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 “For Gigi and myself this trip was a “Maslow Peak experience” We have been traveling since our early 20’s and have been to 150 plus countries….and only handful do we rate as a peak experience…Miss you all. A great group.”

Dr. Joe Shurman, MD. Inaugural Colombia Photo Expeditions Tour.


Reflections of our Epic 2-week discovery of Colombia

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


Susan(& Bob)

p.s. a special thanks to Vivian during her 5 days with our group!


The Güepajé Project

Word of Dances was born as an artistic fusion of classic ballet, a minimalist perspective, where my subjects merge with their surrounding in an almost magical way. As I immersed myself into the World of Dances, I fell in love with the richness of folklore and its traditions, specially in Latin America. As a natural evolution, my life-long photographic project on dance did only made sense, by expanding its existence, with the inclusion of a detailed, yet graphically superb, documentation of the intangible representations of culture, expressed through dance, music, oral expressions and traditional attires. In such way, The Güepajé Project, pronounced wepaheh, was born.

As result of the rich folk music heritage in Latin America, almost every traditional community in the continent practices some form of folk dancing. Folk dances are typically performed for the pleasure of the participants and do not require an audience, therefore overlapping somewhat with tribal dances, defined as dancing originally from African tribes, often associated with syncretic religious practices like Santeria and Candomble – and some types of social dancing. Furthermore, when a traditional folk dance is perform onstage in a formal concert, its steps and patterns may be those of folk dance, but it has been removed from the context of folk culture(*).

The hours spent researching Colombia for the creation of  Colombia Photo Expeditions, unveiled a new understanding of the intercultural mesh of Latin America. After documenting the Barranquilla Carnival in February 2018, I fell i love with a Colombian popular term that was perfect to describe my folk dance series within World of Dances. Even the word “Güepajé” does not exist in the real academy of Spanish language dictionary, it is a popular interjection to show happiness in the north coast of Colombia. The singers of Cumbia and Vallenatos shout “Güepajé” to transmit good feeling or to increase the enthusiasm, and the dancers shout it that expressed joyfulness.

The Güepajé Project is a collection of photographs craft with a true love for cultural diversity and traditions, with the humble attempt to visually preserve expressions, that one day, may be well gone.

(*) Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Cultures. Edited by Daniel Balderston, Mike Gonzalez and Ana M.Lopez



Plant-Insect Phenology and Pollination

This post is the latest in the series Uncover Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

As Scaven and Rafferty 2013 described, there is relatively very little research on the physiology of many crucial pollinators influenced by warming temperatures. On their new book (*) Tree Pollination Under Global Climate Change , authors Fernando Ramírez and Jose Kallarackal describe how Climate change has been known to impact plant pollination by changing flowering phenology and by distressing the activity of pollinators.

Mismatches could impact plants by impairing decreased insect visitation that means less pollen deposition, whereas pollinators could face reduced food availability. However, in some circumstances, pollinator–plant synchrony does not cause mismatches, due to generalist pollinator species keeping pace with changes in forage-plant flowering by switching between host plants . Animal biology and ecology associated with pollination i.e. population, reproductive aspects, and activity – flight, etc., are essential for understanding the impacts manifested by climate change. This is evident in many tropical regions worldwide, where, animal pollinators comprise much more species and interactions, when compared to temperate conditions

(*) Ramírez F., Kallarackal J. (2018) Plant-Insect Phenology and Pollination. In: Animal biology and ecology associated with pollination i.e. population, reproductive aspects, and activity – flight, etc., are essential for understanding the impacts manifested by climate change.. SpringerBriefs in Agriculture. Springer, Cham

Header Photo: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. © Kike Calvo

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Learn More:

Tree Pollination Under Global Climate Change (SpringerBriefs in Agriculture)

What Is Pollination?

The Forgotten Pollinators

Grow a Living Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with Purpose: Pollinators – Herbs and Veggies – Aromatherapy – Many More



Colombia Photo Expeditions: Photo Gallery

Photos taken by National Geographic Creative photographer Kike Calvo during our Expeditions around Colombia.


Uncover Diverse Colombia: Caribbean Expedition Photo Gallery, Feb. 2018

A selection of photographs taken by the participants of our February 2018 Caribbean Colombia Photo Expedition. Participant list include: Christopher Calonje, Anna Calonje, Nano Calvo, Vivian Carrascal, Jen Gussman, Jim and Deborah Frank, Amy Mackling, Jen Hamilton, Pat Robinson, Susanne Chantal, Bob Schafer, Susan Bowman, Joe and Gigi Shurman and Grace O’Mally. All images belong to the photographers. To join our 2019 Expedition, visit or email us.



Updated Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of Colombia.

Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

The Asociación Colombiana de Ictiólogos (ACICTIOS), the largest network of fish experts in Colombia, has created a reference list of all the fresh water species in the country.
After Brazil, Colombia holds the Second place in the number of fresh water species, with a total of 1494, 374 of them endemic. From this total, 706 live in the Amazon, 663 in the Orinoquia, 223 in the Caribbean, 220 in the Magdalena-Cauca region, and 130 in the Pacific. All the results are available free of charge through Sistema de información en Biodiversidad  de Colombia (SIB Colombia).

Learn more about the Academic Paper here.
Photo: Cristales Selva, Caño Cristales. © Kike Calvo 

Freshwater Fish Checklist in Colombia
Freshwater Fish Checklist in Colombia by Region

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Learn More:
Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology (5th Edition)
Fishes: A Guide to Their Diversity

One River. Wade Davis

Moon Colombia (Travel Guide)
47 Amazing Things to See and Do in Colombia
Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide)
Colombia (National Geographic Adventure Map)
National Geographic Traveler: Colombia, 2nd Edition




National Geographic Society Honors President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia for his Commitment to Conservation

Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

The National Geographic Society recently recognized President Juan Manuel Santos of the Republic of Colombia for his unwavering commitment to conservation. In a ceremony at Society headquarters, Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of National Geographic Society, along with Jean Case, chairman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees, honored President Santos for his dedicated efforts to protect Colombia’s environment. Colombia is one of world’s richest countries with respect to biological and cultural diversity, and President Santos has done more than many elected leaders in the Americas to expand protected areas so they’re enjoyed by generations to come.

I am proud that a selection of my Colombian land and drone footage was included in the video presented to President Santos during the event. You can see the full video in Spanish here.


Photo © Sora DeVore / National Geographic Society

Since his election to the presidency in 2010, President Santos, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made significant strides on behalf of the environment, increasing the total area of Colombia’s network of protected areas to more than 6,500 square miles on land and sea. Most notably, he more than doubled the size of Chiribiquete National Park, located in the heart of Colombian Amazonia. The park contains a variety of natural wonders, from “tepuis” — table-top mountains with isolated, unique ecosystems — to some of the most botanically diverse lowland forests in the northern Amazon. The amazing animal species in Chiribiquete include jaguars, tapirs and birds found in no other region on Earth.



Photo © Sora DeVore / National Geographic Society

Featured photo: National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary E. Knell (left) stands with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia (right) at a special ceremony honoring President Santos for his unwavering commitment to conservation held at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 2017. Photo by Sora DeVore/National Geographic

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A Teleological Approach to the Wicked Problem of Managing Utría National Park

Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

On a recent article on Environmental Values, an international peer-reviewed journal from White Horse Press, about philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology and ecology authors Nicolás Acosta García, Katharine Farrell, Hannu Heikkinen and Simo Sarkki focused on the remote biodiversity hotspot of Utría National Park in Colombia.

The Park encompasses ancestral territories of the Embera indigenous peoples and borders territories of Afro-descendant communities in El Valle.

The authors explore environmental value conflicts regarding the use of the park, describing them as a Wicked Problem that has no clear solution. Juxtaposing how the territory is perceived by different communities, they employ Faber et al.’s heuristic of the three tele of living nature to search for deficiency in the third telos, service, which we take to be symptomatic of Wicked Problems.

Based on field data encoded using the three-tele heuristic, concerning how the respective communities would like to use the park area, they identify deficiencies in the third telos and develop recommendations regarding how these might be addressed.

Full article: A Teleological Approach to the Wicked Problem of Managing Utría National Park . Authors: Acosta García, Nicolás; Farrell, Katharine N.; Heikkinen, Hannu I.; Sarkki, SimoSource: Environmental Values, Volume 26, Number 5, October 2017, pp. 583-605(23)

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Follow Colombia Photo Expeditions on InstagramFacebook, or Web

Learn More:

Utria, Parque Nacional Natural, Choco-Colombia (Spanish Edition)

Trua Wuandra: Estrategias para el manejo de fauna con comunidades embera en el Parque Nacional Natural Utria, Choco, Colombia (Spanish Edition)

Estudio de La Costa Colombiana del Pacifico (Classic Reprint) (Spanish Edition)