El Banco – Barrancabermeja – Puerto Araujo

Luckily I didn’t have to leave too early from El Banco, with the small boat leaving at 8:00am. Nevertheless I got up at 6:00am to have time for some breakfast. Unfortunately, the bakery I had discovered the day before did not open (although the had told me it would). Bad luck. I had a coffee on the street and some food as well, and waited for the boat.

The small boat – the same type as the one from Magangué to Bodega – did finally leave at 8:30am. Luckily these boats for “long distances” don’t wait until they are full. In fact, the boat left with less than half of the seats occupied. These boats go pretty fast, and luckily the river was quite calm, with few waves.

The river trip was wonderful, even though in the end it got a bit long (7 hours). The river is really big, and at times with several arms. On both sides there is little: from time to time a small village, and the rest is nature (well – not exactly. All this land is used for agriculture. There are cows grazing, bananas and other crop). From time to time another boat passed by, and from time to time the boat stopped at some small village.

What you don’t see much is that this area is also oil country, with Barrancabermeja as the “oil capital” of Colombia. In the city of Barrancabermeja the importance of oil is obvious. Arriving to Barrancabermeja, you see first the largest oil refinery of Colombia. A bit before the boat had to stop at a military checkpoint, but they didn’t do much checking (I imagine that that was different just a few years ago). We arrived at the river terminal of the city at 15:30pm, and I went by bicycle to the house of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), where I was staying. 

I have been to Barrancabermeja several times between 2007 and 2012, working with the antimilitarist group Quinto Mandamiento. The city – and the entire region of Magdalena Medio – has a pretty violent recent history. Since a massacre in May 1998 the city itself has been under the control of paramilitaries, but there has always been a presence of the guerilla, both, the FARC (now demobilised after the agreement with the government) and the ELN (at present negotiating with the government). An article published last year in BBC World Service (spanish), before the agreement between the FARC and the government, gives an idea of the reality: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2016/03/160304_colombia_barrancabermeja_conflicto_reduccion_nc.

Even though it seems there is a reduction in violence also in Barrancabermeja, the politics of death threats (and of assassinations of leaders of farmers, lgbtiq, trade unions, and human rights workers) continues. It doesn’t surprise that the targets are now communities that are opposed to fracking in the region: with a descending output of oil, the authorities are now promoting fracking to extract more oil, and the opposition of rural communities is an obstacle: https://cordatec.blogspot.com.co/2017/08/persisten-las-amenazas-integrantes-de.html?m=1 (in Spanish).

In Barrancabermeja I also spent some time with a good friend of mine (who is also an activist with Quinto Mandamiento). We talked about lots of things… My last night in the city we met in the house of Pax Christi also with some other activists to talk some more and have some beer.

After a day of rest in Barrancabermeja I began the last leg to Bogota on Saturday, 26 August. I left the city at 6:00am to avoid the worst heat, but without much success. During the first part of my route the oil industry was very present, with lots of oil wells near the road. After 30km I got to the Panamericana or Ruta del Sol, on which I did another 55km until I arrived at Puerto Araujo, my destination for the day. From 9:00am on the heat got pretty strong, I had to stop two times to rest, refill my water bottles and drink some lemonades.

Puerto Araujo seems to be little more than a few hotels and restaurants, a police station, and a very small village (at least from what I saw). There is nothing to do, and the vegetarian food … well, it was food…