Crossing the border back from Venezuela felt like coming home. The Colombian border guards were professional, there was less rubbish at the roadside, and, at least statistically, our chance of being murdered dropped significantly.
That’s not to say we headed back to our Santa Marta comfort zone. Instead we spent four days traveling through Colombia’s northern most tip – the remote and rugged province of La Guajira. It’s the most remote place either of us have ever traveled. The furthest settlement we reached was about eight hours drive from any kind of paved road.
A good New Zealand analogy would be traveling round East Cape. The landscapes are amazing and the settlements are few and far between. And there’s a concentration of indigenous Colombians which is much higher than the rest of the country.
The local indigenous population are called the Wayuu. Their culture has remained more intact than other groups in Colombia mostly because the lands they live in are so desolate that they’ve not been of much interest to colonists. Most of La Guajira is a desert. Crops grow only in the rainy season, and some years the rainy season doesn’t come. This seems like a problem even Crown Irrigation Investments Limited couldn’t solve.
The Wayuu retain a separate language (though those of us trying to learn Spanish have chosen to ignore this fact). They also have some of their own customs, though others are being lost to integration. For example, polygamy is common, with cousins and occasionally siblings married. But dowries are no longer expected. Male Wayuu seem to have gotten the better of this development. They can still have multiple wives, but no longer have to give up goats to get then.
The Wayuu also have more complex customs that we struggled to decipher. For example, if you want to marry a woman, you need to ask her mother’s brother. Or failing that a male relative on her mother’s side. Historically that relative also got the benefit of the dowries.
By and large Wayuu weren’t wild about having their photos taken, so mostly what you’ll see in our posts about La Guajira are the astounding landscapes that they live in.