We started off our day very sluggish, as our night over the ocean did not bring us much sleep. There was very little breeze, we were both congested, thinking we have an allergy to something in the jungle, and the ocean was so loud and crashing that it actually made it difficult to sleep.
I was able to get some sleep by putting in headphones and listening to a softer ocean, talk about first world problems. Luckily, the day started off easy, with an introduction to Ben, our guide, and a 2-ish hour drive to Los Flamencos.
Here was the brochure for the adventure we were about to go on!
Camarones is a municipality and a community located 17 km south of the city of Riohacha, a municipality to which it belongs; in the department of La Guajira , north of Colombia . It is 2 km away from the coast of the Caribbean Sea where the so-called shrimp mouths are located. Its population constitutes the mixture between indigenous Wayúus and Afro-Colombians, although around the town, there are also indigenous communities that conserve their ancestral traditions in a deep way. It is also the birthplace of Colombia’s first black congressman, Luis Antonio ‘El Negro’ Robles. That at 27 years of age, he was elected Representative to the Chamber in 1876. Possibly owes his name for the typical local product, which is the shrimp.
The history of the town is very interesting. In the past these lands were inhabited by an extinct indigenous people known as the Guanebucanes , which according to studies, belonged to the Arawak linguistic family and dominated the entire territory of what is now the Municipality of Riohacha. This town was dedicated to the extensive agriculture of many products, intensive livestock, hunting and fishing, mining and goldsmithing. Their homes were of bower and sticks, and usually lived together naked and in large communities. The town disappeared with the arrival of Europeans, although many of its members took refuge in other native towns such as the Koguis and Wayúus. At the time of European colonialism, the town was located a few kilometers away from the place where it is currently located, and along the beach. However, the population was attacked and assaulted by privateers , buccaneers and filibusters who frequently made the spoils at the expense of the locals. Another problem in the past was the swells that flooded the town and sometimes wreaked havoc, forcing them to move to the current site.
In the mid- twentieth century, the population suffered a constant emigration of families and people to other locations, especially the city of Riohacha. At present it is considered as an important population of its Department due to its historical, cultural and tourist aspects.
We parked and got out and was hit with intense heat. Our guide had warned us how hot it was going to be that day, one of the hottest since we arrived. We were in the shade and it was still before 10:00 am but felt over 95 degrees. We applied our sunscreen and walked through the very small village, which was quiet (most people were inside to avoid the heat) and extremely depressed; I could not help but feel embarrassed and mortified at where I live and my lifestyle.
Here was a village where their only source of income was fishing and now tourism with visits to the Santuario de fauna y flora los flamencos. When we got to the other side of the village we walked around the beach, which was filled with relics from the villages past; which made for some great pictures.
There was a moment when we walked up to the boat above and for a second worried that would be the boat we were taking to see the Flamingoes. We really did not know what to expect or what we were doing as this was a last minute decision for us and the advertisement was a little vague. This was a good exercise for me, to not have expectations or even know what to expect next.
We took pictures and walked around on the beach – it really felt like another world.
After sometime, we walked back to the car where we appeared to be waiting for our boat to come back.
We heard our guide shout that he could see our boat coming. He pointed and as the boat came into view and got closer, I started to get more and more nervous for the adventure we were all going to go on.
How were we all going to fit in this boat? This looks dangerous and pretty tipsy! I kept taking pictures and video to distract myself as our boat got closer.
It was time; we walked down to the boat, met our captain, Jordan, and we were off….slowly!
At the time, I had no idea where we were going and how long it would take to get there. Looking at a map now, I see what we were going out into the Lagoon, taking a left into the bay as that is where the Flamingos typically were; again, no guarantee that they would be there and there were many rules to follow to protect the Flamingos; something our guide and this company took very seriously.
As we started our journey (and we rocked side to side) I felt better to learn that even through we could not see the bottom, the water was only about 24″ deep; but I still found myself clinging to Derek and the side of the board when a gust of wind would come and rock the boat.
Even with the fear of tipping over, the ride was peaceful. The wind was strong and we were moving fast, but the lagoon was pretty large so it did take awhile to get across to the other side. The coolest thing happened on the way out; I was enjoying the view and the rocking of the boat when all the sudden a fish jumped into my lap!!!! It fell to the floor and without thinking I picked it up and put it back into the water!! It reminded me of the Bert and Ernie skit from Sesame Street “Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy”
I did not have time to take a picture, but I still have a strong mental picture of that fish jumping right into my lap and then flopping around on the bottom of the boat; and me trying to get a hold of it with everyone laughing and yelling. It was quite the experience.
After about an hour, our guide pointed to the horizon, it took awhile for my eyes to adjust, but there they were, hundreds of Flamingos….look really closely!
It was a tease to see them and still have such a long time before getting closer. Our boat captain, Jordan, did a great job at steering us closer while respecting the rules. This was actually had been his grand-father’s boat (and the only one from the village). It was made out of a tree that is naturally waterproof. They cut the tree down, hollowed it out and added fiberglass to the bottom to keep it from being cut by the shells and rocks and it has been in use for over a century, bringing the community one of the only streams of revenue available to them. Interesting fact is that today this kind of tree is protected so this boat truly is one of a kind (and the community is grateful it has it!)
We were so worried that the Flamingos would fly away as we approached and we would not have time to follow them. We also learned there were a lot of rules and if the boats got too close or looked like the Flamingos flew away because of the boat, there could be major fines. Some of the boats in the area might have been in violation!
As we got responsibility closer, it was magical to see these birds in nature and not at a Zoo which is the only place I ever saw them, or thought I would ever see them…something I never thought I would do or had any desire to do; I am SO glad we met our new friends and they let us know about this tour. It was surreal!
It was so neat to see them fly! I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know they flew…I thought they were like turkeys 🙂
We took it all in, got our pictures and videos and then turned our sail around to head back to the village for some well needed shade and food!
After arriving back to the village we started to get used to the ground (and the heat) as we were no longer out in the wind.
When then went to another part of the village for lunch. Fresh ceviche and cold beer!
We then found another way the village makes money…
Our guide said that these kids should be in school, but if they are in school they miss out on really the only way they can make money, selling bracelets and small gifts. Again, such a different world. Can you image having to choose between sending your kids to school or to work, knowing if you choose school, you will not have any form of income? After our lunch, we were on our way back.
On the way back we stopped at an ATM to pay our guide and I thought I should try to find something to help me sleep and my congestion. Something so simple I thought, but after trying to speak to what I needed at a couple store, I had to get the guides help, who spoke Spanish. Part of the trouble in communicating was that most spoke a little Spanish but mostly of the people we were talking to were indigenous people to the area and had their own language. Two people who don’t know Spanish trying to communicate in Spanish did not go well. Try thinking how you would act out that you needed a decongestant and sleep aid. The women at the pharmacy did understand the sleep aid and handled me Xanax!! HAHA, but the guide stepped in and finally we had something….I hoped! The other funny thing that happened on our way to our hike was seeing there was a snowstorm in Seattle, which felt strange since we have been non-stop sweating all day!
We arrived at our last stop, a hike to the Quebrada Valencia Waterfalls, which I had not realized was part of this trip, what a bonus! (and busy day!)
During the hike we saw so man ants and I was struck by how much they could carry!
The hike ended at the Quebrada Valencia Waterfalls.
It was so refreshing to swim and cool off after a very long, hot day!
We hiked back to the car and the sun was starting to set by the time we got back to our hotel, we were exhausted! But we showered and powered through so we could eat dinner and have drinks before turning in for the night. What a great way to end such an adventurous day and fun to celebrate with the two that made it possible!