Friday, October 15

The Colombian Pacific, where the jungle meets the sea | The traveler

It is impossible to travel to Nuquí and not change your life. At least for as long as one remains there, life seems to have another value, another rhythm. There are no museums, no ancient ruins to visit, not even asphalt, just nature in its purest form. The runway at Nuquí airport is so small that only 19-passenger planes can get there. The plane that leaves Medellín takes 50 minutes to make its journey; the impressive view of the city from above gives way to the white of the clouds, in some clearing you can see mountains, small villages and clouds again. As if they were taking our hands from our eyes, the clouds evaporate and the jungle appears; a dense green mantle that at times is broken by a water snake. The jungle ends abruptly and, suddenly, the sea.

There are practically no roads in the jungle and the few that do exist are almost impractical in the months of more intense rain; here the transport is done by canoe or boat. This is how you get to the cabins of El Cantil. Built among vegetation to minimize the visual impact, they were among the first to be installed on this Colombian coast. True to its beginnings, time has proved it right, as it is considered one of the best eco-sustainable hotels in the area. And we are not only talking about environmental sustainability, but also about social impact.

There is a large part of the local community that is involved in the tourist infrastructure of the Colombian Pacific region. An example is the Mano Cambiada association, which with its environmental and cultural school helps to raise awareness among the rural population so that they can take part in the development of their territory in a sustainable way. In 2008 the indigenous communities took over the administration of the visitor center of the Ensenada de Utría national park and in 2017 it was created Andando, a platform that connects travelers with the local population, without intermediaries. Josefina Klinger, one of the voices of this movement, says: “This is a place to reflect on the value of life, of death, on the abundance of generosity that the universe gives us.”

Until a few generations ago, the Embera Indians were the predominant ethnic group in this region; today its population is made up mostly of Afro-Colombians, Amerindians and a group of mestizo population. You can visit and spend the night within the Emberá Dobida de Bocas de Jagua indigenous community, located on the Chorí River, 45 minutes upriver from the coast, in small cabins that form the Kipará Té ethno-village (contact: [email protected] ), and participate in their day to day. They guide travelers along the trails and show their art for wood carving, fiberglass basket weaving. wérregue and its colorful bead weaving.

This area is one of the rainiest on the planet, here several ecosystems are mixed that reinforce each other creating an impressive biodiversity. The best known animals are the humpback whales, which come every year traveling 8,000 kilometers from Antarctica, and especially to the calm waters of the Utría cove. Here they breed and raise their calves until they are ready to swim their way back; last year they went ahead and arrived at the end of May instead of July. Is it a matter of climate change or pure chance?

Turtles, sloths and frogs

Channel, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles come to lay their eggs on its beaches, which change their appearance depending on the tide. Seeing them is not always possible, since they hatch and go down to the sea in hours of low light to avoid predators; but the one we will see for sure is the red cartwheel crab, which occupies entire beaches, dyeing them its color, moving sand. If we talk about biodiversity, in the jungle we could even find a jaguar, although normally you have to settle for observing a sloth hanging from its tree, immobile, fused with its branch. Also some iguana. And, above all, what one comes to look for at Cerro Carrizalito, after four hours of hiking in the jungle and a few hundred meters of unevenness: a tiny harlequin dart frog (Oophaga histrionica), as striking as it is poisonous. Its bright colors – orange-red and black – make it stand out from the surrounding green and are a way of warning predators that it is very dangerous, a defense method called aposemasis.

One of the possible excursions from Nuquí is the one that enters the jungle from Terco beach, following the course of the river that gives its name to the sandy area. The sound of the ocean waves abruptly dies away, giving way to other sounds. At first you can only hear the river, but then the guide silently points to a branch where there is a blue and black bird with red legs, a red-legged honeysuckle, and the ears are sharpened, attentive to each crack, click, flap. There are clear pools where you can stop and dive for a few minutes to remove the humid heat that sticks the clothes to the body. Orange and black butterflies flutter overhead, and the bridal kiss flowers (Psychotria elata) they swing their lip-shaped carmine petals to the sound of the running water, as if approving of the bath. The walk ends in a small stone pool called the “Termales area”. Here the ritual consists of smearing the body with sulfurous mud and waiting for it to dry; then it’s time to dive in and let the muscles relax as in a jacuzzi. On one side you can hear the ocean; on the other, the hubbub of a flock of birds, gregarious, precious and noisy, the charismatic Pacific, which soar and give way to other sounds of the forest that never shuts up, always alive by night and day.

This trip also takes us to El Valle, which, like Nuquí, is a small town full of color, both for its inhabitants and for its painted houses. It is noon and the children are leaving school and heading home or for a bath. The streets are made of dirt and today they are being spontaneously decorated with yellow seeds forming hearts. At dusk, many head to the 50-meter bridge that crosses the Valle River to gaze at the sky, which here is devoid of light pollution. The stars are so bright it looks like there is a party up there. Down here, back to the cabin of the Ecolodge El Almejal, the lamps project and magnify the shadows of the bats that have already begun their night-time hunting day for insects.

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