Chirrinchi is a kind of rum that is distilled mainly in the Colombian Caribbean. It is especially famous among the Wayuu. If you keep your eyes open or ask around while in La Guajira you will find small private Chirrinchi distilleries almost everywhere.
The process starts by mixing sugar can sugar, water, and yeast. The fermentation takes about 5-8 days. Afterwards a simple alemic distillery is used to separate the alcohol from the water. The distillation process is usually performed twice and produces an alcoholic drink with 35% alcohol.
Many Wayuu drink the Chirrinchi pure. However, there are different traditional and modern preparation methods. For example, traditionally the indigenous put a piece of “Contramata” (see Figure 2) into their Chirrinchi bottles. An alternative to Contramata is a piece of the bark of a Brazilwood tree. It will give the drink a red color.
More modern preparations include the addition of Anise. Some Wayuu claim that Coquiche has the best taste. Coquiche is prepared by adding Coconuts and leaving it for some days. It is said the Coconut sucks-up the bad tastes of the distillation process.
During my stay in Colombia I did research on the history of the Guajira and the Wayuu indigenous. I encountered a reference to a historic travel report of the French explorer Héliodore Candeliere. He traveled the Guajira peninsula 125 years ago. It took me quiet some effort to get access to a physical copy of the book. On my last day before I returned to Germany I was able to take a copy of it. Since I liked the book so much I thought it would be worth to make this document accessible in English. So, the book got translated from French to English and can now be downloaded as ebook. I payed attention that the historic characteristic is maintained as good as possible in the electronic version. I also improved the quality of the figures.
In his mid-thirties, Héliodore is a successful solicitor, the founder of the national shooting society, and a loving family father. Despite his traditional life style, deep in his heart, he is an explorer who always wanted to travel the world. His family pushed him into a traditional life style and as he got older he gave up on his dreams.
One day, Héliodore meets an old school friend who reports him from his time in Panama and at the Colombian Caribbean coast. This encounter triggers something in Héliodore. He gets obsessed with the idea of organizing an expedition to the Guajira peninsula – the home of the Wayuu indigenous. One day, he and his family decide that he will go on a three year expedition for the Société de Géographie de Paris to South America.
In his travel report, Héliodore describes how it was like to travel from Europe to Colombia at the end of the 19th century. Riohacha was still a small town and the last outpost before the untamed Guajira peninsula. Diseases like paludian fever were a common threat threre. During his stay at the Guajira peninsula, Héliodore studies the customs, language, and laws of the Wayuu indigenous. His book is also a testimony of the conflicts between the “civilized” and “uncivilized” world.
After 125 years, Héliodore’s travel report is available for the first time in English.
Backpacking to Cabo de la Vela can be easily done on your own. Cabo de la Vela is one of the most spectacular places of Alta Guajira. It offers various accommodations, beautiful beaches, and unique landscapes. You don’t need a travel agency for getting there. Actually, it is very easy and cheap to get from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela.
The itinerary looks as follows:
Riohacha: Go to Mercado Viejo and take a shared taxi to Uribia. Tell the driver to drop you just outside Uribia at the crossroads called “4 Via de Uribia”.
Uribia: As soon as you hop-off the taxi at 4 Via de Uribia locals will offer you transportation to Cabo de la Vela. Usually, transport is done by pick-up trucks. The driver might try to impress the foreigners with his driving skills.
Cabo de la Vela: Just get off somewhere in the village. There are more than enough accommodations. The village consists of one long road.
Cash: You have to bring all cash that you need for your stay north of Uribia. There are ATMs in Uribia, Maicao, and Riohacha.
4 Via: There are two crossroads called “4 Via”. 4 Via de Uribia is just outside Uribia while 4 Via de Uribia is in between Riohacha and Maicao. Make sure you don’t confuse both crossroads.
Day Time: Traveling with shared taxis after 4pm can be more difficult as the cars might not fill-up. If you want to get around without problems leave early.
Alonso de Ojeda was the first one who sailed along the South American coast. During his expedition he also passed the La Guajira peninsula and Cabo de la Vela. That’s why Cabo de la Vela already appears on the first maps of South America.
During the 16th century, the early colonists discovered pearls along the coast between Cabo de la Vela and today’s Riohacha. In order to exploit those pearls the Spaniards founded a settlement at Cabo de la Vela, called Nuestra Señora Santa María de los Remedios del Cabo de la Vela. Due to continuous conflicts with the local indigenous Santa María got relocated to today’s Riohacha in 1544. As a result, Riohacha developed into a center for pearl trade.
Cabo de la Vela also plays a very important role in the mythology of the Wayuu amerindians. For them the hill Jepira is the place where the souls of the dead travel to after death. Jepira is also called Pan de Azucar in Spanish and is a famous tourist destination.
As of today, Cabo de la Vela is the most touristy place on the La Guajira peninsula. There are plenty of accommodations, you can do Kite surfing, visit the nearby lighthouse, and enjoy the beautiful beaches.
The salt mines of Manaure are located at Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The big basins are operated by a Venezuelan company while the small ones are run by local Wayuu families. The salt water passes a chain of basins. In each basin it stays several months to increase the saturation. Finally, it reaches a basin where the salt crystalizes. The salt crystals grow about 4cm per year. It depends on the owner and the demand when it gets harvested. The size of the salt mine only gets visible from an elevated position.
Close to the salt mines is the protected area where you can see flamingos. The place is similar to Santuario de los Flamencos close to Camarones.
Most travelers on the way to Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas just rush through Uribia. This is a real pity since there are a lot of hidden gems and quaint stories to discover. For example, the white elephant of Uribia.
On of those places to discover is the so called “white elephant” of Uribia. The white elephant denotes a terminal for long distance buses that was build because there was some leftover money that had to be spent. Since the terminal has been built with money of the government it can only be used by officially registered transport companies.
Unfortunately, there is none in Uribia and the locals don’t want non-Wayuu run bus companies to service the terminal. So, the terminal is waiting for the day to officially open its gates. Meanwhile, a couple of locals are living in the terminal.
The terminal is just outside of Uribia close to the 4-Via crossroads. You can also cross the rails of the Cerrejon train.