priority list. In the five minutes since Ed had been talking, a sweat droplet had made its merry way from the back of my kneecap all the way down to my ankle.

“So…how much would seven hammocks be?”

In no time at all, Issy and I had learnt that Casa Elemento, Ed’s small hostel in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was situated in an old house that used to belong to a Colombian colonel – before he was jailed for drug smuggling. Not surprising when the house was happily sat in the middle of three thousand hectares of marijuana fields. Now Ed pays rent to the colonel and has transformed the man’s property into a blissfully cool escape from the coastline’s overwhelming humidity.

Thinking advantageously

Now it may not be that obvious when reading this site, but over the last year I’ve become obsessed with my writing here. What I want to post about next is of the highest priority, and I’m always thinking about how my experiences can be turned into a good article. Before Ed had even finished talking, my brain was making mental note of what he said about the area’s history. Of course I was going to write about a hostel positioned in the midst of a weed plantation – how could I not?!

Later that evening, we were walking along the waterfront, discussing exactly when we’d leave for Minca, when I properly noticed the gorgeous sunset unfolding in the sky above us. As per usual, I grabbed my camera and took a photo. And then the lens began to make a series of clicks and creaks as it refused to retract back into the body.

I started to panic.

Just like that, with no cause or explanation, my camera was broken.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
My little Canon point and shoot may not be the best camera in the world, but it’s been a trusty companion on my travels for the last eighteen months. I picked it up just before I left for India and it’s been the lens through which I’ve shot every one of the photos you see on this site – so to suddenly be bereft of such a possession was an awful situation to be in.

But I knew I could rely on other people’s cameras while in Minca – and besides, the idea of being forced to write in more descriptive detail than normal was somewhat tempting. Once I’d found an eager Colombian in a nearby market who said he’d take my camera for a few days to fix it – nodding effusively at the certainty of his convictions – I was more than ready to get out of the heat and into the valley for a few days of respite.

But then came a challenging discovery. There was no wifi in Casa Elemento.

An impromptu “no wifi” challenge

It might sound ridiculous to many of you (and it’s actually pretty embarrassing to me too, thinking about it), but going more than a few days without internet access is a challenge for me. It’s partly a slight personal obsession with social media, but it’s also all the trappings of my travel blogger lifestyle, which involves a great deal of online interaction, emailing and general connectivity.

And while I convince myself that I can do without for a few days, the reality is somewhat different.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
My friends have no qualms about teasing me for this innate need to stay connected. Over the last six months, it’s been a constant source of ridicule when I opt to stay in and work instead of going out and doing things in the real world with real people.

So this lack of connectivity plus no camera had me worried – how was I going to get any work done without internet? How would I write up the experience without any photos to go with the text?

And then I realised how ridiculous I was being. Most people would give their right arm to be staying in a place like Los Piños, and I was actually stressed about it. What’s worse, I was effectively back to my normal travelling state, before all the blogging and social media became so important, and I didn’t even seem happy about the situation.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
No internet, no camera, and no electricity means no ability to do anything other than absorb what’s going on around you: something which I clearly haven’t been doing enough of recently.

So what else was there to do, other than what so many other travellers spend all their time doing? Simply sit back and take it all in.

Going off the grid – and loving it

For three days, I ignored my iPad, and I didn’t take photos.

Instead, I played with two kittens, both with a penchant for ‘killing’ rubbish they’d scavenged from the kitchen scraps, stroked the heads of numerous dogs who prowled around the edges of the house, and ate freshly cooked empanadas dipped in homemade salsa at a long wooden scratch-covered table.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

I felt effortlessly laid back with so little obligations. I took my shoes off and forgot where I’d left them; wandered down the hill with blankets around my shoulders, sat in the grass and watched the sun set in near silence, but for the bird calls and the wind blowing gently through the trees.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

I walked with my friends for hours through the mountains in the search for a lost waterfall, picking up maracuya fruit littering the ground on route.

We cracked them open with our fingers, and scooped and sucked at the insides; found wild avocados and cut into them with a penknife.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
When we couldn’t walk any further without risking still being out at nightfall, we sat in the dirt and surveyed the never ending waves of trees that lay below us.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains
I fell accidentally asleep in the early afternoons, swinging gently in the hammocks strung through a corridor doused in sunshine.

And at night, I lay cradled in a oversized hammock set high above the valley, capable of fitting twenty people but holding just two. Covered with blankets and fuelled by a strange sense of completion, I watched the full moon move slowly through the sky and talked with a stranger about everything and nothing until the sun came up.

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

The magic of the Minca mountains

Three days of total disconnection was undoubtedly good for me. It allowed me to ignore the many internet-based distractions and simply write, on paper, exactly what I was feeling at that moment. Free from schedules or to-do lists because there was simply no point.

Three days without a camera forced me to look at things differently. I didn’t have to worry about losing the thing, and I noticed details for their own sake rather than as a precursor to capturing them in a frame.

In a place as beautiful as this, with a crowd of wonderfully laid back people, it was easy to forget about life down on the Colombian coast and disappear for a while. Instead of obsessing over retweets and traffic stats, I watched the sunlight play on the landscape surrounding Casa Elemento, and let my mind wander.

And without knowing it beforehand, it was exactly what I needed.

Have you ever gone without technology when travelling? How did you cope with the experience?

A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

In search of your own dose of disconnection? Check out Casa Elemento here!

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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18 Responses to A Dose of Disconnection in the Colombian Mountains

  1. Naomi August 9, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    I love this! It’s so important to disconnect sometimes, and just let ourselves be fully present whereever we are. I’m out of town and away from my computer (barring the 20-minutes I’m allowing myself at this internet cafe right now; we all have our weaknesses 😉 ) and turned the past few days into an impromptu writer’s retreat, just sitting in cafes with a paper notebook catching up on all the blog post I can never seem to get out when I’m at a keyboard.

    Enjoy Colombia. It looks like magic <3

    • Flora August 18, 2013 at 5:07 am #

      THIS is the thing — I’m strangely excited about the next two weeks, when I’ll be in the Brazilian mountains sin electricity or wifi and I’ll have to write on paper exclusively. I miss how much easier my train of thought flows when I’m scribbling with a pen 🙂

  2. Toni August 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    This looks and sounds like one of the most beautiful places on Earth Flora!!

    It sounds like the forced non-digital time was a blessing that you didn’t realise you needed and it truly sounds like you and your soul benefited from it greatly. It’s often the simple things such as, like you say, a blanket around the shoulders to help you enjoy the scenery a little longer or lazying in a hammock that makes everything seem so ‘right’ with life.

    It sounds like an amazing experience 🙂

    • Flora August 19, 2013 at 3:44 am #

      Haha I hadn’t thought about it like that but I think you could be right – it was so crazily stunning! And I felt infinitely more calm and happy after switching off for a bit 🙂

  3. This Battered Suitcase August 10, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    This looks and sounds like absolute heaven – I’m gutted that I missed it when I was in Colombia. I personally love disconnecting, and I do often, which is why my stats and numbers aren’t the greatest. I’ve always felt, though, that the seeing and the doing are the most important things.

    Love this article, Flora. You’re a fantastic writer.

    • Flora August 19, 2013 at 3:46 am #

      Brenna, thanks so much! I often find myself getting way too sucked in (like now, when I’m about to spend two weeks in the Brazilian mountains with no wifi) so it’s great when an awesome travel experience also forces me to switch the damn things off!!

  4. Béatrice August 12, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Great post! When one travels alone, one relies on the internet to feel connected and to interact. I didn’t have internet in the Cuyabeno jungle of Ecuador for 4 days. It was not easy! But it forced me to pause, enjoy the beauty and nature around. I loved reading my book in a hammock and just relaxing with my thoughts. I had a similar experience during a one week trek in Nepal and it is one of my best travel memories. Alone, surrounded by the beauty of the Himalayas, the peaceful kindness of the people, no electricity, no internet.

    • Flora August 19, 2013 at 3:50 am #

      Exactly how I eventually felt – that I was being forced, albeit gently, to disattach myself from all the gadgets and just be a happy go lucky traveller for a bit! And now I reckon I should keep up the practice – it’s infinitely better to get properly involved without simultaneously thinking about your various updates!

  5. Sally August 26, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    It’s hard to take a connectivity hiatus without it being forced upon me, too. But it’s such a necessary key to mental health and remembering perspective. Question about the hammocks, did you get a million mosquito bites?

    • Flora September 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      Amazingly no! Even though I was a tad worried, because the rest of the north of Colombia is a haven for bugs – but I think because we were so high up and the air was cool enough, they left us alone.

      Although I’m also seriously lucky with mosquitos: they usually avoid me, and if I get bit I don’t really feel the itch. Probably quite a good thing, because otherwise there’d be a lot of articles about my insect dramas throughout South America!

      • Sally December 5, 2013 at 4:45 am #

        Haha I envy that. I’m a common and prime target, apparently!

        • Flora December 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

          It’s slightly terrifying that I could only disconnect when I was forced to, though..!

  6. TammyOnTheMove September 3, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Wow, this place looks soooo stunning. I may be going to Colombia next year, so if I do I will definitely check it out. I am the same when it comes to social media and photography. Just been to a remote island in Cambodia. No electricity (except for a few hours at night), no wifi, but pure bliss and relaxation actually. Sometimes it is good to take a break from wifi, facebook and blogging.

    • Flora September 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Very true Tammy, although I’m still amazed how little self control I have, and ultimately need a situation like this one to stop me from using the internet!

      I hope you get to Colombia though, the country is utterly amazing. Let me know if you’d like any tips!

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