Home » DESTINATIONS » Rafting Colombia’s Pato River with former FARC combatants

Rafting Colombia’s Pato River with former FARC combatants

(CNN) — The drinking water is chilly and shouting echoes across the river. As the boat methods the rapids, a roar goes up to maintain nonetheless, ahead of a shout of “PADDLE” and the six rafters dig into the tumbling waters in an impressively synchronized display.

As they are unveiled by the rapids with barely a splash in the hull, you would under no circumstances guess that some of these males and females are more accustomed to bearing arms than oars.

The River Pato in the Caquetá division in southeast Colombia was at the time just one of the primary battlegrounds among the Innovative Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Military (identified by the Spanish acronym FARC-EP) and the Colombian authorities.

A divisive group seen alternately as Marxist vigilantes battling for rural rights or a harmful criminal corporation, they surrendered their weapons in 2016 next a landmark peace accord. FARC leaders ended up presented non-voting representation in Congress and the rank and file the prospect to return to civilian lifestyle.

Frellin “Pato” Noreña is a 33-yr-old ex-combatant who guides river expeditions.

Steph Dyson

Thousands of males and ladies poured out of jungle camps and, with the help of the governmental Agency for Reincorporation and Standardization (ARN), moved into prepared-produced communities created to reintegrate previous guerrillas back again into modern society.

Clinging to a cliff edge over the rumbling foam of the Pato River, Miravalle is a person of them.

Home to much less than 50 individuals, this row of one-tale concrete buildings with flimsy corrugated steel roofs feels tranquil but comprehensive of lifetime. Fathers drive youngsters down the village’s only avenue in prams, although customers of the army, who have a foundation close by, prevent to chat idly with locals sharing a cup of coffee outside their houses.

When compared with the other 25 communities throughout Colombia that home a combination of former combatants and civilians, Miravalle is exclusive. Here, the neighborhood is working with rafting to broker peace.

Miravalle is perched above the Pato River.

Miravalle is perched over the Pato River.

Steph Dyson

Recovering from a 52-yr conflict

The downing of arms by the FARC marked the close of a 52-yr conflict performed out in generally rural Colombia. The bloodshed took over 220,000 generally civilian lives and displaced extra than seven million Colombians.

Miravalle and the Pato River sit in the El Caguán river basin, an place around the size of Switzerland. It has a fraught history. It served as the unofficial funds of the FARC’s activities, turning out to be a demilitarized zone under FARC control for a few yrs in the early 2000s, immediately after the army withdrew as element of peace negotiations. When these failed, the location returned to violent electric power struggles.

Museo Local de Memoria Histórica looks at remnants of the 52-year conflict.

Museo Area de Memoria Histórica looks at remnants of the 52-12 months conflict.

Steph Dyson

It can be uncomplicated to understand how the terrain offered excellent address for the guerrillas to retain a strategic maintain on the area for so very long. These remote and ferociously inhospitable highlands are heavily forested, sitting down at the transition position between the Amazon jungle and the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

Undulating hills perpetually capped with mist are blanketed by tropical forests, although serpentine rivers dissect the land, carrying absent some of the highest rainfalls in the Amazonian location.

Now this nine-kilometer extend of Class III to IV rapids is showing how tourism can aid heal deep wounds. Readers can learn about the conflict from the mouths of the previous guerrillas by themselves and their civilian teammates who lived via it on the other facet.

A cartoon compares the past and present as residents take up oars.

A cartoon compares the earlier and current as citizens get up oars.

Steph Dyson

A new sort of tourism

On a crystal clear but characteristically moist day in April, problems are suitable for tackling the foaming rapids of the Pato River, a physique of water deemed among the the very best in Colombia, if not South The usa for rafting.

Gentler paddling together the Course I and IIs of Fisherman’s Canyon is also on the playing cards. It truly is an afternoon spent drifting via this narrow canyon, whose steep partitions have been whittled into bulbous designs by millennia of rainfall and drip with vegetation. Substantial over, macaws — just one of around 460 chook species residing in the location — roost in fissures in the rock.

The calmer waters of Fisherman's Canyon provide some gentler paddling.

The calmer waters of Fisherman’s Canyon deliver some gentler paddling.

Steph Dyson

In Miravalle alone, there’s the Museo Regional de Memoria Histórica (Neighborhood Museum of Historical Memory) to stop by. Started applying donations from local community customers, its displays are nothing short of interesting. One particular these types of exhibit is a duplicate of the handbook used to practice FARC recruits, which exhibits you how to do anything from launching a grenade to placing up an orderly camp. It is a stark but engrossing window into the world that the guides at Caguán Expeditions have left.

Although a glimpse into the logistics of war may possibly mesmerize and disturb in equal steps, the guides are thorough not to glamorize the conflict. Alternatively, switching perceptions about the location is superior on their checklist.

“A person of our desires is to exhibit Caquetá from another perspective. In some sections of the nation, they affiliate it with violence, insecurity and drug trafficking. But what about the wonderful landscapes?” says 44-calendar year-outdated tutorial Hermides “Profe” Linares, a 30-yr veteran of the FARC.

Guide Hermides "Profe" Linares, a 30-year veteran of the FARC, is proud to show off the area's natural beauty.

Manual Hermides “Profe” Linares, a 30-12 months veteran of the FARC, is very pleased to clearly show off the area’s pure magnificence.

Steph Dyson

‘Rivers can be used for peace building’

“Rafting was normally at the back of my head”, states 38-12 months-aged Duberney Moreno, captain of the community’s rafting staff, Remando por la Paz (Rafting for Peace), and a member of the FARC for 13 years. He is heat, jovial and pretty effortless to like — as are all 8 guides who head up Caguán Expeditions and lead guided rafting outings on the Pato River.

It all commenced a couple of yrs ago when former FARC commander Hernán Darío Velásquez, far better recognised as “El Paisa,” brought rafts to the location and secured the aid of the Colombian Nationwide Instruction Support (SENA) to take persons out on the river.

But it was only when Mauricio Artiñano, a investigation officer with the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, visited in 2018 that every thing improved. He contacted Rafael Gallo, operator of Costa Rica-based rafting operator Ríos Tropicales and founding member of the International Rafting Federation (IRF).

Gallo immediately regarded the river’s possible for commercial rafting and despatched two of his instructors to Colombia in August 2018. A thirty day period and a 50 % of intense coaching in raft guiding, kayaking, river basic safety and rescue skills followed.

Murals in Miravalle show revolutionaries and FARC commanders.

Murals in Miravalle clearly show revolutionaries and FARC commanders.

Steph Dyson

“We prolonged an invitation to all people who wished to sign up for and be aspect of the workforce. About 20 individuals confirmed up,” recalls Moreno. Interest speedily waned. “On the 3rd day, a few persons were leaving, the subsequent working day a different two gave up until we ended up with 8 people, the ones we remain now,” he states with a snort.

A blend of ex-fighters and civilians, all 8 had been certified as guides by the IRF in an formal graduation ceremony attended by customers of the UN and the Colombian authorities.

Rafting has given that taken them across the earth. In 2019, the team competed at the Earth Rafting Championships in Australia below the moniker Rafting for Peace, a title adopted soon after they ended up asked to participate employing the freshly proven IRF Peace Flag. In advance of they remaining property turf, the minister for sports activities presented them with the Colombian flag, a moment symbolizing the wide transformations that the area — and the local community — have experienced.

The rafters failed to know it at the time, but using rafting for peace immediately after a extended conflict isn’t really a new thought. Following all, it truly is a sport that necessitates intense teamwork to stay clear of planting everybody in the h2o.

The roots of the rafting federation (IRF) lie in the conclusion of the Cold War, when Russian and US rafters had been introduced jointly to raft in Siberia. Ever due to the fact, “the IRF has been intrigued in observing how rivers can be applied for peace creating throughout different countries,” describes Artiñano.

‘We’ve crossed into a new world’

In a region continue to battling to recover, inviting visitors into the region for frank conversations about the conflict, its origins and its impact might be a salve to these wounds.

This is the belief of Lizeth Riaño, CEO and co-founder of the non-revenue Collective Impulse and previous chief effects officer at Bogotá-based mostly tour operator Impulse Vacation. Each businesses have played an integral role in monetarily and strategically supporting Caguán Expeditions, as well as other peace-constructing projects across the region.

When visitors get there, “the guides inform their stories more than and over, they converse about the hardships, do the job via the trauma, and generate an extraordinary feeling of empowerment and self-recognition,” states Riaño.

It is a point of view shared by Mauricio Artiñano. He views tourism projects founded in the wake of the peace accord as supplying genuine prospects for peace setting up. “For Colombia to transfer past the horrors that occurred for far more than 50 years, it is really important to build bridges of dialogue and reconciliation. Tourism is a person way of performing that.”

Tourism officials believe discussions about the conflict help heal wounds.

Tourism officers believe that conversations about the conflict help recover wounds.

Steph Dyson

Conversing about rural lifestyle and the historical past of how the conflict occurred is of uttermost value to the guides. “It is our duty to explain to these stories due to the fact they are the root of what actually occurred,” claims Frellin “Pato” Noreña, a 33-12 months-previous ex-combatant who joined the FARC when he was 16 yrs old.

Wherever you go in Miravalle, there is certainly a palpable feeling of delight in what rafting has accomplished. As soon as a frontier and battlefield between the FARC and federal government forces, now the River Pato is a neutral put in which civilians, ex-FARC and even on event the military, row jointly.

“Ahead of, the river was dim and you didn’t know what was on the other side,” claims Noreña, staring across the Pato River. He appears to be visibly relieved as he claims, “Now we see more than it and we see tourism. It’s like we’ve crossed into a new earth.”

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