Just got back from a four-day trip to Cano Cristales – and it was fantastic. I went with a Colombian travel company – which I think made the trip all the better. (I am getting ready to go on another adventure trip with a foreign company – so when I get back – I will compare the two.)
The company offers a couple different trip options – but I thought the trip on a chartered plane directly from Medellin sounded the most interesting, so that’s what I chose. There were 19 of us on the trip out from the airport in central Medellin (Enrique Olaya Herrera airport) – all Paisas (Medellin residents) except myself. Immediately, all our my fellow travelers embraced me – as they were entrusted by the travel agent to ‘take care of the gringa’. It was very endearing, actually.
There were several nurses on the trip – so we bonded right away..
So it was at little sad – when arrived and they mixed and subdivided our group with another smaller group – except that they all turned all be awesome too!
So I ended up as part of a group of six – (including our guide, Sergio).. For someone who wanted to learn more about Colombia, I couldn’t have created a better group. In our little band, there was a biologist, a microbiologist, an anthropologist and a meteorologist – and it was all random. Everyone was from Medellin and they had all come to enjoy the park.
On the River
After arriving, we headed down to the Guayabero river for a boat trip to the first part of the hike.
From our daily jaunts down the river – we then proceeded to have all kinds of fun – from 4 X4ing to the next trail, to long hikes from the plains into the jungle.. Stopped at multiple points of the river, to enjoy the sights and to swim in the cool waters. (It’s high 90’s with 95% humidity – so the water felt great!)
As I mentioned in a previous post – I left my trusty Nikon (and polarized lenses) back at home so these photos don’t even begin to capture how beautiful it really is.
Swimming in the river –
One of the best times was swimming near a waterfall in the middle of a torrential downpour.. Unfortunately, my camera had already taken a bit of a swim downriver so I don’t have any photos.. (But I did manage to salvage the photos and the camera – with help from a bag of rice).
on the way back to the river from the trail we got to see the traditional Colombian way of life here on the plains as the cowboys were rounding up their herd.
Just as we were walking to the boats – we saw a group of people staring at something on the ground. As we got closer, I saw that it was some kind of furred animal. Was it a goat – I couldn’t tell. I was initially reluctant to get closer – it looked half dead laying on the ground in the blazing sun, eyes dull and glassy. But as I got closer, it started to move – and it wasn’t a goat or barnyard animal at all.
It was a perezoso (or Sloth in English), which had wandered out of the nearby forest and was now lost.
The biologist in our group immediately organized the group to entice the animal on to a tree branch, to carry across the field, out of the heat and the sun into the forest. (It felt about 20 degrees cooler when we got there.) The animal perked up and quickly climbed up into a tree. Because it’s coat matched the branches, it blended in perfectly.
Within just a few minutes, it was greeted by another sloth high in the tree.
Heavy Military Presence in the area
Readers will quickly notice from the photos that there is a heavily military presence in the area. Despite a history of mixed relations with the Colombian military – including the discovery of a mass grave in 2010 with over 2,000 unknown corpses (and a history of some atrocities towards Colombian citizens), I am happy to see them. I know I am ignorant and naive, but their presence in La Macarena makes me feel safer. This area, in a lot of ways is kind of like Colombia’s own Vietnam conflict (in their own territory). I feel bad talking to these soldiers who are far from their homes; I’ve met soldiers here from Cali, Boyaca, Bogota and all other points outside of Meta. This is nothing like Bogota (obviously!) and it makes me sad for them.
Most people from outside Colombia worry about the FARC, but right now – with the FARC in peace negotiations, paramilitaries like ELN and AUC are the bigger problem. These violent groups clash with everyone who gets in their way; townspeople, the army, and even the FARC. So anyone (like the Army) that keeps them at bay – is well, awesome!
While both the governmental tour agency and the military officers I spoke with report that there has been minimal paramilitary activity in the La Macarena area for the last several years (8 to 10 years is what I was told), the Colombian state of Meta has an active area for paramilitary activities for the duration of the 50+ year conflict. I found only one fairly recent report (August 2014) of paramilitary activity in other parts of Meta. The majority of reports date back to 2006 – 2010, so it’s been fairly quiet lately. Even so, it’s good to know that there are 2500 active duty soldiers in the area surrounding La Macarena.
It’s quiet enough that some of the soldiers spend time performing community activities, like helping paint the town, which is one of the local projects to enhance the image of La Macarena for tourists.
La Macarena: the town
Aside from the large military population, La Macarena is a small little village – with just a few paved streets at the center of town. Most of the buildings are squat and square with a few second story and one tall four-story hotel tower..
We spent the evenings watching local entertainment – singers and dancers or enjoying a cervecita while playing tejo and enjoying the cool evening breeze.