La Macarena and Cano Cristales River 18-22 October 2018

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October 22nd 2018
Published: October 24th 2018
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Thursday Oct 18- Monday Oct 22 – Caño Cristales


5 DAYS TOUR – TOTAL $1,900 all inclusive incl flight

Day 1-5 of Caño Crystales – 18-22 October 2018

We left for the Bogota International Airport at 6.30am allowing 1 hour for the morning traffic. It only took us 30 minutes and as our instructions were to wait outside gate No 2, we did this. It was distinctively cool but in minutes a gentleman with the Sapra Airlines logo asked if we were Pamela and Thomas, then showed us inside the terminal and met up with other tour guests going to La Macarena. No one spoke English!!!! By now we were wishing we had stayed with our Spanish lessons 5 years before.

We were then driven by bus to the smaller Sapra Terminal and was given a much needed coffee. Whilst on the bus everyone received instruction on what was the plan but of course we didn’t understand any of it but followed the others. Could order at a restaurant but when it comes to conversation, that is a different issue. Everyone’s name was called out and they rattled off their passport number. When they got to us we said we were Australian and didn’t speak any Spanish. A Colombian next to me said they needed to check our passport number.

Once all the formalities were over, a person from England (Kristy) who could speak 5 languages came up to us and efficiently interpreted for us. That was wonderful. Eventually we all boarded the small plane and within the hour we arrived at the Macarena Airport.

After paying the special tax of La Macarena Town and the Airport tax, we went out on the road and saw our bags were in a cart pulled by a mule. That really set the scene. We then placed our bags into a bike taxi who took them to our hotel.

It was then time for the video on the Comacarena, National Park and Caño Crystales and the rules (with English subtitles). They were very strict on no sun block or mosquito repellent being used.

Plastic bottles were not allowed in the Park. In fact, at the entrance to the Park, we found our bags searched by the military police. I had a little pouch with lip gloss in (which I forgot about) and they took that and later returned it to me when I was back in the town. We saw no rubbish in the Park at all.

We then walked several blocks with our guide, to our accommodation in the Hotel la Tovar in the village of La Macarena. It was clean and basic with friendly people (no English speaking) and only wall fans. Google translate was working overtime! We were very close to the Equator, so it was very hot and humid.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we walked down to the wharf and hopped into a long boat where we were taken to a point on the Guayabera River where we were checked into the Park. We then had a 4x4 Ford Ute with canopy on the back drive up so some of us hopped into the car and others into the back of the car.

The roads were all unsealed with very large pot holes, all filled with water. We soon learned that, typical equatorial climate with afternoon rains prevailed. We drove for about 30 minutes where we were checked in again. This was where we started our hiking. The length of the hikes varied each day but on average it ranged from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

For the next 4 days, this was the routine, seeing different parts of the Caño Crystales River each day. We had breakfast at 7.00am at a restaurant. Each day we would be given our lunch to take with us. This consisted of roast pork, fish or chicken, a boiled egg, fried rice, a potatoes and Pantene (fried banana) all wrapped up in banana leaves. We always returned the same way we went out, some days returning at 3.00pm, others returning at 5.00pm. Dinner was at the restaurant at 7.00pm.

The La Macarena Tourism had the system very well organised, particularly as the tour packages ranged from 2-5 days. We wanted the 5-day package just in case the weather wasn’t ideal for seeing the river at its best. The hotels were sprinkled throughout the small town, but we mainly joined up at a restaurant in the evening.

The first evening we went to a restaurant on the edge of the town and was entertained by a group of traditional Colombian musicians (electronic harp, ukulele, maracas and bass guitar). We also had a display of the local dance where the man had special shoes which made a loud bang every time he stamped his feet. It was like the amplified tap dancer’s shoes (Tap Dog).

We had a traditional Colombian meal which was veal, potatoes, rice, Pantene and vegetables. We got to know a group of 4 people from Bogota who were fantastic company as was Kristy from the UK and several others who didn’t speak very much English at all. They were all fantastic to be touring with as they were all from such diverse backgrounds.

I was really looking forward to all the 5 days of adventure, exploring the region. The parts of the region we visited were Cristalitos on Thursday (18/10), Piano Cascades and Kuarzos pool on Friday (19/10) (called Kuarzos because there was a baby born in that pool in 2000 who was named Kuarzoz!), Saturday (20/10) was La Ocho , 8 or more massive round holes in the rock which created a beautiful series of waterfalls and arched which the water flowed through. This was complemented by the most amazing colours in the river – red, pink, white, yellow and green. It was stunning. We also visited Carol Cristales and Pailones.

On Sunday (21/10) the parts of the Caño Cristales river we visited were Intermedio, Cascada la Uirgen, Tapete Rojo and Piscina el Turista. Monday (22/10), we visited Amanecer and Caño Piedra which was a short trip after seeing the sunset at 4.30am!!!! This was our departure day, flying back to Bogota at 2.00pm.

I will never forget when I first saw the colours of the Caño Crystales river. I was over whelmed. The site was breathtaking from day one, but it just got better every day. With the different colours of the aquatic plant, Macarenia clavigera. The rocks from which it grows were also spectacular, being moulded and eroded over the years by the river, forming different shaped holes as well as the surrounding rock-faces which formes beautiful cascades and waterfalls.

Just a bit about the area and river: Caño Cristales (English: Crystal Channel) is the Colombian river located in the Serrania de la Macarena province of Meta. It's a tributary of the Guayabero River. The river is commonly called the "River of Five Colors" or the "Liquid Rainbow," and is even referred to as the most beautiful river in the world due to its striking colors. The bed of the river from the end of July through November is variously colored yellow, green, blue, black, and especially red, the last caused by Macarenia clavigera plants (family Podostemaceae) on the bottom of the river.

The quartzite rocks of the Serrania de la Macarena tableland formed approximately 1.2 billion years ago. They are a western extension of the Guiana Shield of Venezuela.

Caño Cristales is a fast river with many rapids and waterfalls. Often in the bed have formed small circular pits – giant’s kettles, which have been formed by pebbles or chunks of harder rocks. Once one of these harder rock fragments falls into one of the cavities, it is rotated by the water current and begins to carve at the cavity wall and increases the dimensions of the pit.

Caño Cristales river has a wide variety of aquatic plants. The water of the river is extremely clear due to the lack of nutrients and small particles. Almost unique is the bright red - pink coloration of riverbed after the rainy period in the end of July - November.

There isn't a whole lot to say about La Macarena. The municipality, which includes an enormous amount of countryside, has less than 7,000 inhabitants, and only a fraction of them are in the town itself. It serves as the regional center for the surrounding campesinos, who mostly raise cattle. Because the campesinos come into town for goods on the weekends, Sunday cannot be the local day of rest—so they arbitrarily chose Wednesday when 90%!o(MISSING)f the businesses are shut!

While the region was inhabited by indigenous Guayaberos since prehistoric times, an actual settlement in the area dates back to the 1950s, when colonos arrived from Caquetá, founding the town initially under the name El Refugio. From 1999-2002, the town and surroundings became part of El Caguán DMZ, the zone of the country granted to the FARC as sole authority during peace talks. The locals who volunteer opinions, at least, speak of that time as being quite scary, and for that matter, the time before and afterwards when the national military didn't have full control of the area.

Alas, the all too familiar problem of slash and burn agriculture plagues the park. The Colonos (which is a word that quite closely approximates "pioneers" in the sense of other country’s history) who are doing the shifting cultivation are mainly poor people trying to eke a better life as efficiently as they can in Los Llanos. The conflict with guerrillas and narcotraffickers (who have grown coca in the remote and inaccessible sections of the park) keeps the national military from effectively policing the park to stop the destruction, and indeed the government's own efforts at coca eradication via fumigation contribute to the ecological degradation.

More recently however, due to the realization on the economic advantages of tourism, the Park is now highly protected, particularly so that the Caño Cristales river is conserved.

Some of the funny incidences which happened over the 5 days were:

There was one day that we were caught in the tropical down-pour on the way back from day 3. The 4 people from Bogota (all professionals and could speak English), who were absolute characters, all around the age of late 40s, 3 of whom were college friends, were with us. Our guide was Marcella. Even though we all had our wet weather gear on, we had been swimming (as we did every day) in the Caño Cristales river and waterfalls, so were a little wet anyway. Now we were very wet! Our boots were waterlogged. We all then decided to run and dance through the event deeper puddles, splashing each other. Why not! We were drenched already.

We arrived back at the main check point and had a celebration beer until our 4x4 arrived. Alas, it arrived coughing and spluttering as it ran out of diesel!!!! Whilst waiting for a boat to bring back more diesel, it was time for another beer. Why not! When the diesel arrived, it was fantastic to see one of the female Parks people climb up on the motor pumping the fuel line after they filled it with diesel, while all the male Park guys watched on. Great to see.

After getting back to town after 5.30pm, we were very pleased to shower (did I tell you that the hotel only had cold water!) and get our wet clothes off. After dinner we joined our 4 friends for a farwell drinks at one of the café/restaurants and chatted about our experiences as well as learning more about them and their life in Bogota.

Our 4 new friends left one day earlier than us, so it was sad to say our farewells – but exchanging emails and phone numbers before they departed. The 4 Bogota women, a little younger than us, remained with us for the last day They could not speak hardly any English, but it was OK.

On the last day in la Macarena, we got up at 4.00am and was picked up at 4.30am to be driven to a farm on the edge of the town to see the sunrise. We were given sweet coffee and a large slab of (possibly) goat’s cheese, neither of which I enjoyed but are a favourite of the people from la Macarena. The farm also had a tame black headed parrot, and the other usual farm animals.

We sat in chairs facing east ready for the sunrise, but the mist and cloud was very thick. There was a thick band of cloud on the horizon, so we didn’t see the sun until it came above the clouds.

The farm was well set up for a big crowd of tourists for breakfast so after we saw the sun, breakfast was served. Breakfast was meat (carne) soup which I could not come at for breakfast, local rice patties, hard-boiled egg and Pantene. Yes, it will take me a few years to become accustomed to this sort of breakfast I was thinking!!!

The farm was a working dairy, had prancing horses, turkeys, and a lamb which followed a beautiful little girl around. We were also entertained by a singer (all the locals knew the words to the Colombian songs), local dancers dancing the same form of dance as our 1st night’s entertainment and a band (maracas, harp and ukulele).

After breakfast, we were loaded up in the usual 4x4 and taken to Caño Piedro which was another beautiful spot which had a deep area for swimming. I was so used to it being hot, and this morning it was cool, so I didn’t go for a swim. All the others including Tom braved the cool water. The creek was shadowed by trees and in parts, ran over more rocks so the area was another special attraction.

This was our final attraction except for being taken to a viewing spot on the way back to the town. At the top of a hill we had a 360 degree view of the surrounding savannah around La Macarena. Our 5 days in the regions was coming to an end.

On arriving back at our hotel, we showered, packed, and we walked to our usual restaurant for lunch while our bags were taken to the airport. We had another quick walk around the town before walking to the airport. All is very close in the little village. Our hotel was the furthest from the ‘centre’ of town so this is why we were sometimes offered a taxi-motorbike for transport.

We all had our photos taken in front of the big colourful La Macarena sign before going to the terminal, hugging our guides goodbye and taking the 1 hour flight back to Bogota at 2.00pm.

These last 5 days will be something Tom & I will both remember for a long, long time.

THE LAST WORDS: The village of La Macarena, only opened its doors to tourists only 9 years ago after the army securing a 30km strip around it. Too many of La Macarena’s children were victims of the guerrilla warfare. We were told to pass the message on to “tell people to come and visit Caño Cristales, it is safe now and you, the ones who overcome the fears, are the ones who will help us build a better future for our children”. The locals also urge us to “go there, not only for the people of La Macarena, but first and foremost for you, for a single feeling of being a privileged to witness one of the most beautiful places on earth”.

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