Tag Archives: Palomino

Reasons to Start a Revolution

1. Because it’s up to you and me and that guy over there, too.

2. Because any start matters.

3. Because there is so much to learn from each other.

4. Because we could all use a healthier environment.

5. Because water shouldn’t come from a plastic bag.

6. Because sweeping our mistakes under someone else’s rug is not a solution.

7. Because there is more than one way to live.

8. Because children shouldn’t be casualties of our drug wars.

9. Because the whole world is watching.

10. Because it has already begun.

We Want Peace in Palomino!

The only sign of life left behind was a dog napping in the corner. Not a piece of paper littering the floor, not one tee-shirt or toy astray in the house. No plates, no cups, no evidence of Monica and her two daughters. Bare concrete walls stand alone, perhaps even without fingerprints, ghostlike, a reminder to all. After the murder of a family, two more men were killed by guerrilla groups. With such brutal history of war in the region and the latest victims, Palomino ought to be declared a “red zone,” urged Monica. A community leader in education, recycling campaigns and most of all, peace, Monica responded to the tragic killings by organizing peace marches.

“The Freyles family – we are the victims of this violence.”

“No more children dead.”

The first peace march stopped traffic as supporters gathered to literally paint the town. Newspapers around the country caught on. The governor and town representatives promised to show but in the end, couldn’t make it. Monica wanted to give them another chance. But the morning of the second march, she was nowhere to be found. The night before, on the phone, she was told to leave town. Leaving nothing behind, she fled with her two daughters.

“Here we are, what we want is peace. Enough with so much violence, the residents of Palomino don’t want any more deaths.”

“We  want peace.”

Monica next to the only recycling facility in town, which she organized. Monica’s mother asked to pass along the word that she was safe, and with family.

Waking Up Early and Other Changes

Breakfast is already on its way about an hour before dawn.

Just a few minutes ago, the sky was black. A small slice of it turned bright orange and gracefully transformed into light blue clouds indistinguishable from the mist shrouded mountains. Elsililiana asked, “have you ever seen the range before?” I had but not like this. From here, the newborn light, still gray and cool before my eyes, illuminated thousands of feet of earth known to its indigenous people as Mama.

Elsililiana is the eldest of six brothers and sisters and can still climb trees for guama fruit. The youngest, Isau, is just a year old. All the kids work hard. Neji, Jorlady and Elsililiana are usually the ones to saddle the mula or burro and head off to the farm to dig up yucca, ñame, malanga and to cut down guiniea, green bananas. Meals consist of these vegetables along with some milk from the cow or some meat.

Elsililiana milking the cow.

Neji tutuising.

I am not a fan of malanga as it makes me very nauseous but can always find someone who will help me eat my portion of it. Cooking for at least nine every day is something to get used to, as is washing all those dishes. The water gets trekked up by burro in 20L tanks from a spring about 20 minutes below the farm.

Going down to the spring for water.

All the laundry and bathing get done there as well and unfortunately contaminate the purest of waters right at the source. Other than that, the environmental impacts of this lifestyle and negligent in comparison to your or my own.

When not cooking, washing or caring for the farm, the women weave bags, mochillas or tutus as they are called in Arhuaco. The tutus can be made from plant, alpaca or sheep fiber. All fiber is processed by hand from rearing of the plant or animal to every thread, spinning the fiber and at last, weaving. It takes several months for a woman to weave one tutu of animal fiber.

I spent a week tutuising, weaving, and working on the zamgey, farm, before  Janira and I headed for Savannaculebra, a village about four hours north.

En paseo, in passing.

River crossing.

Tony wasn’t sure which way to go. After some time double guessing, I ushered him to go arriba, up. As I looked back, I could still see the houses below and the grandfather, dressed in all white. With one hundred years of living under his belt, his head was causing him trouble, he said. After a few steps I heard the call I was hoping for, “abajo, abajo,” go down. Tony slowly obliged. For a four year old horse, Tony did most of his walking rather slowly or carefully. Six hours in the saddle of asking him to move along brought us instantly closer. We were headed down to the river and eventually to Claudia’s ranch. We spent the night in her grandfather’s home having left late in the day. Bringing along nine cows, four pack animals and four children did not help to maximize our travel speed.

Steering livestock is one thing, finding it is another. It involves you and hopefully more people raking the forest for signs of cow. Later it involves lots of scrapes, ticks and yelling to get the livestock on trail. Next, eight more hours of sprinting, yelling, scrapes and ticks to move the flock to a new pasture. Through it all, you are draped in wild, rarely seen mountain side where few tourists ever venture. Homes with thatched roofs, smoky kitchen fires, spring water and close knit families become the main navigation points and so one can only navigate the trail with family.

A neighbor’s home.

Let’s Not Trash This Place

While first class nations have figured out how to stash their trash, their less wealthy brothers and sisters have little choice but to face the consequences of a packaged world, literally speaking.

Recyclable plastics, wrappers of all sorts, glass and random rubbish that we are used to tucking away in Tupperware bins find their place here, in the basurero. A small truck comes to pick up the trash twice a week, always leaving a few streets untouched. More than a dozen beachfront cabanas have never been graced with the presence of this truck. Two of the family run hotels I spoke with openly confessed to their long time contribution to this unsightly dump.

Located in the only public access route to the beach, the dump reeks, gets flooded and is always swarmed by all sorts of vermin and unfortunately children as well. Its proximity to the high pressure gas line, mangroves and drinking water supply raises more red flags then the Kremlin. No one likes to look at trash and here, when it´s burning to make room for more, you smell it, taste and choke on it as you hurry past.

Maybe we can just get used to it?

I don’t think we should. The first step was to put recycling bins in La Casa de Rosa, a beachfront camping hostel.

Recycling at last!

Paulina and Michelangelo painting recycling bins.

Along with several other community members, we have prepared a letter that we plan to present to the district representative. For my lack of native Spanish, the letter has taken nearly a month to print. Currently, I am in the process of collecting signatures for a petition that accompanies the letter. Wish me luck or help me edit, if you can!

“Respetado Doctor Marlom Amaya, Doctor Arsecio Romero, Doctor Luis Medina, Doctor Jorge Pacheco Pertuz y Ministra Beatriz Uribe:

Nosotros, la comunidad de Palomino, queremos informarle sobre el grave problema que nos ha afectado hace muchos años, el tema del basurero. Que como usted está informada queda en la vía hacia la playa. Nosotros queremos, que si ya  fue re-ubicado sea se hado totalmente; ya que si continua así, las personas tirando basura como antes. También queremos comunicarle que Palomino se está convirtiendo en el sitio ideal para los turistas nacionales e internacionales y no queremos presentarnos así.

Ya que sería una pena que vieran como se destruyen nuestro  recursos. Usted debe saber que con este se contamina nuestra agua subterránea de la cual dependemos para nuestra alimentación y además esta causando mucha enfermedades tanto a personas como a animales. Con el problema de la lluvia, nuestra situación empeoró. Le rogamos pronto un relleno sanitario y un comunicado que informe la prohibición de seguir tirando basura en este lugar.


  1. Contaminación del agua subterránea y de los manglares
  2. Fácil proliferación de roedores y de mosquitos
  3. Causa de enfermedades en general
  4. Presenta riesgo para los niños
  5. Peligro por estar cerca de la tubería de gas de alta presión
  6. Desplazamiento durante de invierno
  7. Mala imagen para los visitantes
  8. Malos olores


  1. Instalar cerca temporaria
  2. Arborizar el terreno
  3. Recoger basura más visible en la vía
  4. Instalar señales de prohibición de tirar basura

El problema de este basurero se origina por la falta de servicio de recolección de basura adecuada. Más de 18 hospedajes que quedan alrededor de Palomino con un promedio 400 turistas y más de 100 empleados que quedan cada noche durante la temporada alta. Necesitamos muy pronto la atención de ustedes para nuestro pueblo que es la puerta principal de la Guajira.

Queremos unirnos de esta manera con ustedes para el embellecimiento de nuestro pueblo, así mejorara el turismo.  Queremos participar con el movimiento de reciclaje en Palomino. Como ustedes saben es una necesidad primordial y ya tenemos la Asociación de Mujeres Recicladoras acá en Palomino. Pedimos un mejor servicio la recolección de basura de Palomino y su alrededor. Por falta de servicio adecuado muchos hospedajes optan por incineración de basura causando un impacto ambiental y visual negativo. Y por falta de recolección de basura hay focos de infecciones en distintos sectores del pueblo especialmente en la vía a la playa.

Lo invitamos a que nos visite para que vea de cerca el verdadero problema y de paso ver las lindas playas que tenemos. De antemano agradecemos una pronta respuesta.”

Looks Like Rain

What is it like to be trapped in a town that is being flooded? As many towns in Colombia are drowned out and mudslides force vehicles off the road, we in Palomino considered ourselves fortunate. On December 26th we got a taste of the helpless feeling the force of water can bring. Dark skies and rain took over by around noon and within an hour streets turned into knee deep running rivers.

On my way to a friend’s home, I waded carefully until one stream nearly knocked me off my feet. Once under one roof, we watched the heavy rain drops fall accompanied by the sound of thunder and only the mountains know what else. Six hours later we needed to venture out for food and learned that it was not possible to pass for the main road because a five foot deep ditch had formed across one of the streets.

We got a few things at the local tiendacita, store, and headed back. We all heard the last one, the last sound that resembled thunder, mudslide and avalanche all in one. The rain continued to beat down. Nearly ten hours later since it began, the rain leveled off and I headed to Calisto´s house next door to spend the night. He barely made it back from the beach.

The following day I learned that three landslides took place. Roberto lost his home and Andres found his house flooded. The path that I always take to get to the beach was impassable. Somehow the stuff in my tent stayed dry . The next day, thunder echoed and we held our breath. More rain would mean real trouble. Without much sun, the clouds passed and we were spared the fate that so many other towns in Colombia have endured. When it comes to the most powerful forces, those of nature, one can only hope for the best.

Here and There: Randoms on the Run




Bienvenido A Palomino

It took at least five hours to write this post, wait between the two dial up internet kiosks to open, bike back and forth once my document was stuck in a place where the internet modem broke, use at least four memory devices until one worked and then finally accept that I can not upload any photos in any way. About a week later, I am grateful to be able to share what’s been going on.

This man shared some yucca and cheese with me.

Palomino is a lot like Vermont, I am having a hard time leaving. Unfortunately, the glorious days of sunshine that I enjoyed here a week ago have disappeared. It has been raining to flood levels in most parts of the country. Palomino is a small town on Colombia´s Caribbean coast, shaded by the mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park.  This is the only place in the world where mountains of nearly 6,000 m are found so close to the sea.

Palomino beach.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, just shy of 5,800 m.

The indigenous people believe this to be “corazon del mundo,” the heart of the world.  There are at least five indigenous groups that live in the mountains of this region, Guajira. Generally, non-indigenous people are not allowed in the villages although they may be reached by a few hours into the mountains on foot.

A Kogi and the FARC

I followed the path one day until I saw a small white building and a Kogi youth appeared with his burro, heading to the market in town. He explained that the leader or Mama, did not want anyone to enter at this time and that it was dangerous for me to be alone in the mountains. He offered me his company to hike out. I accepted and we chatted as we made our way alongside Rio Palomino.

From him I found out that Kogis get married between 16 and 20 years of age and live in a community of 50 or so Kogis. I found out his burro was packed with dried coca leaves and that the white building is a school put in by the government. I also learned that he often runs into FARC guys hiding high in the mountains. They are easy to tell apart from the other soldiers, he explained, because their uniforms have FARC patches.

Parque Nacional Tayrona

Fishing the old fashioned way.

Parque Nacional Tayrona

I arrived in Palomino after several unforgettable days in National Park Tayrona. The park is famous for enormous rock formations that were once worshiped by indigenous people.

I think it should also be famous for the kindness of the folks at Finca Don Pedro, the friendly white horse they let me ride around and Caliche´s bakery.

Stalling to take off, I got to Palomino after dark in the pouring rain. My only sense of where I was going was a place on the beach listed in my guidebook as a 40 minute walk from town. I paused to buy an arepa, a corn patty, and was asked where I was headed. My uncertainty led to a team of about five making phone calls and driving me to La Casa de Rosa. Señor Eugenio was there to greet me and offered me papaya juice. Once his wife, Milena, and daughter Paulina arrived it was clear I was in good hands, free from a machismo environment which is often hard to escape in Colombia. In just a few days I met Juan, Herman, Calisto and then Mary, Vladimir and Andres.  As in Vermont, I have entered a community of amazing individuals who have shared with me their homes and hearts.

Cabo de la Vela

A fisherman shows off the daily catch.

Still, I came as a viajero, a traveler, and so I left for Cabo de la Vela. In this brute, remote part of the country, the gorgeous landscape does little to alleviate the stress of a desert lifestyle and now, an influx of tourists. After just one day, I was looking forward to making the long trip back to my green mountains, golden sand and sky blue sea.

Caribbean Sea and desert edges.

There’s not much to do in Cabo except enjoy the sun.

To get out of Cabo, I first had to take in four hours in the back of a chicken truck stuffed with people, gasoline and a goat on washed out dirt roads, all beginning before sunrise. Next, an hour and a half in a taxi would leave me with another hour and a half back to Palomino.  It was still early when I glanced at the dashboard of the taxi but the driver had us gliding along at 120 km/h until we spun out of control, hit and broke a tree, flipped and landed side down in a flooded ditch. When it all came to a halt, I was afraid to open my eyes. Miraculously, I walked away with nothing more than a broken IPOD and a few tiny scrapes on my left arm. I have never reveled more in the joy of simply being alive.

Last night, the river flooded and Milena and I scattered to collect anything that might float away. The water rose to a frightening level, completely flooding the ground near the house on both sides. About an hour later, the water receded but only after meeting the foundation of the house at least one foot off the ground.

Que Mas?

I´ve been learning to open coconuts, cook arepas, rice, yucca, platanos and queso frito. The hardest part is usually peeling the vegetables. Opening coconuts is really hard. I made some posters reminding drivers that “Nuestra Vidas Esta En Tus Manos, Maneje Con Precaución, La Seguridad Es Nuestra Prioridad,” and posted them around town and in the gas stations. I helped a family translate their tour brochure into English and created a website for La Casa de Rosa, the family with whom I am staying. I´m teaching Paulina some English in exchange for a free stay. Now, I’m on my way to Minca, a small town nestled in the mountains about two hours south.

And one more thing,