There is only so much that I can share about this return to the Macarena. It was an academic trip, not journalistic, and thus perhaps the most interesting details will remain unwritten, but fear not, there is still plenty to consider.
I was here in 2012 and had the opportunity then to see Caño Cristales in all of its glory. On this occasion, we were here too early in the year – May – and there had been a significant amount of rainfall which obscured much of the famed red Macarenia clavígera plants. It serves as a reminder that a whole variety of factors need to be aligned to make the trip truly unforgettable. Water levels, sunlight and bloom amongst others.
As I previously mentioned, this was an academic trip and we were flown down to the town of the Macarena by the Colombian Airforce in a plane which resembled either an egg with wings or an oversized drone. You decide from the photos. The plane was an Israeli Arava STOL aircraft purchased in 1978. Originally the Colombian Airforce had three, two have since been retired…leaving just this one.
Life on the Fudra base where we were put up was surprisingly comfortable. My parents spent a vast amount of money educating me at a private school in the UK. Let me just say that this base was a huge improvement on what I experienced in north London. There was air conditioning, comfortable bunks, a snack bar and an airy officers’ mess. Of course, I know that life is not rosy on a military base in what was – prior to the peace dialogues with the FARC guerrillas – the principal military operations theatre for central southern Colombia here in the coca growing region of Meta. Clearly we were shielded from the harsh realities of life here.
What can I say about the interviews with the military, well, let me keep this brief for fear of revealing too much. Since I moved to Colombia full-time in 2007 there has been a significant change in the education, attitude and behaviour of the military. The people we interviewed, from the rank of General to grunt conscripts, are considerably more relaxed, more inquisitive and realistic about the possibilities for peace with the FARC.
However, there remains much to do with regards to coca eradication, the FARC’s involvement in extortions, communication is almost null in this area, the paucity of land titles and clarity over government-owned property will continue to cause major problems, illegal mining, legal mining, a weak justice system and finally, tourism to Caño Cristales (with an annual 5-6 month season) is not going to be enough to sustain the town of the Macarena.
Unfortunately, for the time being, I cannot share any further details from the interviews held.