Visiting Chocó: El Valle & Almejal (part 2)

If you didn’t read the first part of my October vacation to Prana Pacífico in the department of Chocó, go check it out here. This post goes into the second portion of my Pacific Coast trip (and is rather lengthy, I might add…I don’t want to forget anything!).

Day 4: Arrival via boat to the beach located in El Valle & beachtime!

After a couple hours on the boat, we were ready to relax in our new location, a small hostel called Pelican House, located right on the beach with the Chocoan jungle to its back. Immediately upon arrival, it was a great vibe with comfy beds in our 6 bed dormitory and lots of pets for us to play with! We got settled, found out about a lady living nearby that could prepare us a delicious lunch for 18 mil, and headed out to the beach. Naturally, I spent a lot of time tumbling and enjoying the wide expanse of beach because it was the lowest tide of the day. We took pictures, read books, and soaked in the sun that we had been missing for a couple days in our previous location.

After lunch, we walked the 25 minutes or so into the town of El Valle to buy some groceries since we’d have to cook most of the time at our new place. This area is not very touristy yet, so there are only a couple places to eat. Even in town, there are only tiendas, which are just small shops, so our food options were very limited. Fresh veggies weren’t due to arrive until the next day, so we bought what we could and headed back. Of course, along these walks, we met a group of kids playing and dancing in the street, so I joined them which they found HILARIOUS. One kid was absolutely losing it, obviously thinking the white girl trying to dance with them looked absurd. We also saw so many dogs and I met a young girl who decided to grab my hand and walk with me a bit as she told me about one of the dogs. As we exited the town, two young boys walked up to us with a tray of coconut-guava treats his mother had made. We bought a few and discovered someone had given my friend a false 2 mil bill. Or rather, the kid knew it right away and brought it back to us telling us over and over “es falso”. Fortunately, 2 mil pesos is the equivalent of like 70 cents, so it wasn’t a big loss.

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Me dancing with kids in the street (not sure what move I was doing here…weird moment), but this kid in blue was laughing hysterically at me.

That evening, we tried to watch the sunset, but it was too cloudy so we hung out in the hostel common area and made popcorn instead of a full dinner since we were still full from our big lunch. Of course, then we were all actually hungry from the snack and made a pretty pathetic dinner of eggs on bread. I got creamed at Bananagrams several times by one of the other teachers and learned some new rules for Uno, based on Kazakhstan rules!

Day 5: More beach time and a long, wet turtle exploration

We made plans to go on a turtle exploration later that night to try and see some loggerhead turtles, so we decided to take advantage of another beautiful day at the beach. Again, I did lots of cartwheels and found the most perfect sand dollar! There were hardly any shells on this beach, so I felt pretty lucky. Until I went out into the waves with the guys and showed them….then a wave took me over and I crushed the dainty sand dollar in my hand. Oops. We had fun swimming in the huge waves and met a guy from Bogotá named Jorge. We drank some beers, went to lunch with him at a posada nearby, some people ate some fish eyeballs (not me), played games, and relaxed some more. I was really into my book club book Refugee by this point, so it was great to have time to read it.

 

That evening, after a dinner of pasta, chicken, and homemade sauce, we headed out on our turtle adventure around 7pm. Daniela, the owner of the hostel, is wonderful and knows the guys who run the Asociación Caguama, which is a local group dedicated to rescuing loggerhead turtle eggs, keeping them safe in a sanctuary or “vivero”, and then releasing them when they hatch. I found a cool video when I tried to search for info to share with you here that shows their sanctuary we saw later in the night and the whole area where we were looking for turtles that night.

Asociación Caguama video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=nJRid6utWiI 

So, back to our adventure, because that’s what it really turned into. Shortly after leaving our hostel and making the trek to and through the town of El Valle (with a quick stop at our favorite bakery to buy bread for the next morning and also some for our guides), it started POURING. Luckily, us girls came prepared with ponchos and rain jackets, but the boys didn’t have anything. Our guides were wonderful and stopped off at some house to get some jackets for them to borrow. I was hopeful the rain might stop shortly, but alas, it was not meant to be. We crossed all through the town, across a long rickety bridge, then another wooden bridge, and headed deep into the jungle. I wore my walking sandals that are made for this type of thing, but the mud and pouring water around my feet nearly pulled them off a few times. Some of the others had to walk barefoot through it.

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A photo attempt shortly after it started pouring as we crossed a giant bridge through town

After awhile, we arrived at another long stretch of beach. I know it was long because we walked on it for hours in the pouring rain, but to be honest, with only our head lamps, zero light pollution, and clouds covering the moon, you couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of you. This was rather unfortunate since there were hundreds and hundreds of crabs along that beach. Lots of the reddish ones with pinchers and lots of small black ones that look like spiders. As you tried to walk around them, it was like they WANTED to run right at your feet. I can’t tell you how many times we were shrieking and trying to jump out of their way awkwardly, only to almost jump onto another one. We called it the “crab dance” and it was one of the things that kept us entertained as we wandered along this dark beach in the downpour looking for turtle tracks that we never seemed to find.

After a couple hours, it felt hopeless and that we weren’t going to get to see any that night. As our guides said, it’s something of nature and you can’t force it. They showed us their vivero where they keep the eggs they rescue in marked mounds with the date, location, number, etc of where they found the eggs (look at the video to see it). It was really amazing all that they do! They even are working with some biologists to do an experiment where some of the mounds are covered to raise the temperature a bit and see if it produces more males or females. Natural scientists out there, without all the formal training, but they know these sea turtles inside and out.

I think our guide felt bad for us and could see we were pretty miserable and soaked. So he led us to a random hut back in the jungle a ways, and we sat there, tried to avoid all the mosquitoes wanting to suck our blood, and played a word association game to occupy ourselves. Maybe 30-45 minutes later, the guide came back and told us he found a turtle! We took off again and luckily the rain had nearly stopped by this point. Once we got close, he told us to turn off our lights, showed us the tracks and further up the beach, there it was. It was so much bigger than I expected! The guides tagged and measured it, and let us take photos without flash. He answered a bunch of our questions and then watched as this mama turtle started heading back toward the water. The guides took a stick and were trying to poke holes where they thought the eggs might have been left. They explained that a pocket of air remains where the mama put the eggs, so wherever they poke a hole, the sand will collapse if the eggs are buried there. Unfortunately, the sand was too hard because the tide has been so low during this time of year and the poor mama turtle went through all the work of finding this spot to lay her eggs and couldn’t do so. They said she’ll have to go off and find another one.

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Hard to tell the size here, but she was probably about a meter long

Glad I got to see at least one sea turtle, we started the long trek back to our hostel, thankful that it wasn’t raining anymore. I was so tired when we arrived back around midnight that I passed out without even showering; a cold shower sounded pretty miserable by that point!

Day 6: Lazy hammock morning and day in town

We all were pretty beat after our long, rainy adventure the night before, so we spent several hours in the morning reading in the hammocks located below the hostel with the sounds of the waves crashing. It was lovely. We had no food left though, so we headed toward town with the intention of grocery shopping. We stopped at a little “restaurant” called Betty’s, which was essentially just a woman cooking out of her house and enjoyed more delicious fried whole fish, rice, salad, patacones (fried plantains), sancocho de pescado (fish soup), and maracuya/pineapple juice. All for 15 mil, which is like $5. This was a fun walk as we had our speaker blaring out of our backpack and met a doppelganger for one of my friends.

Instead of heading back to the beach, we decided to stay in town and play some pool at a local billiards hall and drink some beer. While we girls were terrible, it was a fun time! On the walk back, we finally caught some of a sunset and took some cute photos. When we got back to the hostel, we had a nice surprise! Some baby turtles had hatched and they were going to release them, so we got to see them. Sadly, after the lady left with the turtles, we found out she was from a different organization and that you should release the babies right away in the morning because they only have about 2 weeks worth of energy from the time they’re born and the less time they have to try and make their way out to sea, the more likely they are going to die. 😦

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Enjoying the sunset on our walk back from town

That night for dinner at the hostel, I learned how to make patacones Dominican-style thanks to my friend, plus a spin on taco salad with whatever we could find in town…chicken, cabbage, avocado, campesino cheese, and some homemade pico de gallo. Surprisingly it turned out very well! We made friends with people in the hostel, played more games, and hung out. This part of our trip was very relaxing!

Day 7: Hike, waterfalls, cooking dinner on the beach/preparing it in a river, coconuts, salsa dancing, and sunsets….the most amazing day ever

The day before, we had arranged to go on a hike that included some waterfalls and making lunch together right on the beach. We didn’t realize it was going to be as strenuous as it was as we tramped our way through the jungle, our guide Luis leading the way, chopping plants, and fashioning us walking sticks with his machete as we went. His 15 year-old son, Andrés, followed us from behind, making sure none of us got lost (which almost happened a few times). We arrived to the first waterfall, Cascada del Amor, and immediately jumped in. It was cold, but refreshing! We could even climb up on the rock wall behind the waterfall and them jump directly into it, which I did attempt to do once and failed a bit.

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Then we continued on to a new spot which led out to the beach, with a fresh water river running by it and then into the open ocean. We were completely isolated, with rocks, jungle, and beach surrounding us on all sides. I can’t even express how gorgeous it was. We then started to prepare lunch. This began by chopping off some twigs and things for the fire and even using some of the trash as the flame to get it going! I didn’t like the idea of burning plastic that the ocean had thrown up onto the sand, but it worked. While we were doing this, the boys climbed out on some big sharp rocks with the son, Andrés, to learn how to fish like the locals do.  Aka: this means a spool of something like a giant wine cork with simple fishing wire wrapped around it and a hook. When I went out to the rocks later to try it myself, Andrés found me one of a million hermit crabs crawling around, threw it on my hook, and let me try spinning the fishing wire and tossing it out. We weren’t in a place where we could actually catch fish because of the rocks there, but it was still good fun!

 

Back to lunch preparation…Luis had brought rice, veggies, and one big fish, which he asked me to thaw a bit in the river. Now, while I have learned to love eating whole fried fish on the coast and will even eat out of the head a bit and munch on the fins, I hadn’t actually held a whole, raw fish in my hands before. I had fun with it though and quite enjoyed my task. After a bit, we left the fish lying on a rock still in the fresh flowing stream, and we started chopping veggies in the river. Luis found a long plank that served as our “table” and a smaller one for my “cutting board” and he proceeded to critique me on how I was chopping my onions. We chopped onion, tomato, plantains, and cilantro, threw them in the pot, collected some stream water for the broth, and then started cleaning the fish. He showed me how to descale it, take off some inedible parts, and then filet it in order to put in for the fish soup. I feel confident I could do it next time, except for when he chopped the head in half and threw it in. I had to tell him at that point that I wouldn’t be the one eating the head out of the soup!

While the rice and fish soup cooked over the open fire on the side of the beach, we took off for another waterfall a bit further down. This one was more for viewing and not for swimming, so we oohed and ahhed and headed back to our day’s “campsite”. Along the way, Luis found a good tree with lots of coconuts. He found a piece of vine, tied it around his waist as a makeshift belt, stuck his machete in it, and scooted his way all the way up this huge palm tree barefoot. Once at the top, as we all stood at the bottom with our mouths gaping open, he chopped off a bunch of coconuts that crashed to the sand below, and rapidly slid back down. It all happened so fast that we couldn’t help but burst into applause when he reached the bottom. We carried these heavy coconuts back to where our food was ready to eat, served it all up, and sat down to eat at our “family table”, which was just a long plank.

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Can you see Luis up almost at the top?

Luis started chopping open some of the coconuts for us to drink. I cannot even explain to you: 1) how delicious that coconut water was 2) how much liquid is in each one! There had to have been a full liter inside. I demolished my food, which was incredibly delicious, but couldn’t drink all of my coconut. We had to have a chugging contest to get it all down. hahah. Then was the fun part of chopping them open to eat the soft, sweet coconut meat that was inside since it was an immature coconut. After watching one of my friends fail with the machete, I felt more confident in how to chop it open. Luis gave me some pointers, I held the machete over my head, swung with all my might….and missed. I basically just gave my coconut a haircut as I took off the side of it. On my second try, I succeeded in splitting the coconut probably 70% of the way and Luis helped me the rest of the way to get it open to the deliciousness inside, which I scraped out with the help of another piece of coconut as my “spoon”.

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About to chop my coco open with a machete

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Drinking away

I am the queen of question asking, so after so much coconut fun, I wanted more explanation on types of coconuts. Luis took me for a walk and started collected coconuts in different stages of maturation. He explained that the ones we were drinking from were the most immature, which is why they hadn’t fallen yet and the pulp inside was very soft. Then he found one in the second stage of maturation and he chopped it open down to the main seed part, which didn’t make any sounds when you shook it (unlike the immature one, where you can hear the water sloshing). I can’t remember the names of each stage. Finally, we found a dry coconut in the last stage of maturation, “coco seco”, which he chopped down to the seed inside and shook it so we could hear the liquid inside sloshing again. I still never understood by the end why we can’t hear the liquid in the second stage, but can again in the third stage when it’s actually called “dry”. I need to do more research! Anyways, Luis cracked open this center seed part of the most mature coconut and it looked like the coconut that we buy grated and is used in dessert. Personally, I don’t like this kind. I only enjoyed the immature coconut pulp, but I did learn a lot!

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Gotta represent Colombia

After all of this, we cleaned up and started our hike back, this time walking along the giant rocks along the shore instead of through the jungle. I would say this was better, but it was actually harder to walk on, slippery, and one of the other girl’s shoe broke, so it was super painful for her to walk on the sharp rocks! Even though it was such an amazing day, we were glad to be back at the hostel an hour or so later to shower and celebrate our last night in Chocó. This involved eating leftover snacks for dinner, lots of drinks, games, and new friends. Plus a beautiful sunset, dancing salsa next to it, and a huge sky full of stars later that night!

**I would highly recommend a tour with Luis if you ever visit Chocó! There are so many more places he talked about taking us if we had more time. He’s spent his whole life in this area, has 4 kids, and is so knowledgeable and funny! (Except when he told me I had gotten more gordita just during our hike that day…jajaj) You can arrange tours with him through Daniela at the Pelican House Hostel or his phone number is +57-322-649-2549. Only phone calls are possible, and he speaks only Spanish. We paid just 50 mil each for this entire experience…that’s around $18 a person, which includes the tour, food, coconuts, everything for an entire day. It was incredible.

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Such a beautiful place! I want to go back already.

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Atardecer

Day 8: Return to Medellin

We were sad to leave the next morning. That day, I woke up a bit hungover, but enjoyed lying on my top bunk under my mosquito net as I listened to the waves crashing and the jungle behind us. All 5 of us had to squeeze into a tiny car that drove along the beach to get us to the same “airport” 45 minutes away, where we killed time with fresh orange juice and games before boarding our plane on the tarmac. Oh, and going through “security”, which was less here than I’ve had entering concerts in the US. The two military men with giant rifles looked at my small backpack and the shirt sitting on top, squeezed it once at the bottom, and passed me on. Unfortunately we had a rough flight back to Medellin, which left me almost in tears and panicking, but again, good friends let me squeeze their hands off for which I was very thankful.

 

Chocó was probably one of my favorite trips I’ve had since coming to Colombia. Part of it might be the fun group I was with. Another part might be because of the wonderful people of Chocó that treated us with so much kindness. Part of it might be because of the beauty I got to witness in terms of scenery and animals. Part of it might be because I love being at the beach. Part of it might be because it’s a less visited region, so tourism hasn’t taken over yet. But man, it was a wonderful place and I can’t wait to go back in July or August to see more whales!

 

 

3 thoughts on “Visiting Chocó: El Valle & Almejal (part 2)

  1. Katie M. says:

    Your blog is great, thank you for sharing! We are an American family thinking of moving to Bucaramanga to teacher. Would you be able to email me or send me your Instagram name so I could ask you a few questions? Thank you if possible!!!

    Like

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