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Published: July 20th 2013
It has been many months since we left the shores of the most beautiful Carib-Colombian village Capurgana, our bottoms bouncing from our hard plastic seats as the speedboat surged out across the Gulf of Uraba back to Turbo. With every thwack of the hull on water, shock jarred up our spines. We’d taken this journey two weeks previously but that time the boat captain had put enough diesel in the tanks…this time, after nearly two hours of bouncing, we were marooned just 10 minutes from the coastline as we waited for another boat to deliver us our fuel. Fortunately reinforcements came just as the disgruntled murmurings of the tightly packed passengers rose to fever pitch. We were then thrust back suddenly into the chaos of mainland Colombian city life, but none of this could deprive our minds of the utterly incredible time we’d just enjoyed in Capurgana.
My reflections on it now are of images of gorgeous sandy beaches and boats bobbing in crystal clear harbour waters. The fishing community of Capurgana in all its friendly gloriousness; where horseback is the main form of transportation, children leap from the jetty in innocent bliss, and wisened locals discuss the
comings and goings of the day over a cool glass of Pilsen beer.
After our intense expedition in Parque Nationale Tayrona, and an action packed farewell evening with Josh we had packed up our few belongings once again and departed on an evening bus for Cartagena. This famously beautiful walled city was a good place to stop over on our way to Capurgana, and browsing its charming flower-strung streets filled a day before we set off once again.
By the time we checked into our little hut at Los Almendros, safely arrived from our rough boat crossing, we had been bumping our way across Colombia’s northwest for a full 24 hours. Perhaps it was the wonderful sensation of being still, as opposed to being thrown from side to side continuously for countless hours, but the tiny village and garden guesthouse seemed like an oasis of peacefulness and simplicity. We abandoned our bags and headed straight for the beach, one of many within easy walking distance. Some people say that a beach is a beach wherever you are, but there was something so Colombian about this place and even more than that, it was Caribbean
and faintly Panamanian too. Coconut cookies were sold by children strolling the sands, and strong Colombian coffee available from the patisserie, where every morning the locals gathered. The twang of the Spanish spoken here was lilting and soft and we soon fell into step with the people around us.
The history of this area of the country, where fighting between guerrillas and the army took place in only the very recent past had left its mark too, in the form of soldiers still stationed in this remote township to protect the citizens from rogue fighters. Despite this serious job the soldiers just like everyone else we met here seemed so laid-back and friendly, they would be spotted patrolling the beach and then pulling up a chair on the jetty for a prolonged chat.
Capurgana was full of interesting characters, like Carlo a local restauranteur who became our unofficial tour guide, and Sergio a wisened old chap who spoke English better than us, and not least Alegria a feisty seven year old who entertained us at her father’s driftwood cottage, where for 2000 pesos (66p) we could swim in their freshwater pool and drink coffee
from beautiful handmade coconut cups.
Upon advice from Carlo we took many walks to the different highlights of the coast, Alegria’s fathers place was one, and a uphill hike to La Miele (Honey beach) across the border into Panama was another. Almost every day Lewi found somebody to play football with, the universal language was certainly understood here, flocks of children would gather around the moment the footy appeared from the bag and they would all be engaged in a game until the tide washed away the pitch. On our trip to La Miele we had become so used to packing a beach bag of books and footy essentials that we forgot to pack our passports. As we reached the checkpoint we realised our mistake but thankfully the patrolmen were lenient and we were allowed to descend to the 23rd
country of our travels. I can’t tell you how great it was to jump into the aquamarine water and rinse off all the spiders webs and jungle foliage that we had gathered about us on our walk over the border.
One of the nicest things about our time in Capurgana was that we achieved
a sense of belonging and community in this village amongst the beauty of jungle and beaches, and so when a trip to the San Blas Islands was suggested we didn’t know what to do. We were torn between spending the last of our days in Colombia here, or venturing out into the ocean to explore the intriguing archipelago of San Blas and its ‘Kuna’ (indigenous) population.
The opportunity to visit such a unique place won out in the end and we departed early morning on a laden speedboat with eight others, excited for what lay ahead. Scattered in the most incredible blue sea, the 365 islands of San Blas were mainly uninhabited, save for coconut trees which were everywhere! The Kuna people who own these islands have autonomy from Panama and forbid the coastguards from patrolling their waters, which may explain how their traditions and culture have been so well preserved. Sadly the small (and ever decreasing) number of Kuna people and the closed nature of their existence doesn’t bode well for a healthy future. However it was an amazing experience to peek in upon the way that these people live, their interesting clothes so intricately beaded,
and religion so strictly observed.
But before we made it into Kuna territory we had to get through the Panamanian immigration checks and get another stamp in our, almost full, passports! The Italian guys who were running this trip seemingly muddled through the procedure and after a long and tense wait for our passports to be returned we sped off into the blue once again.
Staying in the Kuna village and being welcomed by the elder of this settlement felt really special. Life seemed unchanged in decades, the only hint of technology was the crackle of radios proclaiming the latest scores in the Copa America, which could be heard from the doorways of the tin and driftwood stilt houses all around the village. Hammocks for beds and a long drop toilet directly into the ocean completed the rustic nature of the stay. This was the only night in civilization on the San Blas trip, the next two nights were spent camping on a totally deserted island, where we snorkelled during the day and spent the evenings putting the world to rights with our new friends Lucy and Ricard. The only disappointment of this trip was the food, having
been promised fresh seafood from our Italian hosts we were rather dismayed to find soggy pasta cooked in seawater, with additional salt to season, was the order of the day. Shocking! It appears the chefs forgot to bring enough drinking water too so we resorted to scrumping the odd coconut to refresh our salty mouths.
Taking mental notes on how not to run a tour we put these issues out of our mind and soaked up the last few days in paradise. On route back to Capurgana we stopped at a tiny Kuna settlement nestled behind a lagoon, where the villagers with shy excitement greeted us and proudly showed us their homes. Of course the boys instantly got involved in an impromptu football match on the sand spit. This friendly welcoming spirit was so typical of the Caribbean peoples of this coast, everywhere we went we had been so graciously and openly received.
Being the food lovers that we are we couldn’t possibly let salty pasta be our last culinary memory of South America, so on our final evening in Capurgana we treated ourselves to a veritable feast of rum and coconut
marinated lobster. Possibly the most delicious meal I have ever eaten and in such a wonderful setting under a moonlit sky on the perfect sands of Capurgana. It was an apt way to finish our South American journey.
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