In Feb 2018 we had the opportunity to visit Colombia on a unique photo expedition with Colombia Photo Expeditions. This was our second visit to Colombia in 13 months; our first visit in Jan 2017 with Colombia Birdwatch included 2 weeks exploring Cali, the Cauca Valley, and the Central & Western Andes where we saw over 350 different species of birds. We knew we would return to explore Colombia again some day as the country is so diverse in its culture and landscape.
Thanks to the power of social media Christopher Calonje, owner of Colombia Birdwatch, & Kike Calvo, owner of Colombia Photo Expeditions, met and formed a partnership to offer a unique and extraordinary photo expedition visiting the Caribbean region of Colombia to coincide with Carnaval de Barranquilla.
We began our Colombian exploration in the colorful colonial city of Cartagena where we met our small group of fellow travelers. We were joined by a local guide for a tour of Cartagena and a visit to a local market. Our photo instruction and opportunities began the first morning and continued to the last day. Kike Calvo continually provided guidance and instruction to our group as a whole and answered many individual questions to enable us to increase our photography skills throughout the journey. Whether we were beginners or more advanced photographers, Kike was always available and willing to offer photography advice and assistance with camera settings for smart phone, point & shoot, mirror-less or SLRs cameras. Cartagena is a photographic gem with its colonial streets, colorful buildings and people of varying descent.
Our journey continued to Barranquilla for the highlight of the expedition, Carnaval. Thanks to Kike’s hard work and coordination with Carnaval staff, he was able to obtain special press pass access for our group to photograph several special events including Final Parade Float preparation, Coronation of the Carnaval Queen and the Carnaval Parade. This was truly a unique experience to wander among the Parade floats as workers painted, sanded and carved final details, to be directly in front of the stage for the energetic dance performances of the Coronation celebration, and finally, to be on the street to photograph the Parade floats, dancers, and crowds enjoying one of the largest Carnaval celebrations in the world. We were also able to visit the nearby community of Galapa where many of the masks are handmade; men and women were hard at work hand carving and painting masks as well as making small souvenirs. Our three days spent in Barranquilla were busy and filled with the high energy that defines Latin American culture. To be a part of Carnaval with the special photography access will always be a top highlight of our years of exploring the world.
After the excitement of Carnaval, we continued on to Tyrona to a rustic lodge on the coast for much needed R&R. As we began the second week of our two-week exploration, we had opportunities for hiking, birding with our local guide, and swimming. We left the coast for the Santa Marta mountains where our next lodge required a 3-hr journey in 4-wheel drive vehicles to to reach its location at 1900m in televation. Busy hummingbirds at numerous feeders gave us an opportunity to try our hand at bird photography. Catching a hummingbird in flight or hovering isn’t easy but Kike gave us valuable tips to increase our chances of capturing images of these beautiful birds. Relaxation, hiking and birding were all optional during our time in Santa Marta. We rose very early one morning for the 1-1/2 hr 4-wheel drive further up the mountain for a beautiful 360 degree view as the sun rose above the clouds. Most of us had a chance to see the endemic Santa Marta parakeets as they busily feasted on flowering trees along the mountain road.
We completed our journey with a visit to a local Wayuu tribal community in Guajira where we met Jose Luis and his family and learned about the Wayuu culture. The late afternoon sun gave us another great photographic opportunity as three women dressed in hooded red dresses along with one young man performed a traditional dance for us on the salt flats. Beautifully crocheted handbags and woven bracelets made by the tribe were being sold and we were happy to purchase these items to take home as souvenirs and gifts.
We ate well throughout the trip, eating local specialties including fresh grilled fish, ajiaco, arepas, ceviche, fresh fruits, and juices. Our lodging was carefully selected for location, comfort and character which included a range from rustic lodges to upscale hotels.
We were sad to leave Colombia and say goodbye to our new friends but brought home many fond memories, photographs, added photography skills and hopes to return to this beautiful and diverse country in the near future.
Our sincere gratitude to Kike and Christopher for the creation and execution of this exploration of the diversity of Colombia. -Susan Bowman & Bob Schafer
p.s. a special thanks to Vivian during her 5 days with our group!