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Tayrona National Park

      A fiery Italian boy with a boyish face and dad-bod flew into the hostel room with a presence as big as Kramer from Seinfeld. He had mustard all over the front of his plain white tee-shirt and seemed stressed-out to say the least.


      He talked to himself, shuffled through his bags, tossed his things around and seemed like a flat out maniac. “I hope he leaves soon,” I thought, but in the spirit of being a good hostel mate I asked, “Where are you from?”


      He paused, dramatically, dropped everything, cocked his head to the side and his glossy-chestnut eyes popped open like Santa entered the room and it wasn’t even Christmas morning yet. He spoke so quickly that it was difficult to follow his words or train of thought.  The sentences that stuck out the most prominently were, “I am a famous child actor. Originally from EE-tal-ee.”  I instantly tried to place his face on the kid from Blank Check or Dunston Checks In, but it wasn’t matching up.  I was curious, but also didn’t want to float his ego too much, so I let it go.


      We both had free drink vouchers, so headed to the bar. As we sat side by side, I could feel his warmth when he talked, it was comfortable.


      Valerio’s favorite line was “This is a good idea”.  He felt like everything was meant to be and a dream come true. The more I got to know him, the more sense it made to me that he was in the film industry. It seemed like he viewed his life as a movie and was constantly working on crafting the next climax and grandiose scene.   


    After two glasses of wine, he also began to adore all of my crazy ideas. Including my plan to head out into the seedy nightlife of Santa Marta. He cupped the sides of my faced, rubbed my cheek and let his hand drop into mine and said, “baaaabeee, let’s go”. And just like that, two mad-hatters walked into the night.


      Two blocks out the door, Valerio eyed down a Jamaican Reggae bar with a crew of dreaded hippies smoking shisha on the patio. Clearly, we went in.  


     Buffalo Soldier blasted off the Sony boombox, while the Bartender lit his spliff, and force-fed us shots of Aguardiente, or “fire-water”.  They were excited to have the presence of foreign company. By closing time everyone was lit and the owner wouldn’t accept our money because a friendship was formed.


    The next day, after making hot luv,  Vale decided to travel with me to Tayrona National Park. We sat on the curb and waited for our shuttle. When the beaten down, white, Mr. Roger’s Van pulled up, we glided into the front seat. I was wedged between the driver, the stick shift between my legs, and Valerio to my right.  


      Valerio turned on his iPod and airily slipped one earpiece into my ear and the other in his.  He played Nora Jones, “What am I to you?” As Norah serenaded, “to me you are the sea, but tell me darlin’ true, what am I to you?”

He looked at me seriously; his heavy lidded, half-opened eyes rested on mine when he exaggeratedly mouthed to me, “I love you.”


      I couldn’t handle it, Vale was like Casanova trying to break into Ana Wintor’s September issue.  I found humor in it but just couldn’t buy into the romance. Love takes more than a few hours. But he was a character. Slowly, fear grew inside of me because it seemed like he believed his own words.  


      As anxious thoughts clouded my mind, Vale finished his Kit-Kat and had thrown the wrapper on the floor, cooing, “This is shit, why did I just eat this crap!” I laughed, glad that his emotions broke my train of thought.  Like that, we arrived and hopped out of the car.


      The first hour was a scenic walk. We met a group of avid birdwatchers that pointed out the exotic species and allowed us to use their telescopes to get closer views of the monkey’s playing in the trees.  


      With every twist closer to the jungle, the path transformed from a walk into an expedition. We felt like Indiana Jones as we hiked through jungle, up stairs, over boulders and cutting forage to clear our own path often losing the trail, and at times, losing each other. An hour later, the trail opened up into a series of 7 beaches.


      We were both awestruck at the natural beauty. Vale’s jaw dropped. He began having nostalgic thoughts of his father, who had just passed away a few months earlier. He explained his dad’s favorite movie was Jurrassic Park and, “it feels like we just stepped into the opening scene.”


      He continued, “my dad would have loved this, I think he helped in bringing us here and together.”  


      As much as I laughed at how dramatic he was with most things, I felt the same way in that moment. Tayrona was a really special place. We spent the day swimming in a turquoise blue cove at the beach before grabbing our things and heading to the Finca El Paraíso campsite.


      The campsite was a hippy’s promise land. The remote location managed to keep many tourist away, leaving the site basically to ourselves. Lines of hammocks dangled from a single roof, with no siding, allowing us to sleep in the open air.  The mosquito nets draped over each hammock looked like, what I imagined to be princess tents, adding to the allure.


     We laid in a hammock and Vale taught me about photography as warm rain began beating down outside of the hut.  The smell of fresh fish cooking saturated the campsite, making our packed dinners lose their appeal.


     We ran the three minutes in the pouring down rain to the simple four-post, open-air rustic restaurant. The rain bumped the electricity out, requiring the restaurant to adopt citronella candle lighting adding to the romantic undercurrent of the day. I don’t know if it was my high emotions, or the fact I wasn’t banking on dinner that night. But it was by far the best meal I have ever tasted. Halibut freshly pulled out of the ocean, wrapped and cooked in a banana leafs served with patacones (fried plantains) and guacamole and a mango salsa. We split a bottle of wine and talked until the restaurant shut down before running back to our hammocks.


      Even though it was impossible to sleep two in one hammock, Valerio slipped his hand outside of his mosquito net into my hammock to hold hands throughout the night. When we woke up, Valerio was cursing a rash on his arm. I wasn’t the only one to kiss him in Tayrona. A Swarm of mosquitos, left love bites all over his arm.

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