When I received an invitation to join ETIC, the Extreme Travelers International Congress, on a journey to Marquetalia, where former guerrilla movement Farc was founded in 1964, I did not have to hesitate for long. On top of a collection of 36 extreme travellers from around the planet, ex-guerrillas from Farc would join in, as well as UN staff and government officials. The journey was presented as part of the peace process in Colombia. After a peace agreement had been reached in 2016 (even though it was narrowly voted down in a referendum in the same year), the handing over of weaponry and especially the re-integration into society of former Farc guerrillas were major steps of a process that will take years, if not decades, to complete. I was, therefore, excited to be a witness of a small part of this important step forward for my beloved Colombia.
The evening before our departure, we had a dinner event in which we met several Farc top figures, like Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, aka Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, who had just survived an attempt on his life a few days before. Since Farc turned into a political movement, former fighters turned into politicians to pursue their ideals through peaceful means. All of us were excited to leave the next morning, direction south. After long hours of driving, we met with more Farc delegates, one of them my compatriot who joined Farc in 2002. Suddenly I find myself talking to someone who is well known in my country, and who most people wonder about: why did she take this decision? What did it bring her, and what did she bring to Colombia? I am full of questions, but we first need to get to know each other a little better. We are in different vehicles, and after many more hours of driving, we enter El Oso in the dark. The small village has prepared an evening full of speeches, food, dances, and merchandise, mostly locally grown coffee, chocolate, and other products. We spend the evening in tents, and are up early the next morning to continue our way to Marquetalia.
After a hearty breakfast, we get into jeeps which take us through a landscape of mountains with coffee and bean plantations. It is much more developed than I had imagined. Where the road ends, we either hike up or mount a mule. After all the hours in cars, I am very happy to get my legs working, and the trail is easy enough for that. It meanders through a lovely landscape of deep valleys with rivers surrounded by green mountains. We have a big sancocho (typical Colombian soup) lunch near a bridge halfway, and make our way up to Marquetalia which, as it turns out, is a flat stretch surrounded by mountains without buildings. We climb to a nearby mountain where we find a house with a family, and a little lower, the wreckage of a helicopter downed by Farc forces. After heavy rains, the trail is a mudbath, and we return soaked to camp, and try to dry our clothes near the fires. Meanwhile, the talking to ex Farc guerrillas goes on, giving us more and more insight into the often brutal and shocking reality of Colombian life. On the way back to El Oso, I find more time to talk to my compatriot, about a variety of subjects, before we have lunch at El Oso and board the bus. A flat tyre forces us to stop at Planadas, where again we are surrounded by part of the around 150 soldiers and policemen that have been taking care of our safety since our departure from Bogotá. It is only after midnight before we arrive at Neiva, in Huila province, our heads overflowing with impressions.
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