Many people often find Cali on a map and comment that I'm "pretty close to the Pacific." This is both true and misleading. Cali is close to the Pacific as the crow flies and relatively close - about three hours - by mini-bus. However, if its a beach you're looking for, you'll be hard-pressed to find the white sands and sun-soaked umbrella-filled beaches of your southern-California dreams. The entire western coast of Colombia is largely virginal tropical forest, dotted with a few small predominantly Afro-Colombian fishing communities. The beaches are mostly black sand and it is almost guaranteed to rain at least part of every day, if not the majority. The western coast of Colombia is one of the wettest places on Earth.
I've traveled here before, during my first year's Thanksgiving break I got to explore the port city of Buenaventura and take a boat north to the towns of Juanchaco and Ladrilleros but I haven't been back since. This last weekend a few of us decided to explore the northern part of the Pacific coast, a region famous for its pristine beauty and secluded nature, called Chocó. From Medellín we hoped on a small 18-seater prop-plane for an hour flight to the coast. (You know its a small plane when the pilot hands you earplugs as you climb the steps.) Watching the terrain change and the towns and roads below disappear as we approached the coast was exciting.
We landed outside the town of Bahía Solano and were met by a man who would drive us the rest of the way to the (unicorporated) village of El Valle. (Good luck finding it labeled on a map.) The road was terrible at beat and if not for the primitive power and experience of the "wooden" vehicle we were jammed into, along with crates of eggs and bags of fish, I'm not sure how we ever got trough the pot-holed muddy road. Once in El Valle we were taken to our cabaña which was within sight and sound of the crashing waves.
For the next few days we enjoyed the warm climate, relaxed culture, warm and friendly people, and delicious Pacifico cuisine. I, however, enjoyed the inside of my mosquito-netted bed after developing what was later diagnosed as a tonsil infection which caused me to throw up everything I ate for two days. It's never fun being sick while on vacation but at least I had the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the rain on the roof to lull me to sleep.
One of my colleagues, Tara, had a friend visiting from California. He brought along his fancy water-proof, bulldozer-proof camera and made this video of our trip. It pretty much sums up all the sights and sounds of the typical coastal community in Chocó. Note my conspicuous absence from most of the "field trips":
The music is by a Colombian group called Chocquibtown, taking their name from both the department (state) of Chocó and the department's capital Quibdo. The lead song is called "Somos Pacifico" ("We Are From the Pacific Region") and celebrates being from Chocó. In the chorus are the words "...la pinta, la raza, y el don del sabor!" Translated, this phrase is singing the praises that the colors and race of Chocó are what give it its flavor. This could easily be the anthem of this unique region.