IN 2021, MY WIFE AND I SPENT OVER 8 MONTHS TRAVELING WITH TWO MOTORCYCLES IN COLOMBIA. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN CURIOUS TO KNOW THIS COUNTRY BEYOND ITS CLASSICS AND CLICHÉS. OFTEN DEPICTED IN THE NEWS OR TV SERIES AS DANGEROUS, WITH A SAD PAST, THAT YOU PROBABLY KNOW, IT IS NONETHELESS A SURPRISING AND EXTREMELY DIVERSE COUNTRY. FEW PEOPLE KNOW THAT THERE ARE MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES CULMINATING AT MORE THAN 5,000 METERS ABOVE THE SEA LEVEL, OR AN INCREDIBLE DESERT ALONG THE CARIBBEAN COAST… FEW PEOPLE KNOW THAT COLOMBIA HAS THE HIGHEST COASTAL MOUNTAIN RANGE IN THE WORLD, INHABITED BY MYSTERIOUS INDIGENOUS PEOPLE…
NOW, IT IS TIME TO TAKE YOU TO SOME OF THESE PLACES, THAT I DOCUMENTED…
SIERRA NEVADA DE SANTA MARTA
Highest coastal mountain range in the world, by the Caribbean sea, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is home to four indigenous tribes, who are direct descendants of the Tayronas. This civilization was born around the first century AD, had a significant demographic growth around the 11th century, and slowly disappeared by 1600 AD with the arrival of the Spanish. Those who survived found shelter in the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada. And today, the four remaining indigenous populations of the region are : the Kogis, the Arhuacos, the Wiwas and the Kankuamo people.
I was there on several explorations to develop a documentary project about the people of the region, the Kogis especially, who mostly live in the low lands of the mountain range, in a pristine jungle environment
They believe that they have a sacred task : sustaining the balance of the spiritual and ecological world. They call themselves the “Elder Brothers”, and the rest of the modern civilization are the “Younger Brothers”, whose exploitative practices are destroying the eco-systems and the conditions for all life on Earth. They try their best to alert us about the dangers of our modern way of living.
These scenes of life that I witnessed during these explorations, for a brief moment, gave me a glimpse of what the beginning of civilization was. Dressed of white in these sublime atmospheres, these Kogis left me with an impression of true harmony with nature, and with an idyllic image of their people and lifestyle.
THE LAST ANDEAN COWBOYS OF COLOMBIA
In the high Andean mountains of Colombia, on the foot of 5,000-meter active volcanoes and jagged snow-covered peaks, cowboys – that are commonly called « Vaqueros » in this country – have live for centuries. The dramatic landscapes surrounding them hint at the fortitude needed to survive here, let alone prosper. This is something that is also easy to read in their eyes when they talk about their lifestyle. We can feel their isolation, their fears, but at the same time their strength and dignity.
Some of them question this way of life, and wonder if it is worth it. The construction of roads, the proximity of towns further down the valleys, and the promise of a “better” and more comfortable life, end up attracting them. Some settle down, and sell their cattle to trade their horse for a motorcycle. Some send their kids to school, who will not necessarily follow the steps of their parents…
But some will always resist. They feel connected to these ancestral lands, which offer them an incredible setting in which they can enjoy an unparalleled freedom.
The region of La Guajira is the Northern most point of all South America, and the most desert area of Colombia. This immense desert borders the incredible turquoise Caribbean Sea, which offers breathtaking color contrasts. It is home to an indigenous ethnic group called : the Wayuu. They represent 20% of Colombia’s total Amerindian population, and 50% of the population of La Guajira. It is the largest ethnic group in all Colombia in terms of population. Their total number range between 450,000 and 500,000 people…
About 8 years ago, this region was unfortunately hit by a catastrophic drought that lasted several years, and killed thousands of people, mainly children. To this day, many of them still suffer from anemia and malnutrition. But the biggest problem in the region is obviously the lack of drinking water. On top of all that, the pandemic has frozen tourism here, from which the local population largely lives. Because of all these issues, many people set up roadblocks along dirt roads, and ask for any type of payment “to cross their land”.
Despite this sad and overwhelming reality, life goes on. The Wayuu live mainly from weaving, fishing and agriculture, especially goat breeding. Craftsmanship is very present in the culture, we see it through the manufacture of traditional clothes and the famous “Mochilas”, a colorful bag typical of the region, which has become a fashion item appreciated by all Colombians.