At dusk along the emerald green river, black silhouettes of monkeys unwind their tails and jump from tree to tree. Under branches that extend like fingers through the canal, the buffalo roam the reeds of grass against a curtain of pink clouds. This is the Río la Miel, on the Magdalena river route.
Overhead, bats flare through the warm, sweet air. A symphony of buzzing cicadas, croaking toads and singing birds accompany the gentle stream of water.
Surrounding the coffee departments of Caldas and Antioquia, often parallel to the neighboring Magdalena route, the La Miel River is one of Colombia's best kept secrets.
The Honey River, in Magdalena
The relative isolation of this wild jungle once damaged by the armed conflict led the famous author Héctor Abad Faciolince to label the area as "a black hole abandoned by God and men."
However, a short boat ride from the sleepy city of San Miguel, a retired Avianca pilot has opened an eco-lodge on 7,000 hectares along the riverbanks.
Lodging at the La Miel River
In five raised cabins, the beds are covered with mosquito nets next to small tables made of stumps. Beams of guadua they hold hanging hammocks and lanterns of rope-covered candles with moss. Meters below, crocodiles crawl in the mud.
The property itself is a kaleidoscope of fruits and vegetation. Coconuts, mangoes, oranges, bananas, papayas, limes and malt-flavored medlar berries are kept fresh for harvest. Green lizards are thrown under the achiote bushes, whose blood-red seeds were once used by indigenous populations for body paints. A stone's throw away, the bright guarana plants produce wells with twice the caffeine concentration of coffee beans.
Beyond this tropical garden of Eden, the landscape changes abruptly to green mountains traveled by white bulls. Holding a glass of fresh lemonade sweetened with panela, an unrefined cane sugar, I walk with a wooden stick that a local worker handed me to hit the poisonous snakes that glided through the low grass.
The only other animals I meet are the turtles sunbathing and the striped blue butterflies. Since dawn, a fleet of small motorized skiffs with wooden seats and hand-painted names such as "The Bengal" and "Jaguar" carry an increasing number of tourists upstream.
A walk along the river
Resident drivers navigate sandbars and rocks, stopping like George Washington crossing the Delaware. If it had been relegated to the back seat. Jumping off the sides with life jackets, we let the rapids guide us under makeshift bridges and waterfalls.
In quieter sections of the river, wide nets and dazzling hooks look for dozens of endemic fish species in the region. Daily transportation has been less rewarding since Isagen, the third largest power generation company in Colombia, built a hydroelectric plant along the La Miel river.
Water levels drop and suddenly rise to the whims of the turbines and a huge dam, leaving the fish trapped between the rocks and floating in the air. The history of the territory is a mixture of tranquility and violence.
Recent history of the la Miel river
In the 1960s, long-haired hippies would travel from the United States to the "Honey River." In search mainly of its famous psychedelic mushrooms. In addition to stage concerts among bewildered villagers.
In the seventies and eighties, an illegal mining boom. In addition, the expansion of guerrilla groups replaced peace and harmony. When the guerrillas resorted to cattle theft, extortion and kidnapping throughout the Magdalena Valley, some organized self-defense teams (Paramilitaries).
One of those groups would become the largest paramilitary organization in the country. These are the Self-Defense Peasants of Magdalena Medio (ACCM). The notorious commander of the Ramón Isaza block and his followers pleaded guilty in a demobilization process in 2006. Among the confessions are torture, massacres and forced displacement.
The people of La Miel have mixed feelings about their past. On the one hand, they no longer eat a fish called denton. This is because it fed on the bodies thrown into the river by squads of the death of rights.
On the other hand, the cocaine laboratories that emerged brought jobs and wealth. The locals seem to remember the famous drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. This once frequented the area for water skiing, for its large cash tips.
Next to the carnage, the paramilitaries imposed a ruthless mark. In previous days, the owner of the eco-lodge bought a harpoon from an unknown passerby. The next morning, two armed men showed up at his door. They told him that the harpoon had been stolen and that it would be returned to the rightful owner.
Shortly after, the seller and the alleged thief floated by Honey.
Honey in the Present
Returning home we pass endless fields of African palm. Paved lanes gradually replace dirt roads. The Palanquero military base is visible, full of camouflage helicopters and French planes. The government has worked hard in the area to bring peace to the area. Currently tourism is one of the main economic entrances in the country.