I’ve just got back from an amazing trip to South America. Thanks to a wonderful collection of local guides, all our plans went without a hitch (with the exception of Rich’s camera getting stolen just five days in, but we won’t dwell on that). Yet sometimes it’s the unplanned things that really make a day. So it was for us in Cartagena de Indias, Columbia.
When we contacted Martin of Cartagena Tour Guide, we naturally asked to see Cartagena’s historic old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the colossal fortress of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (blogs to follow). But a bit of local knowledge goes a long way, and Martin suggested we start our day in a way we’d never have considered on our own: a ride through a mangrove swamp in a traditional dugout canoe.
To the east of Cartagena is a lagoon and mangrove swamp called Ciénaga de la Virgen. It’s connected to the Caribbean Sea by a narrow opening named La Boquilla. The area around La Boquilla is what’s known as a Palanque, a settlement first founded by slaves who escaped from Cartagena during colonial times.
The road to La Boquilla was out, so we had to approach along the beach. Once there, our guide for the day, José, introduced us to Elias, our ‘captain’ for the morning.
Our brightly-painted canoe really was carved from a single trunk, with a little bit of wood added around the rim for extra depth. Elias propelled it through the shallow waters of the lagoon using a long pole, which reminded me of punting in Cambridge, England.
We crossed a stretch of open water at La Boquilla and entered a wide waterway that lazily wound its way between banks dense with mangrove trees.
Before long, Elias turned the canoe straight at one of the banks. At first I though he had spotted something and was approaching to give us a closer look. Then I realised he was actually taking into a much narrower channel, hemmed in tightly by mangrove roots.
After a while, the snake-like channel opened up into another part of the lagoon. There we were lucky enough to see local fishermen casting nets in the traditional manner from their own canoe.
Our watery journey through the mangrove trees really was a special experience. And all the more so because we hadn’t really known what to expect. A big ‘thank you’ to Martin, José and Elias!
If you’re the sort of person who’d enjoy drifting through the mangroves of Columbia in a dugout canoe, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
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