We have seen a lot of Colombia over the years, well actually we probably have not even scratched the surface, but we have been there four times now. This time we returned to the Santa Marta area that we love. My travel partner for this trip was Matthew De Mayo who seems to be scoring on a lot of stoke missions with us lately.
This trip would be a quick one so that means that once we got there we were off and running doing our thing. We got picked up at the airport by Marcos, a local surfer from Santa Marta. He would be our translator for the entire trip. The drive from Barranquilla to the Mendihuaca Resort was about two and half hours but stopping for some cold coconuts rounded out the ride. We got settled in that night and started getting boards ready for the event the next day. This event had special meaning to us and the locals there because it was dedicated to Santi Gil, Colombia’s first indigenous surfer who was recently killed in a motorcycle accident. Santi was a well respected surfer and an icon to the sport of surfing in Colombia. After his death, Carlos Jimenez, our trip coordinator, decided to change the event to dedicate it in Santi’s memory and to expose other indigenous kids to the great sport of surfing. We were stoked to get to be a part of teaching these kids the sport.
The kids that showed up were from the Arhuaca tribe, one of four native to this region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains. They were accompanied by Yesid, a chief of the tribe. Yesid was huge in stature and just being in his presence you could feel a magnificent energy. I felt like he knew everything I was thinking. It was quite odd actually. The kids were also super sage. They were stoic and would show very little emotion. Eventually as the day went on they would open up and smile and joke with each other.
First off Marcos showed them the surfboards and how to put on the traction pads, fins and leashes. They would watch intently and then try it for themselves. It was really cool watching how they react with what they were being taught.
In all reality I was wishing that they would teach us what they knew. I felt like they had all this wisdom about the world and its meaning! After the how to with the equipment, Lore, a Palomino local and one of our hosts jumped in and started talking about the paddle and pop up. Soon enough it was time to get the boys in the water. First, we had them get on the boards out in the water and paddle to get them used to it. We would take out two at a time and then switch to get the other two out there. The kids were clearly having fun because they were smiling ear to ear and running up and down the beach.
Finally it was time to get these boys on some real waves. Matthew and Marcos took the two out and would push them into the waves. I was in the water filming with the Gopro with the hopes that they would stand up and get the ride of their lives. Each of them got several waves on their bellies and their smiles were unreal. It was so amazing to see them having such a good time out in the water together with us regular people. Colombia’s indigenous are way more connected to the earth than us so I imagine them catching waves and harnessing mother nature was pretty remarkable. After a few hours in the water we frolicked in the caves and the boys jumped off massive boulders into the water. It was a pretty special day.
That night we packed our bags for a trek into the mountains to a place called El Encanto. It is where a group of Wiwa’s live up in the Sierra Nevada’s. It is where Marcelo and Santi grew up. This was the part of the trip I was super excited about. That night I am not sure that I slept.
We met our driver at noon in Guachaca. We ended up with 11 people going up in the 4×4. I was lucky enough (or cursed) to be able to sit in the front seat and get an amazing view. I had been warned that our driver was very good but was missing one hand and a few fingers on the good hand. Nevertheless, he was a great driver. We made our way up fine. At one point we got out to take some pictures and I started filming when the truck started back down the mountain. Right at that moment it was pretty steep and the driver had the truck on three wheels at one point. I always say I am in the right place at the right time.
Soon enough, well not soon enough for me we got to El Encanto. I really hate driving in the mountains in the mud with steep drop offs on either side. I get really nervous. But here I am to tell about it. When we pulled in to El Encanto all the Wiwa’s came out of the thatched roof huts to see what all the fuss was about. It was a little nerve wracking as their demeanor is to never smile and just to stare. But we were with a Mamo so I knew we had the blessing to be there.
The first thing we did when we got there was to go visit Santi’s gravesite. His sister Isabella said some words and then we all put a coin on the grave and did some gesturing with our hands over the grave as if to wipe off the negative energy and cleanse ourselves. I don’t know exactly what it meant but that is what I made up. I shed some tears as well as the some of the others. The grave was up about the village and it was as if he was buried there as to see over the community.
Next on our agenda was to find sleeping quarters and get dinner going because as soon as daylight was gone there would be no lights. The ladies made a killer feast while we set up the hammocks in a tin roof, open-air enclosure. It would be enough to shield us from the rain. Before dinner we went to the river and had a bath and cooled off. I was hoping that being up in the mountains would be much cooler but it seemed just as hot! We were in the river long enough to see a kid try to mount a donkey and then get thrown through the air after mounting it and then to see a man appear from nowhere while walking a pig back to the village. It was surreal.
Dinner was amazing. We had chicken and rice, plantains and potatoes. It was perfect and so flavorful. The chicas nailed it! As it was getting dark we were invited over to Marcelo’s parents for a blessing. We all went and then we were given a piece of white string tied around our left wrist. It was for protection and considering we would be trekking through the jungle early the next morning I was grateful to have it.
Literally as we all stepped back into the place where we would be sleeping it started down pouring. It seems coincidental that as soon as we got in the rain started. Was it the bracelets already protecting us? We all spent a few minutes getting ready for the hike in the morning. We would be leaving at 4am so that we could beat the heat. To me it seemed crazy to make a hike like that through the mountains in the dark but hey, I’m just a gringa who never hikes. I’m not sure how much sleep I got that night. With the rain pounding on the tin roof and the lightening happening all around, coupled with the fact that a bunch of ladies started cooking at 3am right next to us, I woke up less than rested.
By 4:20am we were off on foot. Literally one minute into the hike we had to cross a river. So we all unlaced our shoes and took our socks off as to preserve them. Little did I know that when I put them back on I was supposed to dry my feet completely so that my socks didn’t get wet. That was a big mistake.
We were originally told it was an hour hike to the village we were setting off for. Later we learned there was something called Wiwa time. Wiwa time is a fraction of what us regular folk use to measure speed. In this case the hike took four hours instead of the one. The hike there was intense. The terrain was vertical in many places and pushed me to the limit. I have been out of commission for two weeks leading up to this trip with a strained MCL so I had basically been on my back resting to let the injury heal so to say I was out of shape was an understatement.
Despite going in the dark it was so hot. We were able to see the sun rise which was gorgeous and you could hear the sounds of the jungle which was really beautiful. About two hours into the hike I started to feel blisters on both feet. This was not good because I knew if I was feeling them already I was doomed for the walk back. Finally, we made it to this little house thing and everybody sat down. It used to be the school for the village. There were old desks and pigs, goats, chickens and cats hanging around. I was thinking to myself is this really what we just hiked four hours to see… a four hour hike that almost killed me! Then everybody got up and said we have another 20 minutes to go to get to the village. I put my shoes back on and started off. Soon enough we got to an area of overgrown brush about shoulder height to walk through. We went through and on the other side was an abandoned village with not a soul around. It was quite eerie. We were taken to an area where you could see the remnants of a burned hut. Then they started telling us about the lightening strike two years ago that took out 11 people while they were having a spiritual ceremony. I remembered the story from two years ago. It happened right before we came the first time. Here is a link about it.
In one of the nearest huts there were 11 caskets with the members of the tribe that parrished there. One was actually cracked open and you could see the skull inside. It was not for the faint of heart. As I realized the magnitude of what we were witnessing and seeing I started looking around and taking it all in. All of the huts still had stuff in them. I saw machetes laying around and you could tell the people left that village in a hurry. I read that it is custom for them to abandon the village with an act of nature like that, which they did and all fled up higher into the mountains. What a story and what an experience to be there where it all happened!
We all stopped and sat and had snacks. Right where we sat there was a orange tree with oranges and a cacao tree full of cacao so we all feasted on the goodies we found. I chowed down on the peanut butter I brought and passed it around for the others. Little did I know that I was being eaten alive by these sand creatures as well as hosting a couple of ticks for the journey back.
We had all run out of water on the way there which was not good but luckily the trip coordinator had told me to buy some water filtration systems and bring them for the trip. Luckily I listened. We were able to access the river and filter the water and fill up all our bottles. There is no way we could have made it back in the hot sun without water.
The walk back was the toughest thing I have ever experienced. I have never pushed my body like that before. At certain points I started feeling dizzy but I kept telling myself it wasn’t happening and kept trying to do the whole mind over matter thing and wish it away. I was able to. My saving grace was coming to a river and taking off my shirt and soaking it and draping on my back for the remainder of the hike. We had to stop probably ten times for rest on the way back. I was spent. We all were. Finally, we started to smell the sweet smell of cow poo and I had never been so happy to smell it. It meant we were getting close. Soon enough we were at the river we had crossed at the very start of the trip. We all took off our shoes and laid in the river to cool while filtering more water to drink. It was sweet victory. There were times during the hike that I literally thought I might die. That I was going to have a heart attack. But here I am!
We had a couple of hours to chill before the truck came to get us. This time I think we had 14 people going back which was pretty dangerous. Not to mention the roads were already wet from the last nights rain and the looming threat of rain heading our way in the distance. I basically had to close my eyes the entire ride down the mountain. I was so scared. At one point it was a sheer cliff on the left side of the road and a vertical descent in the mud down. I think we slid 10 feet down before getting traction. Ugh. I am not sure I need that much adventure in my life. Actually I know I don’t.
We had an incredible time up in the mountains. I feel so special to have been able to go up and spent a night there with the Wiwa’s. There way of life is so different from ours. I mean night and day. I feel I am always searching for something out of the ordinary and this certainly met my standards.
The next day we literally did nothing. I ate, had coffee, slept, watched tv and relaxed. It was brilliant. The next day we left for home. It was an amazing adventure. We got to teach new indigenous kids to surf and spend time with our little friend Marcelo and crew. We are so blessed to get to do this work and to see such amazing places. Please, if you get the chance check out this area of Colombia. There is a charm to is that you can feel and can experience.