Voyage to South America travel blog

A car in Minca

A tree that I thought was amazing. Poo on the pic

Me and our guide

Our guide on the trail. Trail? THICK jungle

Mist of the Sierra Nevada's

Mist of the Sierra Nevada's

Virgin jungle

The trail to our guide's finca, Santa Elena

Looking at the Santa Marta's, at sunset above our guide's finca, Santa...

Looking at the Santa Marta's, at sunset above our guild's finca, Santa...


The Devil - Coca



Annie with the cutest little boy. We brought balloons. It was clearly...

Wiwa family

Sand flies!!

Sooooo Annie

The chief's casa

April 1, 2011

Three days ago we hired a guide from Minca; a small village at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Minca sits at approximately 600m and is home to a few thousand.

We wanted him to take us to a Wiwa village deep within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. These peoples have been virtually isolated from western civilization for centuries and have only recently allowed ‘younger bothers’ into their world.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain range apart from the Andes chain that runs through Colombia. Reaching an altitude of 5,700m above sea level just 42 km from the Caribbean coast, the Sierra Nevada is the world's highest coastal range. Yeah! That intense! The Sierra Nevada encompasses about 17,000 km² and is the source of 36 rivers.

The highest point of the Sierra Nevada’s [and Colombia in general] may be either Pico Cristóbal Colón or Pico Simón Bolívar; it has yet to be determined which is higher. Topographic maps show that their true elevations are approximately 5,700m, lower than the 5,775m elevation that is often quoted.

The Sierra Nevada is a compact group, relatively small in area, and completely surrounded by lands with elevations below 200m. The main backbone of the Andes cannot be reached from the Sierra Nevada without dropping below this level. This makes its highest point the world's fifth most prominent summit.

Above 4500–5000 meters lies the permanent snow cap; for now.

This is extremely rugged terrain. It has been a long long time since [if ever] I have seen land so steep with so much vegetation on it.

We met our guide at 10am in Minca and we were to drive to a finca called La Tagua [well not quite to La Tagua but a 10 minute walk] to leave Electera then walk to the guide’s finca called Santa Elena and spend the night. “Will my bike make it?” “Sure, look at it – no problem.” Right there I should have known something was up. Most people look at Electra and think she will go anywhere. 300kg’s dude!! How steep and how muddy? I have bald street tyres on [I left my knobbies in Bogota].

I dropped her once getting to La Tagua. In a bouldery creek. It was a fucking tough ride!! Steep muddy and scattered with loose fist sized rocks. I was thinking to myself, “If it fucking rains – at all - we are not getting out of here.”

The hike up to Santa Elena was not light. I suspect 400m gain in just over an hour. Santa Elena sits at 2200m. Just coming from Taganga which sits at 0m; I was a little woozy. It started to rain just as we parked the bike and didn’t let up until we got to the finca. We ate beans and rice with arapa and laid down for a nap. When we woke the rain had stopped, the sun was out and just setting. We waked about 70m in elevation to a rise over looking the finca to get a good view of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the finca below. It was a surreal sight. I have driven her this far and now I am watching the sun set over the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The steepness of the terrain and the fact that 95% of it was covered in virgin rain forest was stunning. I couldn’t believe how steep and huge everything was. Then there was the fog rolling out of the valley [that we were hiking into tomorrow to visit a Wiwa village] and into another that lead towards the coast. We could see the coast and huge freighter from where we were. With the right music and a video camera; it would have been National Geographic. Easy. I can die now.

Oh, one more thing…My Canon D10, that I bought to take pictures…well the batteries just died as I was taking pictures of the sunset. Now I have 4lbs of nothing to carry around. The guide lent us his camera [point and shoot] to take pictures with. Now all we have to do is hope he emails them to me.

Tomorrow we descend to 700m. This means an elevation drop of 1500m to the Wiwa village that had no name, spend two hours there and then hike 1100m of vertical back to Electra.

I am having a hard time finding any information about the Kogi, Arhuaco or the Wiwa but here goes. The article refers to the Kogi but also applies to the Arhuaco and the Wiwa as well.

In 1975 a grave robber found the remains of a lost Tairona religious center and called it the 'Lost City.' It is a six-day hike in dense jungle to witness a true wonder of the past. It is believed that there are two more lost cities. This hike is a little too much for me. I haven’t done much in the last few years.

The Kogi believe the Sierra Nevada to be the 'Place of Creation' and the 'Heart of the World'. They call themselves the Elder Brothers of humanity and consider their mission to care for planet. They claim to understand how the planet works as an integrated unit rather than the separation of all things in our worlds.

Much like other ancient tribal civilizations, that still exist on the planet, they believe themselves to be the custodians of the planet Earth here to keep things in balance.

They achieve this through meditation wherein they communicate with all living things on the planet - humans, animals, plants, rock, etc.

They live in Aluna, an inner world of thought and potential. From Aluna they astral travel or remote view to places both on and off the physical planet. Their sacred lands are perceived as a metaphysical symbol of cosmic forces within the whole world - an oracle of the natural balance and health of the planet.

Kogi society has changed little in the past five centuries. They survived as a culture because the Kogi focus all their energy on the life of the mind as opposed to the life of a body or an individual. Fundamental to that survival is the maintenance of physical separation from their world and the rest of humanity. They are very protective of their sacred space and the dense jungle is not kind to tourists.

They worry about the destruction of the rain forest as well as the planet itself. This area embraces some of the most biologically diverse tropical rainforests on the planet. The Kogi are inseparable from the rainforest habit in which they have lived since the dawn of time.

Through oracle prophecies and message with Spirit, they are aware of a great change that is coming now to planet Earth. Their Mountain is dying, symbolizing this transition. Similar to what many other tribes around the world see is a world that was about to be destroyed by the misuse of consciousness. Then they saw the emergence of light consciousness as part of the process of humanity emerging as a race of beings in higher evolved light bodies. This strongly connects with the metaphysical teachings of our times.

To penetrate a Kankurua is to enter into contact with the nine worlds and the nine states of consciousness that make it up. Some say they have moved beyond verbal language, using tones to create colorful images in their minds rather than thoughts expressed as sentences. Some Kogi speak telepathically to each other.

According to Drunvalo Melchizedek [who ever he is]:

The Kogi do not see us as 'sleeping' as many of the Hindu and Oriental religions do. The Kogi see humans as dead, shadows of the energy of what they could be. This is because they do not have enough life force energy and consciousness to be classified by them as real people.

The Kogi set out to find out why the 'dead ones' were still on Earth. As they searched the living vibrating records of this reality, they found exactly where and why it had happened. Some of the 'dead ones' had become alive, and had created a dream with enough life force to save the world as we know it.

They created a parallel world where life could continue to grow, a world where the dead could become alive. The Kogi were so specific to locate exactly who these people were that were creating this change that had altered the world's destiny.

The Kogi see these people with living bodies with light around them, people who had activated their Light Bodies or in the ancient terms, their Mer-Ka-Ba.

Separated by language but closely related by myth and memory, they share a common way of life and the same fundamental religious convictions. (A fourth group, the Kankuamo, also found protection in the Sierra Nevada, but they have now become more assimilated into Colombian society.) To this day the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa remain true to their ancient laws—the moral, ecological, and spiritual dictates of the primordial creator, a force they identify as the Mother—and are still led and inspired by a ritual priesthood. In an arduous process of initiation that can take up to 18 years, young acolytes are taught the values of their society, among them the notion that their spiritual work alone maintains the cosmic (or as we might say, ecological) balance.

When the priests [Shaman’s], or Mama’s, speak, they immediately reveal that their reference points are not of our world. They refer to the Spanish conquest as if it were a recent event. They talk openly of the force of creation, or Se, the spiritual core of all existence, and aluna, human thought, soul, and imagination. What is important, what has ultimate value, is not what is measured and seen but what exists in the many realms of meanings and connections that lie beneath the tangible realities of the world, linking all things. The nine-layered universe of their cosmology, the nine-tiered temple where they gather, the nine months a child spends in its mother's womb are all expressions of creation, and each reflects and informs the other. A hill can also be a house, the mountains a model of the cosmos. The white hats worn by Arhuaco men also symbolize the snowfields of the sacred peaks. The hairs on a person's body echo the forest trees that cover the mountain flanks. Every element of nature is imbued with higher significance, so that even the most modest of creatures can be seen as a teacher, and every feature of the world mirrors the whole.

Kogi ‘Mamas’ are chosen from birth and spend the first nine years of childhood in a cave in total darkness learning the ancient secrets of the spiritual world or Aluna. They are the priests and judges who control Kogi society.

All major decisions and shamanic work are done by Divination. All is the world of Aluna, so the Mamas see a reflection of the physical world first in the spiritual world. If Aluna is the Mother, then the Kogi listen to the Mother by divining. This lost technique of divination is what keeps the Kogi world in balance and order.

The Mamas - as with other spiritual tribal leaders around the world - are worried that the Younger Brother has not heeded the first warning. If the Sierra Nevada or the Mother dies, the world will also die.

They use the coca bush for many things. Myths reveal that it was the Aluna herself who instituted coca chewing among the Kogi and who gave a lime gourd to her first son, as a symbolic wife. Other myths tell that coca was originally discovered in the flowing hair of a young girl who let her father only participate in its use. An envious and jealous young man transformed himself into a bird and, after watching the girl bathing in the river, seduced her. When he returned home and changed back into human shape, he shook his hair and out of it fell two coca seeds.

Small plantations of coca shrubs are found near all Kogi settlements, and provide the men with tender green leaves, plucked by the women. All adult men chew the slightly toasted leaves, adding to the moist wad small portions of lime. Coca shrubs are planted and tended by the men but the leaves are gathered by women. Periodically the men toast these leaves inside the temple, using for this end a special double-handled pottery vessel. This ritual vessel made by a Kogi priest can be used only for the toasting of coca leaves.

When chewed with coca, lime is a substance which helps the mucous membranes in the mouth absorb the alkaloids in the leaves. The Kogi produce Lime by burning sea shells on a small pyre carefully constructed with chosen splints. The fine white powder is then sifted into a ritual gourd which is carried by all men.

The Lime container consists of a small gourd which is slightly pear-shaped and perforated along the top. While all lime gourds consist of the same raw material, the wood of the stick which is inserted into it, must correspond to the patriline of the owner. Each patriline uses a different wood taken from the trees belonging to certain botanical species. The length of the stick may vary from 20 to 30cms. and, together with the degree of surface polish, these various characteristics identify its owner. An initiated Kogi man will easily recognise the patriline of his companions, simple by looking at their lime sticks.

This is actually pretty intense as all the me, over 18, have these gourds.

The symbolic importance of the lime container and its stick is manifold. In one, most important image, the gourd is a woman. During the marriage ceremony the mama gives the bridegroom a gourd with these words: "Now I give you a lime gourd; I give you a woman." He then hands the bridegroom the lime stick and orders him to perforate with it the gourd at its upper end, thus symbolizing the act of deflowering the bride.

Both men and women say quite openly that coca chewing has an aphrodisiacal effect upon male sexuality, and newly wed couples are very outspoken about this. Male initiation, marriage, and habitual coca chewing are three elements which coincide at a certain period in a young mans life. Young men sometimes say that they dislike coca chewing but most of them, sooner or later, yield to the pressures exercised by the priests and the older generation, and adopt the habit.

While slowly chewing some twenty or thirty toasted leaves, the man will wet the lower and slightly pointed end of the stick with saliva and will insert it into the gourd. Withdrawing the stick again he will put the adhering lime into his mouth. Immediately he will rub the stick around the top of the gourd in a circular motion. Eventually, this daily repeated action of rubbing the stick on the gourd surface begins to form a thin layered crust of yellowish-white lime that covers the upper part of the container. Some old lime gourds display a disc shaped accretion of up to 10cms in diameter, carefully fashioned by the gourd's owner.

The many symbolic meanings of coca chewing and of the physical objects involved in this act, form a coherent whole. In macrocosmic perspective, a lime gourd is a model of the universe; the stick when inserted, becomes a world axis, and knowledgeable men will be able to talk at great length, explaining the structure of the universe in terms of levels, rims or directions appearing on the gourd.

On another scale, the gourd can be compared to the Sierra Nevada; the lime-splattered upper part are the snow peaks, and the stick is the world axis. Certain mountain peaks, crowned with white, rocky cliffs, are the Sun's lime containers, and so are all the temples and houses.

The coca plant is an integral part of the Kogi way of life, deeply involved with their traditions, religion, work and medicine. Perhaps the most ancient use of coca in South America is its employment in shamanistic practises and religious rituals. The mild mental excitation induced by chewing the coca leaves enables the shaman to enter more easily into a trance state in which he could communicate with the spiritual forces of nature and summon them to his aid.

Large scale deforestation and clearing of the jungle is posing a massive threat to the natural habitat of the Sierra Nevada and its flora and fauna. In recent years the sinister illusion of the marijuana cultivation practised by settlers from inland and fueled by encouragement by the Columbian and International mafia has destroyed vast areas of the jungle.

As the world becomes 'smaller' - and 'old' meets 'new' - even the most ancient civilizations will become part of the evolution now occurring for all of humanity as a race. Nothing in human history ever remains the same as we move through our journey back to our spiritual origins.

In 1990 the Kogi decided they must speak out to the rest of the world. They had survived by keeping themselves isolated but they decided that it was time to send a message to the ‘Younger Brother’. They could see that something was wrong with their mountain, with the heart of the world. The snows had stopped falling and the rivers were not so full. If their mountain was ill then the whole world was in trouble.

The Mamas sent one of the Kogi who spoke Spanish to contact a British film maker who was in Colombia at that time. They asked the BBC to make a film to tell the Younger Brother about their concern. It was called 'The Elder Brother's Warning 'or' The Message from the Heart of the World'. Alan Ereira, the producer, has also written a book about the Kogi called “The Heart of the World.” This is a very very good documentary.

Since the film was brought out many changes have taken place. The film had a major impact on the Colombian Government and also on the grave robbers. The grave robbers felt that they should stop because they felt bad about disturbing their ancestors. There are now two Kogi members of parliament. The Tairona Heritage Trust was set up to support the Kogi and to buy back some of the original Kogi lands to give them a passage to the sea.

This may mean a lot of blah blah to a lot of people but when you are high in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in a small Wiwa village of 15 mud and bamboo huts took a year and a half to get here, from Canada by motorbike - it’s pretty thick.

I hope Electra is OK, she still has to get us outta here. It’s been raining on and off for the last couple of days. When it rains – IT fucking rains!! Maybe that’s the wrong thing to think – but I gotta get outta here sooner or later.

When we arrived at the village we hit one house first. I realized later he was ‘the gate keeper’. We BS’ed with him for 30 minutes or so then we made our way to the main part of the village.

Now, I am somewhat of a bush person. I grew up on a farm [mas o menos], I have spent A LOT of time in the bush in Canada and a lot of time in jungles all over the world but when we were walking to the main village – I swear to Christ I heard calls that where not from the jungle. THEY were ‘calls to one another’.

When we arrived at the village there were only a few [3] people around. None of them showed interest except of Marino. A young boy of about 10. We asked when the others were going to show, especially the Mama. Could ask him any question I wanted – after all he is God. I was told, “They are working in the finca’s.” We sat there in the rain for two hours for anyone to show and none did. The noseeums ate me.

Mamas do not work. We were not welcome. I felt like dirt. I should have never come to these peoples lands. For what? To take a few pictures to say I was there? It was wrong. It was a bad scene. I never said anything to any of the others.

There was only ‘one family’ that came out to visit us. ‘One family’ of about – well I am not sure, we were told 15 There was Marino, and child of ‘about 15’ and another ‘of about 13’ and a husband and wife [I don’t think he was related but the wife was Marino’s kid sister]. She was ‘about’ 12 and expecting. No one knows how old each other is – or we are lead to suspect. They are all ’about’.

Everyone does not cut their hair. Everyone wears white smocks [when new].

I kept all my shit covered. There is nothing I can to about my hair though. I put it up in a bun. When Marino showed a little more curiosity I let it down and offered him to touch it. He ran off giggling. Most peoples I meet like this really are curios about my hair and always want to touch it.

This was such an unbelievable sight that I could write forever and never touch what it was like. This IS travel. Fuck parasailing.

I want to go back but know I shouldn’t – can’t – won’t… It’s not good for ‘Younger Brother’ to be in this place.

National Geographic has a great article. I am not sure of the year or month.


Mary’s in India - Dido

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