The magic of Cabo de la Vela
15.03.2013 - 17.03.2013
The wind is blowing at a thousand knots; if I let go of the rocks I’m afraid I’ll be whisked away across the vast blue sea. The sun is shining, yet its warmth is lost by the wind. I am standing on a huge rock overlooking the magnificent Caribbean Sea, to my right wild desert and eventually the northernmost point of South America (Punta Gallinas) and to my right is the northern coastline of Colombia with its untamed majesty of beauty. Behind me is a landscape seemingly inhabitable, filled with cacti, dust, dryness and emptiness. Villages are far and few between and the life is a mixture of hard work, quietness and the following of hundreds of year old traditions.
I arrived in Cabo de la Vela one sunny afternoon not too long ago, after an 8 hour journey. The village is situated in La Guajira Peninsula, which is in the northeast of Colombia, bordering Venezuela. It is less than a one horse town, (maybe just a small donkey), but it has so much to offer culturally and naturally. This coastal paradise sits right on the Caribbean Sea, with a vat of dry nothingness surrounding it. In the evenings I sat and watched the fisherman bring in their catch or gazed out at the infinite sea with the golden orange sun slowly disappearing. The stars at night hypnotized my tiny incomprehensible brain and it is easy to get lost in the glow of ancient history.
PILON DE AZUCAR
On one of my evening strolls, I met a young woman, named Sharaya. She was wearing the traditional long dress with colourful designs and her face was adorned with a brown strip of paint that went from the middle of her forehead to her nose which then split into two and encircled her cheeks. She told me the secrets of her tribe, the Wayuu, who are descendents from the Amazonian jungle and have been living in La Guajira for hundreds of years. )They are Colombia and Venezuela’s biggest indigenous family). Her tale started out with a proud declaration that it’s the women, and not the men, who are in charge and that all girls go through a ritual to prepare them for this. Once a girl starts menstruating, she is taken away and lives in seclusion for up to three years. During this time she is taught the traditions of the tribe, how to weave, cook and be with her future husband. This ritual is important as the tribe aspires for mature women, full of wisdom and who will fulfill the roles of leadership, shamanism or politicians of the tribe.
An interesting fact is that this tribe was never subjugated by the Spanish colonizers; the Wayuu held their territory and were in a state of war with Spaniards in the 16th century. They were unique in being the only Indians to learn how to use firearms and ride horses, and in 1769 they put their skills to use and started a revolt against the Spaniards in the area. The rebels weren’t unified with each other; so a separate fight resulted between the two Indians groups. The arrival of Spanish reinforcement ended the clash. In modern times, the tribe has been caught in the middle of the conflicts between Colombian army, FARC and right-wing paramilitaries; a situation which has forced many Wayuu to move to Venezuela.
Sharaya proudly showed me her recent weaving work- a beautiful “mochilla” and exquisite hammock. The weaving that the girls learn is part of a tradition that has been performed for generations and each bag/hammock has a unique, intricate pattern representing the elements in their lives: nature, the sun, the stars and the planets.
A MOCHILA (bag)
The more I conversed with Sharaya, the more I became fascinated with this tribe and started to ask deeper questions. The Wayuu place their faith in a mythical universe; with a central figure called Mareiwa, who is the creator and founder of the tribe. Several other deities represent procreation, life, the seasons, hunting, evil, illness, death etc. They strongly believe that life doesn’t end with death, but that a relationship continues with the bones of the dead. Two years after a body is buried, the body is exhumed and the bones incinerated and placed into ceramics which are then buried again in the clan’s cemetery.
Passing my quiet evening with Sharaya, as well as strolling around the village, observing; brought to my attention that the Wayuu may be “backwards” compared to the West, but what they (and like so many other Indigenous tribes) have right is prioritizing the importance of traditions, rituals and genuine craftsmanship.
Western culture has lost, and is losing the sense of community and humanity; replacing it with superficial virtual relationships, meager imaginations and clouded minds. I arrived in Cabo de la Vela with a heavy mind, fogged up spirit and complicated living; but I left feeling illuminated with the serenity and simple existence of the people there.
To experience the magic of La Guajira is quite simple. From Santa Marta, go to main bus station and get on a bus heading for Maicao, and get off at Cuatro Vias (about 5 hours). From here, hop in a shared taxi to Uribia. The taxi will drop you off in the market where you can negotiate your way onto the back of a jeep that will take you a bumpy ride to Cabo de la Vela (about 2 hours). Getting back is similar, with a 4am start and the jeep will usually take you all the way to Cuatro Vias. A round trip will cost around 70,000 COP.
Accommodation is basic. To string your own hammock will cost just 3000 COP, and to rent one costs 7000COP.
Food is based on rice and meat (mainly fish, goat or chicken). A plate of rice, salad and meat should set you back about 20,000 COP (in low season). If you are vegetarian I would advise bringing some of your own food with you, as there is no alternative to meat.
There are many different opinions about Cabo de la Vela, but the adventure will depend on your perspective, attitude and whether or not you are willing to just let go of all modern living, and go back to simple living.