In Palomino we met a family from Valledupar (3h drive south from Riohacha). Them; Gloria, Fer and Maria del Mar, kindly drove us to Riohacha, which was our next destination. We wanted to visit the Sanctuary of the Flamingos, which we thought was beautiful, and Gloria, gave us the contact of a Wayuu guide that she knew from her last visit to the Sanctuary. At this time, we did not know it was going to be one of the most interesting days since we arrived in Colombia.
The Sanctuary of the Flamingos, established as such in 1977, has an area of 7000ha, composed of lagoons with fresh or salted water, depending on the season, Mangrove (salty, sweet and red mangrove) and shelters multiple types of birds, flamingos , fishes, oysters, crabs (blue crab), and shrimps. The flamingos that we were fortunate enough to spot from our wooden boat with an improvised sail on a wooden pole, migrate from all over the Caribbean, come to mate in the Sanctuary, and then fly to Venezuela to put “the egg”. Yes … one. In fact it is the only egg that they will put until the following year.
In the surroundings of the Sanctuary there are 9 indigenous communities. 7 Wayuu and 2 Afro. They are distinguished by the language, and the location of their homes. The Wayuus live on the beach and practically do not speak Castilian. The Afros live in towns, cities and they do speak it. These communities live mostly from fishing, crafts and tours that they do in the department of La Guajira.
Our guide, Aristidis, was kind enough to accept our proposal of us buying food and his wife would cook us a doshish. So we ate with his family at his house while he was telling us more about his Wayuu culture. This is what we were looking for during this trip; discovering cultures, and this, we would not find it in the tourist restaurant, and we were as well interested in trying homemade and local food. This could have not been better.
Aristidis is married. He has 3 children and a fourth one on the way. He “proposed” his wife in according to the Wayuu tradition, meaning “collaborating” with lambs, money, and other things for his current father-in-law. . When we got to his house, we met his family and his mother-in-law. A Wayuu lady, speaking little Castilian, constantly smiling. In the kitchen chatting, she tells us that she has 14 children, that her sister has 16, and her aunt 18. We were amazed.
We took a look at the house with lots of curiosity. It was more than simple and humble, with hammocks (Paraguayan hammocks) in each room. They do not have running water. As we said, they live from fishing, mainly shrimp. Those are so important that the city is called that way. Camarones means shrimps in spanish. Aristidis has, in his house, both inside and outside, shrimp drying, which he would either eat or sell to make money. His wife and mother-in-law gave us the honor of preparing a shrimp rice for lunch, with patacones (green bananas fried and crushed) and carrots salad. The process of cooking is as fun as interesting as they cook with wood fire. The typical dish is the Friche (fried goat), which this time we could not try.
While women are cooking, because in Aristidis’s house as in most of the Wayuu’s hoyse, only the women cook, (they also take care of the children and weave),he tells us a bit more about the traditions of his community. The Wayuu are polygamous, if they have money to be so, because they must contribute to have women, with goats and money. Perhaps oneoneof of the most incredible stories of his culture, and that was the fact that most marked us; when a girl begins adolescence, meaning she stops being a girl to be a “woman”, she is held for two months in a room, with the only right to be able to see her mother or grandmother. During this time, those will teach her how to weave, to make crafts, so she can financially support hetr family and future husband if necessary. With a certain acceptance and understanding, he assures us that this ancient tradition is not perpetuating itself too much in the Afro community, but that it remains quite firm in the Wayuu community.
We also visited the area called “La Ranchería”, where mud houses predominate, and most of them have a corral with lambs. In the middle of this place stands one and only shop with a teeny tiny TV were all the men, sitting with 35 ° in the shade, were watching Barcelona’s football match where they would lose 3-0 against Juventus . Here as well they cannot fight the passion of football, even among Wayuu’s mud houses! We could not believe it.
Leaving behind this exciting experience, we begin our way back to Riohacha. We take first a motorcycle taxi that offers to take us both to Camarones village. From there, we share a taxi with other people, who were listening through the old speakers Vallenato songs, and we start feeling that we should have stayed in this Sanctuary.