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Notes from La Guajira, Colombia

This past month, I traveled to Colombia. I wasn't my first time in the country, but certainly my introduction to La Guajira.  This region is northern part of Colombia- the land of the Wayuu people.  This area belonging to the Wayuu, is actually split between Colombia and Venezuela.

 When in Colombia, you eat patacones and seldom wish for anything else when you're on a beautiful deserted beach, but perhaps a beer and freshly caught shrimp right?

The Wayuu have preserved and maintained their native culture in many ways, including language and way of life. For example, they are one of the last matriarchal societies in the world. The woman is the center of the familial group and a person's last name is that of the mother.

La alta Guajira is remote desert with crystal clear coastal water where the Wayuu live off of seafood, goat meat, and like most Colombians, arepas. I had the chance to visit a handful of kitchens during our five days in the region. This breakfast prep is one of my favorite kitchen memories from the trip: arepas cook over an open flame, a woman transfers the crispy ones to make room for more that are being formed on the spot. Made with corn meal and cheese, these corn cakes are one of the staple foods in the diet of people in the most remote part of the county.

The upper region of La Guajira feels vast and bleak. Our driver, Vladimir, navigated the Land Cruiser for 5 days, where we visited secluded beaches, small communities, and sand dunes. He made tracks in the dry dirt using a keen sense of direction- there are no roads, only the next small indigenous settlement to move toward.

The Wayuu expect payment of food or water to pass through their land upon each encounter. Our tour guide came prepared for this. We passed out countless galletas, (cookies) and other cars appeared to pass out single-serving bags of water. They always had things for sale including their traditional crocheted bags, lobster, dried shrimp, and petroleum in 2 liter plastic bottles.

Speaking of oil. This area is rich in many resources, including natural gas, coal and salt. We visited a salt refinery at the end of the trip. White mounds gleamed in the sun as men shoveled salt into large bags ready for transport. La Guajira supplies the majority of salt to the country.

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