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I'd been dreaming of a visit to a peculiar area of Colombia from a very young age-ever since reading a National Geographic article about a mysterious mountain range, The Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta. It was an enchanting region with snowcapped peaks reaching 19,000 ft. or nearly 6000 meters, only 18 miles from the Caribbean Coast. This region is also known to harbor some very reclusive native tribes who believe that Sierra Nevada De Santa Maria is The Heart of The World or the birthplace of mother earth.

 

Colombia is rumored to be inhabited mainly by bandits, drug lords and guerillas-with some amount of truth. Both American and Canadian governments give stern warnings to tourists visiting the country. Thus, careful planning, research, and guidance would be needed to put the final pieces, people, and resources together.

With a little help from the Colombian Consul in Vancouver, the dream materialized and our team, an international mix of well known adventurers, film makers, and photographers, were on a flight to Bogota, Colombia to ski and snowboard the mysterious Sierra Nevada De Santa Maria's. We had a few contacts in Bogota, but otherwise we were totally on our own. Even the most current guide books had only been updated as recent as 1994.

 

Still on the plane, we nervously began to joke about "going up the river" as in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or the movie Apocalypse Now. We chatted of Colombian headlines talking of crucial deal making going on between the guerillas and the government- President Pastrana had even withdrawn Colombian troops from Guerilla territory in a goodwill gesture. American warnings about political strife in Colombia had our American team members worried, so they were pinned with Canadian flags to be a part of the "all Canadian" adventure.

As our plane passed over the Caribbean coastline, far off to the east, we spotted a sudden jutted relief of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Its peaks were covered in an abundance of snow and our hearts began to throb! Landing in Bogota, we decided to keep our stay short, and get to Valledupar, the starting point of our trek into the Sierra from the South, as quickly as possible. The entire team met in Bogota and then flew to Valledupar. The route took us very close to our destined Sierra.

 

Valledupar is a bustling city of 200,000 inhabitants. It is a middle class Colombian town whose major industries are cotton and coffee. We found a decent hotel, though a bit pricey, and soon realized that we were the only "gringos" or tourists in the whole town. While shopping for our food supplies, we had our first encounter with the Arhuaco Indians, buying them a meal of soup and fish at the local market.

The Sierra is populated by four tribes: The Kogi, Arhuaco, Arzarios and The Kankuamo. The four are descendants of the ancient Tairona civilization. They believe that they are the guardians to the heart of the world or the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They also dub us as "the little brothers" that was banished from their culture a long time ago and left the Sierra to develop many advanced technologies. The natives insist that technology has greatly contributed to the earth's pollution and environmental problems. Furthermore, they claim that technology is used far too often to wage wars instead of actually advancing humankind. The Arhuacos, who live on this southern side of the Sierra have had more contact with the Spanish than the Kogis who simply retreated into the jungles of the northern slopes with the coming of the Spanish conquistadors.

For more articles and information about the Journey To The Heart of The World expedition can be found on the following Web sites.

 

Extreme Explorations Explore.com ReelWest Media Wave Sport-SC

 

Journey To The Heart of The World could not have been brought to you without the help of the following organizations.

 


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