To the Ultimate of the Earth: Colombia # 3 | Pacifying with a frisbee in a war zone
I was in Teorama, an area of Colombia where a lot of blood has been spilled, remembering it saddens me and at the same time it relieves me, because maybe a flying disc can not change the situation, but at least managed to positively alter the reality of the inhabitants of Catatumbo by some hours.
📷 Photography by Tatiana Rueda, from the Cerro de Las Cruces.
After the Tournament in Ocaña, and the expedition in Pico del Águila, I returned to Venezuela.
📌 You can check the first and second part of this series of experiences in the following posts:
• To the Ultimate of the Earth: Colombia # 1 | When something goes wrong, it can go much better
• To the Ultimate of the Earth: Colombia # 2 | Hiking among the clouds of Norte de Santander
I just went back home to pick up my things and go to Colombia definitively. I did not want to leave my family, but the recent trip had motivated me, I felt that something very good was waiting for me.
I gave up my work, gave away my entire library, gave away a lot of my clothes, and also all those things that one keeps because "they can be used for something" but they only take up space. In a few words, I said goodbye to the life I had in Venezuela, I dared to leave the comfort zone, and I understood that being outside we can find more opportunities, I did not say that easy, but beneficial.
I left practically without money; with the only certainty that I had somewhere to stay. In addition, I thought "I have two professions, with some I must get something to get ahead." And yes, I worked as a Physiotherapist, but at first I had to walk for hours to sell desserts.
Of course, not all my days were sunny; Being hungry clouded my mind from time to time. I'm not sorry, that made me stronger. I learned that sometimes the brain cheats on you, and makes you believe that you need to eat when you really have to hydrate, then you drink one, two, or three glasses of water and you feel better.
The only thing I regret is that I lied to my mom when she called me to ask if I had eaten, I do not like to tell lies, but I did not want her to worry, I was happy with my process even if it was hard.
I was very excited the first few days, but then I woke up suddenly: I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed my house, I missed the beach. Yes, one week you get depressed, but as an excellent resilient, the next week you get up ready to eat the world.
I do not intend to tell another story of the Venezuelan who emigrated from his country due to the economic crisis, it is only a parenthesis so that you understand how I arrived at Teorama, one of the municipalities of Norte de Santander considered a red zone due to the constant confrontations between the groups guerrillas.
⚡ Between lightning and bullets
The first time I heard about the Catatumbo they referred to their "Lightnings", a meteorological phenomenon that occurs between the lower basin of this river and the southern area of Lake Maracaibo, characterized by almost continuous silent electric discharges that extend up to 10 hours during the night, at least 260 times a year.
Until that moment I had thought it was just an area of my country, but when I arrived in Colombia I found out that there was a region of North Santander, consisting of 11 municipalities (Teorama, Tibú, Convention, San Calixto, Ábrego, El Carmen, El Tarra, Hacarí, Sardinata, Ocaña and La Playa de Belén), which border Venezuela; and that the Catatumbo River, to which the region owes its name, flows into Lake Maracaibo.
But in spite of being frontier territories, while on one side the rays are silent, on the other side there is a social phenomenon that sounds like thunder, but does not fire light, only bullets.
More than 50 years ago there is an armed conflict in Colombia between the State and groups outside the law (guerrillas, criminal gangs, drug cartels and paramilitaries), mainly due to political differences that, analyzing the facts, are assumed rather as a fight for power.
The Catatumbo is one of the regions that has had the greatest impact during all these decades. The site is attractive to armed groups for the alleged lack of government attention, which at the same time has allowed them to develop drug cultivation thanks to the climatic conditions they are in, where, in addition, contraband is favored as an area cross-border.
Fighting on open fire, activation of explosive devices such as car bombs or anti-personnel mines, attacks on public services, extortion and kidnappings, and the imposition of conducts and social norms, are some of the reasons that have led to the death or displacement of thousands of inhabitants.
Teorama, is a small town, ironically known as "Landscape of God", but is one of the areas most abused by violence. Where even recently, after months of tranquility as a result of a peace agreement between the Colombian State and one of the guerrilla groups, it is again the victim of confrontations.
🕊️ Challenge for peace
I had two weeks of having settled in Cúcuta, when Juan David Árbol, a great friend of Ultimate Frisbee, who works for the Corporation of Professionals for Community Integral Development (Corprodinco), invited me to participate in a social activity called "The Extreme Challenge: Teorama"; a sporting event dedicated to the Catatumbo families.
The contest consisted of a series of challenges, that each team, divided by municipalities, had to meet to add as many points as possible and thus reach the final.
He was inspired by the modality of the famous Colombian reality show "Desafío", where another of the collaborators of the meeting, Tatiana "La Reina" Rueda (who by the way plays at La Roca Ultimate Club) participated on two occasions.
Here I went again: another opportunity came to me to continue knowing Colombia, but from a very different and at the same time special perspective.
I did not even know that Teorama existed, much less what characterized it, and when I mentioned that I would travel there, everyone reacted with the same surprise; They told me: That place is dangerous!, and they explained why. But despite so many negative stories, I felt safe because I would attend with the goal of making a positive contribution to the community.
Since the activity would only take place on Saturday, we left Cúcuta on a Friday around 11:00 a.m, and arrived at our destination that same day after 6:00 p.m.
The route is a 238 kilometer walk among mountains that reveal incredible landscapes. It is obligatory to take the car windows below: first, because your lungs will thank you for being able to enjoy the pure air of most of the way; and second, at least for me, that I am accustomed to high temperatures, because it is a spectacle for our senses the cold breeze that blows in the whole route.
I warn you that the road is drawn between many curves, and this can easily cause dizziness (it happened to me because I ate halfway through the trip). Added to that, after crossing Ocaña, many sections lack asphalt, and the amount of potholes plus the car in motion will make you feel inside a blender 😅
We arrived at the town. The first perception that I had of the site is that it is a place with desires of development, because its architecture is a mixture between colonial and contemporary. For example, the hotel where we stayed was like an old house with many rooms, large doors, single wooden beds, and in the center of the structure, in the open sky, there was a garden full of flowers.
That same night we went to meet Teorama, taking advantage of the fact that they were celebrating the anniversary of their main Educational Institution, in which cultural events of their students were being presented.
We went to the first point of reference, La Plaza, and as soon as we arrived I managed to visualize in the center something that captivated me: It was a giant pineapple! One of my favorite fruits! 💛
📷 My traditional photo throwing the frisbee, along with the big pineapple.
The main agricultural production of the town is pineapple; something like the typical fruit of the municipality. I noticed it basically because of the sculpture in the square, and because in the town they offer a variety of dishes based on it (my favorites were the cakes and the croquettes. I recommend them! This is a croquette; I do not know their exact preparation, but they are delicious.
Upon leaving my astonishment, I proposed to my travel companions throw frisbees (both Juan David, as Tatiana, and the journalist of the program, Cielo Lizarazo, also play Ultimate).
The Plaza was full of children having fun. Cielito still did not control her throws very well, and before starting she says "and if I hit someone?", To which I replied that nothing would happen, a minute later she released the record and hit a child in the shoulder.
The boy was shocked by the blow, and while we asked him if he was okay, he started crying. The frisbee had not hurt him, but the impression altered him. Immediately, we started to take advantage of him and the other four children who accompanied him. We began to explain how to launch and catch the disc and half an hour later we were already playing a "match".
I do not know how or at what time, but the number of children had tripled. I did not believe it, in all I saw a potential player for my discipline, because they threw and caught very well. It was as if it was something new for them to see a flying object. They were crazies joy.
(It's a shame for me not to have audiovisual record of this moment, but my phone was downloaded).
The next day we had a couple of curious events.
We got up very early to train; Cielo and I decided to go to the plaza. Obviously we took our frisbee, and just stepped on the place we were greeted by several children and they asked us for the borrowed disc. That filled me with happiness.
Right in front of the Plaza, and diagonal to the school and the Church was the Municipal Police Headquarters, and I say "that was" because it now served as a refuge for the soldiers of the Colombian National Army that guarded the town. The walls of the infrastructure were covered with dark mesh and there were some barricade species at the entrance to the place that delimited the pass.
📷 Church of San Isidro Parish.
We ran around La Plaza, and just decided to finish our exercises on the sidewalk in front of the shelter. In that process some soldiers passed by, and I confess that it made me nostalgic to see them carry on their shoulders the responsibility of defending the community with their lives.
📷 Cielito did not hit anyone with the disc this time 😂
After throwing some discs we returned to the hotel, where we met one of the workers of the mayor who asked us where we were training, and when we said, he exclaim "They are crazy! Do not you know that snipers can be pointed?"; we had not realized that we were just in a possible target.
✔️ Prepared for the challenges
📷 Photography by: Cielo Lizarazo.
The Extreme Challenge was held at the Community Development Center of the municipality. A country place, with green areas, swimming pool and two soccer fields (one of natural grass and another of synthetic grass); spaces that were used to develop the challenges.
A total of 80 women participated in representation of Ocaña, San Calixto, Convention, El Tarra, Hacarí and Teorama, to which they were given scarves, flags and frisbees that identified them.
📷 Photography by: Cielo Lizarazo.
The first phase of challenges consisted of creating a slogan that defined the essence of your municipality, moving balls through channels for 30 meters to insert them in a container, the game of the rope (which exposed them to fall in the pool), and a game of obstacles and drag (for me the most fun because they had to carry a Rugby ball with their feet, then slip-military mode- under a net where everything was flooded, to finally have to go through a hoop with the ball. Tatiana, David and I did too).
📷 The amount of mud that was inside the clothes was abnormal 😅
The last challenges were to throw a disc from half court putting it in the arc of the football field. And finally, the finalist teams had to cross the entire town and climb up to El Rey de Cristo Rey and La Santa Cruz, the first to arrive would be the winners.
📷 Main path to start the route of the crosses.
In the village I heard that the hill was also known as "El Cerro de las siete cruces" or "El Cerro de la Cruz". There is a series of these as a guide for the entire route, and at the top is the largest.
📷 This is the great cross that is in the viewpoint.
According to the website of the Mayor's Office of Teorama, this hill is one of its most valuable ecological assets due to its physical-natural characteristics. And I noticed that really they have put effort in transforming it into a place of tourist reference by the structures that in him they developed, like the viewpoint.
Once again I felt like a particle among such immensity. From above you could see all Teorama, part of San Calixto and Convention.
📷 Every time I make sure that the Ultimate will take me to the ends of the earth 💙
The climate in the village is usually between 22 ° and 27 °; so the temperature was perfect to accompany that moment in which the view is lost between green, blue and white.
📷 If I could define this place with a word, it would be "sublime", and yet it falls short.
I got out of my hypnosis when Tatiana loudly and waving a big white flag said "There they come!", While spotting some yellow points that ascended, was the group of San Calixto. And in my mind I began to make an analysis of all the women who had participated in the challenges.
📷 The champions.
❤️ Warrior spirit, but not of war
When you put the energy of these incredible women on one side of the scale, and on the other side of the armed conflict, I can not understand how the war has more weight.
I was very surprised by the physical condition of each one. The strength and skill that showed me made me believe that I was, mostly, before women who had done sport at some time in his life, but I was wrong. After talking with several I learned that their jobs varied between agriculture and housework.
They are women who reinforced their beauty with a brave attitude, forging a strong character in the field, but cultivating love in their home.
I imagined an Ultimate Frisbee team with all of them and my heart was shaking with emotion. Watching them fight to score points made them special for me. I identified because I am one of those girls who do not mind leaving the skin on the court to defend the frisbee.
Maybe at this time the situation of Catatumbo is not the best, but with all the potential that their women reflect, I know that the region will gain strength to move forward. Because they already have a social behavior to follow: the struggle for their purposes, and the passion with which they execute their actions to achieve them.
🗺️ Another type of tourism
Maybe Teorama, or Catatumbo in general, are not the most recommended places for sightseeing, but in my case it was worth the risk.
Being in the town kept me somewhat nervous at times, but then I saw the tranquility with which the inhabitants moved and that calmed me, perhaps because I was in a good era, in which the "peace agreement" was still in force.
The biodiversity of the region offers a wide variety of natural spaces worthy of admiration. Specifically the benefits of "The Field of God" captivated me; it feels good to wake up in a place where the fog can be filtered through the windows of the house, and where the cocks do their wake-up work very well, where the most complete physical activity you can do is walk from hill to hill exploring and at the same time oxygenating your body with such a clean environment.
It would be irresponsible on my part to advise them to visit the town, at least at this time, but if they were presented with the opportunity to attend safely, with a social project, or with someone residing there, take advantage of it! Do not think about it! I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
I find it terrible that such a privileged region lives oppressed under the shadows of projectiles, and that the human quality rooted there is withered by violence.
But I have faith, the road to peace is being built. And personally, I am willing to return some day to continue teaching my discipline, or rather: pacifying through the Frisbee.
📷 All the photographs used in this post (except for those that already have credits) are taken for me. They were captured with my Samsung Galaxy SIII 8MP Smartphone.
✏️ (My native language is Spanish, sorry if I use any expression you do not understand, I try to translate the text as best as possible, but if you have any questions you can ask me).
I want to make a special mention to @vadimlasca for helping me improve the quality of my posts with their advice. He is a great professional, I recommend his blog.