Many times in my life I have wondered if I can be an atheist, or perhaps if I have come to be one, but I must also say that depending on my mood, only the idea of questioning it makes me feel guilty. I am always thinking about my soul.
In my defence, the starving children in Africa, the child abuse and the violence against women among many other news we hear on a daily basis help us feel, some times, that if there’s someone larger than life, above us, they seem to have fallen asleep at times and have forgotten convenient or inconveniently, some places.
However in July 2013 I asked forgiveness from what I want to think of as a higher self, my chosen and recreated one, for having even doubted about his existence.
The magnanimous landscape
The magnanimous landscape that I had before my eyes, reminded me, once again that, it is physically impossible that a creator did not exist, someone crazy and smart to whom we owe somehow everything that we cannot explain, among others the natural beauty.
UNESCO had recently declared Caño Cristales in la Macarena, Colombia a biological heritage, but for several years that place has been the center of the attention and well-known as a fashionable travel place.
People talked about a paradise, rumours were heard about the river that gave beauty to this place in the middle of the jungle tinged with the 7 colors of the rainbow depending on the stretch.
They said that all that beauty was product of an alga that only existed in that region and that the eater falls that were visible here unimaginable.
But those were other times and only the ones who were really daring went to that place, a conflict was going on, maybe no one remembers it, a constant fighting and harassment between the military and the guerrillas.
Caño Cristales in the Meta department had been part of the DMZ and demilitarization project of a government that 20 years ago planned on signing a peace treaty that never took place and we are still waiting.
Both the geological and geographical conditions of this area made it perfect for cropping and mobilizing drugs towards the Venezuelan frontier and it was also perfect for the smuggling and hiding weapons and ammunition.
Foreigners as well as Colombians had to discover this place only through pictures and travel chronicles, further more the war had made that place isolated and completely behind in regards to technology, access and progress.
Fortunately for me, those times were far behind: after traveling by bus from the Capital of Colombia (Bogotá) to an intermediate city, which was more like a small town.
After having slept in a country inn that filled expectations but made us feel miles away from our true destiny.
One hour and a half flying in a small 6 passenger plane above the depths of the jungle thinking “when am I going to fall”.
After arriving at La Macarena village populated by two blocks of houses later turned into hotels, one small school, a health and community center and a military base.
A half an hour boat trip in the tropical jungle and a river were we saw turtles camouflaged just the same as the soldiers who were guarding.
An additional half an hour in jeeps and more than two hours walking through tropical, wild and wet mountains but with such a varied and beautiful vegetation.
Closer to God
I could finally see that this place was real, that craved paradise not only existed but was even better than all that was said about it.
I was also able to share this experience in real-time with my friends and acquaintances that were anxiously waiting on the other side of the line for my testimony and some photos of the place.
I shared with them a photo collage that I spontaneously titled close to God.
That is how I felt and I think everyone who was with me felt the same. Any attempt or intention of atheism had been immediately dissipated.
The next three days were spent walking down different paths. Getting closer to heaven on earth from different points of view, literally and metaphorically speaking.
We left the village just as the morning began. Each one of us carrying his lunch wrapped in a plantain leaf inside our backpacks.
That is an experience that must be lived to understand it. You have to taste it to find out the savour of a roasted chicken or a piece of beef that even after hours of walking remains warm, having them on the river banks and thoroughly making sure that no waste will fall in the river.
We did the same initial route everyday but every time we discovered new things that entranced us.
Then, and once in the river we went to different places. We went to the Pianos waterfall where falls formed different shapes similar to these instruments. To the pool, named so because so the rock formations are natural whirlpools where you can bathe with ease; the quartz creek in which the floor.
It is perfectly visible due to the crystalline water formed by white pristine quartz rocks that honor its name. Countless other places let us increasingly stunned, surprised and grateful and so we continued.
We stopped somewhere to watch the landscape. Took a bath and continued walking, we did long runs, walked all day long and came back to town before the end of the sunset but not a complain was heard. Children, women, adults and seniors of all types, ages and conditions enjoyed equally. We praised the beauty around us and we forgot physical fatigue and the different muscle aches that were beginning to appear.
I never imagined myself watching what I was watching and living the peace I was feeling, that my best experience for the trip would not be the landscapes and the place itself.
The best thing about undertaking this adventure was the people who I would get to know and when I say this I don’t mean just the people from all over the world at the hotel.
At the village grocery shops and while we were on the road with different tours and various groups while we climbed or just beginning the journey while we took an other route.
My traveling companion, a great friend from a life time ago, is married to a Belgian guy who she met in the middle of nowhere, in Colombia, in Caño Cristales.
For me, definitely the biggest attraction of this magical and enchanted place was its people, the entrepreneurial and thriving wonderful people of this village that like many others in Colombia, has been abandoned and somehow, forgotten for many years.
They survived a war, young people who love their hometown passionately, defending not only the place where they were born but also a country that on many occasions has failed to repay this affection for them.
The tourist guides are just 20 years old but they have taken this task with commitment and dedication and trained to be at the height of tourist guides such as the ones in the bigger cities of the world or the best museums.
They can explain perfectly why in Caño Cristales the water can be seen with greenish, bluish, teal, yellowish and reddish overtones. The tourist guides know about history, also know about the sad but now different story their people have been summited to. They have come together, they are organized and they have grown.
Thanks to them this town has evolved, they have traveled to Bogotá, with great expenses just to receive professional tourism training.
They have also talked with the government in order to achieve goals such as a power generator that permits the town to have electric power overnight and not just for a few hours.
They have remained outside the conflict because they haven’t chosen sides, they won’t join forces either with the military or the guerrillas and they strongly believe that the beautiful and inexhaustible natural resources are the best legacy and heritage they can leave to their children.
They also know that this is not enough, that they have to learn how to use all this geographical treasure, to learn how to showcase it to the world and to keep it in flawless conditions ensuring that its richness will not be over.
Reviews and travel chronicles, news and comments from those who have made the whole world turned to look at this place have fallen short.
Caño Cristales is a paradise on earth but not only on account of the visible or because of an image search on Google (they are all true, no exaggeration there).
When you are finally there, you realize those pictures are not edited at all because there is no need for it, the landscape it self and the sun reflection on the water will give us the best picture.
Taking the experience in
It’s the whole experience and each and every one of its ingredients make it magic. Simply forgetting, for a few seconds at most, about the astonishing view on account of the awing stories the tourist guides tell you.
It is seeing the contrast between a tropical rain forest, a mountainous forest and the water colors that from time to time make us feel in a Mediterranean Island.
A torrential rain that falls while waking and that doesn’t matter at all, that is the true story of people who changed war for progress, the oblivion of being a global example of a well thought and carefully calculated ecotourism.
It is each one of the moments that you experience before having to return to Villavicencio on a plane that make your experience count and worth every second of it.
There is a reason why Caño Cristales has to be in my top of those lists commonly circulating about places you must see before you die. You have to be there and see all of it with your own eyes, bathe in this healing waters for the body and soul. You need that to understand that Caño Cristales is much more than “The most beautiful river in the world” “The rainbow river” or “The seven colors” or “ A watercolor made river”. It is a whole different understanding of the sense of a magical and wonderful place that transcends any meaning like a calm corner of the world like this one.