During our short time in Riohacha, La Guajira, we wanted to visit the Flamingos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Santuario de Fauna y Flora/Parque los Flamencos). We took a cab out of Riohacha with our new taxi-driver friend, on a completely deserted straight road for about 20 minutes, when he admitted he didn’t know where the park was.
We continued straight and asked a rare passerby on a motorbike for directions. After finding the narrow track leading to the park, we noticed another motorbike turn around and start following us, having immediately spotted the ‘outsiders’. The guy on the motorbike sped up to beside our window until we stopped and rolled it down. He proceeded to tell us that he was a local guide for the Flamingo Park and he could take us out on the canoe to see the flamingos. We hadn’t done much research and didn’t even realize we’d need to get a canoe…or that it would take over an hour on the canoe to reach the flamingos. So we put our trust in the guide and let him lead the way for $30,000 COP (12 euro). We invited our taxi man friend on the canoe with us but the guide told us there was only room for three people so instead he helped us push the boat out to the lake.
The sanctuary, a National Heritage and Culture site of Colombia, is full of swamps, lagoons and dry forest with a bustling range of birds, plants, fish and more. We rowed for about an hour through the shallow lake, as local fishermen stood knee-deep in the water with nets catching fish. Our guide, Cesar, explained to us how some of the other guides try to take a short cut and fool tourists by bringing them to a part of the lake with ‘fake flamingos’, pink and red birds often mistaken for flamingos and lacking the black markings on their wings that distinguishes a real flamingo bird.
When we arrived Cesar told us to jump out and walk through the lake towards the birds, as it was too shallow for the canoe to go any further. We gladly hopped into the smooth muddy lake and began plodding our way through the sinking mud for a few meters. The sun was beginning to set at this time making for beautiful silhouettes of the boat on the lake.
When we got near the flamingos…they flew away. So we tried to follow them again. Chasing birds through a lake isn’t really ideal…or what I expected when they said we were going to a national park but it was nice to see the birds in the wild all the same. We eventually gave up the chase as it was a losing battle and headed back toward the boat. The best time to visit the Flamingo Park is October and November when the flamingos migrate there in plentiful numbers and can be seen much closer up.
A Strangers Story
The whole way there and back Cesar spoke to us about many things and we simply listened. He told us he was a descendant of the Wayuu people of Guajira and how he would come out in the canoe at night to fish, as it was the most peaceful and he could sleep under the stars. He also told us of a tragedy that struck the town a few years back where him and his friends were fishing in a big new boat given to the community by the government, to improve their fishing industry. They were miles out at sea when a storm hit. He said he had never seen waves that high in his life. The boat sank. One of his friends couldn’t swim so they had to try holding him up as they tried to swim in the dark through the night towards the shore. They were freezing, their lips were cracked and blue, they were extremely hydrated and still so far from the shore by the time the sun rose. They were utterly exhausted and thought they wouldn’t make it despite seeing the shore in the distance. Unfortunately their friend who couldn’t swim didn’t make it and the two others amassed just enough energy together to reach the shore where they lay exhausted and close to death.
Its incredible the stories you hear from people when you travel, from such a vast range of different people. We told him also about our plans to travel as much as possible. He assumed we were very rich but he was very intrigued and encouraging of the idea. He told us traveling would be one of the greatest things we would do and he was right.
For more travel photos from Parque los Flamencos, check out our Flickr set here.