Our first stop was Manaure and its salt production site. After having seen the Zipaquirá salt mine, one thing was clear: salt is one natural resource Colombians do not lack for.
Until the 90’s, the salt production was under the administration of the state or state- owned companies. In 1991, an agreement was reached which would allow the Wayúu to benefit from the earnings generated by the exploitation and commercialization of the salt on their territory. But the government never complied with what had been promised. In the years 2000, the agreement was renewed but with no greater success. Apparently, the Wayúu are still not getting the part that is their due.
In the meantime, production has increased dramatically.
We also made a stop in Uribia, the indigenes’ capital of Colombia. Though lost in the desert, it is home to 150.000 people.
La Guajira is not as touristy as many other regions of Colombia but there are jeeps like ours crossing it every day. Nevertheless, we very much felt as if we were the attraction of the day, as a group of children gathered around us. They were staring at us, giggling, but not really daring to talk to us. Until, slowly, confidence was installed. I took some pictures of them and let them have a look on the camera’s screen.
One of the kids, apparently not much interested in all the fuss that was going on, carelessly sat down next to Dorine. I asked him a few questions. His name was Micael and he was 6 years old. And he didn’t like school. But not much more than that came out of his mouth. Until he asked Dorine if he could have a sip from her bottle of Ice Tea. My friend handed it over to him. And, two minutes later, speechlessly watched him putting it away in his own backpack. The look on Dorine’s face just made my day. “I guess I’ll just have to buy another one, then!”
I was intrigued by the religious beliefs of the people living there. South America in general, and Colombia in particular, is very catholic. But, at the same time, there is some kind of mix with other practices. African, on the one hand – like the quinamba in Brasil and Uruguay, which I have been writing about previously – but also, of course, indigenous. When I asked Emilio about the religion of the Wayúu, I got a little confused: the women are catholic but the men are evangelic. I was taken aback. Why would men and women of a same community not share a same religion? “If men were catholic, they wouldn’t be allowed to have more than one wife”. Ah. Well. Of course. Makes sense. I guess. Or does it? I was a little lost. I didn’t expect to be faced with polygamy here in Colombia. And the fact that they adopt a religion but, somehow, make their shopping amongst the different options available to adapt it to their customs and needs… Puzzling. Emilio himself has two spouses. Who are not living in the same village. He is really living with one. And, somehow, most of his kids are living with the other. I had to let the information sink in. But I’m definitely not done with the thematic of beliefs.
After a stop in another village, we made it to Cabo de la Vela, where we were going to spend the night. The place is known to be a kite-surfers’ paradise. As we arrived in the 4×4, we saw a small group of tourists and Dorine and I spontaneously and simultaneously shouted out “Hey! That’s Alex!” Another route but the same destination. Which was funny because the plans he had told us about sounded quite different. No time to stop and say hi just then. Hopefully we would be able to catch up later on.
We first went for a walk to a view point allowing us to take a full grasp of the contrast between the desert on the one hand, and the sea on the other hand. In hopes of getting a little relief from the heat, we then splashed in the water on the amazing beach nearby. The day wasn’t over yet. There was still plenty of time for more surprises. A beach where hundreds of pelicans were diving into the water to get some fish. And a beautiful sunset admired from the lighthouse.
During dinner time, two of the French guys, who had gone to buy cigarettes, came back to tell us they had had an interesting conversation with a compatriot, who had given them a few tips about Peru. That was our guy: Alex. We went by the shop, where he and his new travel companions were still having a drink, shared a few ones with them and heard the story of how he had ended up there. It wouldn’t be the last time our paths crossed .
The lights at the hotel, as in the rest of the village, went out at 22.00 and we went to bed. “Bed” being a hammock. In a room with no windows, facing the Caribbean Sea. And no mosquitoes this time. I gave my hammock an impulse, so that it would swing, and fell asleep, rocked by the soothing movement and lulled by the sound of the waves gently crashing on the beach.