Around the equivalent of $3USD will cover the inflated ‘gringo’ fare for a bus ticket to ride an hour north of Bogotá to the quiet town of Suesca. Situated just about 80 kilometers from the heart of the bustling Colombian capital of 8 million, this small farm town has achieved international acclaim from the rock climbing community as it boasts some of the most awe-inspiring faces for climbing in South America. Upon our weekday arrival, we found the town to be almost completely devoid of people – as we discovered, it is more of a weekend destination – but what we did find, aside from the magnanimous sandstone formations, were dogs, hundreds of stray dogs.
They roam the dusty streets at free will, dodging the delivery trucks and local buses that occasionally careen down the town’s narrow thoroughfares. During our stay in Suesca, an eclectic pack of three of these friendly canines decided to join our crew. For two days, the three of them followed our every move. They would patiently wait for us during our meals and naps, while also blazing trail on our hikes into the surrounding countryside. One of them, the one I called “Harry Dog”, even managed to scamper up the rock face to where I was anchoring the top of our climbing rope. How he managed it, I am still not sure.
Later that night, we were wandering down a dirt road between some agricultural fields that happened to be surrounded by 30-foot walls and guard towers (one could probably yield a guess or two as to what was being grown there). With only the dogs to guide us, we ran into another band of much fiercer hounds. The group of about fifteen stayed back comfortably nested in their cloud of darkness, their dirty white teeth twinkling in what little moonlight peeked through the trees. The racket of their incessant barking had brought some more mutts out of the woodwork until we faced a full-blown gang. Our pack of three though, would not be deterred and we followed their lead, slowly advancing past the snarls as Harry sang out some communiqué of peace that seemed to calm down his rabid comrades. Ultimately, we passed unscathed and headed back to our guesthouse where we eventually laid down to rest for the night.
My friends might disagree, but the relationship that we formed with this pack of dogs was stronger and more meaningful than any human relations we formed on our trip to Colombia. I grew up allergic to cats and dogs and thus never had the chance to have a pet. Having a meaningful relationship with an animal seemed rather farfetched to me before this trip, but rural Colombia was just the right place for me let my inhibitions go and learn a little bit more about man’s best friend.