If you travel along the canals, green tunnels snake through the mangrove forests, sunlight peaks through the leaves offering beautiful natural lighting. You feel like you are in a surrealistic place. Your are going into the real landscapes of 100 years of solitude. You are getting to Macondo Natural.
The Salamanca Island Road Park has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Across a 56,200 hectare wetland, it features three ecosystems: a mangrove forest, a tropical riparian forest, and tropical dry broadleaf forest. A canoe tour takes you through the canals, with their Aguja caymans and fiddler crabs, to Ciénaga de Marchena. With a surface area of 450 km2, it is Colombia’s largest coastal lagoon and a bird paradise with over 200 species.
These may be small stories, but taken together they demonstrate the imprint, commitment, and great passion people have for their homeland and how stories became part of their history:
“Gabriel García Márquez used to sail through this park on a little canoe, he came for inspiration and as he describes in his autobiography this was the only way to reach Aracataca, from Barranquilla. That’s why we affirm, those landscapes García Márquez describe on the story, are from Isla de Salamanca. And those lines, are part of our story now” explains Yureini while sail on the river.
“My parents and grandparents had to leave the park in the 1960s, when they were young. After many years I have returned. But I have returned. Since my childhood I have felt this close connection and love for nature in this area. I also want to take responsibility for my environment and show tourists that we take responsibility for our natural resources and care for our park,” says Yureini.
Yureini and her colleagues were trained as tour guides. And they don’t just take groups of visitors through the reserve. Their nature park also serves as a biosphere with many different species, in addition to a tourist attraction. Their job also includes environmental conservation as well as tourism, now focused on the relation of the park with the novel of García Márquez.
Yureini: “My father was a fisherman here. When I was a child, I sometimes walked two-and-a-half kilometres through the park to get to school. But I was not aware how important this park would become in my life. Then I decided that I want to be here, I want to learn more and more about its importance. For a year now I’ve been with Eco vive Tour and am very happy, because the project is very important for my professional development. I know that the connection between ecotourism, knowledge, and sharing information will be useful to future generations as well.
My father is also very happy about my growth: he always says, ‘Don’t look back, look ahead and have the courage to discover something new’.”
Valery: “Yureini and I are good friends. She has shown me the park and told me of her passion for the mangroves and swamps. I actually wanted to be a tailor and saw my future on the big catwalks. But this has definitely changed, I studied environmental management and decided that now I really want to learn more about the park, because it is right in front of my home. It is so amazing talking during a tour and informing visitors while appealing to their environmental conscience.
“No, I won’t make millions, but sharing knowledge and doing the right thing by being here are important to me. I want to learn and teach. Now in Colombia sustainable tourism is what is worthwhile and makes sense. Who knows, maybe I’ll start my own tour firm in a few years.”
Yessica: “I’ve been tied to the park since my childhood and had been involved with environmental groups early-on. Eco vive Tour has also given my parents a new future. Before they raised cattle and were farmers, today they work in the tourism sector.
“When we travel through the middle of the swamp, you can feel how it is surrounded only by mangroves, you sense this oxygen that is so pleasant, and that reality is so-to-speak pure oxygen, very pleasant and clear. With each tour I’m learning, it is a process that bears fruit and further advances our business. We have left behind the things we used to do that damaged the environment, and now we are rebuilding our lives differently by teaching people what is important and how precious this all is.”
Elizabeth: “I study tourism at Sena (The National Training Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje) and am also concentrating on learning English. It’s wonderful that I can do my field-based training here. Here we learn how to behave, how to express ourselves, how to engage tourists and sensitise visitors to the peculiarities of the park while teaching them about protection of the animal and plant world. I hope even more of my colleagues will find their passion in this work. Eco vive Tour has a promising future, especially because we are committed to the environmental protection programme.
“In addition to all the love that we feel for nature, we also take responsibility; this has a beneficial effect for us, because it helps us to improve our quality of life. I’m a mother, I can offer my daughter a better life, she will benefit, and she too can grow in this environment to eventually follow in my footsteps.”
The intervention in this territory is carried out through the Colombia + Competitive program, financed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented by Swisscontact.
Vía Parque Isla de Salamanca, is part of the Nature Tourism project, Macondo Natural, which seeks to give life to the novel 100 years of solitude, through a visit to places where the history and landscapes that inspired García Márquez take place.
The project Macondo Natural, started to work with Vía Parque, after an alliance with National Natural Parks that in the natural conservation agreements framework, have prioritized several groups of fishermen, farmers who worked in the park many years ago and had to leave, and their relatives. One of these groups, which is the beneficiary of the project is "Birding - Ecovivetour".
The beneficiaries have received support in two lines: First through workshops and training implementing the methodology for sustainable tourist destinations management, developed by Swisscontact. And secondly thorugh the articulation of actors on the region, so they can join forces and create a touristic product focused on the demand (of the novels readers), at the same time that they improve their abilities and capacities in the benefit of customer service and finally, to prepare the management of the destination.
Gabriel García Márquez, refers to the landscapes of the park, as the only way to reach Aracataca, from Barranquilla.
"The only way to get to Aracataca from Barranquilla was in a ramshackle motor boat by a pipe dug by the slave arm in the Colony, and then through a vast swamp of turbid and desolate waters, to the mysterious town of Ciénaga".