The three day horse trek near Yopal, Casanare, sees us explore seven farms in three days. We meet local farmers, stay on their farms, try their food and spot plenty of fauna in different habitats. The launch of “El Camino del Vaquero” – the cowboy’s way - is both, our go at sustainable community tourism and an attempt to connect visitors with the locals and locals with visitors. It is a cultural encounter and intercultural exchange and so much more: it is about bridging a gap, supporting local families and maintaining and showcasing culture, valuing and honoring tradition, work, food, time, nature and animals.
We feel strangely carried away as if we were part of a Llanos music video or perhaps of an entire film. Days in the saddle are behind us filled with scenes and encounters that may well be out of a cowboy and wildlife movie or, if you know Colombian television, one of those movies set in rural Colombia on fincas and in adobe houses.
Our journey started with Doña Marina’s spectacular home-made arepas, corn buns, enjoyed with scrambled eggs and the view from her patio across lush pastures, a waterhole and deeply saturated palm forests. Red howlers had catered for the right background theme as we lassoed our horses and geared them up for our three day adventure in the saddle. Marina’s husband, Flabio, lead us across their finca and right into those exotic looking palm groves. Little streams of water, wild fruit trees and the forest’s shade offer an important habitat for wildlife. With a large boa wrapped up in a branch almost just above our heads, paradise was complete. Upon exiting the forest a Southern Tamandua, a small species of anteater, perched in the underwood, slowly making its way up the palm trees, heading for shelter.
It is the Llanos’ tranquility, their original natural state of palm groves and gallery forests, of dry and wet savannas, their sunrises and sunsets, proud cowboy culture and impressively wide array of wildlife that enchant visitors. Yet off-the beaten path, the Eastern plains of Colombia seem very much like a well-kept secret, one that is slowly gaining fame for their supreme wildlife spotting, bird-watching, safari feels and wide landscapes.
“It was definitely a highlight of our Latin America journey”, says Kaila, who joined us for the horse trek last December, and together with her friend Céline quickly picked up on the basics of Joropo dancing and lassoing horses.
Just as ethno-tourism and ecotourism have shown elsewhere in the world, this region, too, could benefit from soft tourism and mindful travelers. The horse trek is not associated with the amenities and infrastructure of mainstream tourism but sees us sleep in hammocks with mosquito nets each night, eat locally grown and home cooked meals, try semi-wild fruits as they ripen and even our hand at tejo, Colombia’s favorite national sport (think gunpowder-boules).
One could see it as a sustainable tourism project or, put more simply, as a tour where visitors and locals are having a whale of a time together all before the backdrop of tropical savannas and Andean foothills.
“We enjoyed a wonderfully beautiful natural world and an incredible number of wildlife and also gained insights into the farmers’ everyday lives”, says visitor Céline.
“In the mornings one catches their horse with the lasso after packing up the hammocks from the night. One rides from farm to farm already looking forward to the delicious meals after an exciting day. All in all a real cowboy-adventure and definitely worth it”, the horse fanatic rhapsodizes.
Read more about riding criollo horses in Colombia's Eastern Plains.
“It’s an unpretentious experience. It is just real life as it happens and has been happening for decades. It’s the great advantage rural Colombia has over other places already conquered and forever changed by mass tourism. It’s ‘authentic’ in the most original way“, says Andres Gonzalez of Aventur Eco Tours, who guides this tour.
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Many thanks to Pablo Araque, the talented photographer who accompanied this first Camino del Vaquero Trek and, of course, to each and everyone involved, nuestros amigos de la vereda El Arenal. Gracias!