Tourists in a region confronted with a humanitarian crisis situation

From the Tayrona Park, we went back to Santa Marta and, from there, took off to Riohacha, from where the three days’ excursion to Punta Gallina was starting.

In Santa Marta, I heard that the Lost City, one of the main things I wanted to see in the region, would be closed until September 15th or 20th, because of some indigenous ceremonies. I did appreciate the fact that at least these ceremonies were being respected but, at the same time, I was disappointed that I probably wouldn’t be able to see it. I tried to figure out how I could solve this. I could stay in the region and visit other things first. But I would have to wait at least another week, if not more, before getting to the Lost City. And therefore needed to reschedule the rest of the trip. Additionally, it was very hot and humid in the North and I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with it for that long. Plus the mosquitoes… It was quite a dilemma. But anyways… I still had three days to figure out what to do next.

We left to Punta Gallinas on a Friday morning, with two jeeps. One full of Frenchies. The other one with a mix of British, German, Swedish, French… and Belgian. And then our driver and guide, of course: Emilio, a Colombian Wayúu, the locals of the region of La Guajira.

The latter is a desert region. It only rains once a year there, but the water they get from these very scarce rain falls is of vital importance to the Wayúu. With the climatic changes, however, the showers are getting even rarer. When we were there, the region was in a critical situation. They had been waiting for water to fall from the skies for weeks and months. And as good as no help from the state got to the population.

I knew nothing about the whole thing. Julie, the Swedish lady of our group, who was working and living in Bogotá, told us about it first. In such a situation, you question yourself and your touristic behaviour. Can you innocently cross the region, observe the landscape and whoever lives there without acknowledging the deep humanitarian crisis they are going through? On the other hand, tourism is a way to raise awareness around the situation and bring money to the region. But if we had known beforehand, we could have taken water and decent food to distribute, instead of handing out candies to the children who were installing tolls along our way. Though, in my case, I was handing out pens.

Handing out sweets and pens.
Handing out sweets and pens.
Children toll in La Guajira.
Children toll in La Guajira.

I have never much liked the idea of distributing sweets. When I was in Gambia, earlier this year, I got confronted to a similar situation. There, children were organizing welcome committees for tourists, in the hope of receiving a piece or two of candy . Not used to this, I let my colleague and guide Arfang take things in hand. Instead of sweets, he bought pencils, arguing that at least it was something useful and that those kids needed to go to school. I rather agree with the reasoning but I remember that one kid threw the pencil back at us. It was definitely not what he had expected. I guess you just can’t please everyone… nor expect a 5 year old to understand and accept your point of view.


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