A few months ago I had the privilege of joining the 24 and under Costa Rican Men's team in Colombia. The team was invited to Colombia's National Rafting competition, 'Remando Por La Paz' (Rafting for Peace), as honorary guests. The competition was held at a FARC disarmament camp on the Pato River in Miravalle, San Vicente del Caguán, Colombia.
Colombia's civil war has lasted more than 50 years resulting in 220,000 deaths and seven million displaced people. In 2016 a glimmer of hope was given to the Colombian people when a peace agreement was signed between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia). The FARC disarmament camps are a product of the peace deal. FARC members join the disarmament camps to help them transition back into society while also receiving a monthly stipend from the government. Many of the ex-combatants at the camp were born into the movement, born into war. These camps are meant to help them learn new skills or to use existing skills that help them transition into a more traditional way of living. But many of them choose not to leave and after spending time in the Miravalle village it's understandable why they decide to stay. For some, it's out of concern for their personal safety but also this village in particular is perched on a mountain ridge with the most stunning of views. Many if not all of them still consider themselves part of the FARC and continue to participate in efforts to have a voice and seat within the National government. The fight hasn't ended but they have turned to non-violent means in standing up for what they believe in.
I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I arrived to Colombia, nervous. I was, after all a blonde gringa traveling to what was Colombia's more violent regions a mere three years ago. The armored tanks on the side of the road, a Colombian soldier collecting our passports with a machine gun slung around his shoulder, and UN trucks didn't necessarily help to alleviate my concerns. But within hours of our first day at the camp I had forgotten all of my fears and was able to see this experience for exactly what it was; a unique opportunity to see people who were once enemies brought together by the river. Police, military, FARC, and employees of the UN were all cheering from the river bank as the rafts teams raced to the finish line. It was a beautiful thing to see the river wash the pain of the past away if even just for a moment.
The Rio Pato, where the event was held, is one of many beautiful rivers in Colombia. I was lucky to get the opportunity to paddle a few days while I was there and it was perfect for stand up paddling. If you're looking for a new and unlikely paddle destination I would absolutely add Colombia to the list. The people were so kind and generous with a genuine love for the river. It's a country with so much to offer and dozens of beautiful rivers to paddle. And when you come, come to the Pato River get to know the amazing guides at Caguán Expeditions and support their efforts to live a more peaceful life through adventure tourism.