is one of the strangest places in the country, by far... so much that I felt completely foreign to all of what I saw there. Shocked by the contrast of poverty and cash circling thanks to the ring of smuggling from Venezuela, especially gas and liquor. But nevertheless... it has one of the most breathtaking places in Colombia, the Cabo de la Vela.
A desert by the Caribbean? Sounds like another joke, but yes, this joke played by geography that is true... Possibly the warmest and driest part of the country lies right by the ocean. Enormous extensions of sand and dunes, easy to get lost in, extend themselves to the horizon... only interrupted by the one bush that grows there, the goats that eat it and the tiretracks in the sand, your only guide to where you're going.
The non-existing "highway" that stretches a little ahead of Uribia and to the Cabo is possibly one of the most devastating experiences you will have, at least initially... While you're driving there, incredible amounts of children dressed in very old rags and covered with dust surround you, asking for water or food... They're all members of the way˙u community, and barely speak any Spanish at all. They lay down a log in the middle of that road, if it can be called that, or tie a string from one bush to another, making cars slow down.
Then they surround your car, begging for anything... you're devastated by the sight of poverty and need that you see, and you give them cookies and water bags that you've brought along, and it surprises you that they'll practically snatch it out of your hand and barely say thanks, if at all.
After this road come the open desert and the tiretracks in the sand, and after all of this, finally the ocean and Cabo. A small town made of a couple of abandoned buildings in brick, and dozens of small houses with walls made of thick mud and roofs thatched with hay... these are the rancherÝas
, or houses of the way˙u natives.
A long line of these stretch all along the beach, just five or six meters away from the water... a beautiful sight during the day, ruined by the noise of loud tourists' stereos, the millimteric distance between one and the other, and the cramming of hammocks inside each one. But this is where you get smart... by staying in one of the rancherÝas twenty meters back, further away from the beach but also from the noise that will probably affect your sleep. There is no electricity and fresh water is so scarce, that it's more important a resource than money and you have to buy every bucket you use.
Each house has two rooms and a kitchen, and a small covered porch on the outside. The walls are made of a kind of mud, that keeps the rooms fresh during the day and warm at night. Hammocks are hung everywhere, both inside and outside. The night in the desert can be quite cold, and generally you will end up wrapping yourself up with the hammock's fabric, but still it's nicer to sleep on the outside, with only the sight of the stars and an eventual stray dog distracting you from your sleep.
Sleeping in a hammock is truly an art, not mastered by everyone; fortunately for me, I'm not one of those who suffer from not being able to get comfortable and well installed.
There aren't many things to do during the day, which is precisely what's charming about it. There are three things to do: lay down in the beach all day, climb up to the lookout at the Pilˇn the Az˙car and visit its neighboring beach, and climp up to the opposite view, where the lightpost is.
The way˙us are possibly the most peculiar of all the native American groups in the country; some of their communities are very problematic, engage themselves in mugging and petty thieving or smuggling, or live off begging. Although those at Cabo are the complete opposite. They cook indrecibly and weave some of the nicest mochilas
you'll ever see. One piece of advise: do not try to take photographs of them, as they are sure it steals their soul away and can get violent if they feel someone is trying to do it.
But that's when you realize that not everything you see is what it is; those at Cabo will soon tell you that, although there are hardships in the desert life, those begging in rags do so because their parents make them since it is more productive than any other activity. And in fact it's not a poor department in reality; it is home to the biggest open-air coal mine in the world, El Cerrejˇn, and to a huge marine salt extraction industry... but it's also true that the money assigned to the region coming from these disappears magically because of corruption.
A complex reality, quite disturbing, breathtaking, and surprising, all at the same time... But after all, we live in a very complex country, and the only way of getting to know it is by delving into all of these realities, both good and not so good.